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.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 4: A Deer Class

Remember a while back, that deer anatomy seminar with Charlie? We dissected two deer? Well, a couple of weeks ago I bumped into Charlie carrying the bones across campus in boxes--he has this wire mesh cage he uses to let bones rot clean without larger animals being able to steal them, and he'd cleaned both deer. He uses bone for a lot of his artwork.

I asked him, conversationally, if he had plans for these bones and he said not at the moment. I thought a little about the bones being like a puzzle, and then I got an idea. I asked if I could borrow the bones, and he said yes.

My idea was to do a seminar--that is, a mini-course with two meetings--around assembling the skeletons. Actually, my idea was to do the seminar with Rick, since he and I have done things like that before, mostly the tracking workshops, but Rick isn't here. So, I figured why not do it myself? So I talked to Charlie and Sharon about it.

I forget if I've mentioned, but anyone can teach anything here--whether any students show up to learn is another matter. Also, there's no guarantee the masters will decide something a student teaches carries credit. In my case, Charlie usually speaks up for me and my mini-courses do carry a little credit. And a few students usually do show up.

Now that classes have started up, there are many fewer workshops and seminars and things--there's no rule against scheduling something in competition with a full class, but hardly anyone would be available to show up. But we do have optional class blocks in the evening and on Saturday, and sometimes there are events then.

What I did was I brought all the bones into the barn in their boxes and then laid them out on a blue tarp, with the two skeletons mixed together. I insisted participants wear fitted clothing (not school uniforms, with their wide-ish sleeves, that they were comfortable getting dirty, and I gave everyone nitrile gloves to wear--even cleaned, pathogens could still cling to the bones. Then I challenged the participants (there were eight of them, mostly yearlings) to reassemble the skeletons and I let them go.

I stood around, answering some questions but not others, making occasional suggestions, and providing food for thought, now and then. Or, trying to, anyway. They did well, organizing themselves around an initial sorting process without my help, and got the bones sorted into two animals and all the major functional groups. Then they got stuck. There were bones they could not sort, some they sorted wrong, and they were unclear how most of the bones within each category fit together. That was ok. We brain-stormed about how they might go about getting farther along, what kinds of resources they might use to learn deer skeletal anatomy, and then I assigned homework and let them go.

The homework was a kind of manual I'd put together with the help of a Xerox machine in town explaining what all of the bones were and how they fit together.

When we met again, they were all better informed and had their manuals with them and so the assembly went much better, as expected. I'd unsorted their bones, which bothered some of them but couldn't be helped (I could hardly leave them spread out all over the barn!) and it didn't take long to get the bones re-sorted. I again answered questions, but this time I also made occasional corrections if I saw people persistently getting something wrong. They got the bones all in the proper order (we didn't glue or wire them, just laid them down next to each other) by the end of the class.

I didn't have them try without instruction first in order to make them feel bad--and I tried to be clear about that--but so that when they finally got the information, they'd be looking for it. They'd know the significance of the answers because they were already asking the questions.

When I turned in my evals to Sharon--basically I just have to affirm that everybody passed, it's a required formality if your event carries credit--she asked how it went. I said it had gone ok, and then I said something about really feeling like a senior student now, or enjoying getting more involved in my final year, I forget my exact wording.

"You're not really acting like a senior student," she told me, smiling. "You're acting like a candidate."

Monday, March 28, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 3: Learning Oppotrunities

Note; in 2003, when this narrative is set, Easter occurred in late April. Sometimes I play around with timing to make holiday posts match up better--indeed, Ostar was on the 21st that year, on a Friday--but this difference is just too big. So I'm going to write my Easter post in April and just mention Easter in the narrative today.

Classes have started. It feels a little odd for me to have homework again and everything, because I haven't had classes since last Summer, but I'm sure I'll get used to it pretty quickly.

I have three courses this semester, plus horticulture, and I work off-campus on Mondays--so, that's only ten hours a week, but maybe I'll manage more later in the season, and I've put in a bunch of hours the last few weeks, mostly cleaning and repairing things at the shop and cleaning out and re-mulching customer beds, so I have some money in the bank already for the year.

So, Tuesday afternoons I have Energy, Ethics, and Honor, with Karen. We've met once so far, and it's one of the few classes I've taken here that is directly focused on the "impossible" kind of magic. Basically, it's about the part of martial arts that isn't fighting--it's healing, energy manipulation, and how to live, what to do.

The healing part is Reiki, which I'm already taking outside of the regular class blocks with Joy, but Karen says she'll touch on it here, for students who haven't explored it yet. It will be interesting to see Reiki from a different perspective.

The other aspect of "energy" is more about perception and intuition. Like, this week we were visualizing balls of energy and passing them around to each other. We also moved through crowds with our eyes closed--that was fun. There are ten of us in the class, plus Karen, and we took turns being "It." The "it" person would be blindfolded and then would walk through the martial arts studio where we have the class--except the other students would be spread out through the room, standing silently. The challenge was to not bump into anybody, and the thing is, none of us did bump into anyone. When I did it, it was weird, but right when I got close to someone I'd feel a kind of tingling tension in their direction and I'd know to turn away. Even weirder, I thought I knew who some of them were. It was like I could see them. The whole thing made me think of Ebony.

The other thing we'll do is talk about ethics and proper behavior. We haven't done much of that, yet, because it depends on homework--we'll read stories about people making various choices and then we'll talk about our readings and our own experiences in class--and then spend the balance of class time doing the energy exercises. It sounds, so far, like two different classes, but I imagine they'll merge at some point.

On Thursday afternoons I'm taking Sacred Threads: American Religious History, with Greg. The idea of "threads" is part of the structure of the class in that we're going to be exploring a lot of different histories of different religions, sects, and religious movements, and compiling them all into the same timeline so we can see how each thread interacts with the others. The one class meeting we had so far was mostly introduction, talking about the various assignments and so forth, but Greg did have us talk about what we knew about American religious history--which wasn't much, which I guess was the point. As is the case for a lot of Greg's classes, we're doing a lot of reading for homework and then mostly using class time for discussion. Should be interesting.

My third class, on Friday afternoons, is also with Greg--American History of Dissent. It's going to focus on labor, civil rights, gay rights, women's rights, and similar groups, plus right-wing movements, and even hate groups. We did have homework before the first day of class, which is unusual but not unheard of around here--we had to read the novel, Storming Heaven, by Denise Giardina, which I did not at all mind doing. We won't be using fiction very much, Greg says, and we're not starting with the unionization of coal mining, which is what the book is about. We're starting, not surprisingly, with the American Revolution. Greg figured we all knew the basics of it so we could discuss it without any particular preparation, and he was right. But he wanted to use the book to set the mood--and maybe establish that some aspects of this class are going to be fun, despite the heavy subject matter. I mean, the book is pretty heavy, but it's an easy read, and using fiction to teach history is a little light-hearted.

Not surprisingly, Steve Bees is taking both of those classes with Greg, too--he takes most things Greg teaches, and of course is interested in both political dissent and religion. On the way out of class on Friday I conversationally asked him what he's planning to do for Easter.

"Now, there's another dissenter," he said.



"Oh, of course."

"That part kind of gets lost."

"Not here it doesn't," I told him.

"I guess not."

"Of course it doesn't. Now that Andy and Ollie are gone, you're the most vocal Christian on campus. The most vocally Christian one, anyway." Almost a fifth of the student body is Christian, but most of them are pretty casual about it and they're here to study things that don't quite fit within standard Christianity. They're like me, I guess. Steve is one of the few who is really into the religion, instead of treating it as background.

"I guess I am," he said, but he was smiling. Unlike Andy and Ollie, Steve is perfectly comfortable with paganism.

“So, what are you doing for Easter?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’m thinking of staying here.”

“Really? Not going to be with your girlfriend or seeing family?”

“My family is in Ohio, my girlfriend hasn’t invited me yet, and anyway, you guys are like my family. I’m trying to think about where I’ll be most useful, and I’m thinking it’s here. We’re a minority, as you said. We have to stick up for each other.”

I should explain, in case you don’t remember, that we don’t get an Easter break. If your parents live too far away for a weekend visit to make sense, you’re kind of stuck.
I made some kind of acknowledging noise. We were standing just inside the door of Chapel Hall—the weather was really windy outside and raw so we didn’t want to go out right away. We wouldn’t be able to talk out there, for one thing.

“What about you?” he asked. “Are you going or staying?”

“Going, I think. My Dad might disown me otherwise.” I saw Steve’s face and amended myself quickly. “I don’t mean literally, but I think he’d be upset, maybe hurt. And there’s the rest of my family. I don’t see them often enough.”

“Well, you’d better go then. Too bad, though, we could use you here."

Friday, March 25, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 2: Creature of Habit

Happy Second Half of Spring, I suppose. Remember, according to Kit, spring started back in February.

My project of sleeping outdoors several times a week continues. I like it. I don't mean I always like doing it--there are days when I'd much rather be inside--but I like the project as a whole. It's getting to seem pretty homey out there. Anyway, because I always stay ahead of schedule, with a higher average of nights outside than I actually need, if I really don't want to go out for whatever reason, I don't usually have to.

It's just so beautiful out there--and I get so much of it, whole nights, sometimes whole days, when I used to mostly only go outside for a few minutes between one thing and another. I used to go whole weeks without getting a good view of the stars. There is a rightness to this.

In any case, I'm not just sitting around out there enjoying myself, I also have assignments frm Charlie.

Over the Fall and Winter, I have to identify every woody plant growing in my site, keep a running long of animal sightings, and write reports on the local soil types and on the geologic context of the place. That last, with geology, seemed easy, at first, because I've already covered much the same material for a class, but then Charlie had me write another report on how I'd look up the geology of an area I hadn't studied in class. He does that a lot--if an assignment seems easy to me, it's a good bet he's going to have me elaborate on it somehow. And everything has to be in ordinary language, so he can be sure I really understand it and am not just parroting jargon.

Now, the assignments are getting more seasonal. I still have to keep up my log of animal sightings, but I also have to keep lists of what's sprouting and flowering each week within my site. For a while he had me measuring bud lengths, presumably so I could see how they swelled and shrank with the changing weather. He's had me measure the circumference of many of the tree trunks and the lengths of certain branches. I'm looking to record the dates and times of my first sightings of various insects--I've seen flies, beetles, and ants, so far, but no bees, wasps, or butterflies. The list awaits their appearance.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, and in a way it is. I mean, it occupies some time, you know? But it doesn't occupy as much time as you'd think because most of it--the observing part--is what I'd be doing anyway. I mean, I've gotten used to paying attention to all of this stuff, so the only real extra thing I have to do is write stuff down.

Why is he having me do this? It's not for Charlie's edification, obviously. I think it's to remind me to pay attention, to keep the habit fresh.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 1: Ostar

Happy Ostar.

I didn't win the egg hunt this year. I didn't even compete. Instead, this year I judged it. Or, I helped, anyway.

As I've explained before, for Ostar, which is kind of like Easter, we have an egg hunt, except that instead of looking for dyed and deliberately hidden chicken eggs, we look for real, wild eggs or nests, take pictures of them, and then compete to see who has the best pictures. There aren't very many birds actually nesting at this time of year, but we expand it a bit by also including amphibian and insect eggs--though not all the competitors know that. You get points for creativity and boldness around here.

Anyway, my first year my partner and I did ok. My second year, Charlie told me to make sure I won--which I did, by finding a lot of nests in the weeks before the competition and then deliberately partnering with an excellent photographer. Last year I made no particular effort to win, but I had fun partnering with Ebony, who tried her hand at photography.

This year--I've already won, and could win again, so what's the point? And Ebony isn't here anymore. So I didn't know what to do. I wanted some kind of challenge, I wanted my last Ostar as an undergraduate to be special, but I didn't know what to do. I was feeling kind of glum about it and said something to Charlie the other week when we were cleaning up from the tracking workshop.

I mean his tracking workshop--I taught my own also, this year, the one Rick and I developed, but this time, of course, I did it on my own.

"Are you getting ready for Ostar?" I began. I wasn't being very helpful at that moment--I was just sitting backward on a chair in the Rose Room, my head on my arms on the chair-back. Like I said, I was feeling glum.

"I don't really need need to do much," he told me. "I've been doing this awhile."

"What does it involve?" I asked him, interested.

"I have to make sure I have enough cameras, I have to get the prizes, and I have to know what's happening on campus so I can correctly assess the photos. Which nests are from last year and so forth."

"I thought you did that part from the pictures?"

"If I see a picture of a robin's nest, I know it's from last year," he explained. Robins aren't nesting yet. "But I can't see everything. And if I see a picture taken from right next to something obvious I know that whoever took it is oblivious. I'll deduct points."

"I guess you have to make a lot of informed judgment calls."

"Why don't you help?" he said, growling a bit, and gestured at the room. The students had left it a mess.

"Sorry." I got up and scurried around, collecting misplaced books, lost water bottles, and bits of trash. Then I thought of something. "Why don't I help, though?"

He looked up at me and raised his eyebrows.

"With the egg hunt?" I explained. "Will you teach me to judge the contest?"

"Sure. Meet me tomorrow at breakfast and we'll talk about it."

And he finished packing up his gear and left, trusting me to stay behind and sweep.

And so that's what I did. I learned the location and status of every bird nest, every clump of frog jelly, and most of the larger insect egg-cases on campus. I learned what the various plants were doing for spring--which ones were breaking dormancy, which sprouting, which ones would hold off another month or so. I learned, mostly by rote, which birds weren't nesting yet but would eventually and what they are doing now. Some of it I'd known already. Some of it was new. And on Ostar I judged the contest, with Charlie watching over my shoulder and making suggestions and pronouncements as needed.

He never told the rest of campus that I'd been involved. I don't know why he kept quiet about it, but I decided to follow his lead. Perhaps he doesn't want me being treated like a quasi-master, given that I'm already helping him out with a lot of stuff and starting to teach my own workshops. Then again, maybe it's just secrecy for secrecy's sake. I'd known he had students assist him with the contest, just as I know he has other students on other projects of his (like the spies he sends out to make sure I'm still paying attention to birds) but he never publicly acknowledges who they are or exactly what they're all doing. You find out when the subject comes up, if it comes up, in conversation. Maybe he's trying to make himself seem all-knowing and mysterious. Maybe he just doesn't see the point in acknowledging us and therefor doesn't bother.

Anyway, so I didn't compete in the contest, but I did wander around, checking everything out, looking to make sure no one stressed the birds (I was one of several spies assigned that duty) and generally enjoying the day--which turned out to be snowy. It was a wet snow, not very cold, but there was a lot of it and it came down all throughout the day, inches and inches piling up, silently. Not surprisingly, not a lot of people found nests and we didn't get many pictures to judge, but we got a few and found a winner.

One image sticks in my head from the day particularly, and I don't mean a photograph.

I was walking down the front driveway, through the corridor of sugar maples, when I saw Steve Bees standing just on the other side of the trees in the snow, with an expensive-looking camera around his neck, grinning.

The snow was landing in his hair, probably on his eye lashes, and sticking to his shirt-front and he was grinning like a delighted little boy.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Year 4: Interlude 1

Hi, all, It's Daniel-of-2016 here.

Happy St. Patrick's Day (I'm writing this Thursday night), although as far as I know, none of my heritage is Irish. My last name sounds German, but I really don't know much about where my family is from. Perhaps I'll ask my parents, see if they know. Anyway, June's family isn't Irish, either, but we're celebrating anyway. Largely, I think, because June and I are bored and needed an excuse to do something different.

Not that “bored” means “having nothing to do,” you understand. We have a three year old. But we got bored with our typical version of busy and decided to do something else.

What we did was to invite over a pile of people and serve pizza (it was Pi Day earlier this week, after all) and green cupcakes and watch The Secret of Roan Innish.

The guest list—you’ve heard of most of them, Allen, Lo, Alexis, Kayla and Aidan—but Steve Bees wasn’t married thirteen years ago, so I haven’t told you about his wife and their two kids. I don’t know Sarah very well (this is not the same Sarah as the farm manager from school, obviously), since she’s seldom healthy enough to socialize much, but our families have spent a lot of time together because their younger son, Charlie (yes, named after my teacher) is just a year older than Carly and they play together. Their older son, Sean, is almost eight and is sort of an unofficial kid brother to Aidan, who was a Sprout with Alexis.

Anyway, we actually got take-out pizza, which I hardly ever do, but we made the cupcakes from scratch. Not that Carly actually cares what the cupcakes are as long as there is icing on top. She actually iced all of them for us, after we showed her how, while telling us this long, involved story about how she had supposedly had cupcakes in all different colors, “pink and gween and lellow and puple,” when she had a St. Patrick’s Day party when she was our age. She says that a lot, “when I was your age,” and I have friends who are convinced it’s evidence she has past life memories, but actually that’s what she does with phrases she hears but doesn’t understand. For a whole week she found a way to introduce almost every statement with the word “technically.” We’ve been following the primary coverage, so she’s started talking about “superdelegates.” She has no idea what any of these things mean.

I'm thinking of bumping back up to two posts per week, though I don't know if I'll have time. After all,I’ve started to teach workshops and things for the group of new students we have, plus a group of us are trying to get this interconnected group of businesses off the ground, and none of this is paid yet so I have to keep doing everything else I was doing for money before. Plus, as I said, I have a three year old. So, we’ll see.

I like to add some extra information about the narrative during these interludes, but nothing jumps out at me right now. Maybe it’s because I’m tired. My attention has been pre-empted by My Little Pony cartoons, “gween” icing, and the prospect of little naked seal babies beaching their cradles upon formerly abandoned islands.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Year 4: Part 1: Post 7: Standards

As I expected, it has snowed again. We got three inches yesterday morning and nearly all of it melted by noon. I slept outside that night and woke in an odd darkness, since my tarp was covered in a thin layer of snow. I pushed it back and watched the flakes falling around me all pretty and white and silent. On the way way back to the Mansion the snow lit on my hair and my eyelashes and filled in my tracks behind me as I walked.By late afternoon I was carrying around landscaping rocks in a wheelbarrow in short sleeves.

I'm getting to know the new students--I know most of their names, now, which is kind of surprising because there are thirty-five of them, but I've been working at it. As usual, there are weird double-ups, notably Michael, Michelle, Mickey, and Mike, and yet another Raven, except this one is male. There is now a second Nora as well. She is twenty years old and works in the Dining Hall, though she says her interest is in medicine. She has three years of college behind her (and two to go, given our unusual graduation requirements) and was a sociology major, but now wants to become either a doctor or a nurse (I had lunch with her the day before yesterday and we talked).

The original Nora is doing fine. She's starting her second year as a fully enrolled student, and you wouldn't know she started here really young unless she told you.

I was about to say she's getting pretty normal, but of course I mean normal for here. I tend to forget, these days, those most people on the outside are not intellectually gifted witches.

Anyway, it's weird thinking about how I must seem to these new people. I'm the quiet guy who seems to know everything about everybody and who lives in the woods half the time. I wear my uniform even when I don't have to, like Charlie does, and, like Charlie, I'm usually barefoot unless there's actually snow on the ground. I watch bugs, I listen to birds. I am entirely entertained watching one of the house spiders build its web in the corner of the library.

To myself I'm still awkward and ignorant, but to them I'm getting downright wizardish.

I don't think they're wrong about me, in all honesty, but I don't think I'm wrong about myself, either. My standards have simply been raised.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Year 4: Part 1: Post 6: Better than Chance

Campus is getting recognizably springlike.

The snow has mostly melted away, and while I'm fairly sure more is going to fall before the end of the month, it's good to see the grass again. Nothing much has greened up yet, but the red maples are flowering and many of the other trees' buds are swelling--the sort of things I wouldn't have noticed a few years ago, but now I look for it. The weather's cold and raw more often than not, and even the warm days are warm only in a relative sense, but relative warmth matters,and it's nice to be able to sit outside in just a sweatshirt and enjoy the sunlight.

I was doing exactly that the other day, sitting on the Mansion porch enjoying the sunlight. I'd been planning on going in to work that morning--my job with the landscapers off-campus was supposed to start up again this week, but my boss called at the last minute and told me not to bother. There's something wrong with the plumbing at the shop, so he decided to delay starting the season while he fixes it. And since I'd cleared my schedule in order to work, without work I had nothing to do but sit in the sun.

But instead of getting warmer, I gradually got colder. I'd spent the night outside in the cold damp and then I'd overslept until nearly breakfast time so I couldn't get a hot shower, and I couldn't really get warm after the chill of the night.

Anyway, so I went inside and wandered into the library, where Aaron was playing cards on a computer. It was an odd thing for him to do--we don't have an unlimited supply of electricity on campus, and we all have a habit of not using power unless we really need it. So for Aaron to be using a computer, rather than a deck of cards, to play cards seemed odd. But maybe he was waiting while the computer did something else in the background. Aaron does a lot of work on the computers. He's comfortable with them in a way most of the rest of us aren't.*

I stood behind him and watched. Of course, he was playing Solitaire, but it wasn't the kind I was familiar with. There was more than one deck involved and the layout pattern was different.

"What are you playing?"



"Yeah. They say every game is winnable. It's not true, but most of them are. It's more skill-based than most solitaire games."

"What skill?" I asked, genuinely curious. "What does it involve?"

"You move cards here, you move them there." He kept playing as he spoke, as if his mind were only half on the conversation. That was ok with me. It didn't seem like a very important discussion. He continued. "The thing is, it's not really direct. You can't usually win just by making the obviously helpful moves. There aren't enough of them. So you move them here and move them there to gradually get closer to the circumstance that will allow you to win. Like this. There are no obviously helpful moves, but if I do this and this and this, I free up some extra cards and get closer to opening up an empty column. That puts me in a better position to use whatever comes up in the next deal."

"Like life?"

"Yeah, kind of."

"You could teach some kind of magic course that way, couldn't you? Playing life like a spider solitaire game, making oblique progress towards your goals by rearranging this and that and gradually opening up room so you can make the most of luck?"

Aaron seemed to take the idea at least semi-seriously, nor did he seem at all surprised by it. He did chuckle a little bit.

"It wouldn't be a very encouraging magic, though," he said. "I mean, I'm doing well to get a win rate of 4%. And in real life there's no 'undo' command."

"You have a point."

"Yes, I do...but there's a long history of using cards for divination. Playing cards and Tarot cards aren't that different. And a Solitaire card game is kind of like an active, moving, Tarot spread. A passive, receptive activity is divination, an active, manipulative version of the same activity is magic."

I thought about this for a bit.

"Well, what would be the win rate without skill," I asked. "What could be expected from chance? Seems to me, the measure of magic is not how often you succeed, but how much more often you succeed than you would otherwise? Maybe life is just plain hard?"

And Aaron stopped playing his game for a moment to look up at me.

"You're getting pretty clever, you know that?" he said.

* Campus seemed to be about ten years behind the rest of America as far as electronics. This was in 2003, and while the rest of the country was more or less online all the time, the school was only starting to explore integrating computers into our programs. There was no rule addressing it yet--that came a few years later--but the campus culture effectively discouraged personal electronics, including cell phones.--D.

Monday, March 7, 2016


Hi, everybody;

Today is shaping up to be absurdly busy, so I'm going to post this week on Friday. See you then!

-best, C.