To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Part 4: Post 9: Summer and the Craft of the Land

It’s hard to believe that just a couple of months ago I was worried about being too cold. I used to wake up in the dark for zazen and I didn’t want to get out of bed because my room was something like fifty degrees because the stove would go out overnight half the time. I wore all these layers all the time, and I was safe, but I was never really warm, not for long anyway.  Sometimes the cold was delicious--the winter was beautiful, I love snow, and cold weather makes hot chocolate taste better--but I still thought about it all the time.

Now, it’s all about hot weather. It’s not that I’m really uncomfortable most of the time, but I have all these strategies to stay comfortable, and they are all about avoiding the heat. I wake up around dawn to go running and I have time to shower before zazen and when I go out to breakfast I close my balcony door and draw the curtain to keep out the heat of the day. All the windows in the Mansion are open all night long so the building can cool down as much as possible and then during the day everything is closed up, dark, and quiet.

In the winter, the big southwest and southeast-facing glass balcony doors and windows helped keep the Mansion warm. The only reason the windows don’t do the same now is that they are mostly covered with plants. The big elm tree on the southern corner is tall enough to shade all four stories near the corner; I look out of the Masters’ breakfast room when I go up there to clean, and where I used to see through the branches to the mountain ridges now I only see leaves, green leaves. The window boxes they put on the edges of all the balconies have long since sprouted scarlet runner bean vines. They twined up webs of hemp twine Charlie wove in the spring, and some of them are so long now that when I visit one of the dorms on the third floor, where the ceiling is shorter, I can see the vines of the third floor boxes growing up over and across the boxes of the Master’s balconies above. I look out my balcony door and I see the leaves fluttering across my view. I can’t get a clear view of the pastures and orchards anymore, unless I peer through them.

But the vines are flowering, these little magenta flowers in bunches, and some of them are also fruiting, making these long, green bean pods. I’m supposed to pick them when they reach full size but are still green, so the plants will keep flowering. I can eat as many as I like myself, but I take the extra to the dining hall and they turn up on the salad bar. The thing is, though, that it’s not just me interested in the plants; hummingbirds love the flowers. They won’t come when I’m on the balcony, but if I sit in my room in the evening doing homework with the door open I can hear them, this low, soft buzzing. Sometimes I see them. Sometimes I’m so close I can see the bulge of muscle across the wishbone of the females, the vee at the base of their throats where the muscles come together. The males’ throats are too bright, too shiny, for me to see how strong they are. Mostly I don’t see the birds at all. I hear them, I look up, and they’re already gone.

The other Daniel—Dan—actually has a nest of swallows under the roof of his balcony, which is the floor of the balcony above. He’s stopped using his balcony for the duration. The nest is a cup glued to the underside of the roof and the adults have orange throats. They won’t come to the nest if anyone is watching, but they don’t know about mirrors; if we borrow hand mirrors we can sit and look as much as we like. There’s a nest of phoebes on one of the supports for the car port downstairs and they are bolder—we can go ahead and use the front door—but the birds keep an eye on us. When the black and white cat who loves Greg tries to sneak into the building they spot him and dive at his head, making a strange, sharp , clicking sound. He ignores them or looks up at him with his ears pointed in different, irritable directions.

When I'm not running with Ollie or doing homework or labeling trees (at least he doesn't unlabel the same ones on consecutive days and he keeps the drawer stocked with label blanks for me) I'm mostly helping Rick gather food. Most of it is for Paleolithic Dinner, but of course he's practicing, too. Next year he's going to eat foraged food exclusively, as I think I mentioned.

It's strange, in some ways he and I are doing such similar work. It's not just that we have the same master, it's that our projects are clearly related. Both of us are off the beaten path--we're not studying horticulture like most of Charlie's students, although I think maybe I will next year, and we're not paying much attention to the symbolic forms of spiritual practice most of the rest of campus follows. We're both knee deep in something that is almost, but not quite, science. But at the same time, our work is very different.

Rick is farther along that I am, of course. He's a year ahead of me and already has the basics down--he knows the names of the plants (I haven't found one yet that he doesn't know), for example. But he is focusing on learning to live on the land--learning to eat from it, how to make clothes and shelter, how to judge the weather, how to cook over an open fire--and I don't think I'm going to do that. He never had to label trees or listen to birds, and he doesn't have to know the scientific name of anything, while I do. And there are subtler differences I can't quite put my finger on. 

Wherever I go, here, I always seem to be the younger brother, whether I'm tagging along with Ollie's intellectual Christianity or Rick's quiet competence--or even putting up with Joanna's teasing. We do what they want to do, and I just go along with it.

But none of them know the scientific names of every tree on campus.

 [Next Post: Friday, July 19th: Other Masteries]

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