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 8, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 3: An Unexpected Teacher

So, I'm still on the Island, but now I have nothing to do. Or, rather, I have nothing I have to do. Which has its advantages.

I'm camping with Allen's wife, Lo, and their kids. Allen himself is not camping with us but with the other masters, on retreat. He visits at least once a day--and he is friendly with me when he does. It's always a bit strange interacting with someone who is engaged in act activity I'm excluded from. In a very real way, part of the point of this trip for the masters is to be together without the students present. I don't know where their camp is (although Lo and the kids clearly do) and I've hardly seen any of the others. If I bump into one of them at the bath-house or something, they might be either cordial or awkward, but it's clear they don't want to talk me. Allen is a little different. Maybe it's because I'm camping with his family, or maybe he just likes me, but when he comes to visit our site he's genuinely friendly with me.

(Yes, Kit and Charlie genuinely like and trust me, too, as far as I can tell, but for Charlie that means he trusts me not to bug him when he'd rather be alone. I haven't seen him in days. And Kit is one of the awkward ones, for whatever reason).

Anyway, I have nothing specific I'm supposed to be doing, although in a general way Charlie does want me to get to know the Island a little better. I brought all my field guides and notebooks and my binoculars and magnifying lens. My intention was the spend my time hiking everywhere and looking everything up. That isn't what's happening.

David, as I've mentioned, is a teenager now. He's fourteen, growing like the proverbial weed, and just this week his voice started showing signs of changing. Last year, I know, was very hard for him, because he was still acting like and being treated like a kid, even though that didn't really fit him anymore. This year he definitely has a new role, but he doesn't seem to know how it works, yet. He doesn't know how to be a teenager or what he really wants to change as he grows up. He obviously loves his family, but he doesn't seem sure he wants to spend much time with them anymore. Like, it might be too childish or something to spend all day playing with his little sisters.

Without at all meaning to, I've offered him an alternative.

Realistically, it hasn't been that long since I was a teenager, and I'm probably still pretty immature. And I'm male, which I'm sure counts for something. And I'm certified in wilderness first aid and I'm not a total idiot, so Lo is comfortable with her son going off on adventures with me.

(She'd let David go off with a friend his own age, too, of course, but she won't let him go hiking alone. Which feels restrictive, but she's probably right)

And the advantage for me in all this is that David knows more about the Island than I do, especially the birds. He's been a sort of unofficial student of Charlie's since he was born, and he's been more or less obsessed with bird identification for years, so he's quite an accomplished naturalist. So, hanging out with him I get to learn something.

I don't want to make it seem as though David is some kind of freakish prodigy or something. He isn't. He is strikingly intelligent, as is Allen's whole family (as are all of the masters-- I once asked if you have to be brilliant to wear the green ring. "Nope, only enlightened," quipped Allen), but he's not inhuman. And he still seems very much like a kid, despite his large, technical vocabulary and his cracking voice. His teaching method, for example, is innocently horrible--he just announces facts and then scowls if I don't understand and memorize them instantly. He's just one of those kids who is both bright and obsessive, so he knows a lot about the things he's interested in and not much about anything else.

But I like his company. He's a good kid.

So we've hiked up and down what seems like half the mountains on the Island, watched birds whose names I still mostly can't remember, traversed vertical crags over storm-tossed surf (we swore a solemn oath not to tell Lo about that), and improvised ghost stories in the fog over bags of peanut M&Ms on granite domes glowing green with lichen.

Next week, I suppose, we'll hike the other half.

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