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.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Part 6: Post 5: Healing and Magic

I saw Allen the other day in the Great Hall, kneeling backwards on one of the couches, playing with a maple leaf. No one else was around, and the room was dim, quiet, and cool at mid-day. The leaf looked funny to me, for some reason.

“Hi, Allen. What are you doing?” I greeted him.

“Herding penguins by moonlight,” he answered, with a smile. It’s one of Charlie’s smart-ass lines, but when Charlie says it he does it with a straight face and a bit of a grumble.  When Allen said it, it was like I was in on the joke.

“No, I mean why are you playing with a maple leaf?” I amended.

“Because it’s pretty,” he told me, simply. And it was—the trees are coloring up nicely now. The ridge behind campus looks like a mountain of Fruity Pebbles, and the leaf Allen held was bright orange and very large. “I picked it up on my way into campus this morning.”

“It looks strange.”

“It’s not from campus. I think all ours are redder than this. You’re studying trees with Charlie, right?”


Mountain Maple
“You know what it is?” He handed it to me. It was freshly fallen, still flexible, and bigger across than
my hand. It was unquestionably a maple leaf, but the shape was off a bit, unfamiliar. I closed my eyes and let my memory well up. There wasn’t a match on campus. It was no one I knew.

“I know what it isn’t,” I told Allen. “It’s not a sugar maple or a red maple. There are other maples, but I don’t know them.” I spun the leaf stem—the petiole—between my finger and thumb and the big leaf twirled around like a flag. I asked Allen if he knew it. He shook his head.

“Not really my thing. I know it’s a maple….”

“Where is the tree?”

“Across the street from the main entrance and down a bit, maybe one property over. It’s one of the ones Charlie’s crew collects leaf mulch from.”
Ash-leafed Maple

“Allen?” I sat down next to him on the couch.


“How do you stay interested in your magic? You know how it works. Doesn’t that take the…well, magic out of the trick?” I’d been thinking about this. I don’t have to choose a magic master until next year, but I’ve been thinking about who I’ll choose and it’s a kind of difficult thing because I’m not sure I really believe in spells and energies and so forth. Allen would be a good choice, because at least I know everything he does in his stage magic is real, but I don’t think I want to learn how his tricks work. I don’t think I want to know. Allen turned and sat properly on the couch, looking, for a moment, like a very small boy climbing around.

“What do you mean, take the magic out of it?” He prompted me.

“I don’t know, the…fun part. The thing that makes it feel magical?” It was circular, and I expected him to call me on it. He didn’t.

“You mean…this?” He suddenly pulled a bouquet of silk flowers out of nowhere. I jumped with surprise and laughed.

“Yes, that.”

“The way you feel when I do that, not the flowers themselves.” The flowers vanished again, but casually, as though he were simply putting them away.


Striped Maple
“Good question. You’re talking about wonder. A lot of stage magicians become very cynical, materialist people. They don’t feel the wonder anymore, because they don’t wonder how it’s done. For me, it’s a vicarious thrill, in part. I get a kick out seeing you wonder. But it’s more than that. I know how to make flowers appear out of nowhere, but I don’t know for sure how you’ll react. And I don’t know—for sure—why. There’s this hunger for wonder in people, this willingness to believe, for just a moment, in things they really don’t believe in. What’s that about? You have to remember, I’m a psychologist. I wonder about people.”

“I don’t think that’s my thing,” I told him.

“No, I don’t think so, either. Hard to say, though. I wouldn’t rule anything out.”

“Allen, how am I going to choose a magic master?”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, how should I choose?”

“I don’t know that there’s any should about it. What kind of magic do you want to do?”

“That’s the problem. I don’t particularly want to do magic. I don’t care. I don’t know that I believe in magic, even.”  It felt like a very deep admission, confessing my lack of faith in this thing everybody around me seemed to take for granted. Someone crossed the room behind me, I didn’t see who, and Allen and I were both silent while she passed. She didn’t interrupt or even greet us.

“You don’t need to believe in something in order to learn how to do it,” Allen told me, “you learn how to do it, and that way you discover how it works and that it works. Try talking to Kit about it. Why did you come here, if not to do magic?” He didn’t sound surprised or disapproving of my revelation; he just wanted me to clarify myself, as he always does.  I think I remember telling him, months ago, that I’d come here to “learn to do magic like Harry Potter.” Maybe he remembered it, too. He remembers most things.

“I wanted—I want—to belong to a place where people learn to do magic. I want to be inside the magic, I want to belong to that wonder. But I can’t think of anything I’d like to do with a spell that I can’t do better for real.” Did I really put it that way? Wow, that’s telling.

“I suggest you learn whatever type of magic best helps you feel like you belong, then,” Allen suggested.
For a moment I so wanted to ask him to be my magic teacher. I almost said the words. But I was right when I said it earlier; stage magic just isn’t my thing. I handed the leaf back to him and I went on my way. 

I also have to pick a healing master next year—of the six areas, I’ve already got spirit and athletics squared away, and I don’t need art because I have advanced standing there. And I plan to ask Charlie to be my craft master in horticulture and landscape design—I like the work, and I can make good money as a landscaper, later, if I don’t manage to figure out what else I want to do. So that leaves magic and healing. And healing’s a problem, like magic, because I never felt any particular impulse to do it.

Silver Maple
Healing is complicated, too, because most forms of healing require rather more than a bachelor’s degree to do. Part of the issue is that as novices we’re supposed to reach “competence,” not mastery, in these areas, but it is very difficult to be a competent healer without being a master healer. Who wants to go to a merely competent healer? And part of the issue is they take healing very seriously here. They don’t let us just take a couple of classes in herbalism, for example, and call it good; to be a doctor you have to go to med school and to be something like a doctor you have to do something like med school.

It works best for people who come here with some medical training already—I’ve heard there have been novices who were already doctors or herbalists and simply needed help learning bedside manner or something like that. And Allen was part way through his psychology degree when he came here as a student. Otherwise…you can either prepare for some kind of advanced degree program, like how some of Allen’s students graduate with a concentration in psychology and go on to graduate school, or you can learn something that doesn’t require as much study, like you can become a paramedic or a vet tech or a massage therapist, something like that.

I can’t see myself doing any of that.

But Joy teaches this thing called Reiki, and I think maybe I can do that. It’s a kind of laying on of
Sugar Maple
hands, something to do with energy. You get a series of “attunements” and learn certain symbols. Joy will sign off on a novice who gets the first two attunements and logs a hundred hours or more of practice time. I’m not sure I believe in Reiki, either, but unlike Kit’s spell-work group, anybody can go to Joy’s Reiki group and check it out. So I did.

We met on a Saturday afternoon, six of us, plus Joy, in one of the classrooms in Chapel Hall. Joy brought a portable massage table, and I got on it. I was the only one there who wasn’t studying Reiki myself, and they have a rule that visitors always get first chance on the table. I didn’t think I was in any particular need of healing, but they said I could get on the table anyway, if I wanted to. And of course I wanted to, because how else was I to find out what it was all about.

So I lay there, fully clothed, on my back and the others put their hands on me. And I…it’s not that I blacked out, but my focus turned suddenly inward, so that I could feel—almost see—the texture and tension of each part of my body, but I was barely aware of anything else. Sometimes I heard the others whispering to each other, but I could not hear what they were saying, nor did I wish to. The feelings in my body shifted and changed, like some fluid was oozing or soaking through me. I felt relaxed. At one point I heard a woman’s voice—I’m not sure whose—ask “can you feel my hand on your belly?” I said yes, and I could, though the sensation was strange. It was almost like a puddle of warm but nearly weightless liquid rested there. “I’m not touching you,” the voice informed me. And yet I felt it.

Red Maple
After a while, I felt…something like a point of resistance, a tension. It was not an emotional resistance—I felt quite neutral, actually. Instead it seemed almost physical, like something was stuck. I can’t explain it. I heard whispering, people consulting each other. The tension increased and then suddenly subsided. And I started to cry, really, really cry. Tears sliding sideways down my face as I lay there and sliding into my ears. I felt…I can’t explain it. I was just crying.

After a while, the others helped me to sit up and then stand—my body felt strange, very tall and big, somehow. Joy hugged me and held me for a while. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” I told her hair. 

“That’s ok,” she told me.


The next day I went across the street and looked up the tree Allen had found. It’s a Norway maple.
Norway Maple

[Note; the inside corners, or "sinuses" of sugar maple leaves are distinctively rounded, but they look pointed in the picture because the corners normally wrinkle a bit. Also, contrary to popular belief, leaf shape alone is not a reliable way to identify most trees, even maples.]

[Next Post: Monday, October 7th: Fall]

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