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.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Year 4: Part 3: Post 1: Beltane

Happy Beltane!

Every year we do roughly the same thing—and we do something completely different. This year, for example, we got rained on.

For three years now, Beltane for me has been about celebrating the newly warm, beautiful  weather outdoors. If it wasn’t exactly summer in the normal sense of the word, still I could believe it was the beginning of the warm, green season, and since I never really celebrated Beltane before I got here, that’s how I thought of it; outdoor picnics and flowers. But I suppose it has to rain on Beltane sometimes, and this year it rained on us—a cold, soaking, spitting rain all day long.

This year we began with the Maypole, right after breakfast. It wasn’t really raining yet, only sort of drizzly. The children’s dance went first, and then before we were halfway through the first song, the sky let loose. The first song was, as usual, “Celebrations,” by Cool and the Gang, and I have to say that being rained on caused no problem for us at all—we just got sillier, slopping through the wet grass, our uniforms getting all clingy and uncomfortable with rain, and all of us determined to have a great time anyway. 

The other new thing about that Maypole is that I, for the first time, danced as a woman.
I haven’t uncovered some inner feminine or anything, I just decided that if I ever wanted to just pretend to be a woman for the day because why not, I had better do it here on campus and this year would be my last chance in a while. So I did it. It was weird how hard it was—the only thing I did differently was grab the other color ribbon and dance the other way around the circle, it’s not like I wore heels and a bra or anything, and it’s not like I had to be female in any meaningful way. And nobody was going to tease me or second-guess me, it was the most minimal, no-big-deal thing in the world, and yet I was really scared to do it. Like, really scared.

Anyway, of course everything was fine. I ended up facing Steve Bees at the end—he did a sort of double-take when he saw me—which was, yes, a little weird for me, too, but I was happy to spend the day with him under whatever circumstances. As I’ve mentioned, there’s a blessing at the end that’s a little different for men verses women, and Steve gave me the women’s version. When I’ve ended up with guys dancing as girls I’ve given them the men’s version, but Steve seemed to think that my temporary femininity needed blessing.

Afterwards, Kit stood up on one the chairs we’d taken outside for the picnic and gave a speech explaining how the rest of the day would go, how we were changing the plan because of the rain, and so forth. She also made a lot of jokes based on the idea of “getting wet at Beltane” which drew a big laugh.

It’s weird, even though Beltane is supposed to be a very sexual holiday, and this community certainly isn’t squeamish about such things, I think that’s the first off-color Beltane joke I’ve heard here. The day was rowdier than it has been in the past, bawdier. Sarah was much less involved. I doubt that was a coincidence.

They did the blessing of the animals in the barn, to get out of the rain, but I didn’t attend. There’s not a lot of room in the barn for a crowd and I needed a shower to get the chill off. Lunch was a casual thing, just go in and grab a bite, like normal, not any kind of feast, and afterwards Steve and I, and a couple other people helped set up chairs for the concert in the Chapel. I remember, the whole time Steve was singing “going to the chapel of love,” except he only knew two or three lines. He sang them over and over again mostly under his breath until Joanna got tired of it.

“Stop going to the chapel!” she shouted from across the room. “You’re already here!”
Every year we’ve had a musical element, but it’s been getting bigger and more elaborate each time. My first year, Kit and Sarah sang a single song as a duet. The next year they each sang a couple of songs. Last year there was a bull-blown concert. This year…this year we got a mystery play. And the first part of the mystery was how they’d organized it and practiced it without any of the rest of us knowing anything about it—and they must have practiced, because they did the whole thing perfectly.

There were two separate bands on stage, including two sets of back-up singers, all interwoven together so you couldn’t tell who was in which group until they started performing. The lead singers were Kit and Eddie.

Eddie started, singing “Come on Nature,” by the Proclaimers.  It was an invocation, I’m pretty sure, since “Nature” is obviously the Goddess and the addressee of the song.

Come on, Nature, I don’t wanna read a book or talk about the world
Come on, Nature, I just wanna spend some time being boy to a girl.

It’s a prayer for sex, basically, and as frank as it is, there’s something innocent about it—desire without an agenda, without complication.

Kit watched him and appeared to respond, launching full-throated into “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” as if she thought perhaps Eddie didn’t know what he was getting himself into—I think she was singing the part of Nature, not that of the girl to Eddie’s boy.

He seemed encouraged, because he responded with “Help you Dream,” by the Blasters, about a charming but unsuccessful pick-up artist. Kit shook her head. The kid wasn’t getting it. She’d have to explain things.

She sang “Fever.”

Now, long-time readers will remember that I’ve had a thing for Kit for four years now. And her performance of this song did nothing whatever to change my mind. And then she sang “Rhiannon.”

I’ve seen her do that song before, but this time it was times ten. The band behind her throbbed like a heartbeat, vaguely mind-altering and we were all on our feet, dancing, maybe some two hundred of us, students, masters, and graduates visiting for the holiday, half of us still soaked from the rain outside. And then there was Kit.

The thing about that song, aside from its general awesomeness, is it’s not about the singer—it’s about some third person whom the singer seems to be pushing the listener towards.

All your life you've never seen
A woman taken by the wind
Would you stay if she promised you heaven?
Will you ever win?

Who is singing? Is it Nature, the being invoked with Eddie’s first song? Or is Nature the woman being described? It isn’t clear.

In any case, as Kit finished the song the throbbing beat didn’t stop, only altered lightly, and Eddie the acolyte began singing “Jean,” another Proclaimers song, to the accompaniment of both bands. The song starts prosaically enough.

I’ve never been lucky with girls, I confess
Don’t know who to blame for my lack of success
Even with ones up the back of the bus
There was always the risk of a slap in the puss
But Jean, oh, Jean, you let me get lucky with you.

But the thing is after a couple of verses of that the song goes into this hypnotic repetition of the words “I love her” over and over and over, until the words start to melt, to lose sense, becoming this animalistic drone…..

Loverai loverai loverai love, loverailoverailoverai love, loverailoverailoverai love….

And gradually Eddie starts slipping in these growls and shouts, leaning into the microphone oddly, eyes closed, body rocking, obviously out of his head. His movements became jerky, almost spasmodic, irregular but still in time with the beat of the music, gradually building to this insane crescendo shouting Jean!Jean!Jean!Jean!Yeah!

The music ended and he drew a ragged breath and opened his eyes.

He and the other singers and the musicians all left the stage abruptly, immediately, and anti-climactically, revealing, as they left, two more people who may have been on stage the whole time, or not, it was impossible to tell. One of them, of course, was Allen. The other one was Sarah. They sang an a Capella duet. 

They sang “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”

They sang it soft and sad and bewildered and brave, and when they were done Allen withdrew and Sarah sang “Mother Earth and Father Time,” the lullaby from Charlotte’s Web, and Kit sat directly behind her, out of sight, accompanying her on the cello.

How very special are we
For just a moment to be
Part of life's eternal rhyme
How very special are we
To have on our family tree
Mother Earth and Father Time
I can’t explain all of this properly because, of course, you can’t hear the music. So go, please, find these songs, I’m sure they’re on the Internet, and listen. In order. The weird crescendo of “Jean” is, in fact, part of the original recording by the Proclaimers, though I’m sure Eddie’s body language added something to it. Then imagine all of this performed, the story they assembled these songs into. That’s the best I can do to explain it. It was intense.

Afterwards, on our way out, over to the Dining Hall for our feast (always eat after a ritual, it’s a necessary grounding), Steve and I found ourselves walking in step with Joanna and Eddie—I think they were partners for the day. Eddie looked exhausted, spent, but otherwise normal.

“Hey, nice orgasm up there,” said Joanna. She says things like that. Direct. Just to see what would happen. What happened was that my ears turned red, Steve laughed uncomfortably, and Eddie laughed quite comfortably and thanked her casually.

“So, it worked?” he asked.
“Worked?” exclaimed Steve, “I had no idea you could do that!”
“I wasn’t sure, myself,” Eddie replied.
“I’m surprised Sarah was ok with any of that,” I said. She won’t wear a dress that hangs above the knee.
“She almost wasn’t,” he explained. “And that won’t happen again. Not for a long time, and not just because I won’t be here next year. Sarah and Kit always do Beltane together, but sometimes Kit is dominant, sometimes Sarah is. Kit has been gaining ground now for a few years, it’s time for the pendulum to swing the other way.”
“I’m surprised Kit is ok with that,” I responded. “That concert, play, whatever it was, was brilliant. I’d think Kit would want to do more of it.”
“You and I will be gone next year,” Eddie reminded me, “but Kit and Sarah will both stay. They have to find ways to get along.”

We had reached the Dining Hall, and as I held the door open for the others I noticed Charlie standing unobtrusively near the entrance, leaning against the wall, staring at the rain, barefoot. I let the others walk ahead. He looked at me.

“Whad’you think?” He asked me, looking back towards the rain, following it up towards the sky with his eyes and down again. That man can spend an extraordinary amount of time watching water, in any form, move.

“Sexy and weird and brilliant,” I told him. “What did you think?”
He shrugged a little.
“It was too loud. Not how I would have done it.” Charlie never thinks much of anything Kit does. He seems unable to compliment her without slipping in criticism here or there. Today he dispensed with the compliment entirely.
“Oh? How would you have done it?”
And for only the second time in our knowing each other, Charlie sang to me.

Scratch my back with a lightning bolt
Thunder rolls like a bass drum note
Sound of the weather is Heaven’s ragtime band,

He sang the whole song, which is called “Barefoot Children in the Rain,” by Jimmy Buffet. And you should go listen to that one, too.

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