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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Year 3: Part 4: Post 4: Weeds

“This is  purselane,” asserted Aidan at lunch. “It’s a gween. That means we can eat it, even though it’s a weed. We can’t eat all weeds, just some of them.” 

Purselane has thick, juicy stems and small, succulent leaves. It comes up mostly in the paths between the beds of the farm—as Aidan said, it’s a weed. He was eating a kind of fried salad, picking out the different components one by one with his fingers. He is two and a half, now, and just started talking really fluently, in complex sentences, a few weeks ago.

“Oh yeah? What’s that one?” asked Charlie. He was babysitting Aidan, as he often does.
“Um, that is an onion.”
“And that one?”
“That one is lambs quarters.”
“And that one?”
“Um, that one is sorrel.”
“What kind?”
“Um, seep sorrel.” He meant sheep sorrel—and ‘sorrel’ actually sounded more like ‘soil,’ when he said it, but he was right about the species.
“And that one?”
“I don’t know.”
“Swiss chard. So do you like all of these greens?”
“I like them if I can have bread with them, the white kind. If I can’t have bread, then I don’t like them.” 

Fortunately, lunch included crusty sourdough rolls, though I'd opted for raisin squash bread.

Charlie and I were having lunch together for the first time in months. We were indoors for once, because it had just started raining, and a yearling named Tom had joined us at our table.

"You know," began Tom, "four months ago I thought there was hardly anything to eat here."
"Hardly anything?" I asked. Obviously he wasn't being literal.
"I mean there didn't seem to be a lot of variety. No bananas, no oranges, no sugar cereal, no beef...."
"You must have felt so deprived," commented Charlie, heavy with sarcasm.
"Well, I kinda did. There were just vegetables and beans and things."
"Those are very big categories," Charlie told him.
"Well, I know that now. See, that's just it, though. I've never had half of this stuff before. I've never even heard of sheep sorrel before, and I didn't know you could eat purselane and galinsoga. We don't have oranges, but right now we have six different kinds of fresh fruit, all picked this morning."
"Seven, the early apples came in today," Charlie added.

The tally is blueberries, ever-bearing strawberries, black raspberries, red raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and now apples, in case you're wondering.

"Ok, whatever," replied Tom. "My point is, I don't think I've ever had so much variety to eat in my life. And half of it's weeds!"

"What's a weed?" I asked, thinking of Allen.
"A weed is a plant that nobody planted," Aidan put in."You have to pull them out, but you can eat them, sometimes."
"There are lots of plants nobody planted, though," Charlie said. "What about them?"
"Weeds are in gardens."
"So, a weed is a wild thing in a civilized place?" asked Charlie, addressing the group of us. "I guess that makes me a weed."
"Mama said gweens have vitamims," Aidan said, supplying a non-sequitur in place of a reply. I'm guessing he had no idea whatever what Charlie meant.
"I'd say a weed is a living thing that doesn't fit somebody else's plan," said Tom. "That makes all of us here weeds."

Saturday, June 27, 2015

So, about today's post (extended)

Hi, there,

I've decided that rather than write a normal post, I'll explain a little about why yesterday occasioned a party such that I couldn't post on time. As I said, we had a party after we got the news that the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage throughout the United States. Obviously, we would be psyched about this, given that I've made clear that our community is very pro-gay-rights--but a lot of people are psyched and still managed to show up for work yesterday, which I, more or less, did not.

So, let me explain.

Our community has always been counter-cultural; the secrecy that we use to protect the entrance exam has also allowed us to essentially ignore laws we did not like. Charlie's hunting without a license springs to mind as an example, as does Allen's support of Ebony's use of cannabis to learn to see. It's not that the community is lawless, as I've tried to describe, it's that we have our own laws and ways of doing things and where these depart from the social and legal conventions of the larger society, we simply keep what we do secret.

I've had mixed feelings about this at times--I think we all have. The tradition of Absence, where a person has to go away for a while before becoming a candidate to be a leader of the community, was our attempt to prevent becoming entirely insular and self-referential. We don't want to become a cult. Plus, being a counterculture has at times been lonely--it makes our relationships with friends and family on the outside difficult, even strained.

We don't want to be a counterculture, basically, only the freedom to treat each other well in ways that might be difficult or impossible otherwise. We're a haven we wish we didn't need.

The contents of this haven, what we actually do inside our counter-cultural bubble, has varied over the years. For example, I understand that in the very beginning there was a lot of recreational drug use, usually but not always as an attempted form of spiritual exploration. By the time I arrived, that standard had long since changed and there was actually a strict rule against any illegal drugs on campus at all. But one of the constants throughout the years we have existed has always been gay rights--including recognition of gay marriage.

When I was a student I knew that everybody spoke of Security Joe and Cuppa Joe as married, even though their legal union had evaporated when Security Joe transitioned. I knew that was very important to them, but it wasn't anything we talked about much--we were never self-congratulatory about all the ways we were different than the surrounding society. Being a straight, cis-gendered white male, I had never before thought much about how the world might look to people who weren't and so I didn't fully appreciate how different the campus culture was until much later. I didn't realize that the community was actually sticking up for something.

I also only gradually came to realize how basic, how original, to our community culture that acceptance was.

The thing is, two of the original Six were a committed gay couple. They died in a car accident years before I arrived, but masters I first knew were friends and students of theirs. I learned their names and part of their story when I found a pair of trees on campus planted in memorial to them and asked questions. Later, I learned more about them, in bits and pieces, as one does as people reminisce about those they knew.

Their names were Shrimp (a nickname, of course--he was very tall) and Jim. Shrimp was an artist and a clown and Jim was a medical doctor. It was Jim who arranged for Charlie to go to rehab. They did not refer to themselves as married--they never imagined they might be allowed to wed--but theirs was obviously a life-long commitment. Part of the reason that the Six has always been a family was that Shrimp and Jim were, and they shared their sense of family with their friends and students--and ultimately with me.

In 1990, when they were both in their 40's, Shrimp and Jim were on their way home from a concert when they were hit by a drunk driver and both killed. Both of them came from homophobic families that essentially denied the existence of their relationship. They had been together for twenty years, but that didn't matter to anyone with any legal claim to their bodies. So, people with an illegal claim intervened.

Both families lived far away, so the masters kindly offered to take care of arranging to have the bodies cremated. Then, during the brief window that they had physical custody of their friends' remains, the masters mixed Shrimp and Jim's ashes. Each of them now has a headstone that makes no mention of the other--yet they are buried together and can never be separated again. Their memorial trees on campus grow intertwined, naturally grafted together by root and stem, and a single mixed sap flows through their tissues.

The Supreme Court decision announced yesterday hinged on a court case brought by a man whose husband had died--he wanted to have their marriage recognized on his husband's death certificate. Yesterday, he got something that Shrimp and Jim never did.

It's kind of difficult to live in a counterculture, especially one that no longer has any physical territory. It's like being an exile in the country of one's birth. The reason we had a party was that yesterday the United States of America suddenly seemed a little more like home.

Friday, June 26, 2015

So, about today's post....

Hi, all. Daniel of the present-and-jubilant moment, here.

And see, the thing is, we went over to the old campus today to help Sarah--the children's camp that was associated with the school bought the place and Sarah is still its farmer--and while we were there we got the news about the Supreme Court decision. And we ended up having a party. And it's still in progress. I doubt I'll get a chance to post today. I'll do a real post tomorrow.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Year 3: Part 4: Post 2: Juneteenth

Note:this post is rather seriously out of sequence. I wanted to write about Juneteenth in order to address, even indirectly, the recent tragic attack in South Carolina, but the thing is we never observed Juneteenth as a holiday on campus. In my second year, 2001, we came close, though--Greg did an educational event around it, much as he did for Hiroshima Day, Nagasaki Day, and Pearl Harbor Day. He was very much the campus historian and he was always very interested in using history to foster cross-cultural empathy and compassion. But after 9/11he focused his efforts largely on combating discrimination against Muslims and did not address Juneteenth in 2002. So, not only is this post out of sequence because Juneteenth is before Litha, but this was Juneteenth, 2001.- D.

Greg says that white American culture is, collectively, narcissistic. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

He said it during one of the evening talks he does--one of the few that everybody on campus is strongly encouraged to attend. I've noticed these things are kind of like minor, third-tier holidays here--like, for the major holidays of school, the sabbats, we have these campus-wide celebrations. For Christian and Jewish holidays and things like 4th of July and Thanksgiving, we make space and time for those who want to celebrate them to do so. And then there are these things, historical dates, mostly, that we don't exactly celebrate at all but Greg does one of these campus-wide talks, apparently to get us thinking.

This one was for Juneteenth, the nineteenth of June and the anniversary of the freeing of the slaves in Texas.

Why Texas? Apparently, when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves in Texas weren't given the memo and were kept captive until well after the end of the Civil War when Federal authorities were finally able to come in and insist. They did so on June nineteenth. And a lot of the freed people immediately moved to other states, spreading the tradition of celebrating that day far and wide.

Apparently for much of the latter half of the 1800s and into the early 1900's, Juneteenth was something like a 4th of July for black people, with baseball games, barbecues, dressing up (something slaves were never allowed to do) and a lot of educational presentations for young people. Then the holiday kind of faded, but it's starting to make a resurgence. I'd never heard about it before, but a few others had.

The thing is that almost everybody here is white. There are exceptions, but it's disproportionate--there are fewer people of color here even than at most colleges. I think it's because so many people here are Neopagan in one way or another, and most (not all) Neopagans are white. So Greg makes a point of trying to broaden our horizons because, as he says, we're culturally narcissistic.

He wasn't accusing us individually of narcissism, but did say that being part of a dominant culture means you can pretend other perspectives don't exist and that if we don't want to be narcissists ourselves we have to make an effort to expose ourselves to ideas and information we might otherwise dismiss. It's much the same as what he said in his class, American Minority Perspectives, but not everybody has taken that, I don't remember him actually using the word "narcissism" then, and anyway I think that talking about slavery especially makes people defensive.

For one reason or another, he got some pushback this time, people wanting to argue.

Joanna stood up and said a lot of us are not members of the dominant culture, being variously pagan, and that in any case those of us who are female or gay or transgendered, are hardly dominant.Various people echoed the sentiment. They sounded angry. Greg held up his hand.

"So, what you're saying is that basically you're not boogeymen?" He paused to let that question sink in before continuing. "The fact of the matter is, no one is a boogeyman. No one is so privileged as to have no claim to any kind of unfairness, ever. This is no one so victimized so as to automatically understand the lives and struggles of all others who have been victimized, ever. This is not a contest and none of you can win."

From there he began talking about different forms of discomfort and fear, encouraging us to sit with those feelings and to listen to others when they talk about their lives, rather than speaking over them. He talked about how different categories of people can overlap so that a person can be both privileged and discriminated against at the same time, depending on context, and that looking for ways to address a problem makes a lot more sense than getting defensive about whose fault it is.

"Acknowledging culpability is part of justice," he said, and then looked around. We were outside, on the central field near the Dining Hall, and he'd spotted a plastic bag stuck in one of the maple trees along the field's edge. There isn't a lot of litter on campus, but it sometimes blows in or something. Then, too, outsiders sometimes come in for one reason or another, and drop things. Greg pointed at the bag and continued. "At the end of the day, I'm less interested in who put that up there than in who is going to get it down."

The thing is, he ended up spending most of his scheduled time responding to these questions and challenges--actually telling the story of Juneteenth went pretty quickly. I wonder if he used the word "narcissist" to incite a challenge so he could respond to it?

Afterwards, I asked him whether what he said worked to absolve people of responsibility for discriminatory or hurtful behavior. He shook his head.

"You're thinking like a judge," he told me, "or a legislator. Trying to establish who should be held accountable for what under what circumstances. That is the exact opposite of what I meant. Don't ask what should happen when they are accused, should they be held accountable for this or that fault. Imagine the question being asked of yourself. Then resolve that no matter what the answer is, you will respond the same way--in service." He looked at me a moment. "It's not like the self you're getting defensive about is real, anyway," he added, with a hint of a twinkle in his eye.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Year 3: Litha

Note: I’m posting this a little before the actual solstice. Also, yes, the reason I was self-conscious about not having a partner was that I was still bummed about my break-up with Ebony. I had not talked about the break-up much beyond mentioning it to a few friends, like Rick and Andy, just as I had never talked much about the relationship itself--we never hid it, but it was private, and still, in a way, tentative. I certainly never told Allen about the break-up, but I am certain he knew. For one thing, he and Ebony were fairly close by that point, and she probably told him.

Happy Litha.

With the summer solstice, the rest of the country recognizes that summer officially begins, except "everyone knows" the season really began at Memorial Day. The more I think about it, the more Kit’s idea of seasons starting on the cross-quarters makes more sense.

So, it’s Midsummer, as in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. A group of us went to see a production of it recently, a kind of unofficial field trip organized by Kit. It was outdoors, with actors running in and out of an oak forest surrounding a low, open stage as twilight came on. It was fantastic. Kit is friends with the choreographer who did the several dance sequences in this version of the show, and I think she had something to do with the live background music based on Greek folk songs. She kept whispering interesting facts to us about the cast and crew and the symbolism embedded in the stage settings.

But that was a few days ago. Today we were on campus, celebrating the holiday with the traditional feast and long list of visitors. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew all came, their first visit to campus. Cecily came, too, and talked incessantly about her new boyfriend, whom none of us like. He wasn’t invited, since he doesn’t yet know about the school and probably won’t. Yet, through her babbling, he was a constant presence anyway.

Ollie visited as well. Seeing him was great, though he and Willa were more or less stuck to each other the whole time, for obvious reasons. They joined my family and me to eat and we shared a picnic blanket with Allen, Lo, Julie, and Alexis. Allen, as you may recall, was Ollie's primary teacher and they wanted to catch up, too.

David hadn’t come—he’s apparently off being a teenager. Julie and Alexis, of course, ran off to be with the other Sprouts as soon as they were done eating. Julie and Sequoia (one of Charlie’s grand-nieces) are probably in their last years as Sprouts now and Aidan is still the youngest. The number of Sprouts is shrinking. But my sister-in-law seems fascinated by the idea of them and she asked Allen questions about how her children (plural—she’s pregnant again) could get to be Sprouts, too. So I could have relatives running around on campus, myself, in a few years. I like that.

I didn’t like listing to Cecily’s going on and on about her boyfriend. My brother, John, and his wife kept fussing over my nephew and generally being parental, and Allen and Lo—I guess they’re getting more comfortable with me as a friend, not just as a student, because they were being frankly flirtatious, Lo feeding Allen bits of fruit and both of them laughing. Willa is always flirtatious and Ollie was, as always, a little uncomfortable with that--it's nice to see that some things don't change, but there I was, in the middle, with no partner at all.

When the baby started crying, Lo scooted over to help figure out why, and I said something to Allen. I didn’t mean to complain, but of course he noticed I was feeling pretty bad.

“You’re not the only only one,” he told me, quietly. No, that’s not a typo, it’s what he said. I looked at him and he smiled a little at me. The others didn’t seem to be paying any attention to us.

“I’m the only one of us here without a living sibling.”

I looked at him, curiously.

 “My brother died when I was seventeen,” he explained. “He was killed in a car accident, riding with friends.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, rather embarrassed—as though my problems were anything compared to losing a brother. But Allen showed me an expression I can’t quite explain, somehow reassuringly dismissive. I remember back when I was in group therapy whenever anyone would try to say their problems weren’t as bad as anyone else’s, he’d say that comparing difficulty or pain is unhelpful. In talking about his brother he only meant I had not been the only one thinking about what the others around me had that I didn’t. He squeezed my shoulder in a friendly way and I felt better.

 “What was your brother like?” I asked.

 “Like me, but more so,” he said, with an odd, quick smile, and left it at that. When John and my sister-in-law and Willa got up to get more food, he explained further. Ollie, I guess, had heard it before. He just listened. “We had a lot in common. We both liked to swim. We both hated the flash on cameras, all that sudden light, right in your eyes. We both liked to collect and organize things.”

“The seashells!” I exclaimed, remembering the Island, and Allen diving for seashells and pretty stones and then arranging them all on his beach towel.

“Yes,” he acknowledged, “exactly. My brother’s thing was toy cars. He had hundreds of them by the time he died, all laid out in a particular order on a table in his room. I used to sneak in and re-arrange two of them, only two, to see if he would notice. He always did” He smiled in fond nostalgia for a moment. “My brother, David, was diagnosed as autistic. He had several of the disabilities associated with autism—he could speak, and take care of himself in a basic way, but he wasn’t learning to drive and our parents weren’t sure he’d ever have a job or live on his own. Of course, there were other things he did very well, though nothing phenomenal. He was not a savant. I was supposed to be the normal one, the healthy brother. Funny how family roles get handed around? I always did well in school. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I could get along well with others, if I had to. Our parents expected a lot of me, and they expected nothing of him. But I always knew. I was never diagnosed, but I always knew that whatever my brother was, I was too.”

I looked at him, but couldn’t figure out what to say. He returned my gaze, something I knew from class that autistic people don’t usually like to do. “This is not to share lightly, by the way,” he added. “And not with yearlings.”

I nodded.

Yes, of course, I’d noticed back when we covered neurodivergence in class that some of the autistic characteristics sounded a lot like Allen—but others did not sound at all like him. And he had not said he thought he had autism or Asperger’s syndrome*, nor had he even said his brother did, only that his brother had been diagnosed that way.

I know his use of language is very deliberate. If Allen says or does not say something, it is intentional. I know he is critical of psychological and neurological diagnosis, regarding it as, at best, simplistic. I can imagine that he does not want his name associated with the word “autism” among people who don’t already know him well—he doesn’t want people making assumptions about him based on a word that might not even fit him.

So why did he tell me? I don’t know, but maybe it’s what he said about being the same thing as his brother, a truth that his parents, and most of his profession, deny. Maybe he just wants to be known.

While I was sitting there, trying to absorb the shock of Allen’s evident trust, Allen himself suddenly had to absorb the shock of a rapidly moving six-year-old. Alexis had returned, running, and launched herself into his lap with such force that they both fell over backwards.

“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” she crowed, as he managed to sit up, “look what I have!”

“A dandelion,” he acknowledged, sitting up again. “That’s very pretty. There aren’t a lot left, this time of year.”

“Make it disappear!” she commanded.

“Well, ok, give it to me,” he said, and then, holding it by the stem in his right hand, he passed his left hand over it and the flower vanished. I was impressed. I never know how he does what he does, but illusion at such close range—Alexis was just inches from the flower—can’t be easy. She giggled. My nephew, sitting in Lo’s arms, stared at the place where the flower had been in shock. Lo laughed.

“You’re right,” she told the baby. “That is surprising. Flowers don’t normally disappear like that, do they?”

“Aa-a,” said the baby. “Err.” And then he shrieked.

John and his wife came back, bearing laden plates of food.

“What’choo talking about, kid?” asked John. He sat down and took his son on his knee.

“My Daddy’s doing magic,” Alexis explained. “Ok, make it appear again!”

“Like this?” But Allen made a puffball appear instead.

“No, that’s the wrong one,” Alexis complained, laughing.

“It is? Ok, well, you take this one—you know how to make it disappear, right?” She did—she blew on it and the seeds all floated away. “And we’ll try again.”

But the next flower that appeared was also a puffball. Allen tried over and over, each time getting it “wrong” by producing puffballs, and making Alexis laugh. The extraordinary thing was that there were no puffballs on the field we sat on, as it had been cropped close by the sheep and horses just that week—and this far into June, there are very few dandelion puffballs left anywhere, just cats’ paws and sow-thistles. Where was he getting them? It’s not like you can hide a puffball up a sleeve or something, they’d get all messed up. He produced six, one after the other, until Alexis finally ordered him to produce the “right” one and the original dandelion returned.

“Now, go put it in water so it doesn’t close up and wilt,” he told her.

“Charlie says I can eat it.”

“Charlie is right. But if you want to eat it, you’d better go rinse it off first, in case a horse peed on it or something.”

“Ew. Ok.” And off she ran.

Both last year and the year before I left the picnic before sunset and climbed a tree—and ended up spending much of the night hanging out with Charlie. This time I wanted to stick around and actually watch the Man go up and join in the dancing. That’s what we do on the solstice—we have an all-day picnic and then hold a Burning Man ceremony and the Long Dance, where people dance and play music from sundown to sunup.

The Man is made mostly of bundled Phragmites stalks and whatever invasive vines Charlie happens to be battling at the time. This year it looked to be mostly purple loosestrife, and the Man, all fifteen feet of him, were abloom in purple.

He stood around, being purple, on a well-watered section of grass on the edge of the central field encircled by the Mansion, the Dining Hall, the main greenhouse, and Chapel Hall—and the Martin House, of course. All during the day people, including my family, kept going up to the Man and sticking little notes in among the wicker. As I explained to my family, we light the Man to send him off to the spirit world, so he can take whatever messages we want to send with him.

So, this year for the first time, I was close by when the Man went up. The flames seemed slow and silent at first, crawling yellowly up one of his legs, but then they gained momentum and leaped up the structure, crackling and whooshing as they went. And then the band started up, one of several that would play in shifts, in different parts of campus, indoors and out, all night long.

I’m not one for dancing, I always feel self-conscious, but everyone else was dancing, too, so I figured no one else would notice, so I joined in. I only intended to dance for a few minutes, but one thing lead to another, one song to another, and before long I heard the birds of the dawn chorus begin.

I wondered where Charlie was, whether he was in the woods somewhere alone or had another apprentice to introduce to the magic of running around a forest at night, playing hooky from human society until breakfast-time.

*In 2002, when this scene happened, “Asperger’s syndrome” was one of several separate diagnosis considered to lie on the autism spectrum. It was usually defined as a “milder form” of autism, in that many “Aspies” can pass as merely eccentric. More recently, all the different forms of autism have been combined into a single diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder,” or ASD. Aspies can no longer avoid confronting social stigma by distancing themselves from “real” autistics. It remains to be seen if the borderline acceptance that Aspies won will translate into greater acceptance and respect for all autistics. Allen has still never been diagnosed and he does not know whether he might be considered autistic, neurotypical, or something else. He does not intend to find out.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Year 3: Third Interlude

Hi, all,  it's Daniel, 2015, here.

Last post was, I think, the first I've mentioned Jim. Because it's the first time, I had to introduce him to readers, and I think I made it sound as if I'd hardly interacted with him before, but that's not quite right.

It's true that I hadn't spent a lot of time with him until summer of 2002, in part because we were in different social circles because I was friends with Ollie and he was not. It's also true that sometime over that summer that changed and that by the time he graduated we were pretty good friends. But it's not like we had never hung out before, because campus just wasn't big enough to avoid somebody by accident for three years running.

I do remember staying up late with him one night watching "heat lighting," as he called it, and him showing me how to play the tin whistle. I don't remember if that was the first time I deliberately sought his company and I don't remember if that started because I couldn't sleep--though, that summer I did have trouble sleeping sometimes. I've asked, and he remembers even less than I do. He does remember my "amazing" ability to move in the dark. I didn't think it was amazing then, and I don't honestly think it's amazing now. Anyone could do it, with a little practice.

But that was the summer people started saying they were surprised by me and what I could do. Or they said I reminded them of Charlie, which I took as a compliment but found bizarre, because I didn't think of us as similar at all. I don't growl at people, I mean, and I'm nowhere near as smart.

I had changed, but I didn't know it.

What Charlie's various crazy assignments had done was to encourage me to treat certain things as important and to notice certain details, like sounds, scents, and animal tracks. Knowledge went with that noticing, because I learned from my explorations and because I was interested enough to remember readings or classroom activities that were relevant, but I wasn't the most knowledgeable naturalist on campus. If I stood out, and other people said I did, it was because I was starting to feel at home outside--and less at home anywhere else.

Would I have become a naturalist without Charlie's influence? I think I might have, I was always kind of interested in natural science, but I wouldn't have gotten there that quickly or as deeply. Anyway, there's no way I can ever know.

There were things of Charlie's that didn't rub off on me--his growling, for example.

It's not just that I like people more than Charlie does, it's that I like them in much the same way that I like other living things. I see an ant carrying a pupa and I want to know where it's going and why--not for any reason, I just want to know. Getting to know people feels exactly the same way.

Reading my previous post--it sounds kind of romantic, actually, the way I described spending the night out in the field playing music with Jim. That bothers me--it shouldn't. It shouldn't bother me that a reader might wonder if perhaps I am gay or bi, but it kinda does. Anyway, there was never anything sexual between me and Jim--but I was pursuing him. I wanted to know more about him, the same way I might want to know more about an ant. So, as I might give over an afternoon to an ant, I gave that night to Jim.

I think, perhaps, that kind of fascination, that desire to know, is restricted, for most people, to romantic or sexual interest. I don't know why, nor do I know why I am different. I do know that I was always curious about people, that I always got along with others, and that I've always preferred to listen rather than to speak. But starting that third summer there was a kind of shift. It's hard to describe, and saying that people started to seem like bugs to me does not really help....

The thing is, I guess, that I don't need anything from a bug. An ant can't hurt me, and, individually, it can't help me, either. I'm not drawn to it for any reason, other than that it's alive. And--I can be as selfish and self-centered as the next person, sometimes, I definitely need and want things from some people, but beyond that, and through it, there is an interest that has nothing to do with getting anything. And that interest kind of expanded and deepened for me over the years I was on campus.

For me, the existence of a story, whether it belonged to an ant or to a human being, became reason enough for me to pursue.

I think the first person I approached in that spirit was Charlie. He always fascinated me and I never quite knew why, only that whatever he could teach me I was willing to learn. And yet I never asked him about himself, not in any depth. If he were an ant, I let him carry his burden without ever trying to find out what it was or where he was going with it. Maybe that's why, in the end, he gave his story to me.

But I'm not going to tell it right now.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 13: A Little Night Music

I couldn't sleep last night, not for a long time.

It was out first really hot night, and although we keep the windows open at night in the summer so it's not so bad, I'm really not used to it. It seems like just last week I was wearing my long johns and hat to bed and here I was lying on top of the covers in my boxers. I'd have taken those off, too, but I wanted the door open for more of a breeze. Everything was just too sticky.

Finally I got up and stood out on my balcony for a while and watched the lightening bugs out on the lawn. It was pretty dark out there, I could hardly even see the Enchanted Forest because the clouds covered the moon, but every few minutes I saw a flash of distant lightening. There was no thunder.

After a bit I heard a tin whistle from below me on the porch. I assumed it was Charlie, but thought it odd for him to go out to the porch to play, instead of from his balcony. I threw on some actual shorts over my boxers and went downstairs to find out what was going on.

But it wasn't Charlie playing on the porch, it was Jim.

Jim started the same year I did, but he's graduating this year. I know him to say hi to, and we've had a couple classes together, but we've never really hung out much. He's one of Allen's students, and, like Ollie, has been studying reason as part of a personal growth path. But he and Ollie don't get along very well--in part because they have that in common. They both seem to think that reason is a process that, properly applied, should always result in the same, correct answer, the same way one plus two is always three. That Ollie's reason has confirmed his faith as a Baptist and Jim's reason has lead him to almost militant atheism seems to irritate both of them.

I never meant to avoid Jim, I've always liked and respected him, but I've spent a lot of time hanging out with Ollie and that meant not hanging out with Jim--simply because the two were rarely together.

Not that I could recognize Jim in the dark, but he was wearing a glow-in-the-dark wristwatch, which Charlie would never do. I waited until he got to a convenient stopping-place and spoke to me and then I recognized his voice.

"Who's there?" he asked, in a friendly way.

"Daniel," I told him.

"Did I wake you? Here, sit down, if you want."

"I couldn't sleep. I didn't know you could play. You're good." I sat down near him.

"Thanks. Yeah, Kit's been teaching me. It's my art, you know."

"No, I didn't know. And I didn't know Kit could play tin whistle, either. I thought only Charlie did."

"Kit can play anything," he said, which is true, as far as I can tell. She can learn a new instrument in just a couple of minutes by playing around with it and seeing how it relates to the instruments she knows. I've seen her do it. "I got the idea from Charlie," Jim continued, "but I asked Kit to teach me. Charlie's not a master in music."

"That's true, he's not."

"Hey, heat-lighting! It's been going every couple of minutes."

"I know. I was watching it from my balcony. Except did you know there's no such thing as heat-lighting?"

"There isn't? Then what's that?"

"Regular lightening," I told him. "It's just too far away to hear."

He thought about that for a moment.

"Oh, ok, duh," he concluded. "That explains a lot."

"Didn't you get a degree in physics?" I asked, giving him a hard time. It's true, by the way, but unlike a lot of people with a prior degree he couldn't get out of most of his classes here. I guess there isn't a lot of material in common between a liberal arts degree (which this is, technically) and a BS in physics. And, evidently, he hadn't studied the physics of weather much.

"I just hadn't thought about it," he admitted, embarrassed. "Man is not a reasoning beast by nature, we have to work at it. And I am a man."

"Hey, will you teach me to play a little?" I asked. "I've tried, but I can't even get notes to come out."

"Sure. You just need a little more breath-control. I could show you the basics now, but I'm afraid we'll wake everybody up."

"Let's go out to the Edge of the World," I suggested.

"Sure, but it's dark. I have to go upstairs and get my flashlight."

"No, you don't. I'll guide you."

"You have your flashlight?"

"No. I don't need one. Neither do you. Come on!"

And so we went out to the Edge of the World and I made sure he didn't get lost or fall over anything on the way. Then he taught me how to control my breath so the whistle didn't squeak or squeal and he showed me how to play the instrument's sixteen-note scale. I practiced that a few times and then we watched the lightening for a while and then I think we must both have fallen asleep because I don't remember anything else until morning.

"Dude, you're barefoot?" were the first words I heard upon waking and it took me a few seconds to work out where I was and why. I looked down at my feet. My toes wiggled. I was itchy all over from lying in the grass without my shirt.

"Yeah, so?" I asked.

"You can walk around in the dark without flashlight or even shoes? That's pretty impressive."

"Not really. I just use my feet to feel my way. I've been out here a million times before, I'm used to it. And there's nothing sharp to step on this year." Last year there were a couple of exotic thistle rosettes until Charlie rooted them out. They were nasty to step on.

"Were you so blase about those skills when you first saw Charlie use them?"

"How did you know I learned it from him? I didn't think you knew him well enough to know what he can do."

"Men are capable of learning reason: I am a man."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Year 3: Part 3: Post 12: A Joyful Perspective

I asked Joy what "spirituality" means. It was just after the Wednesday Reiki gathering and I'd stayed back to help her clean up--fold away the massage table, put neglected pens and tin cups (everybody here has a tin cup) in the lost-and-found box, that sort of thing.

"Why don't you ask Charlie?" she asked. "He's your spirit-master, right?"

"He doesn't use the term."

"Doesn't he? Well, no, I suppose he wouldn't. That's odd."

"Well, he is."

"We all are, that's why we're here."

"Ok, so, what is spirituality?"

"What do you think it is?"

"And that's why I didn't ask Allen."

Joy laughed and then thought for a moment, one hand on her hip, the other held up, the back of her thumb pressed against her lips.

"You know each of us would give you a different answer, right?" she asked. "I can't be authoritative on this."

"And that's why I'm asking you--I want your answer. You're my magic-master, after all, and my healing-master, so that's certainly related."

"That's true." She gave me a flash of a smile. I think she felt a little flattered by the question. She pulled up a chair and sat down on it, backwards, to talk. Unfortunately, it was the only chair in the room, which is usually used for dance, martial arts, things like that, so I sat on the edge of the window-sill. "Spirituality is the spirit-quality of something. But when I say 'my spirituality,' that's different from when I say 'my spirit.' When I say the latter, I am naming one of my parts, when I say the former...I'm indicating my connection to Spirit, to Source."

"You always call it that."

"Source? Not always. That's what it is, though."

"You all call it something different."

"And Charlie calls it nothing at all."

"Actually," I told her, "he calls it 'God,' just not very often."


Joy's surprise startled me, though I know her well enough that it should not have. It continually surprises me that the masters don't all know each other well, despite having worked and more or less lived together for years. Joy was a novice when Charlie was a candidate, and she returned for her candidacy the year he was hired, so I think he was her teacher, but she doesn't really know him except on a superficial level. I don't think she dislikes him at ll, and I don't think I've ever heard him mention her one way or the other, their lives just somehow don't intersect much.

While we'd been talking, night had fallen outside gradually. There was a little light from one of the other windows (the Mansion is L-shaped, so we were on one leg of the L, getting light from the other leg), but I suddenly realized I couldn't see Joy anymore. I re-lit one of the little globe candles on the floor that I'd gotten distracted from putting away. When I looked up at her, she was staring at the candle flame, entranced. She shook herself, slightly, and looked at me.

"How is he, as a spirit-master?" she asked, meaning Charlie.

"Fantastic," I told her, and realized I'd never said as much to Charlie. I tried to imagine what he'd do if I told him and failed. "I can't always explain what he's doing or why, and half the time I kinda want to choke him, but I keep doing what he asks and....I don't know." Which sounds kind of nonsensical and lame, but Joy laughed warmly.

"Sounds about right," she said.

"Speaking of which, I have to go." I'd just realized I was about to be late for Dead Poets' Society.

"What...?" Joy began, and then figured out the connection. "You mean Charlie's secret poetry thing."

So, she's not completely unfamiliar with him.

"Sounds right," said Joy

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Year 3: Part 3" Post 11: Chickens

We did, in fact, get to eat chicken.

As you may remember, we have our own chickens for eggs and meat here, two flocks of sixty birds each. We raise three batches of twenty chicks a year, to replace any birds that have died of something or gotten too old to lay, or something like that. We keep the chicks needed to fill the "vacancies" and eat the rest, plus any older birds Sarah decided to cull out. But this past February, stray dogs killed almost forty birds, plus a few others have died from disease or whatever else, so I assumed we'd keep all the replacement chicks and not eat any until maybe the Fall.

But I'd forgotten about the males. Of course, nine out of the twenty chicks happened to be males and we only need the one new rooster. So, that's eight roosters to eat, plus three elderly hens and one injured one Sarah decided to slaughter, twelve birds in all. Each one gives us eight or nine servings of meat, plus stock for soup, so that makes basically one or two meals for every non-vegetarian on campus. Including me. We ate them last night.

I always feel kind of odd about this.

These are birds I knew, after all, not to recognize individually, but I saw them walking around campus and now there are definitely fewer chickens around. Also, I usually know when they're about to do it--kill the birds, I mean. Someone on the farm crew usually says something quite casually, like "welp, we're killing chickens tomorrow!" or "anybody seen my grubby clothes? I gotta help processes the chickens tomorrow." And then we all know.

There's nothing to hear, no avian screaming or anything. They do it quickly, no suffering, and the birds don't know they're about to die. You can't tell when it actually happens unless you go down to watch, which I never have. The crew discourages crowds. But I always wonder, on those days days--if I said, stop! the one I'd get to eat can live! would he be able to? Could I save one? Could I say something?

But could they all live? We'd have to grow more food for them and that means more forest cleared--other things would have to die. Charlie told me, and it makes sense, that we can't avoid killing, even by being vegetarian. The illusion that we can is maintained only by deciding that some lives are worth more than others, that some deaths don't count, and that is something he will not do and neither will I anymore. All we can do is be aware of and responsible for our actions and make good decisions about what we kill, or allow to be killed for us, and how and why.

And so I eat chicken. Two wings, roasted with rosemary.

We had the last of last year's potatoes, too, also roasted with rosemary and some sage--they were a bit rubbery after all this time, but now we won't get more potatoes until the new ones come in starting in August. By then, potatoes will seem like a holiday occasion.

And in a few weeks, the pullets (adolescent hens) will start laying. They won't do it all at once, and most of their eggs will probably be pretty weird at first--tiny round things with no yolk--until their bodies get the hang of it. They'll be a party for that, a little feast of tiny, weird eggs. And even when they start laying real eggs we'll still be short because we didn't have enough pullets to fill all the vacancies. But the new chicks should arrive from the hatchery tomorrow or the day after--they come by mail, little, mostly yellow balls of fluff that live in the barn for the first few weeks and peck and scamper and grow.

And life goes on.