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, November 16, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 3: First Snowfall

[Author's note: I have no direct experience with the surprising and, in most states, illegal herbal treatment described below. According to everything I've read, however, it should work, for the reasons given in the text. Hopefully, now that the laws are changing, someone can try it and document the results].
I forget if I’ve mentioned it, but I do have some assignments for the off-season. Joy asked me to practice Reiki on myself every day and recite some things. I have books to read again, though this time Charlie asked me to come up with my own reading list. I think he wants me to explore my own tastes in nature writing. And I’m still going tracking with Rick and hiking every day, at least until Christmas—I’m planning on going home for Christmas this year, and I may well stay with my parents until Brigid, just to visit.
And I’m even still working on the horticulture team—we’ll go until the snow covers the ground at least, according to Charlie. Which is interesting, because he’s still supervising us. Not every day, obviously, but we meet with him every week or so to go over what we’re doing and so forth. Last year once the school year ended he seemed to vanish. I assumed he had retreated utterly, or maybe even left campus, though it’s hard to imagine him being anywhere else. And the whole time, at least until the snow came, he was still supervising the horticulture team.
Anyway, the other day I had some hours to make up so I volunteered to process some of the seeds for next year. Most of the plantings on campus are designed to be self-maintaining populations, but some die out for whatever reason, and anyway he’s always adding species to the campus plan. So in the spring there are always new things to plant, usually from seed. But wild plant seeds do not just sprout as soon as they’re planted the way domestic seeds do—if they did, they’d sprout as soon as they fell off the parent plant and that might be the wrong season for the seedling to survive. So, to get wild seeds to sprout you often have to chill them for a certain number of hours or bang them up a bit to simulate being tumbled in a flood, or something similar. It’s called stratification, and each species has its own requirement. My job was to sort out this year’s batches of seeds and bang them up or prepare them for cold storage or whatever they needed according to a sheet of instructions.
It’s basically a one-person job, because all the batches are small, but it’s tedious so I asked Ebony to keep me company while I worked. She has little to no interest in plants, natural science, or pretty much anything else I’m doing with Charlie, but she likes to sit and talk and she didn’t have anything else to do.
The main greenhouse was built on the foundation of—I think it was the old school building, from back when this was a boys’ boarding school. So, under the greenhouse is this huge basement. We—the horticulture team—use it for storage and as an indoor workspace. That’s where I had to go to do my work.
When Ebony and I got down there, we found Kit working on an unrelated project—planting jonquil bulbs to force for Brigid.
“Charlie would object, of course,” she commented, her voice acidic with disdain. She meant he’d object to the jonquils for Brigid. She’s probably right, exotic plants being forced to flower out of season doesn’t really sound like his thing, but I don't know why she felt the need to point that out. It's not like his approval has any bearing on what she does.  She often speaks about him like that, and I ignore it. The three of us sat together and talked while Kit and I worked. She finished before me, but stuck around until I was done, and three of us left together.
By the time we left, night had fallen and the greenhouse was very dark. I pulled out my flashlight, but it didn’t work. The lightbulb had died. Kit confessed she had left her flashlight in her room by mistake, when she'd changed her clothes.
“Maybe you should lead me?” I suggested to Ebony, since she’s used to not being able to see and she had her cane with her, folded up in her bag. I knew almost as soon as I said it how she’d reply.
“I’d better not. I’m a really bad blind person.”
She meant that she doesn’t have any of those special powers of perception that blind people are supposed to develop and she isn’t very good at the habits and skills they teach blind people so they can get by. It’s because she doesn’t think of herself as blind. I used to get my brain fairly bent over that—how can someone not identify as blind when she is, in fact, blind? A couple of weeks ago, though, she used the phrase around Security Joe, who understood immediately.
“I used to be a really bad woman,” he said. “I couldn’t be bothered to wear a bra. I’d walk around with my tits bouncing all over the place—which was totally counter-productive, from a gender-identity perspective. I think I just kept hoping they’d go away. And eventually, I made them go away.”
Maybe because Security Joe is so obviously a guy, that made sense to me. When I try to picture him as a woman, the best I can do is imagine him in a kind of woman-suit, like a guy in fleshy drag. I guess that’s how it felt to him, too, like a disguise he couldn’t take off.  Like the problems of his actual woman's body were so remote, so alien, that he couldn't quite believe he had to deal with him. I guess Ebony's eyes are similar, in that respect.

Anyway, I was pretty sure I could walk out of the dark greenhouse without the aid of my eyes--I'm almost as good at being blind as Ebony, now--but I couldn't lead her at the same time and she isn't familiar with the greenhouse. Neither is Kit, I don't think. Either of them could trip or knock something over. When a woman near me has a problem, I feel responsible for fixing it. I can't help it. And here I'd caused the problem. I was about ten seconds in to an unproductive guilt trip when Kit guessed that Ebony also carried a flashlight. And, of course, she would--the sighted students all carry flashlights, because much of campus is dark at night, so she carries one too. In her mind, she's a sighted student. Also, a forgetful one.

"I am such a doofus!" she exclaimed, and unclipped her light from her belt and handed it to me. We made our way outside and I turned the light off and returned it. We all know how to find our way to the Mansion by our feet, and there was a little glow off the clouds from the lights of the towns nearby.

Outside, in the dark, I heard something.

Or, rather, I didn't hear something, a curious quality of wet silence. I turned my face up to the sky, attentive, and felt something cold and soft, like rain, only I could not hear any rain.

"It's snowing," I told Ebony, although there was no reason she could not have worked that out for herself. We were both equally blind at the moment. Kit giggled. She likes snow, and none of us had expected it quite so early.

Almost immediately, we heard another noise, the rumble of an engine, an approaching truck. Cars and trucks are rare on campus, especially at night, so we waited for it to come so Kit could identify the driver. She borrowed Ebony's flashlight and turned it on, so we would be visible to the driver. 

The driver stopped in front of us, rolled down his passenger-side window, and asked if we knew where "Barn B" is. Of course, there is no Barn B., because we only have one barn. Kit went over to talk with him while Ebony and I waited, standing half in the brightness of the truck's headlights.. In the yellow light I could see snow clinging to Ebony's dark hair and the shoulders of her cloak, great flakes, piles of flakes, melting slowly into the black wool. The air was fairly warm, so the snowflakes were huge, the way the moon looks huge when it first rises. The thick flakes swarmed around her, almost like live things. Ebony swayed and reached out her hand, pawing the air as though seeking something stable. I took her hand. I think I am stable. I want to be.

"It's so bright!" she said. "It hurts my eyes!" She can see some light, though not enough to be useful. Usually bright light doesn't bother her, though. "It feels like it's poking my eyeballs!"

"You're looking right at the truck's headlights," I told her. "Turn towards me instead." She did, but with the way we were standing I could still see her eyes fairly well--and I about fell over when I saw her eyes focus on me for a moment. I saw her see. 

She didn't look at me very long, maybe a couple of seconds, before her attention shifted back to the beam of the truck's headlights. This time she was looking across the beam, not into it.

"I feel like I'm falling," she said, suddenly. "Something's pulling me down and--to the left? And it's very bright, bright but with dark spots mixed in. It's confused and moving and soft. What is it? What am I seeing?"

"Snow falling," I told her after a moment's thought. "You're seeing the snow falling through the beam of light from the truck. They are falling down and to our left. The bright parts are snowflakes, the dark parts are the dark night behind them."

"Really? Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why can I see the snowflakes in the beam of light but not otherwise, and why can I still see the dark if a light's on?"

Ebony can see some light, as I've said, and sometimes asks for help in making sense of what she sees, but she never gets this much detail--and I've never seen her eyes focus, either. I tried answering her  questions.

"Because the snowflakes interrupt the beam of light and redirect it to your eyes. And where there is no snowflake, there is nothing to redirect the light, so all you see is darkness. Remember Laser Day in Intro to Physics? But"-- I was about to ask her how she was seeing in the first place when Kit stepped away from the truck. 

We stepped back, too, and it drove on. Kit rejoined us and explained that whoever had written the driver's orders had made a kind of manual stutter--the B for Barn was written twice. He was carrying a load of hay for the horses and other animals. Ebony started telling her all about her visual discoveries, as excited as a little kid but much more articulate.

"Right now?" Kit asked. "But you're on campus."

"Exactly," Ebony replied. "That's why I ate it when I found it in my purse."

"You don't need me to tell you not to lose those things."

"I know. I am a mess."

I was both literally and metaphorically in the dark, but I had--back in the basement, about an hour earlier--noticed Ebony discover what looked like half a plastic-wrapped brownie in her purse. She'd eaten it quickly, and I'd gotten the puzzling impression that she wasn't hungry so much as trying to make the brownie go away. What they were saying now confirmed that strange impression--the brownie was contraband. The obvious explanation was that it was a pot-brownie. I've never had one, but I know they exist, and there is a strict rule against bringing illegal substances on campus. But what did that have to do with Ebony suddenly being able to see?

"Um," I began.

"I can see when I'm stoned," Ebony explained, cheerfully. I looked at Kit, but I couldn't see her face in the dark. She didn't seem surprised, though. She knew.

"Um, what?"

"I can see when I'm stoned," Ebony reiterated. "I'm not sure why, exactly. I was born with damage to my retinas--I don't have a lot of photoreceptors left. So I don't see much light, and without anything to focus on, my eyes jerk around all the time--that's called nystagmus. So what I do see is all jumbled up and my brain never learned out to make sense of the information.  There are cannabinoid receptors in the retina, as well as in the brain, so maybe the drug acts as a kind of amplifier? So the photoreceptors I do have can see enough to focus and my eyes stop jumping around. Cannibis is already used for a lot of eye-related ailments since the cannabinoids seem to protect the retina in some way. Maybe they can undo damage as well? Also, there are people who use cannabis to control other disorders involving uncontrolled muscular movement, like epilepsy and the spasticity of cerebral palsy. So maybe it also helps keep my eyes from moving so much that way. But, it's not like I understand what I'm seeing, and what I can see is really unpredictable. I've never seen snow falling before."

"You have to learn to see now, the way babies do," commented Kit. "You should probably go someplace where it's light now, to practice," she added.  "So you don't waste this one. Too bad Allen left already."

"What does Allen have to do with it?" I asked.

"He's helping me," Ebony explained. "Or I'm helping him. Anyway, he's really interested in my process of seeing. We go off campus."

"But we don't have masters who can supervise drug-induced explorations," I said, almost quoting the school rule on the subject. "Is that rule not real?"

"Oh, it's real," Kit assured me.

"He's not supervising my drug use," Ebony put in. "We're working more as equals, and we're focusing on perception. Anyway, it's not the high itself that matters. I like being high, but I don't like having to be high in order to see. I wish there was a pill I could take, or eye drops or something."

I considered. Allen was taking Ebony off campus somewhere on a regular basis so she could get high and experiment with vision. It was sort of awesome to consider how much trouble he could get into if caught. There was something deliciously scandalous about the idea of a student getting high with a soon as I had the thought I realized my internal monologue had made it sound as though Allen were getting stoned also. Was he? Which one of them was buying? How deeply was he involved?

I should say that my crowd in high school never really got into drugs and that I probably sound really naive right now.

"None of us actually know about any of this," Kit put in, in a tone of voice suggesting that all of the masters knew.

"Like how Charlie told Rick to go out on 'shelter nights' in snow-storms?" I asked. The shelter night assignments were dangerous, and Charlie had taken steps to insulate the school from liability if anything went wrong.

"Right. None of us know about that, either," confirmed Kit.

We continued walking. The snow continued falling. They have a curious attitude about rules, here. Mostly the masters ignore the law where they see fit--and that's about everything, from legal liability to how many deer Charlie shoots every year. It's not that they aren't bound by rules, it's that the masters act as though the school were a separate jurisdiction, a kind of Avalon. The rules that they do have--to support and respect each other, to meet the educational needs of the students, for example, or to protect the school, they follow absolutely.

When we got to the Mansion, Kit ran in to the Herbarium and got a big flashlight. The whole Mansion seemed nearly dark from the outside, there are no outdoor lights and the few indoor lights that were on were dimmed by drawn window-shades. Out on the dark lawn, then, with the fat white flakes melting into the grass around us, we set the light on the ground pointed straight up. The snow flurried down out of the black sky like a swarm of luminescent jellyfish, swirling, dizzying, and giddy. Ebony reached her hands up, catching the flakes on her palms and her lovely but almost inexpressive face. Kit danced around us, spinning like a planet, her red hair frosted with snow.

"The world is a snowball," she sang.

The world is a snowball, see how it grows.
That's how it grows, whenever it snows.
The world is a snowball, just for a song.
You better get up, and roll it along!* 

* This song is "Marshmallow World," by Peter De Rose and Carl Sigman. The version Kit sang is very close to Brenda Lee's recording.

No comments:

Post a Comment