So, as I said, something is bothering Rick. It's hard to describe how I knew this--I'd say he seems withdrawn, except that Rick is never exactly forthcoming anyway. Perhaps it's that his withdrawal has a different quality, recently.
This must be an interesting time for Rick. As I've said, he had to spend a year and a day living outdoors, eating only food he had procured himself, using only equipment that could be, in principle, derived from the land pretty directly--no Goretex or polypropylene, for example. He wanted to learn the skills necessary to live off the land, alone, so Charlie supervised him doing so. Now, he's back inside--his life is much safer, much more comfortable now. Sleeping outside in the rain and snow in only leather and wool is no joke.
But how is he with the transition? So, I decided to ask.
"I donno," he replied listlessly. We were sitting in the Great Hall, in front of the fire. Rick sprawled in an old, comfortable chair, staring at the flames, sullen and uncommunicative. And yet Rick has never minded me asking him questions. He seems to get something out of it.
"Well, are you going to keep sleeping outside?" I asked. He's allowed to do so, although Charlie's told him to mostly return to eating dining room food--we don't have enough land to support students hunting and gathering, except under special circumstances.
"I've done it a few times," he said, meaning he's slept outside since Brigid. "But it doesn't feel like there's any point."
"Isn't your enjoyment its own point?" I asked.
"Enjoyment doesn't enter into it," he told me, "when it's fourteen degrees. I enjoy being out there sometimes, but not others. It's hard to predict. I enjoy living out there, but part of that life is coping with things nobody would ever choose to do for fun. It's difficult and scary and dangerous. I don't have to stay outside then anymore. I can come in when the weather is bad. But when do I go out again? How do I decide? That's what I mean by there not being any point."
"So, what are you going to do now?" I asked.This is Rick's last year here, and he's already met most of his
requirements to graduate, but he does have a few more classes. That's
not what I meant.
"I don't know," he told me. "That's just it. I wanted to know how to go and live on my own. Outside. That was the whole point, the whole goal. I know how to do that now. I've done it. But what, do I go and be a hermit, now? What's the point? I mean, if I was a hermit, what would I do with my hermit-life? I never thought about this--once I was able to live this sort of life, what would I do with it?"
I thought about what he had told me, and I had nothing in particular to say. I mean, I know there are people who more or less organize their whole lives--there careers, everything--around being outside as much as possible. They never seem to get out as much as they want to, so they keep working at it, trying to earn more money and vacation time, or trying to get jobs that keep them outside, and so on. But Rick has what he was looking for. He could, if he doesn't mind trespassing somewhere (and he doesn't), just go live in the woods and stay there. What do you do when you get what you want?
"Why don't you talk to Charlie about it?" I suggested.
"Yeah, I need to talk to him anyway," Rick replied, in a tone that suggested he was putting it off.
As I had been putting it off. I had thought I was looking forward to seeing Charlie again. Certainly I like his company, and we had hardly spoken since Samhain. On the other hand, there is something slightly off-putting about him. That he might assign some new and insane project is, of course, part of it.That he seldom speaks in a merely casual way is also in there--it's hard to relax in his presence because everything he says is, or could be, important... I can't describe all of it.
But I did go see him the other day. I found him sitting in front of the fire, repairing a snow-shoe, his reading glasses perched on the end of his nose.
We greeted each other and he asked me a few questions about what I've been doing--whether I'm still tracking, and so forth. And then he just said "keep up the good work."
He gave me no new assignment at all.