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.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Year 3: Part 2: Post 1: Ostara

Happy Ostara!

The snow is gone now, except for a few small heaps where we piled shoveled snow, plus a couple of compacted ice slicks here and there on the campus roads. It's been dry and warm for a few days and the whole campus smells like spring.

It could, of course, snow again, and probably will, but the weather was lovely for our spring equinox celebration.

As in past years, we had a picnic lunch and we held the egg hunt--it's not a hunt for dyed Easter eggs, it's a hunt for signs of reproductive activity on the part of the living things on campus--eggs and nests in use. We break into teams of two and run around campus documenting what we find with digital cameras and notebooks. The object is to document more nests and take better pictures than anyone else, but you get extra points for taking the first photo of a nest on a given day and you lose points if the nest-builders show undue stress because of your presence.

Last year I and my partner won, in part because Charlie told me to. He organizes and judges the competition, and he didn't go easy on me. I had to win so ambiguously that no one would ever question whether I should have. I succeeded, and I'm proud of that, but I don't need to win again this year. This year I just wanted to have fun with the contest.

Which is probably why Ebony asked to be my partner.

I was surprised. Last year I don't think she even joined the competition. She's not all that much interested in natural history, and anyway, she can't do much birdwatching because her eyes don't work. She can listen to birds, but finds hearing uninformative. Somehow, she thinks in pictures, and hearing does not give her pictures. Hearing gives me pictures, when I hear a crow or something I visualize the bird, but any idea that she might compensate for her vision with her other senses makes her uncomfortable.

But Ebony is only going to be here two years, so this is her last Ostara on campus, unless she comes back for her ring. I suppose she wanted to try the egg hunt while she still could. She also wanted to try photography, which is part of why she asked to be my partner--I'm used to her paradoxical visualness by now, and I'm not going to look at her funny for wanting to take pictures when she can't see.

Yes, she can tell when people look at her funny.

So, instead of running around campus trying to identify and take pictures of as many nests as possible (and at this time of year there aren't very many, so they're hard to find) we moseyed, taking care not to fall over anything, and I showed her the nests I knew and and explained what everything looked like. She composed pictures, based on either my description or her limited vision or both, and I helped her direct and focus the camera. We ended up getting only three nests--the ravens on top of Chapel Hall, the owls in the hollow tree by the little pond, and the vernal pool full of wood-frog eggs in the woods. And yes, frogs' eggs count. We had a good time.

Then we all had the picnic lunch while Charlie and some of his other students looked through all the pictures and notebooks and chose the winning team. As in years past, they also put together a slide show of the better pictures.

Ebony and I didn't win, which didn't surprise me. But none of Ebony's pictures ended up in the slide show, either, which did surprise me. It made me angry. Ebony told me not to worry about it.

"They probably sucked," she guessed, simply.

Honestly, I wouldn't say "sucked," but they weren't really that good. Blindness aside, neither Ebony nor I are photographers and we didn't know how to work together as a team. She's had this idea of pursuing photography for a while, but this is the first time she's tried it. She really doesn't know how to explain what she wants from her assistant, and I certainly don't know how to guess.

But I wanted them to be excellent. I wanted them to win some kind of special mention or prize. I wanted it for Ebony, and I wanted it for me--I really liked the ideas we came up with, what we were trying to do with those pictures. It was like how sometimes when I paint--and this was especially true when I was younger--I see my vision for the painting when I look at the paper and not just the actual paint. And I'm all pleased and proud of myself. When I go back later to look at my work, I don't see the vision anymore, only the actual paint, like anybody else looking at it would, and my masterpiece turns into just a smudge of ill-defined color....

Why couldn't Charlie see what we were going for and acknowledge it?

He couldn't because he wouldn't--seeing intention rather than reality is exactly the sort of thing Charlie discourages. He is, in some ways, deeply and rigorously practical. In response to the philosophical and political dimensions of identity that so fascinate Ebony, he is likely to ask "what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?" or even, in a particularly grumpy mood, "everybody has their own thoughts and feelings and beliefs and assholes. Assholes are very important organs, we'd all die without them. Doesn't mean I want to hear about yours."

Charlie and Ebony don't talk with each other that often. It's kind of awkward for me.

But on this occasion, she agreed with him when I didn't.

"If my pictures were up there, my name would be, too, right?" she explained. "And everybody would see them and think 'oh, the poor little blind girl takes pictures! How inspiring. And they'd think my pictures were about a million times better than they actually are. And, see, that's the worst part about being blind. Nobody ever really sees you."

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