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, October 26, 2015

Year 3: Sixth Interlude

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2015 here,

and I'm just amazed that it's time to write an interlude again. I mean, this is only the fifth post since the last interlude--how does a gap of  eight weeks yield only five weekly posts? A combination of a late beginning and an early Monday, of course, but it feels like I must be missing a week or two somewhere.


I've been thinking about how I'm going to handle the future of this blog, what I'm going to do next year, when I'll be covering my final year as a novice. I'm thinking I'll do some version of skipping over my Absence with a series of interludes and then launching into my experiences as a candidate. It's curious that I'm thinking of this now, though, because thirteen years ago I was not thinking about the future very much, I was not thinking about how my final year as an undergrad was about to begin. I did not viscerally realize that I was on the way out, as it were, until just a few weeks before Beltane.

I'd like to think I've gotten better at thinking ahead, but I probably haven't. The other day, June said something about getting Carly in pre-school and I looked at her completely blankly. Carly is a toddler, she doesn't need to go to school. But of course, she's not going to stay a toddler forever--she's two-and-a-half now and already she's playing around with learning to write--she puts big C's, followed by squiggles, in the middle of her drawings and says that is her name. Sometimes the C's are backwards, or very crooked, but she's getting the right idea. So, yeah, it's getting time to think about pre-school, but in my head she's my baby and my baby she will be forever, I guess.

But what I couldn't see at the time I can see in retrospect and I know what the next "chapter" of my story is going to be--and the one after that.My hindsight is better than my foresight.

I said a while back that I'd have news about our community, and so I do. We have decided to continue as a group, as an entity, and not to let the closing of the school mean the end of us as a people, as a sort of tribe, if you will. To this end, we obviously need a project to bring us together and to provide some means of introducing new students to us. I'm not going to go into details, since I don't want anyone identifying us through my story (if I can find a way to protect our secrecy while going into more detail I will), but basically we're going to start a group of interrelated businesses and, through them, offer various classes and talks and events to the public. Most of our students will not know who and what we are, or even, probably, that our businesses are related. But if any guess, they will pass the entrance exam and be able to join us.

More importantly, we'll be doing a public service as a group again.

It's a rebirth, of sorts, but I wonder if it will ever feel like enough, whether those of us who remember the school and its campus will always be half hoping to somehow go home.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Year 3: Part 6: Post 4: Keeping Notes

The trees are just past peak color, now. Another good, stiff wind should blow most of them down, and already some of the branches are bare, or nearly so. The avenue of red maples along the road in front of the Dining Hall has become an almost painfully bright yellow tunnel. They are all exactly the same--Charlie says they are genetically identical clones, bought from some landscaper by the previous land owner. The avenue of sugar maples along the main entrance (which Charlie has allowed to spread into a miniature woodland) is more diverse and has gone various shades of red and orange. I can sit among either, or up in my "spot" in the woods, and listen to the leaves falling around me like a continuous, dry rain.

As I said, Charlie has me keeping a journal of my time outside. And yes, I am using the blank journal he gave me for my birthday. I hand it in to him once a week and he returns it a day or two later, marked up with comments and questions or new mini-assignments. Sometimes these make me smile--I drew a picture of the site the other day, in pencil, and he wrote "Nice!" in the margin of the next page, with an arrow pointing towards the picture. Sometimes they frustrate me, as when they seem to contradict--the same week yielded "more world, less Daniel" and "where are you in all of this?". They were written on different pages in different colors of ink, so he probably wrote the comments on different days.

Recently, he appropriated an entire page, with a big title in red pen, underlined three times, and a series of asterisk-pointed items:

* Identify all woody plants within site (due end of month)
*Identify principle soil type within site (due end of month)
* Each week, list all animal behavior observed, incl. sound
*Each week, list all plant phenology markers (sprouting, etc.)
* Note fungi
Common + Latin names, spelled correctly, required

Phenology means the study of when things happen, like when different species sprout, flower, etc. ("phrenology" is completely different!). So, basically he wants me to pay attention to the same things on my plot that he's been teaching me to attend to on campus--which makes sense. I about died when I saw the list, as it looks like a huge about of work, but actually my "spot" isn't very big. There are only three species of trees, plus maybe five shrub species (I haven't counted them yet). And, realistically, I'd do most of this anyway, just maybe not every week and I wouldn't necessarily write everything down.

I still don't know what Charlie is up to, but at least he's consistent, and it's becoming clearer to me that everything else we've done together was training for this.

It's not much warmer sleeping inside than out, these days, as we haven't lit the stoves in the Mansion, yet. We won't, probably, until at least sometime in November. Not that it ever drops below freezing inside, but the days of sleeping in long underwear under several layers of hand-made wool blankets and quilts has definitely begun.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Year 3: Part 6: Post 3: Masks

I do not remember what day Eddie made his announcement, but I suspect it was on or around October 11th. I did not know at the time that the 11th is National Coming Out Day, but I'm sure Eddie did.

This morning I woke up outdoors in my spot in the woods in my hammock, glad for the dawn because it meant I could get up and get warm. The night was dry but quite cold. I was up several times in the night, shivering. It's not as cold as it's going to be, of course, but I'm not used to dressing for these temperatures. So far, just moving around in my sleeping bag is enough to warm me up ok. I remember watching the leaves move in the slight breeze and then the moon, waxed almost to half, set and I couldn't see anything anymore. And then I was asleep again.

But this morning when I woke there was ice on my sleeping bag. My breath had condensed on the fabric and frozen there. First frost.

I got up, packed up my stuff, and walked uphill for a bit to get warm. Then I walked back to campus, used the facilities, changed into my uniform, and headed to breakfast. On the way in I saw Charlie through the crowd and waved to him, holding up my notebook. He nodded and when we got inside he came and sat next to me.

"First frost," I told him, by way of hello.

He nodded.

"Not a hard frost, though," he replied.

And then the headwaiter of the day called for a moment of silent prayer. We sat quietly until released by the headwaiter. Then I gave Charlie my naturalist's journal and he looked it over for a moment and stuck it in his bag. The waiters came by with their cauldrons of vegetarian miso soup and oatmeal.  We're out of milk, now, but Patti, who works food service but has the day off, had bought some soy milk and offered it to everyone at our table. Charlie declined and I followed his lead, but everyone else took some. After a few minutes, one of the waiters told us it was our turn to go up to the hot bar and Charlie went but I did not--we each only get eggs every other day and today isn't my day. He and I chatted a bit over breakfast, mostly about the frost and its implications for the campus and the farm. It was his opinion that we'd get some more warm weather before the first of the hard frosts, but that what we'd gotten was cool enough already to sweeten the carrots. A few other people at the table asked him questions about this or that and I got talking to Dillon, who's on the groundskeeping team with me, about a dream he'd had involving telepathic fairies. He was trying to figure out if the dream were a sign or something.

Breakfast is one of the quiet, minor rituals around here. The way everybody shows up, the whole campus, to share the same meal at the same time; the foods, which vary seasonally but otherwise are about the same, always; the reliability of finding somebody to talk to no matter how far-out--or how banal--the subject matter; the way the Dining Hall smells, miso and eggs, baking bread and dish-soap; even the wording of the call for the moment of silence at the beginning and for announcements at the end, they are all alike from day to day. It's a little thing, and I wouldn't want everything to be the same like that, but something about the predictability of breakfast is reassuring.

And then there are things I can't predict.

"Does anybody have any announcements?" said Jos, the headwaiter of the day. Various people raised their hands and he called on them one at a time.

"Climate, Weather, and History is taking a field trip today. Please meet by the vans at 9 o'clock."
"I'm going to the noon meeting at St. Luke's, anybody who wants to come, see me after this."
"I left my cell phone in the pannier of #11 bike on Saturday. It's not there now. Has anybody seen it?"
"I've got it!"
"Thanks, Andy,"
"Any more announcements?"

People who have something more momentous to say usually wait until that second call so that they don't get upstaged afterwards by lost cell phones. Eddie stood up.

"I just wanted to say..." he fidgeted with his hands a bit, then took a breath and adopted a deliberately more confident posture and voice. "I'm a transgendered man. Basically that means when I was born my parents thought I was a chick.I don't really want to talk about it. But half of you already know and you've been keeping it a secret from the other half for my sake and while I really appreciate it, I've decided there's really no point in doing that anymore. I don't think most of you give a shit about I look like with my drawers down anyway. You all know I'm just Ed."

And he sat down again. There was a moment of silence and we all clapped. I'm not sure why--it probably embarrassed him--but the announcement seemed to call for some sort of response or acknowledgement.

"Good for him," Charlie said. "We're only as sick as our secrets." That comment could be read as some kind of denigration of transness, but I don't think he meant it that way. He's worked with Security Joe for something like twenty years, after all. I think he just meant that it's good to be open about things. It's an AA saying.

"How come you don't make an announcement?" I asked, meaning why didn't he come out as an AA member? I knew he wouldn't. I was teasing him.

"Because I'm still pretty sick," he replied with a straight face, then looked at me with a quick smile. Everyone got up to go and the room became very noisy. Charlie and I stood as well, and under the cover of that noise he leaned towards me and murmured "I don't want anyone to associate AA with me. I don't want some drunk student to delay getting help because they don't like Charlie." And he walked away, as he usually does right after he reveals something about himself.

That morning I went on the climate change field trip as a guest (I did my groundskeeping shift in the afternoon). When I got back I got my lunch and went to eat it out in the gazebo. The day was gorgeous, after all. I found Steve Bees, Eddie, Andy, and Kit already there and I joined them.

"I don't understand this Samhain thing," Steve was saying. "No offense, I want to understand, but it's like you're worshiping death or something. I guess I don't see where death deserves that."

"Why birth and not death?" Eddie asked. "Every transition is the end of one thing and the beginning of another."

Steve looked at him oddly for a moment but quite clearly couldn't figure out what to say. I wondered, too, but I think Eddie probably wasn't talking about gender--he often isn't, and I know that part of his reluctance was his worry that people would do exactly what Steve had just done--interpret everything he said or did in light of that one issue. He didn't want to be some exotic personage, he wanted to be "just Ed." He made a face and Steve looked away.

"Take what you like and leave the rest," suggested Andy, mildly. It's another 12-step phrase, and it's also basically how Andy approaches the pagan-ness of this community, some of which makes him uncomfortable.

"Don't think of it as worshiping death," suggested Kit. "Think of it as a day of remembrance. You'll see. It's not macabre in the common sense at all. That's Halloween."

"Now, see, I liked Halloween as a kid," Steve said. "It was fun. Trick-or-treating has roots in Samhain, too, doesn't it?"

"Yup," said Kit. "Kids dressing up as land spirits and begging money or treats goes way back in European paganism."

"I don't see the connection," said Steve. "What does dressing up in masks have to do with remembering the dead?"

"Any time you have a big transition, all other identities become mutable, too," said Kit. "Life and death, summer and winter, male and female, privileged and otherwise, it's all up for grabs. It's a good time to play with identity."

"I think Samhain is a good time to teach children how to wear masks," said Eddie. "Because it's all masks, all those roles, all those identities. But if you know it's a mask, then you know you can choose to take it off or leave it on. It's yours, and you can do what you want with it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Year 3: Part 6: Post 2: Looking Foreward

I said a few days ago that it’s felt like fall for a while. And that’s true. But it didn’t look like fall. 

Only a few of the trees were just starting to turn. But last night a storm blew through campus and this morning, for whatever reason, the trees had turned. I don’t mean all of them, or that any turned completely overnight, but a lot more trees have a lot more yellow and orange in them now. It looks like fall.

It looks like Fall inside, too. We’ve got the whole campus pretty much decorated for the season, now—displays of pumpkins and corn stalks in doorways, little winter squashes on the tables in the Dining Hall, vines twine up the walls and across the ceiling of the Great Hall…we’ve worked hard to get it all set up over the last few weeks. The place looks good.

What we haven’t had to do is rake leaves on campus. Charlie says the best mulch for a tree is what it grows itself. All around here, where we have trees we have ground covered in leaves and broken twigs, all year round. The difference in the fall is the ground gets a fresh and more brightly colored coat. We do rake leaves off campus, though. Charlie has a deal worked with our neighbors where we come and take away their fallen leaves and compost them and use them to mulch our garden beds and farm fields. That will probably start next week. It’s fun—I remember last year how we hitched a cart to one of Joy’s horses and took that cart out along the main road picking up leaf piles….

But the advancing season is making me think of other things, too—all the people graduating. Graduation itself isn’t until February, of course, but after the school year ends at Samhain we won’t see the graduating students very much. I won’t even be on campus very much, though I’ll be here more than I was last year in order to keep my commitment to sleep outside an average of once per week. So it’s like Samhain is the beginning of the end or something.

38 people are graduating this year, including four mastery candidates. I’m not honestly all that concerned about most of them leaving—other than being happy for them, of course. I’m not really friends with most of them and some are people I hardly know. And some aren’t really going anywhere—Arthur, for example, is earning his Green Ring at Brigid, but he’s not leaving. His whole reason for coming here was to get involved in this community, so he’s probably going to stay on as an ally—as long as there’s room he can live on campus for a fee and help out.

But other people—this year’s graduating class includes Rick, Willa, Ham, Jim, three more of the Ravens, and Ebony. And both Rick and Ebony want to come back and get their rings, so they’ll be going into Absence. No offense to any of my friends who are staying on, of course, but right now I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty lonely around here next year.

In the meantime, I’ve started doing my outside thing. This past weekend I spent Saturday night out in my spot—I would have spent Sunday night out also, but that storm was coming in and I turned chicken. My plan is to do two nights a week when I can, so I’ll have the leeway to skip a week when I have to. My parents think I’m crazy, of course. Specifically, my mother is angry that Charlie is “making” me do this. She’s grumbled some about what am I paying room and board for if I’m not allowed to sleep inside. Which is all very strange because my mother loves camping—she and Dad go camping for a few days at a time at least once or twice a year and says she wishes she could afford to do it more often. And she knows I used to love going camping with them. So why is she complaining about Charlie “making” me do something she knows I enjoy and that she wishes she could do herself?

But I’ve long since learned not to worry about my parents’ reactions to this place. It’s just because they love me.