I've spent a lot of this blog writing about the masters--that is, our professors--especially Allen, Kit, and my own teacher, Charlie. And yet I've never gotten around to describing what they look like. Also, I've scattered basic information about them across dozens of entries, so someone coming in to the blog in the middle might easily get lost. So, here is a little blurb on each of them. So I don't have to repeat certain things for each blurb, the ages I'm giving for them are their ages in 2000, when this story started. All six are white, except Greg, whose mother was Japanese. That he is a non-white American is a big part of his identity.
The Six, as they are called, are the leaders of our community and its most dedicated servants. They were also, once, our core faculty group (other classes were taught by mastery candidates or by "allies," our equivalent of adjunct faculty). They are always called The Six, though there are not always six of them. The composition of the group has changed over the years--I am one of The Six now, for example--but this is the group as it was when I started as a student.
At the end, I've put another little story that didn't make it into the blog earlier.
Allen is the psychology teacher and the primary magic teacher. Specifically, he teaches stage magic; asked how stage magic can possibly count as real magic, he smiles and initiates a Socratic dialogue about what real magic is. He is also a psychologist and a licensed therapist. In his work, he merges his work as a healer and his fondness for both stage magic and philosophy into one seamless whole. He is married to a fellow psychologist, named Lo (short for Lois) with whom he has three children.
Allen is medium of height and build with boyish, pleasant-looking features. His hair is black and thinning on top. He's slim, in good shape, and 45 years old. His body language is unintentionally deceptive in that he seems formal or awkward (when not in uniform he dresses formally, too) but is actually usually relaxed, confident, and unself-consciously playful. He is constantly using his skills as an illusionist to play pranks or to entertain others, and he has a wonderful, boyish laugh.
Charlie is the ecology teacher and the primary craft teacher. The main craft that he teaches is horticulture, though he has and teaches a lot of other skills, including making tools and other objects with leather, antler, wood, and bone; cutting trees with axe or chainsaw; building and maintaining hiking trails; and both creative and scholarly writing. By training, he is an ecologist, though he never completed his master’s degree because of his alcoholism. He is sober now, and lives a very monastic life almost entirely on campus.
Charlie is short but built very broad and square. He has a slight paunch but is very strong. His hair was black but is now mostly grey, and he wears it quite short, almost shaved. He is 63 years old. He speaks rarely and in a thick, Boston accent. He is intensely private, and is quite deliberately rude to most people in order to drive them away. Those few who can see this for what it is and who treat him gently are rewarded by his keen intelligence, his deep and delighted knowledge of the land, and his friendship--which he rarely directly speaks of.
Kit is the anthropology teacher and the primary art teacher. She teaches both music (instrumental or voice) and dance. Though her own instrument is the cello, and her training is primarily in modern dance, she has incredible range and can assist students in virtually any instrument and in almost any style of dance. She has a degree in dance movement therapy, and while she is no longer licensed as a therapist, she incorporates that larger approach to movement into her work as both a teacher and a Wiccan high priestess.
Kit is short, curvy, and slim, but very strong, with large, strong hands. Her hair is red, with a few silver threads, and very thick and wavy. She wears it just past her shoulders, and usually keeps it off her face with two large tortoiseshell-color barrettes. She is 41, strikingly beautiful and frankly flirtatious but in an oddly innocent way. She is fiercely intelligent, but has something of a high temper, and is almost as outspoken in her dislike of some things and people as she is about her love of other things and people.
Joy is the primary teacher of healing. Besides being a Reiki master, she is a veterinarian and an equine behavior specialist who works mostly with rescued or "problem" horses as well as training horses as therapy animals. She and her therapy horses work mostly with disabled or traumatized humans and people on the autism spectrum. At the school, she teaches Reiki, veterinary emergency care and veterinary nursing, as well as the intangibles of healing both humans and animals, such as bedside manner and how to cope with the pain and death of patients. She also teaches riding and basic horse care to both school community members and outsiders.
Joy is tall and slim, with long, grey-brown curly hair. She is 44 years old. She is divorced and lives off-campus with her grown daughter. She is a psychic animal communicator. She takes seriously the idea that animals can be healers as well as patients, and that everyone, human and otherwise, is both in need of healing and able to heal others.
Greg is the history teacher and the primary spiritual teacher. He teaches Zen meditation to new students and acts as a guide to those who ask. He occasionally teaches Buddhist alchemy to advanced students. He is the only member of the faculty who has never switched religions, having been raised Buddhist. His mother was Japanese-American, though he looks white to most people. Greg never graduated high school, having dropped out to work as a carpenter. He is now retired from carpentry, and is 73 years old. He, too, lives very ascetically and rarely leaves campus.
Greg is tall and slim to the point of being gaunt. He looks his age but is still healthy, strong, and quite quite good-looking. His hair is an iron grey, short but not shaved. Most people find him intimidating because he is a strict teacher who holds himself apart from others. He is actually just shy. His closest companion may be a black and white cat, who sneaks into the Mansion in order to sleep on his bed. He quietly returns the cat's devotion.
Karen is the primary athletics teacher. She teaches martial arts classes on campus that are also open to outsiders. Her focus is very much on practical self-defense, self-discipline, and general fitness, especially for beginners. Only more advanced students built on these skills to learn traditional fighting techniques. She is an adult convert to Buddhism and works closely with Greg.
Karen is petite, with a girlish figure, but very strong and fast. Her hair is black and lustrous. At 33 she is the youngest of the masters and the most recently hired. She is shy, especially around the other masters, all of whom she once had as teachers, though she is confident and demanding as a teacher. She also teaches Zen flower arrangement.
In the Spring of my second year as a student, Charlie asked me to train to be his assistant for his part of the workshops they did for new students every May. The workshops were held on an island--which I intentionally don't name here--and while the masters camp on the island for the week, too, the whole thing is organized so they each get a vacation when it isn't their turn to lead a workshop.
That May, I went to the Island with Charlie for further training and lead some of his hikes for him. We camped together the whole time--I don't know how much of that was a deliberate training opportunity and how much just that I couldn't camp either with the new student group or the faculty group, since both were on a kind of retreat. Either way, I learned a lot, it was a fantastic opportunity, and I wrote about it last May. But I just didn't have room to write about the time Allen got hypothermia.
Charlie and I camped in the woods next to a little, stony beach. It's not hard to get to, but few people go there. Camping at that spot is illegal, but Charlie tended to ignore all rules he himself did not make up. We packed up our stuff during the day so we wouldn't get caught, but basically we lived on the beach, unless we were out on a hike.
I didn't the the other masters much, except for Allen, who came down to our beach every day to swim. He's a good friend of Charlie's, so he sometimes spoke with us a few minutes if we were there when he was.
But the water there is very cold--I wouldn't swim in it without a very good reason. Allen never stayed in the water very long, but the man is part fish and seriously loves being in the water. He also doesn't usually notice the cold. He has to protect himself from exposure by keeping track of his body temperature intellectually. And he can get distracted.
A couple of days into the trip, that's exactly what happened.
Allen stayed in the water longer than he normally did and when he came out he stumbled a little coming up the beach. Something about the way he was moving looked wrong to both me and Charlie, so without having to talk about it to each other we hurried over to him. Allen's lips were blue and he was shivering visibly. He didn't bother to towel himself off or put his shirt back on.
"Don't you feel cold?" I asked him. I didn't yet know that he typically doesn't.
"No," he answered, his teeth chattering. "But feelings aren't facts. Or, rather, feelings are not good indicators of facts that aren't feelings. Or..." He seemed puzzled, unable to quite articulate the idea. His trying to explain a subtle intellectual point even though we could hardly hear him because of the shivering and because his mouth had gone slow and numb. It was kind of funny.
"You're brain just doesn't quit, does it?" asked Charlie, laughing and clapping his friend on the back.
"I hope not!" Allen answered.
But he didn't just seem cold. In the few minutes since he'd come out of the water, he seemed to have gotten worse. The sun felt warm, and it may have been that his skin, fooled by the warm air, was actually dumping body heat--I've heard that can happen sometimes. It's why you're not supposed to sit hypothermic people right next to warm stoves. Regardless of why, his shivering had become uncontrollable and his eyes and gone glassy and dull. He just stood there, looking stupid.
Charlie touched the back of Allen's neck, a trick, I've learned since, that works well for estimating the core body temperature of children, who often don't notice being cold either. I don't know if it really helps with adults, but Charlie spends a lot of time with small children. He's used to them.
"Touch your fingertips together," Charlie commanded. "First finger to first finger."
Allen tried, but he couldn't do it. He kept missing. He frowned.
"Not good," he chattered.
"Get those wet shorts off and towel dry," Charlie told him, handing him a towel. "Daniel, get my sleeping bag and pad."
Allen obediently stripped and toweled, apparently unconcerned with being naked in broad daylight, and we helped him crawl into the insulated bag. Technically, you're supposed to wrap hypothermia victims in three bags and a plastic sheet, but Charlie didn't seem to think that was necessary yet. He got out his camp stove and started boiling water for tea.
And that's when the ranger showed up.
There's a park on the island and we were inside it. The rangers didn't usually come to the beach, either, and I don't know why this one had--she didn't seem to be on a formal patrol. I don't know if she had law enforcement powers, but even if she didn't she could obviously call one who did--she had a radio.
"You can't camp here," she said when she spotted us.
"We're not," Charlie lied smoothly. "Our friend here is hypothermic. We're trying to warm him up." The ranger drew in her breath quickly, appropriately concerned. "The sleeping bag's mine," he added, explaining the two sets of backpacking gear sitting out beside us. "My boy and I are backpacking in the Whites this summer. We wanted to see how full packs felt. We've been wearing them all over the place on this trip." He didn't take his eyes off Allen the whole time he said it. The lies mixed with the truth in an offhand, believable way. He'd called me his boy.
"Do you need me to call for help?" the ranger asked. A good question.
"I don't think so," answered Charlie, cautiously, checking the stove. "I'm a wilderness first responder, Daniel has wilderness first aid training. But go ahead and examine him yourself to be sure."
But the ranger shook her head.
"I'm afraid you outrank me," she said. "I have no first aid training at all."
"I'm feeling much better, if it matters," said a muffled voice from inside the bag.
"I'm glad to hear it. Of course it matters," said the ranger, kneeling down next to him. "I'm Maggie."
"Allen," said Allen, and the sleeping bag bulged out where his right hand might have been. Ranger Maggie fist-bumped him through the fabric.
The ranger sat and chatted with us for a few minutes while Charlie made tea with honey and some loose herbal mix of his own. When Allen showed he could sit up and drink without help--and he was looking a lot more normal--the ranger went on her way. Charlie walked back to the campground to fetch Allen some dry clothes and a camp chair. We fed him more tea, and eventually Allen felt well enough to get up and go on his way, though he said he still felt tired and planned to take a nap.
But Charlie had called me son. I've never looked to him as a father figure, exactly--I have a Dad and don't need another one, apparently, and I don't think Charlie ever needed or wanted to be anyone's father, though he loved being an uncle. But him calling me that moved me nonetheless.
So I asked him why.
"It's unusual for unrelated men of different generations to camp together," he explained. "and people remember the surprising. I didn't want her to remember us and start asking questions."