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, February 29, 2016

Year 4: Part 1: Post 5: Mysteries

The new school year is into the swing of itself. now. They hired for the campus jobs the other week, they've evaluated the new students and posted individualized graduation requirements, and Charlie has started his traditional round of workshops and seminars--which I'm helping him with.

One activity I haven't done before was the Graduating Novices Meeting. I really had no idea this even happened and I could not figure out why it should be a secret. I mean, all we did was gather in a group along with Allen and Greg, talk a little about how we felt about our impending graduation, and listen to Allen and Greg talk about how the year would go for us and what the graduation process actually is. Apparently, we'll meet like this about every month. Every group of graduating novices does this.

So, why the secrecy? I asked.

"Because we want you to know there's more going on than meets the eye," said Allen. "Which is true, there is, but not everybody realizes it. We figured the best way to make it obvious was to do a lot of things around campus and not tell you."

He's right--there's always an air of mystery about this place, of vagueness and mutability, as though the stairways and corridors might move when we're not looking, as though house-elves or something might be scurrying about their business just out of sight. I suppose we're among the house-elves.

There's thirty-four of us, plus four mastery candidates who are graduating this coming year, but they didn't meet with us. I hadn't counted us up before, but even if I had, I would have gotten the wrong number because there are two yearlings graduating too, two one-hit-wonders. It's interesting to look at us, all in a group, for the first time. Some of them I obviously know pretty well--the people I started with, the ones in my dorm (including my friend, Eddie), but most of the others I really only know to say hi to. That's kind of embarrassing.

Something I hadn't really appreciated before was that the entire groundskeeping team, except Zoe (a new hire this year--she was on the library team last year), is graduating next Brigid. Charlie will have to hire and train almost a whole new crew. So, really Zoe is not just training to be a team member--she's training to be a team leader, like what Lou was. The leader acts as a supervisor when Charlie isn't available, handing out tasks and making sure everything gets done according to Charlie's standard and nothing is forgotten. It's usually the most experienced person on the team, but we all started at the same time, except for Zoe. I had thought Charlie might pick me, because I had some landscaping experience before coming here, but he picked Donna. I suppose that makes sense, since horticulture is really central to her studies.

Even without leading the groundskeeping group, I really feel like I'm here in a way I haven't before. Like, this whole time I've felt like I'm arriving, and now I have arrived. That feeling of having already left is gone (I'm really glad) and now I'm just really aware that I'm one of the people around here who really knows what's going on. I've been here longer than almost all the other students, I help out with a lot of Charlie's workshops and things, and I know so much about the place, but the identity of all of the trees to where the masters' secret doorway is...and yet I'm thinking about what Allen said about the value of not knowing things.

I caught up with him this morning when we crossed paths in the Great Hall.

"Allen, I don't know all the secrets around here, do I?" I must have sounded worried about it because he laughed.

"No, you don't."

"But what if I did? What and the other masters know all of them, don't you? I mean, you run the school. Does it seem less magical to you, knowing everything?"

"We know what we do," Allen said, "but we don't know what you're going to do."

And he walked off, still laughing gently.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Year 4: Part 1: Post 4: Deer Students

It's weird having Ebony and Rick and Andy gone. I don't mean to imply that I'm grief-stricken, except maybe in a very mild and technical sense--I'll see them again, after all--but campus feels quite different without them.

I do still have friends on campus, though, and there's a whole flock of yearlings to get to know. I'm not socially isolated by any means.

In the meantime, I've been taking apart deer.

Rick was in the habit of patrolling the main road for roadkill. He often ate it himself, or offered it to the campus dogs and cats, if it was a little past fresh, and he and Charlie used a lot of animal parts in their art. Other students do the same still, so I don't know if someone else is going to take up roadkill duty, but I don't think anyone has yet. Anyway, before he left, Rick found and brought in two deer carcasses but he didn't have any immediate use for them. They've been in a box in the barn, frozen.

A few days ago, Charlie thawed them and used them in an anatomy workshop which I attended. Curiously, the workshop wasn't open to yearlings, only to senior students whose primary masters invited them--handling roadkill can be dangerous and Charlie wanted to make sure that everyone involved could be serious and could work quickly, so the meat would not spoil during the dissection. Besides me there was Raven G., Eddie, and Oz, an animist who works in the library and wants to become a large-animal vet.

What we did was dissect the deer, first one and then the other. Workshops have four three-hour class meetings, by definition, and each carcass, one male and one female, as it happens, occupied us for six hours.

What we did was a cross between a scientific dissection and butchering game. We skinned each animal and removed its digestive system, then removed its other internal organs, then stripped the meat from the bones--bit we took the time to name and examine each organ and to note its place in the body and we did not disarticulate the skeletons, nor did we slice through any muscles. We removed each muscle or muscle group whole by cutting its tendons. We also took the time to dissect some structures that didn't actually need it, such as one of the eyeballs. Charlie used an electric bone saw to cut the heads in half, rather than shattering the skull to access the brains (Charlie prefers to brain-tan hides). It took a long time, although not quite as long as a full gross anatomy course would have. We did both carcasses, one after another, so we'd remember more.

Mostly we avoided speaking, except about the work itself (open mouths gather no blood spatters--we wore safety glasses and gloves, too), but there were some lighter moments and some digressions. When Charlie cut open the first of the skulls, Oz said "yum, yum!" and we all laughed.

"My family used to eat sheep's heads when I was little," Charlie commented, mildly. "On special occasions. Cut in half, almost like this." He said the dish was called "kaboo-ootz," or something that sounded like that. It obviously wasn't an English word.

"I thought "head" was capo," said Raven, who knows Charlie's family is Italian. "Or does it being a sheep's head make a difference?"

"I don't know," Charlie said, sound distracted. Then he sat back on his heels and answered Raven more fully. "You're thinking Florentine Italian. Most Italian-Americans aren't Florentines. There are, or were, actually a lot of different Italys, and a lot of different Italian languages. When Italy was unified, Northern Italy, including Florence, was dominant, culturally and economically, which was why so many Southern Italians emigrated. They took their versions of Italian with them. I'm not fluent in my grandparents' dialects, though. I don't know if that word meant sheep's head or just head in general. I learned Florentine Italian in school."

"How many languages do you know, Charlie?" asked Raven.

"I'm fluent or nearly so in five--in French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, and English. I can read Greek and a little Irish."

"That's impressive," said Oz, who doesn't know Charlie that well. He doesn't take compliments gracefully.

"Not really," he said, after staring at her for a few seconds. "There's no reason or excuse for American monolingualism," and he gestured that we should get back to work.

All of us have taken Charlie's "Disassemble a Woodchuck" talks multiple times, and we had to do a lot of preparatory reading before dissecting the deer, so it's not like we went into the experience without a background, but there was a lot to learn and we learned a lot. Typically, he never told us why he was teaching deer anatomy, though, never explained what it had to do with our regular studies. Oz, at least, would be able to use the information in her planned career, but Eddie wants to train service animals, Raven wants to stay in horticulture, and I don't know what I'm going to do, but I have a hard time imagining deer anatomy will have much to do with it. But he always has a reason and on some level we all knew it because we'd all willingly taken the workshop.

At the end he had us all sit in silence for five minutes, which is an extremely long time to just sit there not talking, it feels like eons, and then he asked each of us to say how we felt about the deer and what we'd just done.

"Sad," said Raven, without hesitation. "I don't feel bad about dissecting them or anything, but it's sad that they died. I just feel really sad for them as animals that they had to die this way."

"Excited," said Eddie, though his voice sounded a little puzzled. "I'm not sure why, but all this was fascinating."

"Gross," said Oz, and laughed. "I shouldn't say that, I'm going to be a vet, but this whole thing was just icky."

"I don't know what to call my feeling," I admitted, and they all looked at me. I tried to explain it as bodily sensation and thought, the way Allen taught me when I was a yearling. "My body felt excited but...quiet at the same time. I don't know. I want to know this stuff, it feels like a duty or an honor or something. I don't feel sad or disgusted or...I just feel like it's important to witness this, to understand. It's...beautiful or...something."

I was not at my most articulate and it kind of embarrassed me, but when I was done talking I looked over at Charlie and he was looking at me. His eyes were shining.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Year 4: Part 1: Post 3: Manifesting Love

As usual, I face the problem of writing in the persona of my younger self about things my younger self would not have talked about. By my fourth year on campus I knew there was no point in pretending for my friends, but there was still no way I would have admitted to being a virgin in a public blog! So, in the following post when I say I'd never had a serious relationship with Ebony was pretty serious. It just wasn't sexual. -D.

Well, Valentine's Day has come around again and I have no one to give flowers to. As you may recall, Kit organizes this thing every year where you can have roses sent to people on Valentine's Day. It doesn't have to be anyone romantic, but I'd feel weird about sending roses to someone I didn't have those kinds of feelings for. Last year I sent a rose. This year I didn't.

I thought about it. I could have sent one to someone I still have feelings for, but that would obviously be a bad idea for everybody involved. Or I could have sent flowers to a couple of people I think are cute, but, I don't know, that seems juvenile somehow.

I'm almost twenty-three and I've never been in a serious relationship, and the truth is I don't really know how to get in one. I mean, I'm not a bad-looking guy, but I'm awkward and a half. What, do I just wait for the right person to show up? Isn't there more to it than that?

As I've said, the magic modality I've chosen something called "manifestation," which is something like positive thinking. Basically, you identify what you want to happen and then have faith that it will and then it does. Sometimes. I've given serious thought to trying to manifest romance.

The problem is that even though I've been practicing manifestation for well over a year now, I'm not sure it's actually real. It seems to work--the things I try to manifest usually happen, one way or another. But I don't believe the explanation that Joy provides.

She says that manifestation is another aspect of systems thinking, the idea that everything in the universe is connected and can influence everything else. She says that it is just another version of transforming energy, just like coal, which is cold and dark, can be transformed into heat and light--which she says is simply a higher vibrationational incarnation of the potential inherent in coal.

The problem is that burning coal is not an example of anything being converted to a higher energy state--it is actually conversion to a lower energy state. Coal has more energy, and less entropy, than carbon dioxide and when you burn coal the energy it held is lost forever. We covered this in class--more than one class, actually. I don't understand why nobody seems to remember this but me. Where is the causal mechanism that connects my mind to whether the hiking shoes I want are on sale? That is something I "manifested." I wanted a new pair of good hiking shoes, but couldn't afford them. Then I had an urge to go back to the store and look again, and there they were, deeply discounted, available for the exact value of a gift card I'd gotten for Christmas and happened to have with me that day. But how can "subtle energy" or "systems thinking" connect my wanting hiking shoes to whether the store puts them on discount?

I asked Charlie about it the other day. He was hand-picking aphids off a potted plant in the warm sprouting room off the Greenhouse.

"Charlie, do you do magic?" I began. He looked up at me over the rims of his glasses. He's far-sighted.

"Magic isn't a do, it's an are" he said. "The world is magic. We can be magic. That's the point, or part of it."

Strange how I've been his student for years but he never put it that way to me before, but then, I'd never asked. We'd only ever discussed our work in spiritual terms, saying that he was teaching me the skills of a naturalist so I could "get to know God." Now he was defining it in magical terms as learning to become part of the magic of the world. Either way, it's the same thing.

"That's not what Joy would say," I told him.

"That's why there's more than one of us teaching," he responded.

"How does manifestation work?"

"Surprisingly well, from what I've heard."

"No, I mean how does it work? By what mechanism? Because it doesn't work by the one Joy explains."

He smiled slightly, pleased, and then returned his focus to the aphids.

"There are two possible mechanisms I can think of," he told me. "Both may be in play. Either your intention influences your choices on a subconscious level--we generally know more than we can articulate--or confirmation bias leads you to remember those events that seem to manifest your intention more clearly than those that don't. However, the latter is not a good reason not to engage in the discipline."

"Why not?"

"Because if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained. Optimism is encouraging."

The last of the aphids squished to green paste between his fingers and he blew at the plant, a kind of final cleaning, like an artist blowing pastel dust off of a completed drawing.

I don't at this point see how that helps me with my woman-troubles, but it's something to think about. For now, the most helpful thing might actually be something Greg told me years ago--that his version of magic, alchemy, is all about transformation, and that transformation changes things but it's seldom possible to know what is going to change or how.

The night before Valentine's Day, I helped Kit and several others cut and trim the little tea roses she grows and then we delivered them to the recipients' door-ways to be found, as if by magic, in the morning.

I didn't give any roses this year. And yet I gave all of them.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Year 4: Part 1: Post 2: Feeling Weird

So, this is my last year. I'm still kind of blown away by it.

I'm not the only one, of course. There are at least thirty-four of us graduating next Brigid--more, if any of the new yearlings turn out to be one-hit-wonders. Ten of us are fourth-years. We were yearlings together. It feels like that was a million years ago.

Dan, who is, I always add, not me, has become a competent Wiccan priest and a gifted violinist. He's a good storyteller, too, and doesn't put his foot in his mouth as much as he used to.

Joanna is now  a Wiccan priest and spellworker with an interest in someday becoming a women's studies professor. I still can't quite speak coherently in her presence and she still teases me every chance she gets.

Raven G., the last of the Ravens, my fellow horticulturalist, is an animist very much after Charlie's model.

Sally, one of Joy's students, is even younger than me but is now a skilled horsewoman. I don' think I've talked about her at all, but she works in the library so I've actually talked with her a lot--usually about the location of one or another book I needed.

There's Brad, a martial artist, a student of Karen's and a member of the security team. Darren is also on the security team, but wants to become a therapist. Diane and Donna are both fellow students of Charlie, and Dillon studies both martial arts and Zen flower arrangement.

(Nora and Kayla are fourth years, too, of course, but aren't graduating with us)

But among all of these people there are none who have ever done this before--started their final year. By definition, anyone who has is already gone. And yeah, I feel weird about it.

"'Weird' isn't the name of a feeling," said Allen, when I talked to him about it at breakfast. He was giving me a hard time. When I was a yearling in group therapy he made a point of getting us to name our feelings.

"Disconcerted, then," I amended. "Slightly anxious."


"I don't want to leave," I told him. Greg nodded. Greg, Allen, Dillon, and Raven G, and I were all having breakfast together. The Dining Hall sounded really noisy after months away from it, and, at least to me, the whole thing seemed nearly elgiaic.

Allen nodded, too.

"When I graduated," he said, "I was nearly grief-stricken. I was a one-hit wonder. It wasn't long enough."

"So, you came back?" said Dillon.

"I did, although that's not exactly why. If you can't make it on the outside emotionally, you'd have a hard time getting hired here."

"I'm not there yet," said Dillon. "I'm still here, I don't want to worry about whether I'm coming back."

"Grief-stricken?" repeated Raven.


"Maybe that's what I'm feeling," I volunteered. "It's like nothing here is real anymore. It's like I've already left. And it feels like I just got here."

"That's not unusual," said Greg. "As you get older and more mature, you'll get better at coping with loss, better at moving gracefully through beginnings and endings."

"I hadn't thought gracelessness was my problem."

"Of course not," Greg said, with some humor. I didn't understand. "But you said there's no one left who's been through what you're experiencing. That's not true. All of us in the master's group, except me, have been graduating students. And it's not like we don't know you're graduating. Have fun with it, meet your final credit requirements, and we will have events scheduled throughout the year to help you make sense of the transition. That's our job, after all."

You know, thinking about what Greg does for a living--mostly, he teaches meditation--you'd kind of think he'd advise me to stay in the moment. I mean, getting upset about leaving when leaving is still almost a whole year away--it's not really very Zen. He could also have said snap out of it, because nothing is really wrong. It's not like graduating from college is a tragedy. But instead he tells us that feeling a bit freaked out is normal, that we're not alone, and to have fun.

I guess neither Greg, nor any of the other masters, like to spend much time on the obvious truths.