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]