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, 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.

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