"Yes, I can tell," said Rick as I walked past him through the Great Hall after lunch.
"Wait, what?" I asked. I hadn't even noticed he was there.
"I can tell. You were wondering, earlier today in the woods." He was smiling at me, enjoying himself, waiting to see if I'd figure out what the heck he was talking about.
I cleared my mind, the way I've learned to do, to let the answer surface, if it's going to, and I saw myself, outside, in the snow. I'd gone tracking earlier in the day, and, out in the woods, I'd had to pee. But the thing about tracking is you don't just become aware of other animals' tracks; you also become aware that you are leaving tracks, too. Anyone else who knows how to track can tell exactly what you've been doing. It's like being watched all the time. So, I felt a little self-conscious and I kicked up some snow to cover my stain. I'd been wondering whether he'd be able to tell anyway.
"What are you, Sherlock Holmes?" That made him laugh.
"Well, I do aspire...."
"Ok, how did you know?" I might as well give him the satisfaction of asking.
"I saw you today--I wasn't watching, I just saw movement, so I turned to look--you were looking around, as though to see if anyone was watching and then you kicked at the snow. Then you looked around again, and looked at the snow for a bit. I guessed that you were wondering if I could still tell you'd taken a leak there. And I can--I've seen kicked-up snow like that before."
"Show-off." He shrugged, not disputing anything.
Rick and I have spent most of the winter together, except when I was sick (he hardly comes inside now). I've really learned a lot from him. He's an extraordinary naturalist and tracker. I'm not sure if I really know him well, though. I'm not sure anybody does, though I'm not his only friend. It's not that he's reclusive, exactly, and he doesn't grumble and growl like Charlie does, but...ok, as an example, if Charlie sees something that interests him he has to share it. That's part of the point for him. For all his grumbling and growling, Charlie gets a huge kick out of teaching. So do all the other masters. Rick doesn't. I think he could probably find a unicorn print or something and not think to tell me. He's just like that.
The thing is, I don't think Rick likes people. Just like some people don't like cats or can't stand spiders, or whatever, Rick doesn't like human beings.
So I was pretty surprised when he invited me up to his shelter today for "a kind of party."
Rick just laughed at my surprise.
"I said it's a sort of a party.Two or three people. I feel like being social, I guess."
So Raven G. and Darren and I joined Rick at one of his shelters for a drink. That was his party. We drank what he called maple-jack out of a clay jug, ate raisins and venison jerky, and talked for an hour or so. I hadn't really ever hung out with Darren before, so it was neat getting to know him a little bit. Joy is his spirit-master, and he's studying something he calls totemic animism with her, which sounds like a kind of inside out version of what I'm studying with Charlie, so I'd like to talk with him about it more. I didn't really get a chance today because he spent most of the party talking with Rick about art.
Rick is an artist. I wouldn't have called him one before, since he doesn't make pictures or anything like that. He's also not like Darren, who is learning to make devotional objects out of wood and soapstone. But Rick has to make a lot of his own gear, and obviously he has to make his shelters, and everything he makes is a functional work of art. The lean-to we had our party in, for example, is made of even-sized poles lashed together with leather, but all the lashings are dyed red (with beet-juice, I'm guessing) and on the corners of the frame the tails of the leather thongs have feathers tied into them. The leather curtains rolled up along the edge of the roof have abstract but vaguely floral designs embossed into them. He unrolled one of them to show us. Charlie is the same way; everything he makes is functional, but everything is also beautiful. The two have different styles, though. Their work is easy to tell apart.
Rick wouldn't let us stay longer than an hour. He was worried we'd get cold, just sitting there. That's something about Rick--he won't let anyone get wet or cold outside in his company. I've seen him pour water with the same care, to avoid spilling, that most people reserve for bleach or something else likely to destroy clothing. It seemed strange to me--I mean, I don't like being cold, but it's hardly a big deal. You tough it out. But Rick explained that, living outside, once you get wet or cold, you usually stay that way.
But before we left, I asked Rick why he'd bothered to have a "kind of a" party to begin with. The other looked at him. I guess they'd been wondering, too. He paused a little, then explained.
"It's been a month I've been out here now. And I'm still here."
[Next Post: Friday, March 7th: Planning to Win the Egghunt]