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, October 5, 2014

Year 2: Part 6: Post 2: Looking at Fall

It's just kind of hit me that the school year is over in less than four weeks. I'm just completely bowled over, thinking about this.

Part of it is that I'm still continually amazed I'm here at all, let alone that I've been here for almost two years. I mean, yes, I'm used to being here. When I wake up in the morning I'm never surprised to find myself in my room--and I sometimes am surprised to find myself anywhere else, like when I visit my parents and spend the night. I wake up disoriented, not all the time, just sometimes. I'm comfortable living here, and there are times I forget there is any other way, any other place. Of course I'm going running with Ollie in the morning. Of course I'm going tracking with Rick, or discussing art with Ebony, or getting in leaf-fights with Joanna (she started it). Of course I'm doing some godawful, impossible task for Charlie, counting grass blades or something like that. Doesn't everyone wear a floor-length black hooded cloak when the weather gets chilly? But at the same time, there is something about this place that I can never quite take for granted. The mystery never wears off.

It reminds me of a story I read years ago, Leaf by Niggle, in which there is a magical country where you can actually walk into the distance--that is, when you walk towards the horizon, the sense of novelty and promise doesn't recede as you go, but rather you arrive at it, in the distance. It's hard to explain. But in some way, this school is like that. I keep wanting to pinch myself to be sure I'm awake.

But there's another thing about the end of the school year, besides the way it marks how long I've been here,and that is that more people are leaving. They're not leaving at Samhain, of course--graduation isn't until Brigid, three more months after that. But we don't necessarily see each other as much over the winter, and anyway it is everybody running around tying up loose ends before the masters leave that keeps reminding me who's graduating.

In a word, Ollie's graduating this year.

It's not a surprise, of course, but it's strange to think that next year he won't be here. We won't go running together, he won't debate philosophy with me and get on my case when I'm being stupid. I haven't needed him as my "buddy," my guide as a new student, since last spring, of course, but it's strange to think he won't be available, just in case.

It's not just him, obviously; twenty-eight people expect to graduate this coming Brigid, counting mastery candidates. Only one--Zarah, whom I hardly know--is a "one hit wonder," graduating after only a year and a day, but six people from my yearling group are going, including three of the Ravens. I don't know any of the three- and four-year graduates well.

Willa, Ollie's girlfriend, isn't graduating until next year. This, too, isn't a surprise, it's just something I hadn't thought of before. I expect they haven't either, since dwelling on the future isn't really like either of them. But it is a bit of an issue. I'd always assumed Ollie would go on to try for mastery, since he is so much Allen's acolyte--I'd think he'd want to learn as much from him as he could. But to become a candidate you have to do a minimum of three years' Absence, and while Absent from campus you can't have any contact with current students. That would include Willa. I don't know what they're going to do about that.

In the meantime, Fall has definitely begun falling. Between last week and this we've gone from just a couple of trees starting to turn, to almost everything orange and red. The ridge behind campus looks like a pile of Fruity Pebbles, and the birch trees are glowing yellow in among the dark pines and hemlocks that ring the berry orchards and the grape arbor. The first frost can't be far off. When I go walking in the woods, or even some places on campus, I can hear leaves falling all around me. They sound like rain or snow.

Charlie did, in fact, give me a new project a few weeks ago--it seems strange to me to start this sort of thing in the fall, I can't figure out if there's a method to his madness, or if he just didn't think of this project until recently. Anyway, he has me keeping track of everything that's sprouting, flowering, fruiting, or going dormant/dying on campus. By species, I mean. There's a form I have to fill out every week, and yes it includes the woods, too. I don't have to be exhaustive, but I do have to be reasonably complete, whatever that means.

So, of course now pretty much everything is in fruit or dying back, except the asters (and witch-hazel, which will flower later this month). And the problem is, if I don't already know the things that are past flowering, I can't look them up, except for the shrubs and trees--because non-woody plants are listed in my guide books by their flowers. When I've done this sort of thing before--last year, Charlie had me surveying plants in tiny plots--I've drawn pictures or taken photographs of the things I couldn't identify and given them my own names, like Unidentified Thing With Galls #3.That way, if I figured out what they were later, I could go back and fill in my records with the right name. And I got extra practice noticing the details of plants that way, which was probably the point. Charlie's big on noticing things. But I've got such a huge pile of unidentified plants, now!

I asked Charlie about it a few days ago, hoping he'd suggest some guidebook to plants in fruit that I hadn't known about, or tell me I could leave off the project, but he just told me to do the best I could with that I had.

"The fruiting structure tells you something about the flower structure," he told me, "the number of divisions usually corresponds to the number of petals, for instance. And you can see whether the leaves are alternate, opposite, or whorled. Take what you know and see what that tells you. Half answers beat no answers. Usually."

I've found that when Charlie tells me a thing, what he says seldom makes sense until I put it into practice. He doesn't tell me the answer to my question, he tells me how to find the answer, even if I'm finding it inside my own mind, by a process of thought. In this case, once I started taking stock of what I did know about a plant, I could usually narrow it down to family or genus, sometimes to species. So, the advice worked. But that more abstract statement--half-answers beat no answers. Usually. I persist in hearing that as having bigger significance, like he was talking about more than wildflower identification. What process must I go through to find out what he means?

It's that one word, "usually," that gets me.

[Next post: Monday, October 13th: Dreams]

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