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, December 6, 2013

Part 7: Post 11: Tracks

Note: Nelson Mandela died last night. I think it's reasonable to consider his life an example of the magic I've been talking about, off and on, through these posts. -- D.K.

It snowed last night. I mean, it really snowed. There's six inches on the ground out there! It's strange, how familiar this is. The soft, full silence as we shuffle around to the Meditation Hall in the morning, the smell of snow and wet wool everywhere, the necessity of kicking the snow off boots or taking them off whenever we go inside, the way campus looks so clean and white and simple and's like, since I came here in the snow, the snowy campus seems more real, more like itself, then the green campus of the summer. I expect it will melt again in a few days. It's too early for the all-winter blanket to form up yet, if it ever does form. Sometimes there are mid-winter thaws...I'm not from that far away from here, after all. I'm used to this weather. But while it's here, it's so pretty.

And I don't have to drive anywhere. None of us do. We have everything we need on campus already, and everyone we need to see is already here. It could snow nine feet, and we'd still be free to think it's pretty. It used to bug me so much when grown-ups complained about the snow, but I was starting to understand it. I was starting to complain about it, too. Here, everyone likes it, this first real snow, anyway. It's like we're all kids. I think this is how winter is supposed to be.

Most people were excited about going sledding--the path into the forest is wide and has a long slope, plus there's the short slope at the Edge of the World--but I wanted to go tracking with Rick. I know it's better to wait two or three days after a good snow to go tracking, but I didn't want to wait, and anyway, we can go again in a day or two, if we want.

He's had me reading tracking books for a while now--so I have the reading list from Charlie and the reading list from Rick--so I knew some things, more than I expected to know, actually. Whenever we found tracks or other sign--and we didn't find a lot, since it had only been a few hours since the snow--I'd look at it first, and tell Rick what I could figure out. Then he'd ask me questions--how many toes the print had, how big was it, what gait it was using--and then finally he'd tell me what he'd seen and I hadn't.

What struck me was that while he still does know more than I do, the difference isn't as dramatic as I thought it was. I could identify the species that made most of the tracks (today the only ones I didn't get belonged to birds), and I could usually identify the gait, direction of travel, and so on. I could even tell the difference between branches clipped by deer, rabbits, and Charlie's groundskeepers (deer don't have upper teeth, so branches they bite have ragged ends).

What I could not do, most of the time, was see, I mean notice, to begin with. I spotted the tracks in open areas, of course, they were obvious in snow, but under trees I kept either thinking that holes in the snow were tracks when they were actually places where chunks of snow had fallen from the branches, or I missed tracks thinking they were only the sign of falling snow. And I didn't spot the chewed branches at all.

I said something about it to Rick, afterwards, when we were sitting in the Great Hall drinking chocolate. Like Charlie, he doesn't talk very much. He doesn't chat idly. He answers questions carefully, with a minimum of words.

"The reason we're doing this is so that you can learn to see," he told me.

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