So, I found out more about the summer camp. I really should have known about this earlier, because I know people who work as counselors there, and of course they’ve known all about it for weeks.
I think the camp also helps keep some of the masters’ families happy, because children of masters can attend the camp for free. I’m thinking here about Allen—as I think I’ve mentioned, the masters don’t really get salaries, they get stipends, only twelve thousand a year, I think. That’s fine for people who live on campus, like Charlie, because they get food, housing, and medical care all covered. They don’t actually need to spend any money, so twelve thousand extra to play with isn’t all that bad. But Allen has a house and three kids, and I don’t see how he can contribute anything like his fair share of expenses. Maybe being able to provide his kids access to an expensive private summer camp helps even things out a bit.
So yes, Allen’s two older kids are here, along with most of the other sprouts—“sprout,” I’ve learned, is the term for a child in the family of one of the masters, or anyone associated with everyday campus life. Aidan, for example, would be a sprout even if his grandmother didn’t work here, because his mother is a student. I asked Kayla if she is a sprout, and she said she is, but won’t be much longer. She sounded kind of sad. Obviously, she isn’t attending camp, because she’s a student now. She would have been a senior camper this year.
The campers eat some of the food they harvest, but mostly I think they eat food bought off campus—sourced locally as much as possible, of course. This thing about eating locally, I’ve been thinking about this, it means that different places have different tastes. Like, it’s not just cultural, the way you hear about…clam chowder in Maine, or sweet tea in the south, it’s the place itself that tastes like something. I have friends who ask me if I get tired of eating locally, if I miss, I don’t know, bananas or something. They don’t really get it. Of course, if I want a banana I can hop on my bike, go to the store, and get a banana, so it’s not like anybody is actually preventing me from eating anything, but usually I don’t bother. It’s inconvenient, yes, but also…it’s like why I don’t go to the store and buy all the fixings for a Thanksgiving Dinner. I like turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry relish and all of that, but I don’t go out and get it just whenever because it wouldn’t taste right. That’s what Thanksgiving tastes like. It isn’t what June tastes like. And so, a banana wouldn’t be what campus tastes like.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because our food has changed again. Late June on campus tastes different than May did, apparently. Milk is out, strawberries are in.
Milk is not out entirely, but they don’t put it out on the table anymore. The dining hall is hot, even at breakfast, because the heat from the stoves and ovens does not vent properly. It’s so hot that a jar of milk on the table would probably sour before the meal was over. So they bring around the milk, the way they used to bring around the oatmeal, and then they take whatever nobody wants back to the kitchen and immediately start making cheese or yogurt out of it. You can’t get seconds, because there’s no refrigeration on campus. They’re in a race to make the milk into something else before it spoils. But, at least we get yogurt now.
They don’t serve oatmeal anymore, because it’s hot, and nobody wants hot cereal. They still serve miso, but fewer people want it, so they make less. Instead, there’s home-made granola and piles and piles of chopped, fresh strawberries. Some people forget about the granola and just eat the strawberries. They put any leftover strawberries out for lunch, and if any strawberries survive that they go in the root cellar where it’s cool. Every three days they make a batch of jam, but we don’t get to eat jam now; June doesn’t taste like strawberry jam, it tastes like fresh strawberries. Strawberry jam is for the winter. In a few weeks, there’ll be blueberries.
This thing about not having refrigeration—not only does it mean we all have to think about food differently (did you know cheese is what you do with milk so it won’t spoil? I did not), it also means there is no ice. I’d never thought about this before—there’s just always been ice. Ice to put in your drinks, ice to put on sunburns or sports injuries, ice to drop down the back of your siblings’ shirts (I did mention I ran track, didn’t I?), whatever you need ice for, it’s always there. I mean, intellectually, of course, I knew ice is something we make with a freezer, except in the winter, but I’ve never really not had it when I wanted some. I suppose I could bike to the store and buy a bag if I was really hard up, but that’s not the point.
So, when I said last week that Kit provides us with iced coffee in class? There’s no ice. What she provides us is more like cold coffee, or even just coolish coffee—however cold she can get it by leaving it in the root cellar for a while. And no, it’s not all that refreshing. For refreshing you want plain water, or any of the sour herbal teas they make here, mostly wood sorrel or sumac berry. With honey, they taste kind of like lemonade. But I’m not going to turn up my nose at the coffee. It’s sweet and milky, and usually Kit adds some kind of flavoring like chocolate or hazelnut. And it has enough caffeine to keep me awake in a hot, muggy classroom long enough to learn about the wedding customs of the Nepalese, or why the British don’t chill their beer, or whatever else my grade depends on this week.