Last night it snowed.
It was the first snowfall of the year, as far as I know. There could have been a flurry or two at night while I was inside. An odd thing about this weekly camping thing is that I'm starting to think I'm missing things when I'm inside, the way I used to think I was missing things if I were away from the TV for a while.
But anyway, this morning when I went out for a walk at dawn there was snow on the ground, just an inch and a half and already a little crusty. A cold front had swept in on the heals of a warm snow, and dawn lit up a rapidly clearing sky. Campus was utterly silent, except for the occasional rustle of snow falling off pine or spruce trees or the distant sound of a truck out on the main road.
I walked around until I started to get cold and the sun was well up, then I headed back towards the Mansion for breakfast.
I walked up the roadway behind the building, the side where we park the veggie-diesel vans and cars, the side that faces the line of conifers and the Formal Garden and the Berry Orchard. And there in the parking lot I crossed a line of tracks. They were human footprints, bare feet. Charlie.
Charlie thinks it's funny to leave bare footprints in snow, just to mess with people. Unfortunately for him, hardly anyone ever notices the prints and even fewer people ever comment on them. Those of us likely to notice such things are, pretty much by definition, his students and we already know he would do something like that, so we're not puzzled. But he tries now and then anyway.
The footprints came off the back porch of the Meditation Room--he'd come out of the secret door the masters use, shoveled those steps clear to destroy his prints, and then come up on the porch and left his shoes and socks there--and then went out towards the Flat Field. They did not come back, so he must still be out there. Even Charlie wouldn't walk very far barefoot in the snow. So I followed.
There's a little spinney of shrubs there clustered around an old deciduous magnolia that predates the school. The tracks went around that, so I followed them. But Charlie wasn't on the other side of the spinney--the tracks curved around. So I followed, and pretty quickly completed the circle, passing the place where my tracks, and Charlie's, came in. I stopped a moment, listening; no noise, which meant he had stopped walking when I did. Footfalls in snow are muffled, but not soundless. I thought about calling out to him, but elected instead to follow around--after all, he was barefoot and I was not. He'd get cold first.
We went around and around three times and I never heard him or found any evidence of his presence besides the ever-increasing number of footprints. I might have been following a foot-printing ghost. Or, of course, a woozil. I started to wonder if I was going to hear Christopher Robin call out to be from up in a tree.
Finally I caught up to him--he waited for me on the far side of the spinney, looking out over the Flat Field and the Edge of the World and the Enchanted Forest, out over the road and out into the valley and beyond to the far hills. He was standing there for all the world like he'd been there the whole time (and wasn't barefoot). I hadn't seen him in weeks.
"Nice sunrise this morning," he commented, still looking out over the world. Although, of course, that direction faces south and southwest, not east.
"Yeah," I agreed. "I thought you might go inside while I was coming around."
He grunted, as though he would never do such a thing, never cheat on a game.
"Hey, Charlie, it's good to see you."
He grunted again, and this time there was a little bit of a growl in it--which he pretty much undid by flashing me a quick, fond smile, before reverting to his brooding observation of the snowscape. It was as though he was worried someone might see us and realize he's not as anti-social as he pretends to be.
I laughed a little.
"I've kinda missed you," I told him. There was no 'kinda' about it, of course, but I didn't want to sound too over-the-top. I didn't just mean since Samhain, we've hardly really spent time together this year. This morning felt like the first time we'd really connected in months.
He gave a kind of shrug, nodding his head to acknowledge the situation.
"I've been busy," he said.
"I know. Listen, are you doing to be involved with Yule decorations, or should we report to Karen?" I couldn't think of anything else to say that wasn't mushy.
"Report to Karen, and she will coordinate with me. I think she'll reach out to you later this week. I might be involved."
"Got it. Listen, I'm going in to breakfast now, so you can stop pretending your feet aren't freezing."
"Oh, thank God."
And so, laughing, we both went inside, me in through the Meditation Hall and he, after picking up his shoes and socks, in through the secret door, which he knows I know about.
I still haven't told anyone else.