Well, the school year is over. Chapel Hall is closed down and winterized, the Dining Hall is closed down except that they're still using the kitchen to finish the last of the canning and drying, and about half the campus has gone home.
Yearlings, like Steve Bees are, of course, still here--they have to be. The program requires a minimum residency of a year and a day. But of senior students who are not graduating in February, less than a dozen of us are left and more will head out eventually. I'll stay through Yule and then go home for Christmas and not come back until Brigit, like I did last year.
I'd kind of like to stay, and I've heard others say the same thing, but the deal is if you aren't here you don't have to pay the room and board fee, which is $100 per week. That's not bad, compared to how much you'd have to pay for food, rent, and utilities if you were living in an apartment or something, but it still adds up. My job at the landscaping company will lay me off when the snow flies, so being able to save a few hundred dollars by going home has a real appeal. That, and I miss my parents.
The graduating group is a whole other situation, by the way. Some of them head home for a week or two, or travel for a while, but mostly they say here--but they spend a lot of time doing things together, apart from the rest of campus. So we don't see them, much. I tried to get Ebony to tell me what they're doing, but of course she doesn't really know yet and she said she won't tell me when she does find out. She suspects it's some sort of magic that only works if it's a surprise. She's probably right.And this week she's off visiting her mother.
So campus is pretty quiet, now.
Rick is still here. He's graduating, so I'm not going to see much of him in the coming weeks, but I saw him today in the Great Hall. He was riding the rocking llama--it's a giant wooden rocking horse type sculpture covered with a real llama skin and like everything else whimsical around here, most of us take it for granted or just look at it and think about it sometimes, but you can ride it and Rick was. The Hall was dark, as it often is in the mornings, especially when it's cloudy out. No one was around and I was on my way through to the library and I almost walked past without seeing him.
"Situational awareness, Kretzman," Rick said when I noticed him and startled. "If I'd been a predator, you'd have been lunch." Kretzman is my last name.
"You are a predator," I told him. "And so am I." He hunts and while I do not, I did my symbolic hunt with Charlie last year. And I've helped both of them butcher their kills. And I eat meat, which makes me morally culpable.
"Very true. And I have caught a llama." He rocked on it some, and grinned. "How can you be a good tracker without good situational awareness? They're part of the same skill. More and more, I'm thinking of awareness as tracking in present tense. I wish I could teach it, awareness."
I tried not to let my feelings get hurt--I think I'm a pretty good
tracker by now, and Rick has taught me, but my situational awareness is
still poor unless I'm deliberately working at it. I still daydream a
lot, when I'm not in the woods.
"Talk to Greg," I told him instead. "He teaches awareness of a kind."
"Good idea. But I'm not going to be here long enough to teach anything. So that means you'll have to. You might learn something."
"Is that an assignment, teacher mine?" I asked. I'm sure I sounded irritable. Rick has taught me much, but he's still a novice, just like me. I don't like it when he gets this mocking, commandeering tone. I picked up the model of the Whale and the Mariner from the story How the Whale Got His Throat and I looked at the thing. It had a sticker on the bottom that said $2, but I can't imagine anyone selling it for that little and I can't imagine it being anything other than made for the school. I sometimes get distracted like that when I'm upset by something.
"If you choose to accept it," Rick answered, still mocking me.
I put the Whale and the Mariner back on the mantelpiece with a bit of a bang and stared at him. He grinned and won--I looked away. It just wasn't worth it.
"You arrogant prick," I told him. "I'm going to miss you, though."
"Yes, I expect you will."
I was in a mood to feel hurt at that, too, but it's just how Rick is. He doesn't miss people and he doesn't pretend to. It isn't a rejection, coming from him.
"What are you going to do when you leave?" I asked. I knew he's planning on going to grad school for forestry, but I don't think those programs start until Fall, and anyway I don't even know if he's applied.
"I dunno. I'm going to take some time off from school, I think, and work. I need some money."
"I hear you. Especially if you're starting grad school in the Fall."
He shrugged and rocked on the llama some more.
"I'm taking a year off. I'll start in '04. I want to take some time off and work. I can't do both at once."
"Ok, that makes sense."
"Of course it does." He was quiet for a while and leaned forward on the neck of the llama. "I want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail," he said suddenly. "Do you want to come? After you graduate, I mean?"
"Yes!" I said immediately, though I'd never thought of such a thing before. "But I want to work before grad school, too, and I don't want to take a whole year off. I don't think I'll have time."
"So, make time," said Rick, shrugging again. "Maybe only do part of it."
"I'll think about it," I said. "For now, I have to go get that mycology book from the library."
"Don't bother--someone left it in the Herbarium."
So I went to the Herbarium. When I walked back through the Great Hall, Rick was gone.