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.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year 2, Part 8: Post 2: Explanation

So, this entry is odd. I'm writing as Daniel-of-2014 again.

As I've said, I spent Christmas of 2001 at my parents' house and did not return to campus again until the week before Brigid. So if I kept on posting weekly as if I were myself from thirteen years ago, you'd get a series of five or six posts about my parents and that isn't really the point.

Instead of doing that, I plan to do several entries speaking in my own voice, cleaning up some odds and ends and adding in some extra information that you may find interesting. A lot of this won't be narrative, but I can also add in some stories that I didn't have room for before.

For example, when I first arrived--early in February, 2000, one of the first people I started to make friends with was Nora. I remembered her from seeing her in the office before either of us enrolled, I was curious about her, and while she was still high school age and I wasn't, we were both teenagers. So, maybe two or three days after we'd enrolled, Nora and I were walking through the Office trying to find the Computer Lab for a workshop we wanted to attend there. The Great Hall has a lot of doors opening off of it, and we'd gone through the wrong one again. And we came face to face with Allen.

I didn't know who he was, yet--of course I'd seen him at the ceremony at Brigit, but the light in the Chapel had been dim and I didn't have a clear memory of anyone's face, except Kit's. I could see he was a professor--Ollie had told me they were called masters--because he wore a brown uniform with a brown belt. We students wore white. What I couldn't see was why he seemed shocked to encounter us, or, more particularly, Nora. He was staring at her.

"Hi, Dr. ____," she said, addressing him by last name, with a giggle and a cutesy little wave.

"Hello, Nora," he answered, seeming uncomfortable.

"You know each other?" I asked, surprised.

"Sure--Dr.____'s my therapist," Nora said.

"You said it. It wasn't mine to disclose," he said. "Will you introduce me to your friend?"

That meant me. Nora introduced us.

"So, you're both new students?" he asked conversationally.

We nodded. He didn't remark on Nora's age. He did ask whether she'd known he worked here.

"Sure," she told him. "I followed you here."

"You what?"

"Yeah. I saw you on your bike when I was out with my Mom. We saw you turn in here--so I checked it out."

He smiled and shook his head.

"Welcome," he told us. "I go by Allen, here." Then he turned, a little nervously, towards Nora. "You know I can't be your therapist and your college professor at the same time?"

"You can't?" I saw the color drain from her face, her smile fade.

"You can still talk to me, Nora," he reassured her. "Your mother can't pay me enough to hang out with someone if I don't really want to."

"So, what's the difference?"

"You don't have to make an appointment and I don't have to tell your mother how you're doing."

"Well, that's fine, then!" exclaimed Nora, smiling again.

So, when I was writing about that part of the story, I didn't have space for that sequence--there was a lot of other material I had to cover in order to explain how the school worked to the reader. But that one sentence--"your mother can't pay me enough to hang out with someone if I don't really want to"--shows something important about Allen--that he is always exactly himself.

If you go to Allen for therapy or have him as an instructor, or go to one of his magic shows, you're not interacting with a therapist, a college professor, a professional magician; you're interacting with Allen. It's not that he never changes his behavior as he switches roles, but when he ceased being Nora's therapist, their prior history together didn't evaporate. He was still the adult she had trusted with her secrets.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Year 2: Part 8: Yule

Another year, another Yule. It's amazing how time just keeps moving.

The various campus activities were the same this year as last, which I expected, but I had a bit of a different perspective on everything, which I didn't expect but should have. For one thing, I knew what was happening this time. There wasn't the element of surprise for me, and yet I was surrounded by people, yearlings, who did not know, and part of my responsibility was implicitly to protect and to guide their surprise.

But I also got to be more behind the scenes this time, I got to be one of the elves, so to speak--I don't know if there is such a thing as Yule elves, but Santa and his elves certainly seem Yuleish. Yule feels like Christmas, only it's like Christmas when you're a little kid, all trees and toys and candy. So there must be elves.

I'm on the groundskeeping team, of course, so anything that involved plants--like the Yule tree--became part of my responsibility. I actually got more than my normal share of the work, because I'm going off campus for almost a month and a half between now and Brigid, so I've been rearranging my hours, some, working more now because I won't have a chance later. I'm something like the chief elf, I guess.

There is the tree, decorated in gold and white--white lights, gold and tangerine-colored balls like magical fruits or suns, a whole flock of blown-glass birds, and lianas of ivory-colored, gold-edged ribbon. There are the evergreen garlands winding up the columns in the Great Hall and across the ceiling, the green sprigs and dried flowers and sprays of berries on the mantlepieces, all of that had to come from somewhere and we're the ones who set it all up. It's not like we just ordered a case of greens from some floral supplier or something--we had to source everything locally, mostly from things we trimmed or thinned on campus. We started planning the whole thing--to have enough fresh material at exactly the right time--months earlier. The actual building of the garlands and so forth we did under Karen's direction. I hadn't seen Charlie for weeks before this morning.

This morning.

We walked up the mountain in the dark to watch the dawn again, all in silence. It rained a bit last night, a cold, irregular spitting rain, very different from last year's crisp, clear cold, and instead of a dramatic, obvious sunrise, the clouds just got slowly brighter and more orangish. We'd anticipated the problem, so a group of us brought watches and we started singing Here Comes the Sun at the time when the sun would have cleared the horizon if we could have seen it. On our way back down the mountain it started raining again, rain with an edge of sleet in it, but when we got back to the Great Hall the warmth and the food--oatmeal, hot cocoa, and lots of cookies--made everything festive.

I felt bad for the yearlings, not being able to see a clear sunrise like we did last year. I'm not sure they could really tell why we started singing when we did, though last year it was obvious--we were welcoming the sun, of course. I almost felt guilty for is, as if, as a senior student and somebody who helped make our celebration happen, I should have arranged for better weather or something. Which is ridiculous, of course.

I still tried to make amends by explaining to Ebony how it should have gone while we walked back to the Mansion together. I'd guided her up the mountain, too, which is ironic because we were walking in the dark, then, and she has a lot more experience with being unable to see than we do--and yet, even without a flashlight (and there were several in the group) I'm better at walking in the dark now than she is, at least along these paths. She finds blindness uninteresting, like a shirt that doesn't fit, something she'd rather everybody, including her, could just forget about. I, on the other hand, think it's really cool to be able to find my way by feet and hands and by the not-quite-sound made by objects as they loom or open up in the dark. She likes me to explain what things look like, even though she has never had much vision and has never seen most of the things I try to describe.

We were silent on the way up, before dawn, but on the way back I told her, both about the orange glowing clouds this year and the clear, splitting sunrise last year.

"Oh, that sounds lovely to see," Ebony  said. "I wish I'd been here last year!..."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Year 2: Interlude 7

Hi, again, Daniel of 2014 here.

(A tangent: I watched Sesame Street as a kid, of course, and one of the recurring sketches back then involved Kermit the Frog as a reporter. He'd introduce himself by saying "Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog, here!" And every time I start one of these things and write "Daniel of 2014 here," that's what I think of.)

I've been thinking about magic lately and how many readers initially attracted to this blog as a story set in a "magic college" might be disappointed. All I talk about, most of the time, is human interaction and school work--mostly natural science. No wand-waving. If and when I convert this tale to a real book, I'll have to work out some way of managing that discrepancy. For now, I guess I just have to explain it a little bit.

I came to the school looking for something, which, at the time, I vaguely articulated by referring to Harry Potter. Some mystery or romance associated with those stories clung to the school as well, and I wanted to belong to it. I wanted that magic. And yet, I never studied the sort of magic Harry Potter does.

Yes, I could have--not exactly the same thing, but there were people on campus who practiced forms of magic much closer to fantasy magic than anything most of us are taught to believe exist. For example, there were witches (both male and female) who claimed to be able to control the weather, make themselves invisible, and even change into animals temporarily.

The weather magic was unreliable and the other changes involved the "aura" or "astral body" only, but an "invisible" person was genuinely hard to notice--your eyes slid off of them. And I've heard that people who changed their "energy" into that of an animal can walk right up to real animals without frightening them.

I loved living in a community where all this was accepted as possible, even normal, but I never felt called on to learn it. Even the "impossible" skills I did learn, how to perceive color with my fingertips, how to heal with a touch, how to create circumstances where "lucky coincidences" were almost inevitable, never seemed all that magical to me, once I got the hang of it. They are just things I know how to do.

And yet, the school always seemed magical to me. No matter how familiar it became, no matter how many of its odd little secrets I learned or how much of its day-to-day operations I ended up being responsible for, the community retained its glamour for me, its wondrousness.

The truth is that no matter how many "impossible" things I heard about or learned to do, mere technique never seemed like magic to me once the novelty wore off. Because "magic" meant to me, and still means, a delightful surprise and once I really came to believe, say, that I can tell what color a sheet of paper is by touching its surface, that fact was no longer surprising. But people, what they do and say and think and feel, are a constant surprise and a delight. In getting to know, really know my fellow human beings, I pursue and embody a magic deep enough to hold my attention forever.

So it is people I write about.

Speaking of what I write about, I've decided to go on hiatus, starting around the first of the year. I wasn't on campus from just before Christmas of 2014 until nearly Brigid, so I don't have much about the school to say for that time period, anyway. So, instead of continuing to post as normal I'm going to spend the time posting odds and ends I haven't managed to fit into the narrative so far, talking  a bit about my life in the hear and now, and writing drafts of posts for the spring.

My hope is that if by Brigid I have a backlog of posts ready to publish, I'll have time to get back into illustrating, posting twice a week, or both.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 6: Ollie

It’s been unseasonably warm lately. Even the other week, when we got the snow and ice, it wasn’t that cold. There have been days that kind of felt like late September. It can’t last, of course, so Ollie and I have been taking advantage of the weather to go running together a lot, before the snow comes—and before Ollie graduates, of course.

Graduation isn’t until the beginning of February, but neither of us is going to spend all winter on campus. He’ll be doing a lot of things with the other graduating students and I’ve decided I’m going to go home for the winter, starting with Christmas. So every time I go running with Ollie now it feels like it could be the last time. And I suppose it could be. We don’t know when the snow will settle in.
I asked him what he plans to do about Willa, I mean because she’s not graduating for another year.

“I’ve decided to stay in touch with her. She’s important to me,” he said.

“So you’re not going to come back and go for your ring?” You have to drop contact with everyone at school for three years in order to be eligible to come back and study further. Giving that up would be a major sacrifice for him.

“Oh, no. I’ll just start my Absence a year later. We’re going to get married, you know.” He added that last part casually, while stretching.

“No, I didn’t know! Congratulations!” I clapped him on the arm and he grinned and blushed a little, muttering thanks. “Except, what about the religion thing?”

“What religion thing?”

“She’s still pagan, isn’t she? And you’re not.” Ollie isn’t just not pagan, he wants to be a Baptist minister. Given our topic of conversation, neither of us were ready to start running yet. You can run and talk at the same time, but it’s distracting. You can’t talk about anything important. I can’t, anyway. We started walking instead.

“I’m not sure she is pagan,” he answered, “except by default. She doesn’t really have a cosmology. She’s more interested in orthopraxy than orthodoxy. She doesn’t deny Jesus.” Orthopraxy means the thing you are supposed to do, as opposed to orthodoxy, which is the thing you are supposed to think. More or less.

"Yeah, but her orthopraxy involves sex and masturbation as a means of meditation and prayer. That honestly doesn't sound too Baptist to me."

"So, freaking, what?" he answered. Even when he's trying to be crudely emphatic, Ollie can't quite bring himself to use bad language. "When I first realized I cared for Willa, I was afraid. I don't mean I was afraid of sex. I don't think I'm afraid of sex, anyway. But I was afraid of doing something wrong. I was afraid that if I deviated from the straight-and-narrow, if I felt and did things that my parents and my pastor wouldn't expressly give me permission to do, I'd offend God and I'd go straight to Hell. I wanted some kind of reassurance. But, honestly, if I really believed that adherence to a specific Earthly Church was a guarantee of salvation, I'd be a Catholic. They're the ones who have an unbroken line of transmission from Jesus Christ, through St. Peter, down to every priest in their Church in the world. Every Protestant denomination, including mine, rests upon the principle that a human being can discover a valid way to God that is different than the teachings of the Church they belong to. Not that all ideas about truth are equally valid, but being on the straight-and-narrow as per the Baptist Church is no guarantee that I'm doing this right. I have to search for God for myself. And I'm convinced that Willa should be with me for that search. I believe that she will find her way to Christ, and that she will show me things about God I would not have found on my own."

"Why did you come here, Ollie?" I asked. "Why did you join a pagan non-denominational seminary in the first place? I've never known."

"Why did you?"

"Because I felt like it. But I'm not planning on becoming a preacher."

"Same reason Andy did--I want to be like Jesus. But people forget that Jesus wasn't Christian. He was Jewish, and he spent his childhood in Egypt, so he may have had some pagan contact there. Some people think he traveled in his twenties and studied in India. The way to truth sometimes lies through unexpected places. And Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. What is faith, that it can do that? No one who had studied faith could explain it to me. So I decided to consult people who study miracles--magic--instead. And" here he took a deep breath, like he was admitting something, "Allen is the most intelligent, reasonable, and compassionate person I've ever met. I want to be like him, too."

"You came here for him?"

"Yes. I saw one of his magic shows and I started talking with him afterwards. I passed the entrance exam with him."

"So, did it work? Did you become who and what you wanted to be?"

"I don't know, Daniel. I am a poor judge of myself for such things. You tell me. Am I a good man?"

"Yes, mostly," I told him. "You are one of the most intelligent, reasonable, and compassionate people I've ever known, anyway." And I meant it.

"Thanks," he told me. And we went running together.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 5: Oh, Baby

Note: Thanksgiving Day, 2001, was on the 22nd, not the 27th, but I'm posting as though today were the Monday after the holiday..

I just got back from spending the weekend--plus Thanksgiving, of course--at my parents'. Last year I went home for Thanksgiving and it was pretty awful--my one uncle, especially, wouldn't stop asking me questions that I couldn't answer because they were based on a complete misunderstanding of my life--he'd heard I was studying to be a priest (our school is a "non-denominational pagan seminary," remember) and somehow he decided that meant I'd become an Episcopalian. Then, when Kit came to pick me up, my Dad got some kind of ridiculous crush on her and my Mom responded by getting all catty and weird. I felt like a complete alien in my own family home and getting back on campus was a major relief.

For a while I honestly wasn't sure I wanted to go back there, but of course I changed my mind, and I've had a lot of good times back home since then.

I think this year would have gone better no matter what, in part because I was expecting to be something of an outsider. I was steeled for it. I also took the precaution of talking with both Allen and Sharon more about how to talk about the school in terms that let other people imagine it to be whatever version of normal they prefer.

"You never lie," Allen explained. "The trick is to let others hear what they want to, see what they want to. If they want the truth, they'll see and hear that. If they don't, then you can hide behind their expectations in plain sight."

But I also had an advantage in that there was a baby there to distract everyone from me.

My brother and his wife had a baby back in August, a little boy. For various reasons, I couldn't get out to visit them at the time, and while I had seen my brother since then, I hadn't seen the baby. So Thanksgiving was the first time I got to see my nephew. It was also the first time my uncles and aunts got to see him, so they spent most of their time talking about him, not about me.

I think I'm going to like being an uncle. I was sitting right across the table from him and I spent most of dinner making faces at him to try and get him to laugh. I'm not sure my brother really appreciated that, but I figure he can deal. I'm considering becoming the "cool uncle," the one you get in trouble with. Everybody needs one.

The boy can hold his head up now and look around, but he stays where you put him. He can giggle and make various noises, but I wouldn't call any of it babbling yet. He sat at a high chair and played with a spoon during dinner (he kept throwing it for adults to fetch. "He's conducting experiments in physics and psychology," my brother explained, fetching the spoon again. "He'll be publishing a couple of papers, one of these days") but he didn't eat any of our food.

"You've met him at the best age," my mother commented. "He's cute and alert and interactive, but we don't have to child-proof the house yet and it's still ok to curse around him."

"No, it isn't," said my sister-in-law. "Bad habits are hard to break. Anyway, I hope this isn't the best age, we have a lot of ages left to go!" But she said all this in a friendly tone.

After dinner, she nursed the baby, covering her breasts with an expensive-looking silk (or maybe rayon?) shawl.

"Can he breathe under that?" I asked, and immediately regretted it. I mean, of course he can breathe, why would I go and accuse my sister-in-law of smothering her child? But she didn't seem to take offense.

"Oh, yeah," she reassured me. "He can see out, too. Just you can't see in."

I nodded and asked if she expected him to sleep after he was done eating. I wanted to hold him, and hadn't yet, but obviously I didn't want to spoil his rest.

"You're really good with the baby," my mother commented. "It's nice to see."

I smiled and shrugged a bit.

"And really good with nursing," added my sister-in-law. "You haven't smirked, not once. I don't feel self-conscious around you."

I suddenly realized I was the only man in the room, not counting the baby. I think I blushed.

"You know, that's right," my mother said. "When I had you guys I nursed in public, no cover or anything...I was such a little radical! Most people were polite about it, but I could always feel them trying not to look at my breasts. Men especially. Even your father--it was like he thought they were his and you babies were borrowing them."

This was not anything I'd wanted to know about my parents. I don't want to even think about my mother's breasts.

"She's my sister-in-law!" I protested, louder than I needed to. "I'm not a total cretin!" But that wasn't what I wanted to say. It hadn't come out right. I mean, it's not like I'd be ogling her if she wasn't my sister-in-law.

"Look," I tried again, blushing hard and not looking at either of them, "I like breasts, but they're not for me, ok? I'm not going to go staring at other people's bodies like I was a a kid in a damn candy store. It's not about me. In this case it's about lunch. For a baby."

"You know, Daniel," my sister-in-law said, in a tone of amazement. "I don't think you're a cretin at all." 

Which, I suppose, is a compliment, and I was glad to get it, but somehow I'd rather be held to a higher standard than non-cretinhood.

Last night, Kit came to pick me up, just as she did last year, but this time my mother invited her in for a drink. She accepted, on the condition her husband and Allen could come in, too. And of course they could (this year they were the only ones in the car--Lo and the kids were at home, I guess). And so the six of us sat and talked for a while. Mostly I remember Kit trying to explain to my Dad what being a witch really means. I'm not sure he really understood her, but she was completely charming and I think my parents finally got that she's an ordinary person.

It was so strange, having Allen and Kit sitting in my parents' living room, like an irruption of one world into another, the different parts of my life interacting. They are ordinary people, but they are extraordinary, also. Their presence gave a certain glamour to the room, almost like they were fairies, or perhaps wild animals. It occurred to me to wonder whether I do that to the rooms I enter and, if I don't do it now, whether I will someday.

This year I was grateful to have a family to visit, but once again I was even more grateful to have a school to return home to.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 4: Winter Warmth

The snow didn't stick, of course. Afterwards, the day after the snowfall, the weather warmed up and stayed that way for a couple of days, but then a front moved in and we had a serious ice storm last night--sleet coming down and freezing to everything for hours on end. It's hard to get around campus now, because the roads are slick, and we lost a couple of trees up in the woods, plus some branches off a few of the sugar maples, but everything is so pretty. The sun is out now, and all the twigs on all the trees and bushes are completely circled in ice, just surrounded, and all of it is sparkling and glowing and the ice on the ground is white and crunchy like some kind of sugary snow. I expect it will start melting soon, but for now it's beautiful.

It's interesting to think that because we live here on campus the way we do, we're free to enjoy it. I understand that a lot of people in the outside world are without power, a really dangerous thing for those who heat and cook with electricity--I know some of our neighbors are not on the town water system and they depend on electricity to pump their well water. Some of the roads are closed, and probably the others should be. A lot of folks can't go to work, kids can't go to school, it's a big mess and a serious hardship. Except for us. We generate our own electricity, and even if we lost that I'm not sure we'd care, because we use so little. Our wood and our food is close at hand. We don't have anywhere we need to go.

I'm thinking of the others, though. Not so much my parents, which is embarrassing--I've called them and they're fine, and that's basically all I need to know--but Allen, Kit, Joy, and Sarah are not on campus right now. They're out in the world where ice storms are a serious inconvenience or worse, and they're stuck out there, because of the roads. They couldn't come to campus if they wanted to. It's not that I'm worried, exactly--I'm sure they're alright--it's that it seems unfair they should have to cope with a difficulty that is so obviously unnecessary. The way we live here--self-sufficient, but connected to the world when we want to be--seems so self-evidently better.

Rick had his last "shelter night" last night, meaning that Charlie made him spend the night outside with nothing except what he could gather and what he might normally have with him for a walk in the woods. I say Charlie "made" him, but of course, Rick could have refused. Charlie wouldn't want anyone to do anything just because he said so. But of course Rick did not refuse.

Rick and I are not in the same dorm--he is in Snake--so I didn't know about this until this morning when Rick walked into the Great Hall around breakfast time, coming in from outdoors and missing his oilskin poncho.

"I used my poncho to waterproof my shelter," he explained. "It froze solid overnight and I couldn't get it free this morning. I'll get it when the ice melts." He set about wolfing down scrambled eggs, re-stoking the fire within himself. Staying warm takes a lot of calories.

"Did you get any sleep?" I asked him. I know he often sleeps poorly when the weather is bad, and I couldn't imagine him lying down inside a shelter small enough for a poncho to cover.

"None at all," he answered. And indeed, almost as soon as he was done eating, his head started to bob, the way people's heads do when they fall asleep sitting up, jerk awake, and sleep again.

"Why don't you go to bed?" I suggested. I meant that he should go to his own room--he still has one in his dorm, even though he hasn't spent much time in it this year. But he responded by lying down on the floor where he was, on a sheepskin in front of the fire. Within a minute he was obviously asleep. I took a blanket from the couch and covered him up.

I was trying to figure out whether to leave him there--I thought maybe he might get stepped on if he were alone, he kind of looked like a pile of blankets with a pair of feet sticking out the end--when Greg's cat, who usually ignores everybody except Greg, ambled over. The animal sniffed Rick's hair and appeared to consider--his tail-tip twitched. Then, making up his mind, the cat climbed up over Rick and settled on his hip. Rick grunted and rolled over onto his belly, but the cat rode him like a rolling log, resettled on the man's rear, kneaded with his claws for a minute, and then curled up and went to sleep.

I just sat there, completely astounded.

Aidan walked up to me, munching ineffectively on a raw carrot.

"Doing?" he asked.

"Who, me? Or Rick?"


"Watching the cat sleep on Rick."


"Because that cat doesn't like anybody but Greg. Usually not, anyway." I suppose that was too complex for Aidan to follow, because he just stared at me for a while, chewing on his carrot.

"No; why seeping," he clarified. I suppose he meant sleeping.

"Because he's tired, I guess."

Aidan stared at me again,still chewing. I hadn't answered the right question. Or, he had another one he didn't know how to ask. So I just started talking.

"That cat likes Rick. I can tell, because cats only sleep on people they like. But I didn't know he liked Rick. It surprised me. I thought he only liked Greg."


"The floor? Yeah, the floor is a funny place for a man to sleep, huh? I guess Rick is really tired."

Aidan stood there for a while, chewing on his carrot and staring at Rick. He seems so thoughtful, but there is no way to ask what he's thinking.

"I can't wait until you really learn how to talk," I told him.

"Me!" he answered, definitively.

"Yeah, I bet you can't wait, either."

Rick groaned and rolled over again, this time onto his back. The cat fell off, then climbed back on and settled, fortunately without kneading, over Rick's groin.

"Here, let's go somewhere else so Rick can sleep, ok?" I told Aidan.

"Cawa," he said, brandishing his carrot.

"Yes, but bring your carrot over here, ok?"

"No, you!"

"I should bring your carrot?"

"No, you. Some?"

"I should have some of your carrot?"


"Ok, thanks, but over here."

It's funny. A year ago, Aidan was a toddler. Or, less than a year, I guess. I'm thinking of that party right before Brigid. Anyway, he was a toddler. He could walk and eat real food and talk a little. Now, he's still a toddler. He can walk and eat real food and talk a little. It's like nothing has changed. Toddlers take a long time. And yet, "talk a little" means something completely different than it did before. Inside the sameness is a world of difference.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 3: First Snowfall

[Author's note: I have no direct experience with the surprising and, in most states, illegal herbal treatment described below. According to everything I've read, however, it should work, for the reasons given in the text. Hopefully, now that the laws are changing, someone can try it and document the results].
I forget if I’ve mentioned it, but I do have some assignments for the off-season. Joy asked me to practice Reiki on myself every day and recite some things. I have books to read again, though this time Charlie asked me to come up with my own reading list. I think he wants me to explore my own tastes in nature writing. And I’m still going tracking with Rick and hiking every day, at least until Christmas—I’m planning on going home for Christmas this year, and I may well stay with my parents until Brigid, just to visit.
And I’m even still working on the horticulture team—we’ll go until the snow covers the ground at least, according to Charlie. Which is interesting, because he’s still supervising us. Not every day, obviously, but we meet with him every week or so to go over what we’re doing and so forth. Last year once the school year ended he seemed to vanish. I assumed he had retreated utterly, or maybe even left campus, though it’s hard to imagine him being anywhere else. And the whole time, at least until the snow came, he was still supervising the horticulture team.
Anyway, the other day I had some hours to make up so I volunteered to process some of the seeds for next year. Most of the plantings on campus are designed to be self-maintaining populations, but some die out for whatever reason, and anyway he’s always adding species to the campus plan. So in the spring there are always new things to plant, usually from seed. But wild plant seeds do not just sprout as soon as they’re planted the way domestic seeds do—if they did, they’d sprout as soon as they fell off the parent plant and that might be the wrong season for the seedling to survive. So, to get wild seeds to sprout you often have to chill them for a certain number of hours or bang them up a bit to simulate being tumbled in a flood, or something similar. It’s called stratification, and each species has its own requirement. My job was to sort out this year’s batches of seeds and bang them up or prepare them for cold storage or whatever they needed according to a sheet of instructions.
It’s basically a one-person job, because all the batches are small, but it’s tedious so I asked Ebony to keep me company while I worked. She has little to no interest in plants, natural science, or pretty much anything else I’m doing with Charlie, but she likes to sit and talk and she didn’t have anything else to do.
The main greenhouse was built on the foundation of—I think it was the old school building, from back when this was a boys’ boarding school. So, under the greenhouse is this huge basement. We—the horticulture team—use it for storage and as an indoor workspace. That’s where I had to go to do my work.
When Ebony and I got down there, we found Kit working on an unrelated project—planting jonquil bulbs to force for Brigid.
“Charlie would object, of course,” she commented, her voice acidic with disdain. She meant he’d object to the jonquils for Brigid. She’s probably right, exotic plants being forced to flower out of season doesn’t really sound like his thing, but I don't know why she felt the need to point that out. It's not like his approval has any bearing on what she does.  She often speaks about him like that, and I ignore it. The three of us sat together and talked while Kit and I worked. She finished before me, but stuck around until I was done, and three of us left together.
By the time we left, night had fallen and the greenhouse was very dark. I pulled out my flashlight, but it didn’t work. The lightbulb had died. Kit confessed she had left her flashlight in her room by mistake, when she'd changed her clothes.
“Maybe you should lead me?” I suggested to Ebony, since she’s used to not being able to see and she had her cane with her, folded up in her bag. I knew almost as soon as I said it how she’d reply.
“I’d better not. I’m a really bad blind person.”
She meant that she doesn’t have any of those special powers of perception that blind people are supposed to develop and she isn’t very good at the habits and skills they teach blind people so they can get by. It’s because she doesn’t think of herself as blind. I used to get my brain fairly bent over that—how can someone not identify as blind when she is, in fact, blind? A couple of weeks ago, though, she used the phrase around Security Joe, who understood immediately.
“I used to be a really bad woman,” he said. “I couldn’t be bothered to wear a bra. I’d walk around with my tits bouncing all over the place—which was totally counter-productive, from a gender-identity perspective. I think I just kept hoping they’d go away. And eventually, I made them go away.”
Maybe because Security Joe is so obviously a guy, that made sense to me. When I try to picture him as a woman, the best I can do is imagine him in a kind of woman-suit, like a guy in fleshy drag. I guess that’s how it felt to him, too, like a disguise he couldn’t take off.  Like the problems of his actual woman's body were so remote, so alien, that he couldn't quite believe he had to deal with him. I guess Ebony's eyes are similar, in that respect.

Anyway, I was pretty sure I could walk out of the dark greenhouse without the aid of my eyes--I'm almost as good at being blind as Ebony, now--but I couldn't lead her at the same time and she isn't familiar with the greenhouse. Neither is Kit, I don't think. Either of them could trip or knock something over. When a woman near me has a problem, I feel responsible for fixing it. I can't help it. And here I'd caused the problem. I was about ten seconds in to an unproductive guilt trip when Kit guessed that Ebony also carried a flashlight. And, of course, she would--the sighted students all carry flashlights, because much of campus is dark at night, so she carries one too. In her mind, she's a sighted student. Also, a forgetful one.

"I am such a doofus!" she exclaimed, and unclipped her light from her belt and handed it to me. We made our way outside and I turned the light off and returned it. We all know how to find our way to the Mansion by our feet, and there was a little glow off the clouds from the lights of the towns nearby.

Outside, in the dark, I heard something.

Or, rather, I didn't hear something, a curious quality of wet silence. I turned my face up to the sky, attentive, and felt something cold and soft, like rain, only I could not hear any rain.

"It's snowing," I told Ebony, although there was no reason she could not have worked that out for herself. We were both equally blind at the moment. Kit giggled. She likes snow, and none of us had expected it quite so early.

Almost immediately, we heard another noise, the rumble of an engine, an approaching truck. Cars and trucks are rare on campus, especially at night, so we waited for it to come so Kit could identify the driver. She borrowed Ebony's flashlight and turned it on, so we would be visible to the driver. 

The driver stopped in front of us, rolled down his passenger-side window, and asked if we knew where "Barn B" is. Of course, there is no Barn B., because we only have one barn. Kit went over to talk with him while Ebony and I waited, standing half in the brightness of the truck's headlights.. In the yellow light I could see snow clinging to Ebony's dark hair and the shoulders of her cloak, great flakes, piles of flakes, melting slowly into the black wool. The air was fairly warm, so the snowflakes were huge, the way the moon looks huge when it first rises. The thick flakes swarmed around her, almost like live things. Ebony swayed and reached out her hand, pawing the air as though seeking something stable. I took her hand. I think I am stable. I want to be.

"It's so bright!" she said. "It hurts my eyes!" She can see some light, though not enough to be useful. Usually bright light doesn't bother her, though. "It feels like it's poking my eyeballs!"

"You're looking right at the truck's headlights," I told her. "Turn towards me instead." She did, but with the way we were standing I could still see her eyes fairly well--and I about fell over when I saw her eyes focus on me for a moment. I saw her see. 

She didn't look at me very long, maybe a couple of seconds, before her attention shifted back to the beam of the truck's headlights. This time she was looking across the beam, not into it.

"I feel like I'm falling," she said, suddenly. "Something's pulling me down and--to the left? And it's very bright, bright but with dark spots mixed in. It's confused and moving and soft. What is it? What am I seeing?"

"Snow falling," I told her after a moment's thought. "You're seeing the snow falling through the beam of light from the truck. They are falling down and to our left. The bright parts are snowflakes, the dark parts are the dark night behind them."

"Really? Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why can I see the snowflakes in the beam of light but not otherwise, and why can I still see the dark if a light's on?"

Ebony can see some light, as I've said, and sometimes asks for help in making sense of what she sees, but she never gets this much detail--and I've never seen her eyes focus, either. I tried answering her  questions.

"Because the snowflakes interrupt the beam of light and redirect it to your eyes. And where there is no snowflake, there is nothing to redirect the light, so all you see is darkness. Remember Laser Day in Intro to Physics? But"-- I was about to ask her how she was seeing in the first place when Kit stepped away from the truck. 

We stepped back, too, and it drove on. Kit rejoined us and explained that whoever had written the driver's orders had made a kind of manual stutter--the B for Barn was written twice. He was carrying a load of hay for the horses and other animals. Ebony started telling her all about her visual discoveries, as excited as a little kid but much more articulate.

"Right now?" Kit asked. "But you're on campus."

"Exactly," Ebony replied. "That's why I ate it when I found it in my purse."

"You don't need me to tell you not to lose those things."

"I know. I am a mess."

I was both literally and metaphorically in the dark, but I had--back in the basement, about an hour earlier--noticed Ebony discover what looked like half a plastic-wrapped brownie in her purse. She'd eaten it quickly, and I'd gotten the puzzling impression that she wasn't hungry so much as trying to make the brownie go away. What they were saying now confirmed that strange impression--the brownie was contraband. The obvious explanation was that it was a pot-brownie. I've never had one, but I know they exist, and there is a strict rule against bringing illegal substances on campus. But what did that have to do with Ebony suddenly being able to see?

"Um," I began.

"I can see when I'm stoned," Ebony explained, cheerfully. I looked at Kit, but I couldn't see her face in the dark. She didn't seem surprised, though. She knew.

"Um, what?"

"I can see when I'm stoned," Ebony reiterated. "I'm not sure why, exactly. I was born with damage to my retinas--I don't have a lot of photoreceptors left. So I don't see much light, and without anything to focus on, my eyes jerk around all the time--that's called nystagmus. So what I do see is all jumbled up and my brain never learned out to make sense of the information.  There are cannabinoid receptors in the retina, as well as in the brain, so maybe the drug acts as a kind of amplifier? So the photoreceptors I do have can see enough to focus and my eyes stop jumping around. Cannibis is already used for a lot of eye-related ailments since the cannabinoids seem to protect the retina in some way. Maybe they can undo damage as well? Also, there are people who use cannabis to control other disorders involving uncontrolled muscular movement, like epilepsy and the spasticity of cerebral palsy. So maybe it also helps keep my eyes from moving so much that way. But, it's not like I understand what I'm seeing, and what I can see is really unpredictable. I've never seen snow falling before."

"You have to learn to see now, the way babies do," commented Kit. "You should probably go someplace where it's light now, to practice," she added.  "So you don't waste this one. Too bad Allen left already."

"What does Allen have to do with it?" I asked.

"He's helping me," Ebony explained. "Or I'm helping him. Anyway, he's really interested in my process of seeing. We go off campus."

"But we don't have masters who can supervise drug-induced explorations," I said, almost quoting the school rule on the subject. "Is that rule not real?"

"Oh, it's real," Kit assured me.

"He's not supervising my drug use," Ebony put in. "We're working more as equals, and we're focusing on perception. Anyway, it's not the high itself that matters. I like being high, but I don't like having to be high in order to see. I wish there was a pill I could take, or eye drops or something."

I considered. Allen was taking Ebony off campus somewhere on a regular basis so she could get high and experiment with vision. It was sort of awesome to consider how much trouble he could get into if caught. There was something deliciously scandalous about the idea of a student getting high with a soon as I had the thought I realized my internal monologue had made it sound as though Allen were getting stoned also. Was he? Which one of them was buying? How deeply was he involved?

I should say that my crowd in high school never really got into drugs and that I probably sound really naive right now.

"None of us actually know about any of this," Kit put in, in a tone of voice suggesting that all of the masters knew.

"Like how Charlie told Rick to go out on 'shelter nights' in snow-storms?" I asked. The shelter night assignments were dangerous, and Charlie had taken steps to insulate the school from liability if anything went wrong.

"Right. None of us know about that, either," confirmed Kit.

We continued walking. The snow continued falling. They have a curious attitude about rules, here. Mostly the masters ignore the law where they see fit--and that's about everything, from legal liability to how many deer Charlie shoots every year. It's not that they aren't bound by rules, it's that the masters act as though the school were a separate jurisdiction, a kind of Avalon. The rules that they do have--to support and respect each other, to meet the educational needs of the students, for example, or to protect the school, they follow absolutely.

When we got to the Mansion, Kit ran in to the Herbarium and got a big flashlight. The whole Mansion seemed nearly dark from the outside, there are no outdoor lights and the few indoor lights that were on were dimmed by drawn window-shades. Out on the dark lawn, then, with the fat white flakes melting into the grass around us, we set the light on the ground pointed straight up. The snow flurried down out of the black sky like a swarm of luminescent jellyfish, swirling, dizzying, and giddy. Ebony reached her hands up, catching the flakes on her palms and her lovely but almost inexpressive face. Kit danced around us, spinning like a planet, her red hair frosted with snow.

"The world is a snowball," she sang.

The world is a snowball, see how it grows.
That's how it grows, whenever it snows.
The world is a snowball, just for a song.
You better get up, and roll it along!* 

* This song is "Marshmallow World," by Peter De Rose and Carl Sigman. The version Kit sang is very close to Brenda Lee's recording.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 2: After Samhain

And so the old year passes. I mean the school year is over, of course, but Samhain is the Celtic New Year, according to the Wiccans on campus, anyway. I've noticed they seem to see a death-and-rebirth theme in all of the sabbats. I said something about that to Kit, once, that it seemed like something was always ending and something else beginning, and she rolled her eyes and said "well, duh." She wasn't unfriendly about it, though.

Anyway, campus is growing quiet, chilly, and dark. A lot of people have left for the winter already, we've had our first hard frosts, and the leaves are almost all down from the trees. It very much seems as though something is over--it's not that I'm upset or gloomy, it's just that the world seems to be doing exactly what the Samhain imagery says it should.

And I was thinking about this--for some people it is very much an ending-and-beginning. The people graduating, for one. And there's David, Allen's son.

I bumped into him on Samhain day, walking towards the Mansion with some clothes and other things in his arms. We stopped to say hi, and when he saw me looking at the stuff he was carrying he freely admitted it was his ninja costume from the previous night.

"It was a pretty good disguise, don't you think?" he asked. "I looked like a real ninja. I wanted my last costume to be good one."

"Aren't we supposed to pretend I don't know that was you?" I asked him.

He shrugged a little.

"Maybe if the other kids were around," he began. "See, that's just it, though. I'm thinking about the other kids, pretending for their sake. And I spent half my time last night babysitting the Littles" --he meant Alexis and Billie, who are both only four--"I don't mind babysitting, but the whole point of Samhain is you get to do things you couldn't do with a babysitter watching you. I guess I'm just not a Sprout anymore, that's all."

"Really? You're not thirteen yet. You could go on being a Sprout, if you wanted to," I told him. He seemed sad, and I was sad for him. Being a Sprout looks like a lot of fun. I didn't want to see him stop any earlier than he had to.

"I guess," he replied, shrugging again. "But everything ends. That's the other point of Samhain." And he went on his way.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Year 2: Samhain

Happy Samhain.

It’s interesting going through these holidays for the second time, since I know more or less what’s going to happen, and even something of why things are going to happen. For the ceremony in Chapel Hall, I sat next to Ebony, who is a yearling, and had no idea what was going on—all the more so because, as she explained, at Brigid she was too shy to ask anyone to describe the inaudible aspects of the ceremony. So the procession and everything else the two ceremonies have in common were new to her, too. I described things for her—including what things look like. It still sort of warps my mind that she wants to know that, that visual descriptions are even meaningful to her, but they are, so I provided them.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One thing was new for me this year, though. Since I’m on the landscaping crew, I’ve been one of the people decorating the campus for the holiday—along with the farming team and a group of volunteers working with Karen (she does flower arrangements). Last year I had a role, too, on the cleaning crew, but that was mostly afterward, shutting down Chapel Hall for the season. So, last year all the decorations showing up, and especially all the little lights that lined the campus roads, it all had a kind of magical quality, as though it had been done by elves. This year, it again had a magical quality, except I got to be one of the elves.

One of the things I’ve learned here is to go on finding something magical, in the sense of wondrous, even when I know exactly how it works.

I am glad it was last year and not this year that I got to look out the window and see the campus unexpectedly twinkling with stars—this year there was a bit of a breeze Samhain night and half the candles had blown out before anybody really got to see it.

So, we all assembled in the Chapel to bid farewell to the year. I sat with Ebony and Kayla and, as I said, explained how things looked, how the masters processed in, their faces lit by candles, and how by the light of their candles added to that of the candles already in the room, the chapel as a whole went sort of honey-colored, brighter than you’d think candles could go, yet the ceiling was still lost in the gloom. It might almost have been open to the sky.

“Is that why the light’s flickering?” Ebony asked. “Because it’s candle-light?”
“No,” I told her, “candles only flicker in a breeze, and anyway, there’s so many the flickers would kind of cancel each other out. I don’t see a flicker.”
“Oh. Maybe it’s just my eyes being weird.” She sounded disappointed.

One thing I’ve learned, this year and last, is that when the masters do something, especially in ceremony, they usually have a reason. I’ve even learned what some of them are—the procession functions as what Kit calls an induction, the initial steps of a ceremony that key the mind for the rest. Ebony could not see the procession, and until I told her about it, she didn’t even realize there had been one. At Brigid, she had assumed they were in the Chapel with us from the beginning. 

Now that I’m mostly in the habit of thinking of Ebony as a sighted person (who just happens to have her eyes closed at the moment), when I notice something that she doesn’t get to do or experience because her eyes don’t actually work well enough, it seems really unfair. Like, it makes me angry, but I don’t know who I’m angry at.

Thinking about how much of what we do here—what Kit would call our language of ceremony—she might have missed by not having someone to tell her what things looked like, I got to wondering what Ebony’s own language of ceremony is. Is she Wiccan, Heathan, Christian, or what? So I asked.
“Zen Jewdist,” she answered, and giggled. I couldn’t get her to explain that to me because Allen had begun speaking from the stage.

The ceremony went just about the same as it did last year, except that there was no ritual to hand off the position of Head of the Masters’ Group—that position rotates every two years, so Allen gets another year at it. Then followed the reading of names, the short eulogies for the recently (only one, this year), and then a moment of silence for all those who died in the September 11th attacks.

“Now, let’s have a moment of NOISE for all those who died September 11th!” shouted Allen. “They can’t celebrate, so let’s do it for ‘em!”

We all whooped and cheered.

Then, we sang our goofy memorial song, with each person who wanted to offering a verse and then we all came in on the chorus*:

Hats off to dead folks, wherever they may be,
cause they had the best hopes for you and for me.
I stand up for dead folks, so you'll hear me say my
hat's off to dead folks, and I know I'll be one someday.

Last year I didn’t offer a verse, partly because I didn’t know about the song ahead of time, and partly because I didn’t think I’d really known anybody who died. I mean, there was my Great-Aunt Ida, but I’d hardly known her. But then I got thinking of the little kitten I had when I was small, and how I’d made myself stop grieving him when Aunt Ida died, because he was just a cat and being sad about a cat was silly and babyish. But he wasn’t only a cat to me.

I don’t think Charlie would hesitate to grieve an animal, and obviously Joy wouldn’t. And Greg has his cat, who follows him around campus and lets no one but Greg pet him, and who doesn’t seem to have any name but Greg’s Cat. And so I made a verse. I waited until the end to sing it, I wasn’t sure I was even going to, but then, right when Kit, who lead the song, was about to finish up, I stood up and sang.

I had a cat when I was small
He was black and white and mine.
I guess you could say we had a ball
But we ran out of time.
He died before he was one year old,
he taught a boy to grieve
And it’s silly but my heart still asks
Why did you have to leave?
And then the others came in on the chorus. Nobody laughed at me. I felt better.
Afterwards, Kit came to find me and ask about my cat.
“What was his name?” she asked.
“How old were you?”
“Why did you say it’s silly?”
I told her. She smiled.
“You can’t weigh grief, so there’s no such thing as one grief being bigger or more important than another,” she told me. “You feel how you feel. Sanchez was lucky to have you.” She squeezed my arm in a friendly way, and might have been about to say something else when the bell rang. Kit, along with every other master in the room, immediately went about blowing out candles and leaving, without further acknowledging any of us.
They blew out every candle they’d brought in but one, and that one Allen carried as they all processed out, taking their light with them.
“They just left? In the middle of their sentences?” Ebony asked me, when I explained their exit to her.
“Well, yes,” I told her. “Sometimes people do leave that way.”
*The song, "Hats off to Dead Folks," is a rewritten version of "Hats off to Old Folks," by Steve Romanoff. It was first recorded by Schooner Fare on their "The First Ten Years" album, in 1986