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.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 5: Belonging

[Sorry I did not post this yesterday as planned. Everything's fine, just poor planning on my part. Yesterday was my wife's birthday, and I kept planning to do the post later--after breakfast, after shopping, after party preparation, after the party--and then I ran out of later and it was time to go to bed. - D.]

So, yeah, I've stayed on the Island the full two weeks--I'll head back with the students tomorrow. I assume I'll be Charlie's assistant next year, too, but I'm not sure I'll camp with Lo and the kids next year. They've been very welcoming, and I've really enjoyed their company, but I kind of feel like an imposition. It's their family vacation, after all.

That's the tough part about this gig--I don't really belong anywhere, not with the yearlings, not with the masters, and not with Allen's family. They all come to the Island to connect as a group, and I'm not a part of any of those groups.

I talked to Allen about it a little yesterday, about not belonging. He said:

"Most of us feel that way at least sometimes. And sometimes it's true--we don't belong to the group we've landed among. But that's not always the same as not being needed or wanted. You'll have to rely on others to tell you whether you are welcome, regardless of your feelings. And you are welcome here."

"But what if you're all just being polite?" I objected. He laughed.

"That's a problem sometimes," he acknowledged. "But not for any group with me in it. That's the one thing I actually don't know how to do--lie."

I'm going to need to think about that.

Tonight was our last night on the Island. I expected the masters to have some kind of party and for me not to be invited, but that's not quite how it worked out.

In the morning we--Allen's family and I--climbed around on the rocks by the water. That seems to be our default activity. After lunch, Allen took Julie and Alexis hiking and Lo read a book in her hammock. David and I were trying to figure out what to do, when Kit dropped by for a chat. David mentioned that he was thinking of taking music lessons, but didn't know what instrument he wanted to try.

"Let's use your Dad's guitar?" Kit said. I could tell by his face that David hadn't expected to start music lessons today or, necessarily, with Kit, but he went along with it and they were soon huddled together on the picnic table bench trying out chords.

I left them working and took my books with me to botanize the campground--botanizing is kind of like birding, except with plants. For some reason, I hadn't done the campground yet, although of course I'd taken my field guides up mountains and through forests all week long. I'd kind of assumed that there was nothing worth seeing so close to "home" but I ended up finding three species I'd never even heard of before.

In the course of walking around the campground looking at plants I actually found the masters' campsites--I didn't mean to, I was just walking along and spotted Charlie in a tent site, apparently picking up microtrash around the fire pit. He looked up, saw me, and without a word put a finger to his lips. Silence. I nodded and walked on.

When I got back to our own campsite it was nearly dinner time and Kit had left--I imagine she was off with the yearlings teaching them the dance exercise. David was still strumming the guitar, playing around with chords and sometimes putting them in a vaguely familiar order.

"Dad's not back yet," he said, when I walked up. "Kit says to stay here, though. We're having dinner in a bit."

Kit said to stay here? What did she have to do with our dinner? I wondered but did not ask. Lo was nowhere to be seen and David was doing nothing dinnerish, so I walked down to the water again and sat on the cliff-top for a while, watching the waves crash on the rocks. The day was sunny and breezy and the surf was high. I didn't stay there long, because of Kit's mysterious instruction. When I got back, Allen and the kids were there, though Lo was not, and Charlie had joined them. He sat whittling something, apparently marshmallow sticks.

"You want some practice with an axe?" he asked me. "You can split firewood. We'll need a lot." The campground provides wood for free, but it's not split--it's these big rounds maybe eighteen inches across, slices from trees that fell across campsites over the winter, I guess.

"I don't have my axe," I told him.

"Use mine."

Charlie's axe is a very high quality antique he's had for years, so I felt kind in awe of the thing. It's kind of embarrassing how much of a thrill getting to use it was, but I didn't say anything, I just split up a bunch of wood.

"You want me to start the fire?" I asked, not sure what the plan was for the evening . There seemed to be a plan, but nobody had bothered to tell me what it was.

"No. I want Alexis to do that. You know how already." That was true, I did.

"Daniel, you can go get water," Allen suggested. "We need one jug fresh water and one salt."

"Salt water?"

"Yeah, best thing to cook shell fish in."

So I took a cooking pot and and a big plastic jug and I went back down to the sea. The tide was coming in and most of the lower tide pools were covered already, but I used the pot to ladle out water from a tide pool into the jug--the waves were pouring into one half of the pool while I ladled out from the other, so I suppose the water was pretty clean.

When I got back, Lo had reappeared and David had already fetched the fresh water. I felt vaguely disappointed to have my job given away like that, but of course I didn't say anything. The fire was burning nicely, though Alexis was still fussing over it under the supervision of her sister. The picnic table was full of bags of food, so obviously we were going to have company. Charlie was still there, thoughtfully examining a clam, and as I stood around, taking everything in, Karen arrived, carrying a bag of something, which she set on the table.

"Should I leave?" I asked Lo, quietly. "I think there's a party here and I don't think I'm invited."

"Of course you're invited," she told me, as if  I was being silly.

"But I'm a student," I protested.

"You're not invited as a student," she explained. "You're invited as our guest." By "our" she meant her family. I was an extension of the Kilmons, apparently.

We had something like a Philosopher's Stone Soup, though I don't know whether it was Allen's idea. Everyone brought an ingredient (I brought salt water) and we all worked together to cook a meal that involved every ingredient. There were mussels and clams and two lobsters, edible sea weed, leftover rice from something the masters had made earlier, bunches of green grapes, northern white cedar twigs (for tea), honey, two different kinds of fudge, locally made beer, a box of Corn Flakes, a bag of marshmallows, a jug of goat's milk, a jar of Crisco, and a kit of condiments and seasonings.

The lobster meat went into a salad with the sea weed, the lobster broth and most of the the milk, rice, and clams all went into a soup, and Allen turned the corn flakes and some of the milk and beer into a kind of batter for the mussels, which he fried in Crisco.

We tried toasting the fudge over the fire along with the marshmallows, which kind of worked. The grapes we just ate--except that Alexis insisted on cutting each grape in half in deference to the rule (from Philosopher's Stone Soup) that each ingredient has to be prepared somehow.

Afterwards David played the guitar. He knew exactly one song, and played it badly, but he'd only learned that afternoon so he did very well, considering. We all clapped. We sat around and talked for a while, picking at leftovers, and sometimes Allen strummed his guitar and played a song or two.

I still felt out of place.  I think I was out of place. But as Allen had said, I was welcome.

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