Speaking of friends, Rick has gone right on with his bad mood. It's not like he's being an ass in any obvious way, but there's an edge to him that makes ordinary statements sound combative. He doesn't smile as much as he should.
"So, do you want to tell me about what's wrong?" I asked him, as we were getting dressed to go out tracking.
"Who said anything is wrong?" he asked me, frowning.
"I did. You're being a bit of an ass lately."
"Why?" he reiterated, caustically. He had turned away from me and was examining the leave of a potted avocado. "Do you think I'll feel better if I just share my troubles?"
Rick is one of those people who really prefers to think things through on his own. So am I, usually, but we both know people who aren't, and I bet I'm not the first person to press him to talk.
"No," I told him, bluntly. "I expect I'll feel better if you tell me why you've been an ass. Anyway, I might be able to help, depending on what the problem is." I sat down in one of the wicker chairs in the Green Room and took off one of my layers of uniform shirts to wait.
"It's kind of stupid," he warned me, still
"Well, I can't help with that, you'll need to go to one of the masters or something."
That made Rick laugh, finally, and he took off his outer layer and sat down in the other chair.
"Well, in less than two weeks I'm going to start living outside. You know that, right?"
"I know," I reminded him. He laughed again. Of course I know, I've been talking with him about it for months.
"Well, I'm nervous."
"Is that all?"
"All?" he looked at me, "I'm going to have to sleep outside on more nights than not, in this kind of clothing, no synthetic anything, and eat only the food I've gathered and stored myself. If mice get into my cache in the basement or I can't shoot enough squirrels I'll either starve or I fail Charlie. I should think that's enough!"
"Yeah, ok," I conceded, "I guess that's enough."
"And the worst part," he continued, quietly, "is that I don't know for sure I can do it. I don't mean morally, I know I've got the will to, I mean practically. What if it gets colder than I expected? What if I'm not prepared? If I can't keep myself warm enough? I know I'll be uncomfortable sometimes, I'm ok with that, but I don't know the difference between uncomfortable and in danger. What does it feel like when you start to freeze to death?"
He met my eyes for a moment and he really did look frightened. I thought for a moment.
"Why don't you ask?" I suggested.
"Ask what the early stages of hypothermia feel like. Ask Sharon for the number of the ally who teaches the Wilderness First Responder classes and ask. And Andy had chronic hypothermia last year. You can ask him what that felt like."
"Whoa," said Rick, surprised, I suppose, that he hadn't thought of it himself.
"You could also," I began, "start sleeping outside early. I mean, if you go sleep outside now, you can come in if you get really cold. Charlie won't mind. I'm not even sure he's on campus right now. So you won't have to worry about it. And if you stay out and you're fine, then you'll know that on nights like that when you feel like that you'll be fine."
"I mean, the whole point is you want to know what it's like to be in the paleolithic, right? But paleolithic people would have known what kind of night they could get through. They wouldn't do this for the first time as adults."
I nodded a little. I was trying not to get all high and mighty, since I was really surprised that I'd been able to talk him down and it was giving me a bit of an ego boost. The thing about real paleolithic people, though, he's been talking a lot about that over the last few months. That's one of the standards Charlie uses. Rick doesn't have to make all his own tools and equipment and he doesn't have to limit himself to materials available here, on campus because, as Charlie says, paleolithic peoples traded for goods from other regions and they had some division of labor within their societies so not everyone had to do everything. So he'd had to learn how to make clothing from animal hides, but mostly he can wear his wool school uniform. He has to know how to make his tools, but mostly he'll use his steel-bladed deer knife and shoot steel-pointed hunting arrows. He has to learn how to make an animal-proof food cache, but most of his food is in the Dining Hall basement next to ours. I was just applying the same logic.
"And I really thought you couldn't do anything about it," he said, wonderingly. I said nothing. "So, are you ready to go tracking?" he asked, then, in a very different voice.
"Sure, gimme a minute." And I finished lacing my boots, put my sweater back on, then my second uniform shirt, my cowl on over that (have you ever worn a cowl? It's a hood that covers your neck and shoulders and keeps snow from falling down your neck. They're incredibly practical) and then my cloak on over that, then my gloves and mittens.
I own a snow suit. It's blue and synthetic and waterproof, and its warmer and lighter than all my wool and wool-linen blend layers. But, anymore, it feels funny, and of course this way I don't need to change my clothes for dinner. It's only moments like this, when I kind of notice what I'm doing, that I remember I've been living for nearly a year in a truly strange place and living in a way that would shock my other friends and family as extreme or even deprived.
The rest of the time my life just seems normal.
[Next Post: Monday, January 27th: Calling Your Name]