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.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Part 7: Post 9: Thanksgiving

Note: This week is also Chanukah, and we did, indeed, observe the holiday on campus, in an unofficial way. However, I'm going to talk about Chanuka next month, the week it fell in 2000.

So, I went home for Thanksgiving. It was interesting.

By "interesting" I mean surprising and awkward, like I was a little out of step with everybody the whole time. The first problem was actually kind of funny--the others were all excited to eat turkey, but I just had turkey they other week and I kind of wasn't in the mood for much more of it so soon. More seriously...I knew I'd changed and they hadn't, but I hadn't really realized how much I'd changed. And I really wasn't prepared for what that would do to my family.

It was the first time I'd seen my aunts and uncles since I started school, and of course I haven't seen my brother and sister-in-law very much, and they'd all heard I've started a new school so they were all curious about me. Somehow, the main topic of dinner conversation turned out to be me. I don't like talking about myself at the best of times, but I especially don't like it when nobody else really understands where I'm coming from so all the questions are wrong. That I couldn't actually completely answer any of the questions made the whole thing even worse.

"So, Jim tells me you're going to be a minister now?" My uncle asked me. Jim is my father.

"Priest, dear, he said priest, I think," my aunt amended.

"What, he's Episcopal now?"

"I don't think so," she answered.

"Well, as long as he's not Catholic!"

"No, I'm not Catholic. I don't think there'd be anything wrong if I was," I protested. My uncle is a really big, loud person. He kind of takes over a room. My voice seemed very small in contrast, but I couldn't not say anything. Sarah is Catholic, after all. My uncle immediately agreed there was nothing wrong with Catholics.

"They use the same Bible," my aunt added.

"So, you are in an Episcopal seminary?" asked my other uncle.

"No. No, I'm not. I'm not Episcopalian.Not that there's be anything wrong is I was."

"--No, of course not--"
"--But you are in a seminary?" My uncle and aunt spoke together.

"It's a liberal arts school. I have  a concentration in environmental studies. We call it a seminary sometimes because we do a lot of work around service, how to use what we learn to serve the community."

"You're doing community service?"

And so on.

Even the food caused problems. I'd arranged to get a local free-range organic turkey, because I couldn't stand to eat anything that had been mistreated. I remembered the deer I'd killed, and I couldn't forget that the only reason I'd felt at all ok about that was that she'd lived well while she was here. My parents agreed, though they did ask me to pay the difference in price.

"Delicious bird," my uncle said, in the course of complimenting my parents on everything. I find him a bit hard to take sometimes, but he really is an excellent guest (and an excellent host, when we visit) and all his compliments are entirely sincere.

My father thanked him--my Dad is, as I've said, a grill-freak, so by extension he also does most of the holiday cooking, grilled or not, while my Mom takes care of holiday baking and most every-day cooking. Anyway, my Dad thanked him and said the turkey was actually my doing.

"It's organic. Ever since he started that new school he's gone all natural on us." My Dad was smiling. He and my Mom have always been pretty into environmental things themselves, and they eat a lot of organic foods normally. He was teasing me. But my uncle gave me a look and my aunt, my other aunt, the one married to my other uncle, looked up in surprise.

"Oh, do you mean it's not really meat? It's made out of tofu or something?" She hadn't eaten the turkey, she had something wrong with her stomach this week, but she could see it. Her husband gave her a look and she blushed, I think she realized she said something dumb, but still...and even my Dad had missed the point. I didn't really care that the turkey was organic as such, I cared about the whole package, how it was raised and who raised it and how much the farmers and processors were paid, and all of that, and I'd gone with the bird I'd bought because I could call up the grower and ask questions. And I'd told my Dad that, all that intricacy, all that complexity, I'd tried to teach him this new way to really think about food, to really act grateful for all the people and animals and plants that feed us, and he'd reduced all of that to an idiosyncratic preference on my part for organic food.

I didn't say anything.

I didn't used to think that everything my family said was dumb. I wasn't one of those obnoxious teenagers you hear people complain about. I didn't think I knew everything, and I never thought my parents were un-cool. I love my parents. I love my family, my uncles and aunts, even if I do find my one uncle a bit hard to take, he's not a bad guy. But all of a sudden it really seems like we're living on different planets. I can't explain where I'm coming from even if I want to, but I can see it hurts their feelings when I don't try.

Afterwards, after the uncles and aunts had left, I insisted on doing dishes. My sister helped me clean up while my Dad and brother and my brother's wife watched the game. My Mom usually cleans up after holidays, but I shooed her away and so she poured herself a drink and put her feet up.

"I could get used to this," she said, happily.

"You should get used to it, Mom," I told her. "You do dishes the rest of the year. It's my turn." Usually in my family cooking and cleaning is kind of women's work, except for my Dad's grilling and holiday meals. Nobody ever says so, and it's not like my Dad never does dishes, but just normally it's my Mom in the kitchen. And if somebody helps her it's my sister, while my Dad and I watch TV or I do homework. Even my sister-in-law is getting into it. She helps my Mom in the kitchen sometimes, but my brother doesn't. I've never thought about any of this before, it's just the way my family does things. I'm not even sure it's bad, but it kind of bugs me, and anyway, I'm a janitor now--cleaning has been my job for almost a year. It feels like my responsibility. I know my way around a kitchen sink and an apron.

"We're paying how much money to turn our son into a janitor?" my Dad asked from the living room. He was joking, though. I know he's proud of me. My Dad's not the sort of guy who thinks a man shouldn't help out around the house, and he's happy I'm finally helping out my mother. My siblings and I stayed up late after we were done cleaning, talking and drinking and having a great time. My sister-in-law is new, of course, but she seems like one of us. Nobody asked me any more questions and I felt like one of them.

Today we ate leftovers and went on long walks and played video games...I had fun. In the evening, Kit came to get me. She came inside for a few minutes and chatted with my parents while I got my stuff together. It was strange to see her, this creature from my other life, in my parents' living room, and of course I'm still not used to seeing her dressed like an ordinary person, in jeans and a striped turtleneck and a black jacket with fake fur trim. Her red hair glowed like a halo. She took my bags outside and left me to say my goodbyes and to juggle bags and boxes of leftovers.

"She's your professor?" my Mom asked. "What does she teach?" The way she said it, she sounded catty and protective. My Dad, in a very different tone of voice, commented that Kit did look young enough to be a student. He asked how old she is.

"Older than she looks, I think," I told him. "In her forties, maybe?"

"She looks good for forty!" he explained, and my mother gave him a dirty look. My parents aren't usually like that.

I made my farewells and left, red-faced.

There was a red minivan parked in our driveway. I approached, and Kit waved from a back window and jumped out so I could get in. It wasn't the vehicle she'd dropped me off from, and when I got in it I saw why--it was full of people. Allen was driving, his wife sat in the front passenger side, their three kids occupied the first bench seat and the back bench seat contained Kit, her husband, and me.

"Nice minivan," I said, uncertainly.

"It's not ours," Allen explained, rather quickly. "We borrowed it from Lo's mother for the week." I guess they all spent the holiday together.

"Did your mother say anything about me?" Kit asked. My face must have shown my answer, because she giggled. Then she became more serious for a moment. "I don't elicit reactions like that on purpose," she explained, "but if someone projects something on me I will reflect it back to them." Then she smiled again. "'I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way,'" she quoted.

"'No place like home,'" quoted Allen, looking at me in the mirror.

"No, there is no place like it," I agreed, as he stepped on the gas to drive us back there.

[Next Post:Monday, December 1: About Books]

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Part 7: Post 8: Cool Cats and Warm Friends

It's very cold today, with some wind, but no snow. Everything is grey and brown and silent outside, except the sky is blue and fleecy white. I'm headed home tomorrow--I'll come back Friday night. There are so many people headed home that I can't just borrow one of the school cars, so I've gotten a ride with, of all people, Kit and her husband. I'm not sure where they're going, but it's in my direction, so they're taking me.

But today I still have my ordinary schedule and chores. After breakfast I
Simplified Diagram
was supposed to do an in-depth cleaning of the Great Hall--dust the ledges, clean the ashes out of the stove, clean the little bathroom under the stairs, sweep the rugs, and dust-mop the floor. I'm also supposed to clear the black water screen--that's not as gross as it sounds. It's not actually gross at all.

(The way it works is that all the black water from the building's toilets goes through a chamber in the basement divided by a micro-perforated barrier that catches the solid fraction of the waste. The liquid fraction then
passes through a series of charcoal filters on its way out to the septic system. Once a day, someone has to close off the pipe, let the collected waste drain for an hour, then throw a pair of levers that open the screen and dumps the waste into a modified Clivus Multitrum composter. Then you reset the system and everyone can go back to using the Mansion toilets, if they want to. There's a separate gray water system, so you can keep using the sinks and everything the whole time. It's a pretty neat system. Other than clearing the screens and adding bark chips every day, the whole thing requires no maintenance at all.)

Anyway, I walked into the Mansion around ten, ready to work, and there was Greg, asleep on the couch. I don't think he meant to be asleep there--I'd seen him reading there after breakfast, and he still had his book, lying there on his chest. His glasses were still on. I went over to look at him and his eyes were closed and his mouth was open. He looked almost unrecognizable, in comparison to his stern, waking self. I had the most intense desire to drop something into his open mouth, steal his glasses, or otherwise take advantage of the situation. I'd never do that, but I'm not sure the cat sitting on Greg's chest believed me. He, the black and white cat, looked up at me with defiant, protective suspicion.

The black and white cat. He's not supposed to be in here. He's not supposed to be upstairs in the masters' quarters, either, but I know they've given up and let him him come and go as he pleases now, but he's not supposed to be down here. I mean, I like cats, I think we all do, but we could get a new student who's allergic or something. I think that's why we have the rule. So who let the cat in? And how is he allowed to say here?

He's allowed to stay because no one has evicted him, I suddenly realized. Was I going to evict the cat? No, I wasn't. Not with him looking at me like that. The anonymous "someone" who enforces rules and chances toilet paper roles suddenly became me. I sighed and sat down on the other couch. Looks like we have a cat.

I wasn't going to evict the cat and I wasn't going to wake Greg up by moving around and cleaning, either, but I didn't have anything to do in the afternoon, so I figured it could wait. I shut off the black water pipe, locked the Great Hall bathroom, and fetched my book. I've learned that the way to get through my reading list is to never pass up an opportunity to read.

I finished all three books in the Earthsea trilogy. Now I'm reading "A Reason for Hope," by Jane Goodall. I'm almost done with it, actually. I've heard of her, of course, but I've never thought of her as especially spiritual--she's the chimpanzee woman. But I really see why Charlie put it on the list.

I was reading about how after her second husband died she went back to the forest at Gombe, not to do research (she has assistants for that, now), but just to feel better. Not just because the forest was peaceful and beautiful and familiar, but because, as she said, "death is not hidden--or, only accidentally, by the fallen leaves." Chimpanzees live and die and new ones are born and everything just sort of is, and somehow that helped her accept her husband's death and restored her faith in God, gave her "the peace that passeth all understanding."

That's so different from the ideas I was raised with, but it's kind of like some of the things Greg says in his Dharma talks on Fridays. Except Goodall isn't Buddhist; she's Christian. I expect she was raised Anglican, being British. I'm not sure I understand it at all...I've never heard about Charlie talk about this sort of thing, but somehow it seems like him. I'm not the only person to think so--there's an inscription in the front of the book--


I read this and thought of you. It sounds like you, so I'm giving you my copy. Merry Christmas.

--love, Mary Anne

Who is Mary Anne? A girlfriend? I've never heard of Charlie having a girlfriend. Would I? I suppose I might not. But he lives on campus. How would he hide her? And the book only came out last year, so this isn't someone from long ago.

But, thinking about it--Charlie's sister introduced herself as Maria when I met her at Litha, but when I asked her how she seemed so much more ethnically Italian than Charlie is she'd laughed and said her ethnicity is "an act." She learned to speak Italian in school, not from her parents. The culture is an interest of hers. The family really is Italian-American, and their last name sounds Italian, but like many immigrants, their parents did their best to assimilate. They named their second son Charlie, after all. That's not exactly a traditional Italian name. Is it possible they actually named their daughter Mary?

I was looking out the window, thinking about this stuff, when movement caught my eye. Greg had shifted in her sleep. The book fell off his chest and hit the floor with a thump. The cat leaped free and hit the floor with no sound at all. Greg's glasses had fallen askew on his face as he turned his face ti the side, towards the couch. I was afraid he'd crush his glasses, but he didn't wake. The cat paused in his escape and looked back at Greg, one paw in the air. He turned, returned, and stood for a moment, forepaws up on the couch, his black and white body all long and muscular, staring intently into the face of the sleeping man. After a moment he hopped back up on the couch and began to lick Greg's face and hair, licking and licking, the way cats groom the heads of their friends.
[Next Post:November 29th: Thanksgiving]

Friday, November 22, 2013

Part 7: Post 7: Turkey Day

The snow melted, as everyone thought it would, though we could get more next week. More likely, it will rain.

In the meantime, we--Turtle Dorm--got to eat turkey. Apparently,we couldn't wait for Thanksgiving.

I forget if I've mentioned it, but Charlie doesn't just hunt deer and woodchucks. The last month or two he's been bringing in a turkey every week or two. But the thing about a turkey is that one turkey won't feed everybody on campus, not even with so many people gone for the winter. So the way we do it is a kind of lottery. Someone--I think it's some of the remaining Dining Hall people--pluck and clean the bird and then someone from each of the dorms guesses a number between one and ten. Whoever gets closest wins the turkey. This week, we won the turkey.

It looked different than I'd expected, slimmer and sleeker,but of course I'd never seen a wild turkey roasted before, only domestic ones. We roasted it--it was very flavorful, but a bit chewy and dry. I'm not sure we cooked it right. We served it with mashed potatoes and turnips and an apple and walnut stuffing. We would have offered the leftovers to people in the other dorms, but there wasn't much left. It all evens out, anyway--they've won the lottery before.

So, obviously I'm thinking about Thanksgiving and the other holidays. I'm going home for Thanksgiving, but I don't think I'll go home for Christmas. My brother and his wife are going on a cruise over the holidays, so it's not like it would be a traditional Christmas anyway. I kind of want to know what Christmas is like, here, anyway.

Sorry I don't have much to say this week. Nothing much is happening.

Note from Daniel-of-2013; what a teeny-tiny post! It's true nothing much happened this week 13 years ago, but usually I can figure out something thematically related to tie in. The fact of the matter is that my wife had a minor surgical procedure done yesterday, and while she's going to be perfectly fine, apparently worry has temporarily sucked up my mojo as a writer. That, and she's totally hopped up on painkillers and she spent the day in her bathrobe watching a non-stop marathon of documentaries on JFK while I chase our daughter around the house and try to keep her from--quite literally--climbing up the drapes. We should be back in shape in time for Monday's post. -D.K.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Part 7: Post 6: A Mystery Revealed

I saw a fox this morning, in the snow. Yes, it snowed last night, and was still snowing this morning. It wasn’t that cold, and when I walked around to zazen this morning in the dark the ground only felt wet, but there was an odd silence in the air and I could feel something soft and cold brush against my face. I stood there for a moment, feeling it snow in the dark, before hurrying in to meditate.

By the time meditation was over the sun was up and the snow had begun to stick. I think two flakes melted for every one that stayed, but it was coming down thick and maybe an inch had built up and everything looked pretty. I knew it wouldn’t last, and I had an hour before breakfast, so I decided to go for a walk. I had just come down the stares from the meditation hall, watching my feet so I wouldn’t slip, when I looked up and there was the fox, standing all red and small and fluffy by the edge of the evergreen line. I looked at the fox and the fox looked at me, and the moment seemed to last a long time, though I suppose it didn’t, and then the fox barked at me, a short cough-like sound not at all like a dog’s bark, and it ran away.

I stood there for a while, not doing much of anything, just thinking, and getting cold. I don’t normally think of foxes as winter animals, as the others I’ve seen have all been in the summer, but they don’t den up or migrate so of course there are foxes in the snow. It occurred to me that since I’m supposed to be learning tracking this winter I should probably find the fox’s tracks and follow them—maybe backwards, so I wouldn’t run into and frighten the fox.

The thing was, though, that I would probably get distracted doing that sort of thing and miss
Pineapple-Weed and the Toe of a Shoe for Size
breakfast. And, aside from there being a rule against it, I don’t want to miss breakfast because one of the Ravens has family in New York, and they brought up a huge bag of fresh bagels when they came to visit this weekend. We’ve broken out some of the jelly now, and this week we’ve opened the pineapple-weed. Pineapple-weed is a smaller version of chamomile, and it tastes about the same in tea. It’s not native, but it grows all through the sandy, gravel roads on campus. So, back in the summer Charlie’s team went around and harvested most of it and the Dining Hall people made jelly out of it, just a dozen jars or so. It’s sweetened with honey and tastes like sunshine.

I realized I didn’t have my watch on—should I go back and get it? I’d lose a lot of time that way, but I might miss breakfast—or come back unnecessarily early—if I didn’t. I looked back up at the Mansion, thinking, and spotted Charlie.

He was standing, facing a closed door, one right next to the door to the Mansion kitchen. He was fumbling with something in his hands, maybe a group of keys. I hadn’t seen him in weeks.

“Hey, Charlie!” I walked part of the way towards him and he looked up in surprise.

“Oh, hi, Daniel!”

“I guess you’re going to have to wear shoes, now,” I said, pointing at the snowing sky. He looked up at the snow for a moment, considering.

“It’ll melt soon,” he concluded. "Actually, I walk barefoot in the snow at least once a year. I'm always hoping someone will find the prints." He grinned, impishly, for a moment, but something about him seemed awkward, like he was waiting for me to go away or something.

“I didn’t think that door went anywhere,” I told him, finally. He looked at me indecisively for a moment, as though debating with himself whether to tell me something. Evidently his urge to be mysterious and wise won out over what looked like it might be his better judgment.

All doors lead somewhere if you have the key,” he said, holding up the key ring in his hand. I looked at the door. The woodshed--it's more like a walk-in wood-closet--is sort of L-shaped, and one of the arms ends about where that door should be. And there is, indeed, a door there on the inside, but it's blocked by a shelf, and at this time of year there's stacked wood on the shelf and in front of it, six feet thick. There is no way anyone could get in from the outside even with a key. But what else could Charlie have been about to do, standing there at the door with his keys? I looked up, four flights up, to the western corner of the masters’ floor, where I knew a secondary stairwell opened up. I’d never known where the bottom of that stairwell was. All of a sudden I understood why we sometimes hear voices in the walls in the Mansion and why we never see the masters on the stairs, going into or out of their home.

Charlie saw me make the connection and rolled his eyes in something like embarrassment at his indiscretion. But really, what else was I supposed to think he was doing, once I turned around and saw him there? He must have assumed we'd all be busy showering or something before breakfast, and, anyway, we don't usually use that door. Usually we come and go by the Green Room or the Office.

“Just don’t tell the others, ok?” He told me. Then he nodded to me in a friendly way and unlocked his door and went in through it.

And I forgot to ask him if he knew the time.                                                

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Part 7: Post 5: Walking in the Woods

I told Rick, the other day, that I've gotten a lot better at building fires lately. I mean, I knew how before, I'd gone camping, but now that I live in a house heated by wood I've gotten a lot better at it. I have a reason to be, I guess. It's a practical thing, now.

Rick laughed a little and asked if I'd ever cooked over a fire.

"I've grilled...and I make coffee and toast on the wood-stove."

"No, no, not grilling," Rick told me, laughing, "a grill isn't a real fire. I mean on a real fire you have to build."

Rick does this sometimes--decides this, that, or the other doesn't count as 'real' just because he doesn't like it. I think he got it from Charlie. A physicist would agree that a grill has fire in it. But it's true I've never cooked over a camp fire, if you don't count marshmallows, and I'm pretty sure Rick would say those aren't real food, so I didn't even try.

"So, what's so different about cooking over a real fire?" I asked. Obviously Rick wanted to tell me all about it, so I decided to let him go for it. I don't think he was trying to be obnoxious--he was trying not to be, like he didn't want to seem to be showing off. But so much of what he does he does alone now, practicing for living on the land next year, and I suppose it gets kind of lonely. And of course Charlie is useless for compliments. So I let him talk.

"Well, the thing about a real fire is if you don't get it going, you don't eat," Rick explained. "No lighter fluid, no nice, pre-shaped briquets, no bottle of propane, just wood, and the behavior of wood, and if the wood is wet or it's raining or something like that, what do you do? You figure it out or you don't eat."

"Couldn't you eat something that doesn't need to be cooked?" I asked. "Like apples?"

"Yeah, but a lot of my food does. Raw meat, you know."

I've gone with Rick on his collecting expeditions a few times. He isn't living off what he can gather now--he still eats most of his meals with us--but he's storing up food for use later. His year of living on the land begins at Brigid ("in February?" I asked when I first heard about this. "Train hard, fight easy," Rick replied. It's one of his sayings. I think he got it from Karen), so he needs to have a winter food store on hand already. Most of what he gets is actually vegetable--or mushrooms--though he hunts as well. It amazes me how much he knows. But most of the time he forages and practices his survival skills alone.

Most of the time when we go in the woods together we're working on my education, not his. Charlie told us to work on tracking and also to get to know the area and all the trails. Rick decided he'd really start teaching me tracking when it snows, because it's easier that way, but he does point things out to me sometimes, like deer scrapes and the tiny territorial marks of squirrels. In the meantime we're getting to know the woods, following this trail and that. If we have enough time we try to get lost and then find our way out again. I automatically name the trees as we go by, and I tell some of them to Rick--he doesn't know a lot of non-edible plants, so I get to be an expert, too, for once. I like that.

I still don't know how this latest assignment relates to anything, but I do like walking around in the woods so much. Maybe that's how it relates?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Part 7: Post 4: Reading Of Wizards

So, maybe I'm not completely doomed. I've finished the first book on my list already and I've started in on the second one, so I think, maybe, I can do this. Get all twenty books on my list done by mid-March.

Charlie said I can choose the order that I read them in, and as far as I can tell the books are listed randomly, except that ones with the same author are next to each other. So I chose to read A Wizard of Earthsea first, because I've heard of it before and it's basically a kid's book so I thought it would be easy--I mean, it's one of those "young adult" novels. It's pretty short.

I'd heard of the book before, as I said--a few people had said it was like an earlier version of Harry Potter, because part of the book takes place as a school for wizards, but really the mood of the book, and the way the author handles magic, is quite different. For one thing, this isn't a book about children. I'm not even sure it's really a book for children, either--it seems a lot subtler and deeper than that, though maybe I only think so because I'm reading it for school. But reading it was a bit strange, because while it isn't much like Harry Potter, it is quite a lot like this place. I don't think that's a coincidence. It was published in 1968, so the early masters could have read it before they even started the school. We got the idea of doing the Long Dance on the summer solstice from this book, I know that. I also wonder if we call our faculty members "masters," which is a weird term for a professor, because that's what the teachers at the school in the book are called?

I also wonder how much this book has to do with Charlie specifically? How much has this thing inspired him, or at least encouraged or confirmed in him something he already had? The protagonist's teacher (who is not actually part of the school) lives simply, spends a lot of time hiking and camping, can make things with his hands, like bows and walking staffs, and doesn't always tell his student what he's doing or why. At one point, after they've been walking together in the woods for a couple of days without saying hardly anything to each other, the protagonist complains he hasn't learned anything yet, so Ogion, the teacher, says "That's because you haven't learned what I'm trying to teach." Charlie underlined that part.

He's underlined a lot of things. Underlines, notes in the margins, exclamation points, question marks, in all different colored pencils and really surprised me. We used a lot of library books when I was a kid, so I was taught, it was really emphasized, NEVER to draw or write or mark in a book. I've kept that up all my life. It's almost like a desecration or something, to mark up a book. But Charlie marks his books (I've started the sequel, which is also on the list, and it's marked up, too). I imagine he meant for me to read the markings, or at least doesn't mind if I do, or he wouldn't let me use his books--he's actually insisting that I use his books. But it's strange to think he's really ok with it, since on some level the markings are so personal. They're what he was thinking when he read....One note even mentions AA--the climax of the book revolves around the protagonist saying his own name (I won't ruin it by explaining more) and in the margin there Charlie wrote "AA introduction?" And nearby, in a different color ink, "4th step, maybe? Or First?" I stared at that note for a long time.

It's been nice reading weather--calm and clear and wintery, but in a warm sort of way, if that makes sense. I mean, like how some winter days feel warm, even though the thermometer says otherwise. It hasn't been that cold yet, though we had our first snow the other night--big, pretty flakes fell for about half an hour and I stood on my balcony and watched. I don't have a porch light, of course, but I have a flashlight, so I watched the flakes fly out of the darkness and through the beam like moths. But nothing stuck. Anyway, this reading thing isn't going to be too bad. I'll keep a book with me all the time, in case I have a spare moment, and when I can I'll come out here to the porch at sit, wrapped up in my cloak, reading in the sunshine.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Part 7: Post 3: The Reading List

Charlie's Feet
 It's only been eight days since Samhain, but it feels a lot longer, I guess because I'm getting used to the new schedule and everything. Now that we're done shutting down Chapel Hall and the Dining Hall, I'm back to working only my four hour shifts as a janitor, so you'd think I'd have a lot of free time. I don't, not particularly.

Charlie may have taken the winter off, but he did not tell me to do the same. I have homework.

A few days before Samhain, he got me and and Rick together and gave us homework assignments. It seemed strange to me, at first that he only talked to us, since there are a lot more than just the two of us who work with Charlie. I think there might be ten or fifteen of us who work mostly with him, plus others who have him as master for something or other. But then, thinking about it, about half of them are graduating this year, so they wouldn't have homework, and almost everyone else is working with him for horticulture, so they'd get whatever instructions they needed from him through the groundskeeping team. So I guess it is just me and Rick. Plus our homework was related.

So, we met together in the Great Hall over lunch, with Charlie sitting nonchalantly on the arm of a couch and Rich and I standing more or less at attention before him, awaiting orders. We always seem to do this when we talk to him together--stand at attention. I don't know why, we don't act that way, either of us, I think, when we talk with Charlie one on one. Whatever the reason, and for all his barefooted casualness, Charlie seems to accept it as his due.

"You," he began, addressing Rick, "already have most of your homework. Just keep getting ready for Brigid. If you have any questions, you know where to find me." He did? I didn't. But Charlie continued. "But I want you to work with Daniel. I want you both to get familiar with the woods, even the Land Conservancy places, learn all the trails so you don't need a map. And I want you to teach him how to track, ok?"


"Daniel. You ok with learning to track this winter?"


"Good. And I want you to read."


"Yup. I'll give you a reading list, and I'll lend you books--I want you to use my copies, not any others. I'll put a box at the front desk. When you're done with one book, return it to Sharon, along with some writing on it--I want you to tell me what you think of the book--maybe a page worth? Single-spaced. Sharon will give you your next book. You tell Sharon what you want next, but one book ahead--does that make sense? You give her a book, she gives you a book, and you tell her what book you want after that, right?"

"Got it. Do I get the list now?"

"No, I don't have it yet. I'll give it to Sharon--check with her after the holiday."

"Ok, got it. How long do you want me to keep up with the squares?"


"The squares, you know, the, the plants in the squares...on the ground." Articulate I am not, or at least not always. Charlie frowned at me for a moment and then his face cleared.

"Oh, the quadrats. Your plant study. Keep that up until the first good snowfall. Then you can stop."

"Ok. Charlie?"


"How good do I have to get at tracking? I mean, by Brigid. Rick's really good, I mean." He smiled at me, almost--fondly?

"Don't worry. You don't have to become an expert. Get as good as you get--but I want you to be able to at least lead the tracking seminar in the spring, including the analysis and the afternoon presentation. In case I get a cold or something. Seems I'm sick for two weeks every spring, anymore."


Well, I just got the reading list--and it has twenty books on it. According to the note at the top, I have till Ostara to get it done, but I should try to get as many done by Brigid as I can, so I'll have time to go to seminars and talks and such, if I want to. The thing is, that's over a book a week, on average. And looking over this list, not all the books are short. I've seen how Charlie reads. I've seen him sitting on the porch in the sun on a Sunday morning with a new book and I see him a few hours later, same spot, doing the same thing, except he's almost done the book. I've seen his library. I've heard how he quotes or paraphrases books, almost inexhaustibly. He has a book to refer to, from memory, for everything. I think he forgets not all of us can do that.

I'm doomed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Part 7: Post 2: After the Party

East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Campus is different now. I expected it to be, of course, it's not like any of this is a surprise, but it's still a bit jarring to see it actually happen.

They've shut down the Dining Hall, though I think they still use the kitchens to process meat and so forth, but we eat in the Mansion now. That means that we take turns cooking and cleaning, more like a family than like eating in a cafeteria. We have no classes and no talks, seminars, or workshops, nothing scheduled at all, except for zazen, group therapy, and meals. Yesterday we shut down Chapel Hall--and I mean we really shut it down, cleaned the whole thing from top to bottom, drained and winterized the plumbing system, and stabilized the composted in the basement. "We," in this case, is the janitorial crew. Not having classes means we have more time to work. It's like the whole campus is folding in on itself, compacting, for the winter.

And we do take up less space. Half the students are gone already, and more are going, at least for a few weeks. Pretty much the only people left are the yearlings and some of the graduating students, and they have a series of events and trips and retreats planned, so we won't see them much. This means the campus jobs--what some of us do to earn our keep, in lieu of tuition--all have to be reorganized. Everybody on the cleaning crew but me and Jahred have left, but since everybody on the food service crew stayed and mostly aren't needed, most of them have switched over to cleaning, which itself has been merged with maintenance. We're going to keep busy this winter repairing, replacing, and painting, all the things you can't really do with people in the way. The farming crew has laid off some people and groundskeeping will lay off everybody when the first big snowfall comes. The whole campus seems quieter, emptier. Most of the leaves are down and the bare trees look dreary and skeletal. I'll be glad when the snow comes and relieves the constant grey and brown.

Most of the masters are gone. Greg is still here, both to lead zazen and because I don't think he has any other place he needs or wants to be. Very little in this world is constant, but Greg seems to be. He even eats breakfast with us still--the rule is that if you spend the night on campus or are hear during breakfast for some other reason, you have to go, but the rule doesn't seem to apply to faculty and staff in the winter. Joy and Karen have both come on campus this week, because they teach classes open to outsiders and the classes are still going on, but neither came to breakfast. They seem distant. Sarah and her family have moved out, leaving students in charge of the farm. I know they like to take their kids to live with their grandparents for a couple of months, so they can get out of the strangeness and isolation of campus for a while. Sadie still lives here, but she spends most of her time in town as a guest chef for a restaurant there. She's saving money to start her own restaurant, I've heard. Allen still leads each therapy group once a month, but he's rescheduled the meetings so he can do all four groups in the same week and not come in to campus otherwise. Charlie has vanished. He must be here, because I don't think he could be anywhere else, but no one has seen him in days.

Kit, too, makes herself scarce, but not as scarce as the others. I've heard that she and her husband like
A Feather of Finnist
to come to campus every few days in the winter just to hang out, and I've seen her here once this week already. She's the only one of the masters who has not turned her extracurricular activities over to students completely. I never went to her activities much, because so many of them revolve around music and I don't play, but I've been to her story-telling events a few times, and I just went again last night.

The way these things go is she'll announce a theme at breakfast and then that night all the stories have to be on that theme. They also can't be completely original--they have to be retellings of traditional stories from somewhere. And you're not allowed to read the stories, though you can consult notes. You have to recite them, or, as Kit says, tell them. She says there is a way to remember the main points of a story and re-invent it as you go, so that you don't have to memorize the whole thing and you can respond to the needs of your audience. Anyway, she tells the first story, and then other people tell their stories, and it goes on for maybe an hour. Then, most people leave and after they are gone Kit and whoever is left talk about the stories, analyzing their imagery and critiquing each others' storytelling technique. I've never told a story at one of those things, and I don't go every time, but went I have gone I stay through to the end, mostly because I like to be around Kit when she talks.

These things have an interesting effect on campus. For one thing, because of her storytelling gatherings, a lot of people tell a lot of stories at other times, too. They're practicing, or trying to decide on which story to tell, or passing on a story to someone who missed a meeting. For another, we've all gotten familiar with the myths of several different cultures, because we're constantly hearing stories. And because everybody knows that everybody else has heard a lot of these stories, people refer to them in conversation, write about them in their homework, and so on. It's like how some people talk about the Bible, and in fact some of the stories are Biblical, but we're also getting the Greco-Roman myths, the Norse myths, the Mabinogion, the Arthurian cycle, the Brothers Grimm, and a smattering of things from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. I don't know half as much as some people here do, but I know twice as much as I used to. For example, did you know that there are West African stories about a trickster rabbit? They're very funny, at least when they're told right, and they reminded me of Brer Rabbit, which of course makes sense. But Kit pointed out that Bugs Bunny is a lot like Brer Rabbit, so it seems that Bugs Bunny is actually African-American.

Anyway, this week the theme was Beauty and the Beast. I attended, because there wasn't a lot else to do, and Kit started out by telling the story of Cupid and Psyche, which I remember from high school English class, but hadn't connected with anything else.

In brief, Psyche was a young woman who was so beautiful that men began to worship her instead of Aphrodite, so Aphrodite sent her son, Eros (or Cupid) to make sure that Psyche got safely married off as soon as possible. But then Eros accidentally pricked himself with one of his own arrows and fell in love with Psyche and so he arranged to marry her secretly. I'm not sure why, but Psyche ends up living by herself in an enchanted castle where she has everything she could ever want except that her new husband is still a complete mystery to her. He only comes to visit her in the dark. Eventually, she goes home to visit her family and then her sisters convince her to find out who this guy is, because he might be a monster. So when he's asleep she lights a lamp and he turns out to be beautiful. But a few drops of hot oil fall from the lamp and burn him and so he flies away, home to his mother. Then, to get him back Psyche has to do all of these things for Aphrodite, including going to the Land of the Dead to bring back some of Persephone's beauty. She falls into an enchanted sleep and Eros rescues her and they get married and live happily ever after.

I still wasn't sure I saw the connection, though I rather liked the idea of mind (psyche) and sex (eros) being married, which I hadn't picked up on before. But then someone said that story was a lot like East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and proceeded to tell that story.

In brief, a huge white bear comes to a poor family and asks to marry the youngest daughter in exchange for rescuing the family from poverty. With some reluctance, the girl agrees, and rides off on the white bear's back. He takes her to live in an enchanted palace and at night, in the dark, he takes of his bear skin and becomes a man and lays with her. Eventually she goes home to visit and her mother convinces her to find out what her husband really looks like, since he might be a monster. So, when he's asleep she lights a candle and he's beautiful--but she drops some wax on him by mistake and he wakes up and explains that if she had trusted him for a year she would have broken the spell that made him look like a beast by day, but as it is now he will have to go home to his mother who will make him marry an ugly troll. Then he and the castle vanish and the woman has to go through all sorts of adventures in order to find his mother's castle, which is "east of the sun and west of the moon." Eventually she does, but he is asleep and so she has to go through more adventures to wake him up. Eventually she does it, washes away the wax stains, and they marry and live happily ever after.

I still wasn't sure I saw the connection to Beauty and the Beast, though I could see the connection to Cupid and Psyche. But then someone else said that story was a lot like Finnist the Bright-Eyed Falcon, and proceeded to tell the story.

Finnist the Bright-Eyed Falcon
In brief, a windowed merchant has three daughters. The two older two daughters are lazy and vain, but the youngest is humble, hardworking, and beautiful without trying. One day the merchant asks his daughters what they want from town and the two oldest ones want cosmetics or jewelry or something and the youngest wants only a feather of Finnist, the Bright-eyed Falcon. He gets the other gifts but not the feather, and this keeps happening a few times till he finally gets the feather. The daughter then uses the feather, in secret, to call "Finnist, my beloved bride-groom." He appears as a beautiful man and stays with her till morning. Eventually, the other daughters find out and they fix knives to the window so Finnist can't get in. He cuts himself, flying against the knives, and calls out a set of instructions his bride has to follow in order to find him. Then he flies away. She follows the instructions and has a lot of adventures and eventually finds him in the castle of a queen. But he's under a sleeping spell, so she has to do various things to wake him up. Eventually she cries and her tears fall on the scars made by the knives and wake him up and he marries her instead of the queen and they live happily ever after.

And yes, I could see the connection to East of the Sun, West of the Moon--a lot of the details were actually identical. And I could see the connection to Cupid and Psyche, with the queen being another version of Aphrodite (though weirdly recast as a competing fiancee). And this time I could see the connection to Beauty and the Beast. And for the first time, I told a story.

I told about the merchant and his daughters, the youngest of whom wanted a strange gift--only a rose. And I told about the girl who found herself unexpectedly married to a beast in a magic castle. And I told about how she went home to visit her family and her sisters convinced her to break her promise to the Beast and stay longer than she should have and so that when she returned to him he was dying. And she wept because she loved him and her tears fell upon his beastly body and broke the spell and turned him into a man again and they lived happily ever after.

I told all of these things. And Kit smiled.

[Next Post: Homework for the Winter]