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."
"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.