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.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Year 2: Part 3: Post 7: What a Person Can Do

Well, my plan to do everything I’ve signed up to do hasn’t worked out. There aren’t enough hours in the day. I can’t go running with Ollie anymore, I just don’t have the time.

I do my trail work in the morning, so he and I warm up and stretch together before he goes running and I walk into the woods. Sometimes he comes with me instead of running so we can talk then. But that’s it. I’ve also had to stop going to yoga and Karen’s morning exercise class, except on mornings when it’s raining or something. I’m going to class with Karen on Tuesday, so it’s not like I’m not getting any athletic coaching, but this way I can work for about three hours straight every morning before breakfast.

And no, I’m not getting enough sleep. I’ve started taking a nap over lunch instead of hanging out with Charlie, which is probably just as well, since somehow my schedule has ended up otherwise full of him. It’s particularly striking at the end of the week; Thursday afternoon I have Creating Campus, which he teaches, and then I have Paleolithic Dinner with him. Then, Friday morning, I have my horticulture job, Messing Around Outdoors in the afternoon, and then Saturday I have a horticulture shift again. I imagine he’s kind of tired of seeing my face.

Anyway, the thing is I’m completely occupied, no time on my hands at all. I’m always either in class, working, doing homework, working, eating, or asleep. I mentioned this to my mother on the phone the other day, and she said I must be really stressed out. And the thing is, I’m not. I just feel kind of full.

The thing is, there really isn’t anything major that I wish I had time for and I don’t. I wish I could go running with Ollie, but he sometimes comes to do trailwork with me, so that’s ok. I really miss starting my day with yoga, but Reiki on Tuesday evening feels kind of similar. Anyway, getting up early in the morning and getting outside feels kind of similar, too. I still listen to the birds, trying to keep track of how many different kinds I can hear—both because I want to and because Charlie is still sending spies, now and then, to check to see if I’m still paying attention. Listening to them, or noticing what’s in flower or what’s sprouting every day, is relaxing and centering. And I really like the other things I'm doing.

For example, we had an assignment for Psychology of Magic that had to be done in pairs, and my partner was Andy. We had to take turns telling each other either true stories or lies so the other one could guess which one was which. Then we took notes on what made a statement believable or not. Andy said he's not as good at lying as he used to be, which I guess is a reference to his history of drug use. He is very self-consciously Christian now, and the thought of lying, even for the purpose of a game, made him uncomfortable so that he giggled the whole time. The thing is, he giggled and fidgeted even when he was telling the truth, so then I started getting goofy, too, and we both had a great time. It was technically homework, and we finished the assignment, but it didn't feel like work.

I hadn't spent a lot of time with Andy lately, so it was good to catch up with him. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it, but technically this is his first year in school here. The thing is, last year he needed a lot of health care and other services that would have been very difficult for him to get for free if he was enrolled in school.So, the masters talked about it, and quietly decided not to enroll him until after his health was better. Now, it's better.

So this is really his first year as one of us (they entered in his coursework from last year as advanced standing, as though it were transfer credit or something like that).

It's a pretty sweet deal, really. Since he wasn't enrolled last year, he couldn't be charged tuition, so the masters balanced the books internally by treating him as a member of an employee's family--someone entitled to free tuition and room and board. Now, he is being charged, but he's working on the maintenance crew, and the work he did last year was credited forward and covers his room and board fees. He's starting a part-time job in town next month at a bicycle repair place, so he'll be able to save money and rebuild his credit. He's really putting his life back together.

I used to wonder why the school was doing all of this for him, when obviously they can't do this sort of thing for everybody. They don't offer scholarships. They can't afford to. I asked Sharon about it once, I mean, not like I'm not glad of it, Andy is a great guy, and this school is clearly the best thing that could have happened to him. But why him? Why did the school choose to help Andy?

"Because we can," said Sharon, simply.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Year 2: Part 3: Post 6: Considering Magic

I have to choose a master for magic. I’ve been putting it off, because even though I came here because of the magic, I find I don’t quite believe in magic in a literal sense. I don’t mean magic like what Allen does, that’s obviously real, but that’s also not what I mean by magic. I mean something that’s impossible. I want there to be things that are possible that I didn’t think were.

Allen says I can organize my studies around that, around not knowing, around finding ways to be surprised. I like that idea, but I can’t figure out how to do it or who to do it with. Kit says I don’t need to believe in magic in order to do it, for the same reason I don’t need to believe in electricity in order to turn on the light. And that makes sense. And I’d love to work with Kit, I really would. Not only is she beautiful and all of that, not only is my friend, but she’s obviously brilliant and I’d love to…be part of that. But the thing is, I understand that part of the magic she teaches involves acting as if certain things are true, spirits and energies and correspondences and so forth, and I’m not sure I can do that.

Honestly, Charlie doesn’t help with that. He’s so focused on getting to know things as they are, receiving their nature without projection or bias. I don’t see how I can work on getting to know, say, a white oak tree, as it is without projection, and at the same learn to act as if it is metaphysically masculine, or whatever.

And do I really want to have two masters who are allergic to each other?

I need to choose a healing master, too, and that’s simpler. There’s no special conflict there, I just need to do it. I’d been feeling torn between emergency medicine and Reiki, but that’s more or less just me making up my mind. I had been thinking of herbal medicine, since I’m working so much with plants anyway, but Joy sets too high a bar. She considers herbalism a form of doctoring, so to be an herbalist you need to do something equivalent to med school or she won’t let you graduate. I don’t really want to get into all that. I don’t really want to be a doctor.

You don’t have to be a doctor to do emergency medicine or Reiki. Both of them are things you can do as a non-expert while you go about the rest of your life. You don’t have to go to med school.

Emergency medicine would be a really useful skill to have, and I certainly believe in it, but I’d have to become an EMT and ride an ambulance for a minimum number of hours and I really don’t see how that would work with the other things I’m doing here. I can’t imagine Charlie, or anyone like him, riding an ambulance. It would be too loud, too busy, too fast. So, more or less by default, I’ve chosen Reiki. Anyway, I like the fact that I can’t figure out how it works.

Both Karen and Joy teach Reiki, but I’m going to go with Joy. I’ve asked her. She does a workshop every Tuesday after Philosopher’s Stone Soup is over and you can go and practice and receive treatments and you can drop in and out as time permits. In Reiki, there are three “attunements” that supposedly adjust something in your soul to allow the energy to flow through you or something. If you get the first two attunements and do a certain minimum number of hours of practice and you can graduate. I wouldn’t say it sounds easy, but it sounds doable. It sounds like something that will fit in to the rest of my studies. I don’t have to believe anything, or act as if I believe something. I just need to have an open mind.
And, talking to Joy about all of this, we got talking about magic. She teaches a form of ritualistic magic like Kit does, but she also teaches something called “manifestation.” She says this is what lies at the heart of all magic, but it’s a different way of accessing it. Basically, if you want or need something, you make room in your life for it and you follow your intuition. You pray, you take practical steps, you think positively, and you make room in your life for whatever it is. You put yourself in the way of good luck.

Do I believe in this manifestation? Yes and no. I don’t believe in any cosmology that would explain it being possible. I do believe in miracles—God does things sometimes that don’t normally happen. I was raised to believe in that, and I still do. But I don’t believe that God can be coerced by magic. By definition, miracles are things humans can’t make happen. And I don’t believe miracles happen very often. Getting a string of good luck or succeeding at something you didn’t think you could doesn’t mean the creator of the universe is intervening in your personal life by manipulating traffic lights or SAT scores.

At the same time, I have been fantastically lucky in a lot of ways. I do things, I walk into the front office of this school and it turns out to be exactly the place I want to be. Is that sort of thing really random? What is random? Can’t there be some kind of gray area between the things we can influence and the things we can’t?

I keep thinking about what Ollie told me Allen said to that dying man he saw as a chaplain in the hospital. The man was in a bad way, for obvious reasons, and Allen made a hatchling chick appear, by slight-of-hand, right there on the hospital bed. The man hadn’t known there was a bird in the room, and Allen asked him if he was so sure about everything else he thought he knew. Might there be a second bird in the room? Or miracles? Or Heaven?

Do you know so much about the world that you are sure you can’t make yourself lucky?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Year 2: Part 3: Post 5: Back into the Swing of Things

Note;  I've way over-committed myself, between one thing and another, and with the landscaping season in full swing now something has to give. So I'm dropping down to one post per week, until further notice. This will be the last Friday post. On Mondays I'll continue to post as normal.

I've  made it seem, I think, like I spent all my time on the Island in this busy, confusing daze while having natural history crammed down my throat. It's actually been a lot more organized than that and I've had a lot of fun learning. We've touched on history, geology, weather, all sorts of topics and I've really gotten a chance to explore the place. It as though, on campus, I've been working on getting to know a place very well, and here Charlie's having me do it again, but faster and in not as much depth, with a different place. Maybe the point is to make sure I know how to get to know somewhere, so I can do it with multiple places?

Anyway, Charlie and I rode back in the vans with the rest of the trip because Allen and his family aren't going back to campus right away. I don't know where they're going. I didn't ask. I didn't tell the other students where I had been and they didn't ask me.

We just got back and now the trail work season is about to begin. I think I told you that I'm going to be doing hiking trail maintenance as an athletic pursuit. I've been working for months now in Kit's practical yoga class on proper body mechanics and form, so I don't injure myself while working. This week I'm going to re-take the chainsaw safety and handling workshop, plus I'm going to take a class in using and maintaining an axe. I already know how to clean and sharpen all the other tools. And then Charlie's going to teach a workshop on hiking trail maintenance and then set me loose on the trails. I can ask Rick to help me if I need it, but it's my job. It seems like rather a lot, and I don't see how I'll really know what I'm doing by then, but then I never seem to know what I'm doing these days, and I manage to do it anyway.

These trails don't get a lot of use so they don't need a lot of work. The only big deal is that there are a lot of them, many miles, curled up together like some giant intestine in the woods. Most of my job is to hike every inch of it at some point this summer and cut back brush, clean out drainage structures, and cut away any blown-down trees. There might be a couple of larger projects, it depends on what I find on my patrol.

And I need to fit all of this into my free time, which I don't really have any of, so I'm going to have to hike fast, work fast--probably every day--and never get hurt. That's why it's an athletic practice.

And I'm also taking Karen's introductory martial arts and fitness class again, and I'm hoping to be able to keep running with Ollie. If I'm not in excellent shape by fall it'll be some kind of backwards miracle of unexplained unhelpfulness.

I got my class schedule today and somehow I've signed up for five classes. They're all things I wanted to take, I did sign up for them, but somehow I didn't realize there were five of them. At least I won't get any homework from two of them. Besides Karen's class, I'm taking Physics and Fiction, which is a physics class taught through writing, reading, and discussing science fiction, the Psychology of Magic, Creating Campus, which is about the science behind the campus landscaping, and Messing Around Outdoors, which of course I've taken already, but never in the summer so it will be different this time.

I'm looking forward to all of it. I'm looking forward to running with Ollie again, to tracking and hiking with Rick, to getting into these weird philosophical and political discussions with Nora, to spending more time with Veery. I'm back from the Island, and it feels like I've been away from campus for years and years. All the trees are fully leafed out, I'm walking around in shorts when I don't have to wear my uniform, and I'm totally ready for whatever insane thing this summer is going to throw at me.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Year 2: Part 3: Post 4: Moonlight

Note; I've taken some liberty with timing for this post, since its "now" is more than three days after the events in the previous post.

I hadn't been sure, but it looks like I'm staying here for the length of the trip. As I think I mentioned--if the whole point of my coming to the Island was so I could lead a couple of hikes for Charlie, then wouldn't I be sent back or left to my own devices once that was over? But that isn't what's happening. I'm still here and I'm still studying. This must be, really, an educational opportunity for me, and I have no idea why I've been offered it. I don't see anyone else going off for a week of one-on-one instruction, not even any of Charlie's other students. So why me?

Not that I'm complaining.

Actually, Charlie isn't always with me or telling me what to do. Sometimes he sets me free to do whatever I want, and I've spend days climbing on rocks by the sea, hiking, or biking around just looking at things. Sometimes I bump into some of the yearlings, but I don't really spend time with them. I don't think I'm supposed to. But he's also sent me off with specific assignments and he's taken me with him on hikes. For a few days we actually backpacked across the island and explored a few areas you can't otherwise get to except by driving (it's a big island). We're not supposed to do that, I don't think, there's no legal backpacking on the island, but I've noticed Charlie has no respect for any land management but his own.

And whatever I'm doing during the day, I'm still camping with Charlie so I see him over and over that way. We don't talk much, except for the occasional logistical discussion (have you seen the salt? Do we need more cheese from the van? Do you know if it's supposed to rain this afternoon?). Mostly we just exist in each others' proximity,eating, washing up, or hanging out on "our" little pebble beach. When he sits and listens, I listen too, to find out what he's hearing. When he walks over  to look in a tide pool, I go look in it, too. I think he's basically ignoring me, but I'm not ignoring him. I know there are people who try to walk right behind him when they hike,stepping where he steps, so they can imitate his body mechanics and walk as efficiently and effortlessly as he does. That won't work for me, because I'm so much taller than he is, but that doesn't mean I can't learn anything by imitating him.

Every morning, Charlie gets up to watch the sunrise over the water. Every night, he goes down to the water again. I go with him. There was a full moon a couple of days ago, and it's still pretty full now, but rising later and later, and the other day the sky was completely clear and we could see the moon hanging there in the night over the water. Charlie stood by the edge of the water and stared at it, just stared, for minutes on end. I stared too, for a while.

"The moon got me sober," he told me and I almost fell over. Charlie hasn't referred to his alcoholism once in my hearing since that one meeting where I saw him last year. But he seemed perfectly calm and nonchalant about it, so I just tried not to act surprised (or nosy) and waited to see if he'd tell me more. And he did, he told me part of his story, standing by the edge of the water, staring at the moon the whole time.

"I'd lost my apartment," he began, as if he'd just misplaced his home somewhere. "I was friends with the early master's group, not that I knew that's what they were. They had a house together and they used to let a lot of people--students--crash there for days, weeks at a time. I figured I'd get another apartment or something pretty quickly, but I needed a place to stay. They said I could stay only if I went to an AA meeting. Not only if I got sober--if they'd said that I would have said no. I didn't have a problem, and anyway they were letting shaman wannabes eat peyote in the basement. I didn't need their sanctimonious horseshit, I would have rather slept on the streets. My goddamned pride. But they only said I had to go to a meeting, just one meeting. That didn't seem so hard. I drank a beer on the way over.

"I don't remember that meeting. I don't think I paid much attention. But afterwards, when I went out through that crowd of reformed drunks laughing and smoking, there was the moon, full, staring at me. And I just knew I'd never drink again. When Jim came to pick me up I asked him to get me into rehab. And he did."

I thought about this for a while. Jim, I remembered the name...I suppose that must have been the same Jim whose memorial tree I found last summer, entwined with the tree of his partner, Shrimp. I'd never thought of these men as living before, part of anyone's day to day life, but of course they must have been.

"Charlie, if you knew you'd never drink again, why did you go to rehab?" I asked. He looked at me like I'd just said something completely irrelevant and in bad taste.

"Daniel, when God speaks, you don't ask those kinds of questions."

That kind of shut me up for a while. I don't know what Charlie means by God speaking.He hardly ever mentions God so directly. I don't know what he believes.

"How do you pray?" I asked. I meant both how does he pray and how does one pray, and I regretted the question almost as soon as I'd asked it. "I'm sorry, that's a really personal question."

"It is," he agreed, "but one you have a right to ask, given your course of study." But then he was silent so long I thought maybe he wasn't going to answer, maybe he meant that I had a right to ask the question, but that didn't mean he was going to answer. But then he began to recite formal prayers, addressing his words to the moon, or maybe to something he perceived behind the moon or through it.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Grant me patience with changes that take time,
appreciation of all that I have,
tolerance of those with different struggles
and the will to get up and try again, one day at a time.

God, I offer myself to You
to build with me and do with me as You will.
Relieve me of the bondage of self
that I may better do Your will.
Support me in my difficulties
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Your power,
Your love, and Your way of life.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
where there is doubt, faith,
where there is despair, joy,

Divine Master, grant that I might not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Our father, who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the kingdom, the power,and the glory,
for ever and ever,


And then he was quiet a little longer. Then he walked to the water's edge (which had receded some feet as he was praying) and caught up a little of the water in his hand and touched the wetness of his fingers from the sea to his forehead, his chest, and his lower belly, just above his groin. The gesture looked a bit like he was crossing himself, but different. He bowed respectfully to the mystery he had just addressed and then turned to me.

"Then I go to bed," he said, gruffly, and he did just that, without saying goodnight, or anything else, to me. I copied his blessing gesture with the water, did my own little bow, and went to my hammock and let it cradle me. I left my tarp off so I could see the bluish, moonlit sky through the lattice of spruce trees. I had a lot to think about.

The next day, Charlie gave no sign of having shared anything in particular with me the night before. He rarely does. If anything, he was more distant and grumpier than normal. We took our bikes to explore some lichen communities and I added more species to my growing pile of notes. But that evening, at sunset, he softened again, almost imperceptibly, and for the first time he let me hear him sing to the twilight.

Mother, mother Ocean,
I have heard You call.
Wanted to sail upon Your waters
Since I was three feet tall.
You seen it all. You seen it all.

It was a Jimmy Buffet song I knew, called "A Pirate Looks at 40," an age Charlie hasn't looked at since before I was born. In concerts Buffet sings this song as a celebration, as though "pirate" meant simply a bad-boy, happy-go-lucky beach bum, but in the older recordings the song sounds different, sadder, grittier. And that's how Charlie sang it. Also he sang it, quite clearly, as a hymn.

When he was done I wanted to acknowledge him, his trust and his willingness to show me things so I could learn, but I didn't want to do it directly. I thought he'd flee if I did. So I offered a Jimmy Buffet song of my own.

Never used to miss the chance
to climb upon his knee
and listen to his many tales
of life out on the sea.
We'd go sailing back on barkentines,
talk of things he did,
The world was just a day away
for the Captain and the kid.

But then I stopped. I hadn't thought the song through when I started it, and I hadn't thought about how the later verses might sound.The song is an elegy for Buffet's grandfather, and as such it is lovingly affectionate. It's not that I don't feel affection for Charlie, but I didn't really want to say so to him. Worse, the song inevitably deals with aging and death, something I've learned older people don't really want to be reminded of by a healthy 20-year-old. So I just stopped, like someone had turned off the CD player.

"Continue," Charlie ordered. So I did. "Never deny what is," he told me, when I had finished.

And then we ate dinner, cheese sandwiches and squares of butterscotch, and we didn't speak of it again.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Year 2: Part 3: Post 3: Getting It Done

Well, I've lead the hikes, all three days of them.I think I did ok.

We came up five days ago and that gave me two full days to practice before the yearlings got here. That isn't very much time, especially as there were a handful of plants species I was supposed to be able to answer questions about that I'd never actually seen before, except in pictures and herbarium specimens. But we spent all day both days hiking up and down mountains with Charlie constantly grilling me, and that helped. And I'd learned the scripts for all three hikes using maps, so I had the basics already.

There were two full-day hikes and one half-day hike, but there some overlaps in the routs that the three hikes took and parts of the hikes included no programming, just walking from one place to another, so we could get in all the parts where I was expected to do something--and we did some of them twice. And the whole time Charlie was asking me questions about every plant and every bump on the ground we passed.

I don't mean that I had to memorize everything. In fact, Charlie said not to. He said to learn it, that there is a difference, and if I learned all my material I'd be able to regenerate the words every time as I needed to.

"People who memorize speeches have to memorize every speech, or they have nothing to say," he said. "If that's the way someone works, then that works for them, but it seems more difficult to me."

I also didn't have to be able to answer every one of his questions, just most of them. One of the things he wanted me to practice was saying "I don't know."

When the yearlings arrived he let me tag along on his morning program on tide pools, in part because I was interested in seeing it again, and in part because my hike in the afternoon would build on a lot of the themes he had introduced in the morning. I suppose he wanted to remind me what all of those themes were.

I ate lunch with the group that day, and then Charlie pulled me aside.

"Are you nervous?" he asked me.

"No," I told him. "Yes. Yes, a little." He smiled, briefly, in understanding.

"You don't need to be," he told me. "Do any of these people know you've never done this before, that you've only had two days of practice?"


"Then don't tell them." Another smile and he returned to the group and introduced me as his assistant (not that I was a stranger to anybody, he just needed to explain what my role was). He set out on the hike and about half the group followed him. We waited ten minutes and set out on the trail in our turn. And really, the whole thing, all three days I was leading hikes, worked.

Except now I'm tired. I've been hiking up and down mountains for five days straight and I've been kind of stressed out the whole time, though I've had a good time. Charlie says I'm going to spend the rest of my time here learning about the Island more generally so that next year I can be a more independent tour guide--he didn't say, but of course he also intends that my getting to know this place will have something to do with my getting to know places in general. There is no way this is only about my being able to do a favor for him.

But he did say that tomorrow I can rest. I can, if I want, do nothing at all.

The serviceberry trees are just coming into bloom.

[Next post: Monday, May 12: Moonlight]

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Year 2: Part 3: Post 2: Travelling

I'm back on the Island, and spring has been set back at least two weeks, maybe three.

I knew this would happen--the Island is farther north than campus is, so their spring is later, and I remember the difference from last year, but it's still kind of shocking to get in the car in the morning and everything is green (though not fully leafed out) and then step out of the car in the afternoon and all the trees are bar, skeletal, their buds just beginning to swell.

I came up with Charlie and, to my surprise, Allen and his family. Last year, the masters all traveled with us (except for Greg, of course, who stayed behind). But this year, Allen decided to head up a few days early with his family and make a family vacation out of it, and so all seven of us (Allen, Lo, their kids, Charlie, and I) and all our stuff piled in to this old minivan that Lo has and we went north.

It's kind of a long trip, especially for little kids, so Charlie and I sat in the back,on either side of Alexis in her car seat, and we tried to keep the kids entertained.

I hadn't spent much time with them and I guess they were curious, so Julie spent a lot of time asking me questions. Why I'm at school, what I'm studying, where I came from, what I plan to do next, whether I have any brothers or sisters or children--

"Children!" I exclaimed. "I'm only twenty, Julie," I told her.

"I know. You said that already. But Kayla's thirteen and she has Aidan." She had me there.

"Yes, but that's unusual."

"I know. But you're unusual or you wouldn't be here." She had me there, too.

"Hey, Daniel, you can ask her to leave you alone, if you want to," Allen reminded me from the front seat. He was driving. Julie looked at me and waited patiently for me to make up my mind. I noticed she didn't take her father's comment as an admonition that she should leave me alone. I suppose that, as the daughter of two psychologists, she's familiar with the idea of personal agency.

"No, it's ok," I decided. And so Julie kept asking me questions. Charlie, meanwhile, was listening gravely to Alexis talk on and on and on about something that was either the story of Little Red Riding Hood or something she had made up entirely on her own. I couldn't quite catch most of her words, but Charlie paid as much attention to her as he would have given to one of his adult students. David stared morosely out the window.

After our first pit stop, Julie asked Charlie to play I Spy and David perked up a bit. Apparently this is something he does with them a lot. It's not the same game that I learned as a kid, where you might say "I spy with my little eye something green," and then everyone has to guess which green thing you mean. Instead, they always spy things like an American goldfinch, a gymnosperm (any plant whose seed is not encased in a fruit, like a pine tree), or a winesap (as in the kind of apple). In the car, of course, whizzing by things at sixty miles an hour, there's no time to say the ritual phrase "I spy with my little eye," so the game was basically naming what you saw out the window and seeing if anyone else could spot it before it was gone.


"I see them--there!"

"Red-tailed hawk!"

"Up there!"

"Cumulus clouds!"

"There--behind that mountain!"

"Oo! Horses! And llamas!"

"You can't do two things in one turn."

"But they're in the same field!"

"So? You have to pick."

"Do not."

"Do too!"

That was David, arguing that Jane couldn't do two things. He argued a lot in a bossy sort of way, though he remained respectful of the adults. I think he was in a bad mood for whatever reason.

"I spy a bird!" squealed Alexis, pointing. Of course, pointing was kind of giving it away, I'm not sure she gets the point of the game.

"That's not a bird" pronounced David, "that's a turkey vulture."

"No," corrected Charlie, somewhat sternly, "it is a bird. There's nothing wrong with accurate vagueness." David scowled and looked away. "You are correct," Charlie told Alexis, "that is a bird. A turkey vulture is a kind of bird. Do you want to know how to recognize a turkey vulture?" Alexis nodded, so he told her. There were several soaring around, high enough that they stayed in view a long time and Alexis leaned over nearly into Charlie's lap so she could look out the window as he pointed out field characteristics to her.

I'm not really surprised that Allen's kids can pick up all this stuff. I remember when I was little I was obsessed with baseball for a year and I learned everything I could about the game. I could recite rules and statistics and team rosters until everybody around me got bored and wandered away. Another year I got into looking up random words in the dictionary, just opening up a dictionary and finding something, and then using my new word whenever I could for a week. Kids are really good at soaking stuff up. They're natural geeks. What surprised me was how thoroughly Charlie seems to have taken advantage of that and how thoroughly these kids have responded to him. He's made learning natural history (and, I suspect, interesting tidbits about language and the finer points of literature) their special game they can use to connect with him.

I made eye contact with Allen through the rearview mirror.

"I learned my birds from David," he told me, guessing my thoughts. David perked up a bit at that and smiled with pride.

David is thirteen now, or nearly so--I don't know when his birthday is, but he was twelve last year. Everyone seems to think this is his last year as a Sprout, or maybe it will turn out last year was. There's no rule about it, but they usually lose interest in being treated like children and start spending most of their time with older friends, being teenagers. Or, if they do keep hanging out with the others, they start acting more like babysitters. It's something that happens inside each Sprout, but I'm not sure it's something they choose, exactly, either. I think it's happening to David, that this is his last family vacation as a child, and I think he knows it and that is why he is argumentative and morose.

We finally got to the Island and pulled into the campground. This early in the year, we had it to ourselves, pretty much. I had expected to camp with the others, but I hadn't asked about it and it turned out that wasn't the plan.

Allen, of course, wants time to spend with his family, and when the other masters get up here,they will want time away from students, so I can't camp with them. On the other hand, the students will be here in order to bond with each other as a group of yearlings, so I can't camp with them, either. But Charlie hates campgrounds and prefers to sneak off and stay in illegal sites and so I'm staying with him.

He had given me a very strict and minimal packing list so that my stuff and the other gear he gave me all fit into a single large backpack. He had his own pack and we walked down the road to the little stone beach where we all played in the water with Allen last year, and then we stepped into the woods and found a place to hide.

We are not allowed to do this at all, but Charlie justifies it by saying that the rules are made to protect the Island from idiots, and we are not idiots. And it is true this is super-Leave-No-Trace camping. We're even going to move our site every day or so, so that we don't trample the vegetation or compact the soil. And of course, we're going to pack up everything during the day so that no one can find our site. We're just two guys hanging out on the beach with backpacks.

The camp is interesting, since we don't have tents. Instead, each of us has a hammock strung between trees, with a line above the hammock to hang a tarp off of when it rains. Getting into a sleeping back in a hammock is a bit of a trick, and you need foam padding to line the hammock for warmth, just like you would on the ground. The hammock lines are broad webbing so the pressure doesn't hurt the trees. There's water, a little stream that flows into the beach and sinks down in among the stones, and we're going to keep our food back at the campground in the van overnight so as not to attract animals. We're not going to cook anything, so we have no stove and no cooking pots to deal with, just ourselves, our extra clothes, our hammocks, and my notebook and maps. Charlie doesn't need a notebook apparently, a map.

The first day was warm and sunny, though last night I heard the fog roll in, a dripping sort of thing, a muffling of sound. In the dark, I listened to the small waves crashing among the rocks of the beach at the change of the tide, the larger crashing of the waves on the exposed headlands farther off, and the dinging of the navigational buoys and I fell asleep, smiling.

[Next Post: Friday, May 9th: Leading the Hike]

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Year 2: Part 2: Post 1: Beltane

Yesterday was Beltane and today--in just a few minutes, actually--I'm heading out to the Island.

I've spent the past however many weeks studying, it's like I've been taking an extra class, and now I've got vegetative characteristics and geologic history coming out my ears and turning up in my dreams. The reason we're leaving early (the rest of the group is going up in a few days) is so I can learn as much as I can before I lead that hike. I suppose I'll be ready. I'll have studied for weeks and weeks in order to present a just couple of hours of content, but Charlie says you need to know three times as much as your audience in order to sound like an expert.

I asked him if that was really true.

"Tell me a way to quantify knowledge and I'll let you know," he said.

Anyway, but we've just had Beltane.

It was a lot like what I remember from last year. In the morning, Sarah's Catholic priest friend came on campus and blessed the fields and the animals, including the dogs and cats. Over lunch, we had a feast and Sarah and Kit sang. In the afternoon, we danced the Maypole and then had another feast.

A few things were different. We actually had three separate dances, one for faculty and staff, one for Sprouts, and one for the rest of us. All three used the same pole, so when we danced our ribbons covered up the ribbons wrapped by the previous dancers. The whole thing took a lot longer that way and dragged a bit, but I was glad everyone could get involved, too.

As you may remember, the Maypole dance is considered symbolically sexual, so, at least in our
version of it, adults and children and faculty and students can't dance it together.

The Masters went first. Sarah, of course, did not participate, she tends not to get involved in things pagan, but everyone else and various partners and friends did, so there were about twenty of them dancing. They didn't have a band for music but instead wore jungle bells on their legs. They didn't go through the "five-fold kiss" ceremony, I think that was to save time--you don't want people getting bored in a ceremony, I've learned. It breaks the mood. They just hugged each other at the end.

The children went next. Sarah let her kids dance, I think because their friends were dancing and she didn't want to make an issue of it. They didn't have a band exactly either, but they wore jingle bells and the adults clapped for them. Charlie played his whistle--the only time I've really seen him perform, and of course his playing wasn't really the focus of anyone's attention.

The kids did do the five-fold kiss, but they did it differently than we do.

It's a blessing ceremony done at the end of the Maypole Dance. At the end of the dance, you end up facing somebody of the opposite sex (or, someone dancing as the opposite sex, since you can dance as either one) and you do this blessing with each other. The way we do it, you put your hands on your partner's feet, knees, hips, chest or shoulders, and face. You say

Blessed be your feet, that walk upon the Earth
Blessed be your knees, that hold you proud and strong
Blessed be your yoni, the drum that beats Her rhythm (or, for males, blessed be thy phallus, that dances to Her rhythm)
Blessed be your heart, the drum that beats your own (or, that dances to your own)
Blessed be your voice, with you can raise for justice

They're very open about sex here, but I noticed somebody got squeamish about the wording of the ceremony for the kids. The children said only "blessed be your feet, blessed be your knees" and so on. The second half of each phrase was missing, and instead of yoni or phallus they said girlness or boyness. In fairness, some of the sprouts are very young. Alexis, for one, is only four, and even she danced. I'm not sure the littlest kids could remember the whole blessing, let alone understand why anyone should bless anyone else's pee-pee.


Last year I ended up at the end of the dance facing a dude (who was dancing as a woman), which was
weird, but not bad. This year I ended up facing a woman and that was much better. The whole rest of the feast we were supposed to work together to help serve and clean up and we were supposed to appreciate each other. She wasn't someone I've hung out with much, a yearling named Veery, but I imagine that the entire ceremony is supposed to echo some kind of fertility celebration from way back when and I kind of liked imagining that.

Besides daydreaming about Veery, what sticks out in my mind is music.

Last year at lunch Sarah and Kit sang, and they did it again this year, but this year first Sarah, then Kit gave solo performances. Their shared song was in the middle. Sarah sang "Unchained Melody" (that's the one that starts "oh, my love, my darling," from the movie "Ghost"), a song called "Iowa," by Dar Williams, and finally "There Are Places I Remember," by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Then they sang "Sumer Ist A-Cumin In" together, then Kit jumped into "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Kit was fantastic, of course. She sang four or five of these great old-fashioned pop love songs, just totally rocking in out, fun, sexy, and kind of innocent all at once.

But Sarah grabbed by attention, too. Her voice is higher, a real soprano, really, really beautiful, but she doesn't seem to let herself go the way Kit does. She is attractive, of course, but she doesn't really do sexy on purpose the way Kit does. And yet, she put so much longing into "Unchained Melody," her voice as pure and taut as an embroidery needle, so much naked want into the words "oh, my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch," I'd heard the song before, but always kind of thought it was about romanticized sexual frustration or something. I'd never really heard the anxiety in it, the fear and loneliness. I teared up, listening to it yesterday

And "Iowa," which I'd never heard before, and at first seemed kind of strange to me (a love song about Iowa?) but then I got listening to the lyrics after a while and I heard lines like "tonight I went running through the screen doors of discretion" and she sang them with just as much passion and energy as Kit could have mustered, all the while dressed in her conservative farm clothes, the dress and apron and head scarf she made herself that make her look almost Amish. And then, after building up all this tension, all this conflicted wanting, she finished up with John Lennon's song of memory, peace, and thinking of love "as something new."

I wouldn't say Sarah as a person is more complex, more lonely, or less simply happy than Kit is; I hardly know the woman, I can't really say anything about her other than that she grows some damn good vegetables. But the songs that she chose to sing, and the persona she presented on stage, explored territory that Kit's innocent songs of desire did not. It's like, I know they're both older than me, but Kit got up there and she sang like a teenager. Sarah sang like an older woman.

But after Kit got up there and rocked it out for a couple of songs, her husband, a professional musician I've never heard perform before, joined her on stage. and they sang "Close to You" as a duet.

First she sang to him (she changed "angels" to "faeries" in the lyrics) and then he sang to her and then
they sang together.

And the thing that occurred to me as I watched them was not so much "I want her," though, yeah, that's true, too, but "I want that. I want one of those, what they have there together."

I want a woman for whom birds sing. I want a relationship where I can say that to somebody.

[Next Post: May 5th, Returning to the Island]