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, September 30, 2013

Part 6: Post 4: Story Time

[Note: I was going to talk about reiki, but I’ll do that next post instead. I’ve decided that it makes more sense to stay on the topic of hunting a little while longer.]

So, as I mentioned, I don’t get to see much of Kit these days. Occasionally I’ll go to one of her storytelling workshops, or to “Callaloo,” the open-mike-without-a-microphone she hosts once or twice a month. Sometimes I’ll sit next to her at breakfast so we can chat. Breakfast is the one meal everyone on campus has to attend, but there are a lot of students studying off-campus, either away for a few days or weeks or for the whole semester, so there are a lot of empty seats and it’s easy to find a spot for a semi-private conversation. This morning, though, I sat by myself because I wanted to think and it was Kit who joined me.

“You mind some company?” she asked. I looked up and mumbled something to the effect that I did not mind. She sat, and we both waited as one of the Dining Hall staff announced the moment of silent prayer that began the meal. We only get eggs every third day and it wasn’t my day, but it was Kit’s, so she got up and went to the hot bar. It still gets me that our professors are subject to the same benign rationing as us. When she came back her plate sported a modest pile of scrambled eggs and also two slices of sausage and a fresh-baked role. I didn’t have anything yet because our table hadn’t actually been set for breakfast, so I had to wait until one of the other tables was done with its milk and cereal. I gestured for her to go ahead and eat anyway. She would have waited for me.

“Kit,” I asked, suddenly, “do you eat eggs every day when you’re at home? At your house, I mean.” It wasn’t a very important question, and it wasn’t what I’d sat by myself to think about, but I do wonder, sometimes, how our professors deal with the strange rules and limitations of campus. Kit regarded her eggs critically for a moment. She was halfway through building herself a sandwich.
“I don’t eat eggs off-campus at all,” she said, finally. “Because I don’t know the hens. I’m not going to eat something that came out of a stranger’s vagina.” I snorted with surprised laughter while she finished making her sandwich and took a bite, pleased with herself. Oak called out from a nearby table, asking if I wanted milk and cereal. I took my bowl and went over to serve myself.

“Do chickens even have—vaginas?” I asked, when I came back, stumbling a little over the embarrassing word. 

“I suppose not,” she answered, frowning a little. “They have something back there.  I should ask. Joy or Sarah would know.”

“Does the same principle apply to meat?” I asked, thinking of her sausage. There hadn’t been sausage on the hot bar for some weeks, ever since the meat from the hogs at Litha ran out. She looked at her sandwich and its sausage slices.

“With certain exceptions, yes,” she told me. “This is venison, but at least I know the land it came from. Its Earth-mother, if not its earthly mother.” She smiled at her trick of language. I felt kind of sick.

“Kit, I killed that deer,” I told her. I hadn’t meant to talk with her about what was bothering me, though I’d guessed that she was going to ask, but the topic kind of ambushed me and there I was,
telling her. She put down her sandwich down, suddenly serious.

“And you’re not sure you should have,” she responded, her eyes shining. I nodded. “And you’re not sure it’s ok to feel that way,” she added. I nodded again. Of course, I’d already talked to Charlie about my conflict, we talked over the body of the deer, and I’d been mulling around his words ever since. And the little ritual we went through, and his gift of the knife, had been working at me, too. It’s not like I’ve been worrying about this for two weeks without any kind of guidance. But I wasn’t going to tell Kit that. She knows Charlie is my teacher, but I don’t talk to her about him. I’ve started to think of the two of them as like the rails of a railroad, both necessary, but best kept entirely separate. If Kit suspected I wasn’t telling her something, she didn’t indicate it. 

“If you didn’t feel sympathy,” she told me, “you would not be a good man. And if you never felt conflicted about anything you did, you would not be a wise one.” She took another bite of her sandwich and a slurp of coffee and then, while I ate, she told me a story, beginning with “once upon a time.”

Once upon a time, there was a very proud and skilled hunter, named Actaeon. When other families went hungry, his did not. When other men lost their quarry in the woods, he did not. As time went by, it seemed there was nothing of the woods and fields he did not know, and still he kept on hunting.
Well, one day, Actaeon was hunting on foot with his dogs deep in the woods when he came upon a lovely little pool and in that lovely little pool, he spied the Goddess, bathing. He knew he should not look, that mortals who see the glory of the Sacred Folk are not heard from again, but so great was his desire for Her beauty that he could not turn away. 

When She saw him staring at Her, she dipped Her hand in the waters of the pool and threw the droplets at him, and everywhere the water touched him, he felt himself starting to change. Within seconds his arms and legs and neck were lengthening and hair sprang up all over his body. Where a man had been, a magnificent stag now stood, trembling, by the pool. But Actaeon did not merely look like a stag, he was a stag, and the other animals recognized him as such. And so, Actaeon, once a mighty hunter, became himself prey and he was pulled down and killed by his own hounds.

“Do you think it’s a happy ending?” Kit asked me, when she was done.

“I don’t know,” I said, frowning, confused.

“Well, I’ll give you a hint; in the old stories, cause and effect are sometimes not what they seem. I think you’d better keep on being sympathetic, if you want to become intimate with the forest.”

And at that moment, the Dining Hall staff called for announcements. A few people raised their hands—somebody was driving into the small city about half an hour away and wanted to know if anyone needed a ride there. Someone else had lost a notebook and wanted everyone to keep a look out for it. Messing Around Outdoors was going to meet down by the lake at 1:15, rather than in the classroom at one-o’clock. That sort of thing. Breakfast was over, and without speaking another word, Kit and I got up and went our separate ways, she to teach and I to take care of my janitor's responsibilities.

But "intimacy with the forest"--I'd never put the object of my studies into words like that before.
Neither had Charlie. He'd once said that I was trying to "become friends with God." I hadn't put it into words at all, not exactly, but I'd once told Charlie that I wanted what he had and was willing to go to any lengths to get it, and I'd meant those words. And I'd heard a tenderness, a longing, in the love songs Charlie played, in secret, to the sunset every night.

[Next Post: Friday, October 4th: Reiki]

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Part 6: Post 3: More Tools

Rick has the same type of knife I do, as does Charlie. I’m guessing that Charlie made all three. The main difference, that I can see, is that where mine has an owl feather, Rick’s has a raven feather and Charlie’s has a grouse feather. And no, I can’t recognize all these different feathers at a glance—I got curious and asked Otter about my feather, and he told me about Rick’s and Charlie’s. Evidently, he can tell the difference between a crow feather and a raven feather at a glance.

I didn’t ask Charlie or Rick themselves, and I certainly didn’t examine their knives, because knives are personal. I was just thinking about this—why it feels so deeply ingrained not to touch Rick or Charlie’s knife. I’m pretty sure I had no such inhibition a year ago.

I think what it is, is that these are ritual knives. Charlie never said so, and Rick and I haven’t talked about it, but there is a lot that Charlie does not talk about that nevertheless is true. And Kit says to never touch someone else’s ritual equipment, particularly not knives.

I haven’t written much about Kit in a while. She’s not one of my teachers this semester, and she’s not my master in anything yet—though I may ask to work with her in magic, as Charlie doesn’t teach it. We do hang out sometimes, I see her at breakfast and so forth, but the long and the short of it is I don’t see her that often these days, and I haven’t had anything specific to write about her in a while. But in a way, she’s everywhere.
Part of it is that she has a lot of students. I think Kit’s the most popular master here. I don’t wonder why—did I say this already? It’s like she’s the reason half of us came here, not that anyone had heard of her, I don’t think, but she’s what people think of if they imagine a school for magic, especially the Wiccans—she’s this beautiful, red-headed witch-woman.   

So with what seems like almost every other person choosing her as a master for something, almost every conversation I have includes somebody who is getting their ideas from Kit. Plus…Kit talks in a way the other masters don’t. I mean, what I mentioned about Charlie not saying a lot? He really doesn’t. He’s my spirit master, but I don’t actually know the first thing about his personal beliefs. We don’t talk philosophy or cosmology much. Greg is the same way—I know he’s Buddhist, and I’ve been meditating with him daily and listening to his Dharma talks every week, but I also know he’s an alchemist and I have no idea what that means. Karen hardly talks about anything, personal or otherwise, and while Joy talks freely about religion, as far as I can tell she mostly talks to people only across the back of a horse. Allen, of course, mostly asks questions instead of answering them. Kit is
different. She talks constantly about magic and ceremony and symbolism and if you ask why about anything she gives a clear and straight-forward answer.

And so, even though I’m not Kit’s student directly, I’m picking up these ideas from her almost without meaning to. And so I know this knife of mine is a ritual knife and I know that no one except my teacher is allowed to touch it.

It’s not an athame, though. The athame isn’t supposed to cut physical objects, and my knife is clearly meant for practical, physical cutting.  Kit would say my knife is a bolline. Charlie would say it’s a work knife.
Charlie does not use anything like an athame, as far as I know, but he does carry his work knife with him everywhere. It’s almost always on his belt, even when he doesn’t have any particular reason to use it. I think all the masters carry a tool of some type. Kit, of course, has her athame.  Allen has his white-tipped magician’s wand—I don’t know where he keeps it, in a pocket or something, but he can make it appear any time he wants to. Joy carries a pendulum, a little chain with a pointed crystal
set in silver at the end. She usually keeps it clipped onto a necklace as a pendant, but she sometimes un-clips it and asks it questions, interpreting the answer based on whether it swings round and round or back and forth. And Karen always carries a knife. I just found out about this. Her knife isn’t for use in ritual; it’s a weapon.

“Why?” I asked her, after she'd confirmed that the rumor was true. She looked at me a moment, as if considering whether to answer me.

"Because I don't want to be mentally or morally lazy," she told me, carefully. I don't think she was reluctant to share, so much as not sure how to answer the question. She seldom talks philosophy with people who are not established students of her, people who already know her well and understand her. I didn't, so she tried again. "Do you ever get angry with someone and so imagine doing violence to them?"

"Well, yes," I admitted, not sure where she was going.

"Could you act on those fantasies? Might you ever?"

"I don't know," I told her. "I hope not, but it's never really come up."

"Exactly," she said, smiling at me a little. "You don't have a weapon. I don't have that option. I have to make up my mind." She's such a little,shy, girlish person. She makes me think of a teenage saint in some movie, but I've seen her throw guys double her size.

When I went to pick up lunch today I bumped into Kit. She was waiting for some bread to toast and impatiently tasting her hot soup with one finger. I'd gotten steamed greens and beans with onions and decided to get some toast, too.

"Kit? You know Karen's knife?" I asked.

"Hmm?" she answered, her soup-burnt finger in her mouth.

"Does it count as an athame?"

"Sure. I guess so, why?"

"Just wondering. I mean, it's for cutting something physical."

"Only sort-of," she answered, rescuing her toast from the toaster. I waited while she burnt her fingers again and we took our trays to an empty table. "Karen doesn't actually cut anything with her knife; it's the idea of being able to cut something that's important. So I'd say it's an athame, yeah. What does she call it?"

"I don't know that she calls it anything, other than a knife. You don't know?" I asked, in surprise. She shook her head.

"We don't know everything about each other. And I've never asked."

"Why the distinction, anyway? Why aren't athames supposed to cut things?"

"Some people use their athames to cut things in rituals. I don't. Anyway, astral constructs are things, too." She smiled.

"Yeah, ok, I know," I acknowledged. "But still, what's the difference? Athames are, what, phallic symbols, right?" I knew fertility and sexuality are important in Wicca, so the idea that they might use phallic symbols in rituals made sense to me. But Kit gave me a scolding look, dunked her bread in her soup, and took a bite.

"You should know better than that," she told me, when she could speak past the bread. "You wouldn't be very popular with women if yours was sharp, would you?"

I think I blushed. I bet students in normal schools don't have to deal with their professors commenting on their genitals. At least she made complimentary assumptions. She grinned, in a friendly way, acknowledging my embarrassment, but didn't otherwise react to it. She ate some more soup and then continued.

"Athames aren't phallic. Wands are. Think about how a wand works--remember Harry Potter? You point, you touch, you say the right words and form the right intentions, and--alakazam!--something transforms. You get the comparison? But that's not what athames do. Athames are supposed to be sharp because you have to decide what to do with them. You know that the 'cide' in 'decide' is the same as in 'homicide' or 'pesticide,' right? It means to kill. You kill off options when you decide. So, we, as priestesses and priests, carry athames as symbols of our authority and autonomy. We get to decide."

"That's what Karen said her knife is for."

"Exactly. That's why it's an athame. So, if a wand symbolizes that which is embodied in the erect penis, what embodies that which the athame symbolizes?"

"The mind. The brain--whatever parts of it make decisions," I answered, suddenly sure. I don't get how I can answer these questions, but I open my mind and there it is, at the bottom, waiting for me. Kit smiled at me, and I started eating my lunch, so I wouldn't grin like a proud schoolboy.

"Right!" she confirmed, and ate some more soup and bread. Then she shook her head as she chewed. "Phallic knives," she said, with some scorn. "You're not the first person to make that mistake. People think anything longer than it is wide must be phallic. It's actually pretty horrific, if you think about the implications." She actually shuddered, and while I think the shudder was deliberate for my benefit, her horror seemed genuine. She smiled at me, to show me, maybe, that she didn't think poorly of me, personally. "Too many people excused and encouraged bad behavior for too long. Now, many people think male sexuality is violence, and they don't even recognize how screwed up that is."

She looked at me strangely for a moment, and then finished her soup. We made small-talk until she was ready to leave, and I finished my lunch alone.

And you know, I think I understand what she means. I know a lot of people talk about about sex--male sexuality specifically--in violent terms. And it bothers me. And I feel pretty dumb now that it didn't occur to me what a phallic knife might look like to a woman. I feel pretty bad. But at the same time, I don't know, I think she's missing something.

After I was finished my lunch, I went to the Mansion to change into my uniform for class, and I took out my athame. I hadn't done much with it since I chose it, but it still feels good in my hand. Alone in my room, I moved around with it, dancing, almost, waving it around, stabbing and slicing at the air. I looked at my arm, the muscles moving around each other and ending in the knife that looked like and extension of my hand. I'm still surprised, sometimes, by how long my arms have gotten, how tall I am now. I looked at myself in the mirror, half naked, with my knife. I can name my feelings now, and I did, indeed feel decisive, but more than that I felt strong. I felt sexy.

And I was late to class, for the first time this year.

[Next Post: Monday, September 30th: Reiki]

Monday, September 23, 2013

Part 6: Post 2: Sharpening Tools

I never really noticed it before, but there’s a vine growing all up the walls around the “bird feeder garden” on the shady side of the Mansion.  Yes, I’ve spent the past however many months learning to notice plants, but I hardly ever go into that garden, and you can’t see it very well from the campus road because it’s screened by trees. I hardly ever go in it because the main point of the garden is to attract birds, and if I’m in the garden the birds mostly aren’t. Instead, I watch them through the window, and I can’t see the outer wall of the Mansion, where the vine climbs, from inside the Mansion, now can I?
But I’ve noticed the vine at last because it’s turned bright red and almost everything else in the garden is still green. It’s not ivy (and of course, it wouldn’t be; ivy is an exotic), and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a grape vine, just looking at it, but I had to use my new field guides to really put a name to it. It’s Virginia creeper, and I should have known it, because I remember them pointing it out to us in camp when I was a kid. Supposedly people confuse it with poison ivy, so the counselors showed us the difference between the two plants, but I remembered poison ivy and forgot Virginia creeper. Anyway, it’s turned bright red, almost purple, and now the cascades of it coming down the building look like some giant fairy-woman’s hair.
And the birds love it, flying in and out to eat the berries. I suppose that’s why it’s planted where it is.
The bird feeder garden has been a smashing success, as far as I can tell, though I won’t say so aloud because it sounds funny to approve of something that was obviously here long before I was. The jewel weed alone (the green stuff I noticed by the little fountain, months ago) turned out to attract more hummingbirds than anything I’ve seen before, including commercial feeders.
I’ve decided that next year I’m going to get a job working in the gardens, if Charlie will have me. It’s just ridiculous that I don’t get to work in the gardens and really study them after having spent months getting on a first-name basis with every tree on campus.
I did join a seminar on tool care this past Saturday, partly in hopes of preparing for a gardening job, and partly because Charlie said he wants me to learn trail work as an athletic endeavor. Trail work involves tools, so I decided to get ready for that, too. Charlie didn’t ask me to, but he did smile at me, briefly, when he saw me among the group who showed up for the workshop, so I think I'm getting this.
Charlie wasn’t wearing his uniform. He’s the only person I know who will do manual labor in his school uniform, it’s like a second skin to him, though I have no idea how he keeps it clean, and so when he shows up wearing anything else there’s usually a reason. This time the reason appeared to be the quote printed on the t-shirt he was wearing;
“If I had five hours in which to chop down a tree, I’d spend four of them sharpening my axe.”—Abraham Lincoln.
We did start with axes, and Charlie let us try splitting wood before we tried sharpening anything. He did not, of course, tell us that the idea was to demonstrate why sharpening matters—he came up with some excuse to convince us he simply wanted the wood split, I don’t know why I still fall for these things. I got some of the logs split and so did Oak, who's pretty big, but sometimes the axe just bounced off the wood or got stuck in it, and Rick, Raven, and Joanna didn’t get their logs split at all. Then Charlie came back and acted all upset that we hadn’t gotten the logs split, but by that time we’d all figured out what he was up to, so he dropped the act and taught us how to sharpen the axes.
The shape of the axehead had to be just so (most of ours were too fat in cross-section, because the edge had been worn back) and the edge had to be straight—I mean, seen from the side the axe blades are curved, but if you look down on the blade along its length it has to be straight. There couldn’t be any nicks, and once I learned to notice the nicks I realized mine had zillions of them, large and small. We had to use gloves to protect our hands from the axe and a nice, even stroke with the file, stroke after stroke after stroke. Getting it right seemed to take hours, though I’m not sure if it really did. When we were finally done filing, Charlie handed out sharpening stones and explained how to care for them and how to use them. By the time we were done, he said, we should be able to shave with our axes. He meant that literally, demonstrating by shaving a small patch of hair off his arm. Afterwards, splitting wood did go much easier. After we were done splitting wood, our axes needed sharpening again because the edges of the blades were all nicked up. So we sharpened them. Again.

We also sharpened shovels and hoes for Sarah and her farmers and clippers, loppers, Pulaskis and pick-mattocks for whichever trail workers Charlie was going to draft. No, I didn’t know what Pulaskis and pick-mattocks were, either, until I had to sharpen them—a Pulaski is an axe with an adz blade on the back of it, for digging, and a pick-mattock has an adz on one side and a pick on the other (I kept hearing the name as “pickmatic,” like “pick-o-matic,” something Wile E. Coyote might buy from Acme, but I imagine it’s like an alternate version of a pick-axe). I’d never thought of a shovel as being a thing that needed to be sharp, but of course if you’re digging through roots I can see how that would help.
I’d also never thought of sharpening tools as something I’d get college credit for, but honestly once I
Pick Mattock
got into it the stroke, stroke, stroke of the file wasn’t all that different from following my breath in zazen or painting a picture. I kind of got into the zone. And I can get credit for meditation or art, so why not this? At least it makes sense here, anyway.
I had plenty of time to think about how good tool-sharpening might be for not thinking because after the seminar was over Charlie said anyone who wanted extra practice could stay after and sharpen all the rest of the tools—there were only five of us in the seminar, so we hadn’t sharpened more than five of any one of kind of tool. Rick and I were the only two who stayed, and it took us until midnight to get everything done. Charlie didn't stay to help, which I suppose is a mark of confidence. On Monday morning, Charlie gave me my own sharpening stone and file. He gave it to me without ceremony and without thanks for my labor, and I suspect this means there is a lot more sharpening in my future.
Charlie would never say that tool-sharpening is supposed to be meditative, or that it offers some object lesson in life by way of metaphor. He’d say axes need to be sharp, because using them is both easier and safer that way. He also never said anything about the t-shirt he’d worn, though he’d quite obviously worn it deliberately. I’ve thought a lot about that t-shirt slogan, and I’ve come to believe that whatever else that slogan is, metaphorical or not, as regards felling actual trees it’s probably literally true.
Abraham Lincoln was a farm kid, after all.

[Next post: Personal Tools]

Friday, September 20, 2013

Part 6, Post 1: Mabon

Most people say the fall equinox is the beginning of fall. Kit says it is the middle of the season, and either way, we’re getting closer to the winter world I remember from when I first got here. I get up in the dark, again, now. It’s cold in the mornings, most days, and I’m glad for my cloak, even if I don’t wear long underwear under my uniform like I used to. We’ve started moving firewood into the storage rooms in the Mansion, to make room for Charlie’s team to build up the woodpiles to season for next year. And yet the trees are still green. Apart from a few leaves falling here and there, the leaves are still green. Little brown specks fall from the white pines like rain—I’m not sure what they’re called, but they come from the bases of the needles, little brown straplike things.

The holiday associated with the equinox is called Mabon. I’m not sure why, and I’m not quite sure what it’s about, and as usual no one is explaining it. I could ask Kit, or read one of the zillion books on pagan practices they have in the library, and I probably will, but that won’t tell me what the holiday means to the school specifically. I can, as usual, only say what we did and that I liked it.

There was no semester break, only a day off, and the festivities were not very organized—there were several different events that didn’t seem particularly coordinated. There was an outdoor feast, a kind of harvest show of large and excellent vegetables, a tasting for the first bottles of several batches of home-made beer, a storytelling circle…a lot of these things were going on all at the same time, and no one went to all of them. I wouldn’t say that the earlier holidays of the year were mandatory, because I have a hard time imagining that anybody would have been punished for refusing to go, but attendance was obviously expected. The Mabon celebrations seemed optional.

The main event I went to was the “Thank You Circle.” I think there were seventy people there, students and masters and even some sprouts, under the trees behind the greenhouses where we usually meet for Philosopher’s Stone Soup. We made a giant circle, standing in the grass, and Allen walked into the middle of the circle, holding a ball of bluish grey yarn. As usual, he looked kind of awkward, but relaxed. He fumbled with the yarn a bit and grinned a moment into the patch of sunshine.

“Thank you for coming!” he began. “Some of you may remember from last year how this works. If you get the ball of yarn, hand it to someone you’re grateful to for something—nothing’s too small or too big. Keep hold of your end of the yarn, and let it unroll to get to the other person, who passes it on in turn, so pretty soon we’ll get a web of yarn connecting all of us. Does that make sense?”

I wasn’t sure if it did, but Allen started us off by handing the yarn to his older daughter and thanking her and her siblings for being willing to share their father with the school. “The three of you mean the world to me,” he told her, and kissed the top of her head. It was very sweet. Then he backed up into the circle and joined it, and the girl returned to her place in the circle on the other side, and a long strand of yarn linked them across the open space. The girl handed the yarn next to Kayla and said something inaudible.

“We can’t hear you!” We called.

“I said, thank you for learning to be a mommy this year!” she repeated. “I think Aidan’s really cute!”

Kayla handed the yarn back to Allen, making a big triangle, and thanked him for arranging for her to be a student “and for being so nice to me these last few months.”

From there, handing the yarn around got complicated, because you couldn’t cross the circle without getting tangled in the strands of yarn, so David, Allen’s son, ferried the yarn back and forth, running around under the web as we held it up for him. As one ball of yarn ran out, David grabbed another ball from a big basket, tied it on to the end of the old ball, and kept it going. Clearly he knows what he’s doing, he must have done this before, but next year I think he’ll be too big for the job. Maybe Alexis, the littlest of Allen’s kids, will take over? She’ll be close to five, by then.

It sounds hokey, but it was really fun, and sometimes really moving. Some people thanked others for really simple, silly things, other people got really deep and emotional, some had no words at all but just hugged each other, and we all got really quiet. Some told funny stories and we all laughed. Some people got the yarn more than once, several times, even, and some pairs of people passed it back and forth a few times, thanking each other, but after a while we started making a point to give the yarn to people who hadn’t had it yet.

I got the yard a few times, which really surprised me. It’s not that I didn’t think anyone liked me, I just didn’t really think anyone noticed me very much. Kayla gave it to me, Ollie gave it to me, and so did Rick. So did Joanna, which was a complete surprise, as I hadn’t thought she liked me very much. Kit was there, and I kept hoping she’d give the yarn to me, but she never did. I thought of giving it to her, but I had other people I had to give it to, first, and then I ran out of chances. Charlie was not there.

As I said, I’d never thought that other people might feel grateful to me for anything, and I really didn’t think about gratitude much for other people, either. I’m getting better at naming my feelings, but I guess a lot of feelings go by unnoticed still. It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t pay attention to caring self-consciously. But having to think about who to thank—at first I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to think of anything, but then, once I started I couldn’t stop and I kept thinking up thing after thing that I could thank this or that other person for, I couldn’t get the yarn often enough. But I did get it a few times, as I said. Each time it surprised me. The thought that I matter to other people, somehow…it just really got me.

We used a lot of yarn, balls and balls of the stuff, black, grey, brown, white, and off-white. It wasn’t dyed, most of it, but it came in every color sheep come in. I wondered about all the yarn, but Ollie told me it was all rejects spun by trainees of the weavers we get our cloaks and blankets from—mostly from our sheep, I guess. And in fact most of the yarn was visibly lumpy or knotted. A year’s worth of trying and learning. When we were done, we bundled the whole web up into a big ball and stuffed it in a canvas sack. Allen said it would be saved and used to kindle the fire for the next Brigid. I remember those candles…to think, that light was the previous September’s gratitude, shining forth….

I remember those candles. I remember the cold and the dark of the Chapel, lit by candles and filled with the strange, moving shadows of the hooded masters and the strange, high bells of their procession. And I remember lighting Kit’s candle, and not knowing who she was yet. And that was only a little over seven months ago.

Can it really be only seven months ago? It feels like I’ve been here forever.

[Next Post: Part 6: Post 2: Trail Work]