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]

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