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, September 25, 2016

Year 4: Part 6: Post 2: Senioritis

Charlie and I seem to be ok again and, just to prove there are no hard feelings, he's given me another assignment.

Actually, he has given me work, though I don't think it has anything to do with hard feelings. We do seem to be relaxing with each other again. He approached me after lunch the other day and, looking somewhat embarrassed, asked if I minded another assignment.

"You don't really have to, you have my vote," he told me, "but there's something I'd like you to do."

"Charlie, you know I'll learn anything you care to teach me," I said.

He flashed me a very quick smile.

"I'd like you to write me a report on all the things that could possibly threaten your spot in the woods and what you, personally, can do to address those threats."

"Any deadline?"

He shrugged.

"When you can."

"Got it."

It's odd, thinking about it, I really have spent very little time actually talking with Charlie. We seldom have long discussions. Aside from the occasional lunch together, most of our interactions probably last less than a minute and a half. And yet I feel like we're together almost all the time--when I'm working on an assignment from him, he is present for me, challenging, supportive, exasperating, just Charlie.

Anyway, I'm glad to have a project from him again, but I do wish he'd given me a deadline, because with "as you can" I'm not likely to feel comfortable until it's done. It feels like it's supposed to be done immediately. And yet, later that day, I did manage to go to a party.

More and more of us are getting the votes we need to graduate, and frankly we're getting a little silly. I mean, most of us already were silly, but there's a loosening. For example, this party. It sort of erupted out of this week's Callaloo, the "open mike" concern Kit hosts. I don't go every week, but this week I did, and about half the rest of the graduating class did, too. I think only two or three people there weren't part of our group. It was weird, like a convention nobody had to invite anybody to, we just showed up.

When the big crowd showed up, Kit sent a couple of people over to the Dining Hall to snag more snacks and some alcohol. Not a lot of people actually drank much, but it just being there made things seem more festive. A couple of people played or sang--I remember Dan (who is not me!) doing "Eleanor Rigbe" on his cello, and Raven G. singing something or other badly. A group of us, yes, me included, formed a chorus line and sang "Those Were the Days," while kicking our legs and falling over ourselves. Tommy, who I don't think I've mentioned before, sang "Proud Mary," and a couple of women, including Joanna, jumped up to sing back-up. That one surprised me, that Joanna would sing back-up--it was girly in a way I would have thought she'd find negative.

But that's kind of what I mean by silly--people doing things they normally wouldn't, just letting themselves go a little bit.

That's what Steve Bees did. The latter part of the evening became a concert for Steve and Eddie, singing mostly early and classic rock and roll and some Motown. That music is happy, light-hearted in a way most newer music isn't. Eddie favors it and sings that kind of music a lot.

Steve doesn't--he likes to listen to it well enough, I've seen him dancing to the music Eddie makes, but when he sings, he's usually serious. For a year or more, Steve's been a man on a mission. It's not like he never enjoys himself, but his passion, the important part of all his days, has been social justice. It's what he talks about, what he reads about, the end to which he is transforming himself. When he sings to himself, under his breath, he'll sing anything, things he likes, things he doesn't, ditties from commercials, but when he sings for us, it's always on message. He sings well, now, and we like his message--having deep conversations is a big part of what we do, here--but it's just something we notice about him. Steve is serious.

Which is why it was so good to see him perform some Chuck Berry and just having a good time.

Eddie, of course, is more or less always having a good time, but that's his message and he's always on it. His infectious joyousness is deliberate, religious, even political. This time, for once, there seemed to be no message, no challenge, nothing to think about, just two men with a couple of friends accompanying them on various instruments, singing "Rock and Roll Music," goofing off in their talented way.

Towards the end of the song, Steve sang alone, sweat visible on his face, as happy as I've ever seen him, while Eddie jumped and jittered and windmilled his arms, dancing around the little open area we were calling a stage. We were all on our feet, dancing.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Year 4: Part 6: Mabon

Happy Mabon.

The rest of the Northern Hemisphere now agrees with Kit; it is Fall. The days are getting short, there is a real hint of color in the trees, the meadows are full of goldenrods and asters, and the mornings are usually cool, though not cold. There is still a definite hint of late summer, especially in the afternoons, and occasionally we still have a hot day, but I agree with Kit, now; it has been the season of transition for weeks. The idea of the same season holding sway over an entire hemisphere at once seems strange to me--I have a cousin in New York, and it isn't Fall there yet. Why should it be? These are different places, different countries.

I'm taking for granted so many ideas that used to seem strange to me.

Anyway, I had me nephew with me again for the Mabon festivities (my niece is still too young--she's not walking yet). He's just past two, now, and so I let him spend a lot of time running around with the other Sprouts. I was nervous about that--he seems so very small, hardly more than a walking baby, and of course my sister-in-law would kill me if anything bad happened to him--and I'd let her kill me. I mean, I'd feel so awful. But, as Kit pointed out, the older Sprouts know more about taking care of toddlers than I do, and they'll keep an eye on him.

So I was free to wander around, mostly on my own, like any other student, sampling food and drink and marveling at the unusually large vegetables at the harvest fair set up on the Central Field. This year there was a whole selection of quick breads to choose from, made with different kinds of squash and fruit and nuts. I liked the acorn squash and raisin bread best, and ate quite a lot of it.

At the cider-tasting tent I ran into Charlie--around here, "cider" usually means hard cider, since we have no refrigeration, but they've just pressed a couple of batches, so there were non-alcoholic ciders there, too. Anyway, I saw him a few seconds before he saw me, then our eyes met--and his face went hard and blank and he turned away.

Everyone thinks that Charlie is a curmudgeon who growls at people because he doesn't like human beings. And, in fact, I think he does like other species a lot better, but I don't think that's really it. I've seen his gentleness with the vulnerable, with children and small animals, and I've seen the way his face and body relax when he's in the company of people he trusts. And I saw how sad he looked last week when I was so angry with him for lying to me, for deliberately hurting my feelings by telling me my spot in the woods was going to be cut down. It wasn't, he just had to check to see if I really cared--that was his final exam for me, part of his job, as he saw it, the job I asked, even begged him to do almost four years ago. He knew I'd pass the exam, knew what those few seconds of mistaken grief would be like for me, and knew there was a chance I might not wholly forgive him for it. And he did it anyway, but it made him very sad.

He turned away from me in the cider tent because he did not want to see me turn away from him.

I've known people who didn't especially care for me. Most people like me, superficially, at least, but not everyone really cares and that ok. And I've known people who hold me special, who do genuinely care. That's ok, too, more than ok, in fact. But I've never known anyone else, except maybe my Dad, who cared about me and liked me and unhesitatingly did something that might alienate me, simply because they believed I needed it--no one else except Charlie.

I attended the Paleolithic Feast over lunch, along with most of campus, which of course Charlie runs, but we didn't speak to each other then, except to sort of details of where I should put the dish I brought and whether he needed me to help set up chairs, that sort of thing. He didn't seem hostile at all, he wasn't not speaking to me, but he did seem distant, closed off. My heart kind of hurt.

After lunch, I went to the Thank You Doll build instead of the Gratitude Circle I went to last year and my first year. Sarah runs the build, but Charlie always attends, just like Kit always attends the circle. The two avoid each other, and while Charlie doesn't get in to the snippy stuff Kit does, I think the situation bothers him somehow. These are the two main events of the afternoon, and they happen at the same time, so you can't do both. I think Charlie was glad to see that I'd chosen his.

The build itself went really well. This year we made the Doll mostly out of red potatoes (potatoes come in all different colors, red, white, yellow, blue, and lots of sizes and shapes), with tiny blue potatolets (tubers that hadn't come to full size by harvest, for whatever reason) stuck on for eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and fingers and toes. We used a large potato as a big butt in the back, for balance, and a small one stuck on the back of the head, like a bun, as the foundation of the hairstyle--we made a sort of fan-shaped halo of blue potato slices and behind that, stuck on to the "bun," a large fan of dried grass heads, all of the large Seteria species that look like big, golden caterpillars.

The hairdo was Megan's idea, Megan being one of the Sprouts, one of Charlie's many grand-nieces. Her twin sister suggested we give the Doll some clothes, which we did my making a skirt out of curly kale leaves. We didn't have any kale in the box of veggies Sarah had brought, because it's pretty perishable, but Adelee, one of Sarah's daughters, ran and got some for us. All the remaining Sprouts, except my nephew, Aidan, and Alexis, are either Sarah or Charlie's relatives, so we had all of them except Alexis helping with the build. It's a fun activity anyway, especially for kids.

When we woke the Doll up, my nephew listened for its voice and, once again, he heard it, or said he did. I still want to know what that's like. I could have asked Aidan, or Billie, or Julius, or Adelee, each of whom have been the youngest in the group at least once and heard the Doll, and who now have strong enough language skills to explain the experience, but I didn't ask.

Some mysteries are better left unplumbed.

Afterwards, while we were cleaning up, I approached Charlie.

"Thank you," I told him, simply.

For a moment he did not speak, just looked at me.

"You're welcome," he told me, gruffly, and turned away to consolidate compost buckets. But I could almost feel the tension drain from his body. I could feel him lighten somehow. I haven't studied him for four years for nothing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 7: Interlude

Hi, Daniel-of-2016 here, and I'm going to do something unusual. This blog is due for an interlude, but because I skipped a week a while back, there's an "episode" I wanted to cover before Mabon that I haven't gotten to yet. Normally when this happens, I just post whatever it is after the holiday, with a note if necessary, but I don't want to do that this time because part of my holiday post depends on your having read this episode first. So, for the first time ever, I'm basically skipping an interlude. I don't have very much to say right now, anyway. We're all fine. Carly just started pre-school, three days a week. It's quiet around here without her. Note that  the following events occurred on a Thursday. -- D.

For the better part of four years I have occasionally daydreamed about doing violence to my teacher--as in "he wants me to do what? I'm gonna kill him!"

Today I actually came close.

After Healer's Health class, I went to lunch, like normal. The weather was nice and cool and mostly cloudy. I think it'll rain later. The trees are just starting to turn. I'd been planning to eat outside, but Eddie and Alien Steve saw me and called me over and I ended up eating with them. Afterwards, on my way out, Charlie ambushed me. He'd been waiting for me just outside the Dinning Hall. When I passed, he stepped out and asked me to walk with him. He had something to tell me.

Charlie had never acted like that with me before--he seemed very serious and uncomfortable. He wouldn't look me in the face. Frankly, he scared me. But he wouldn't tell me what he wanted to talk to me about. As we walked along through the maple corridors he actually made small talk, asking me about my classes and my family and whether my nephew would come to campus for Mabon again this year. When we got to the Martin House, I stopped him and insisted he come out with it. He faced me.

"Daniel," he told me, "I've got some bad news. The land trust had to raise some money and they've approved a small timber sale. Your 'spot' in the woods is included. I'm sorry."

I felt all the blood drain from my face. I turned away and could not speak. I didn't know how to respond. My spot! My place in the woods! My home!

"Did you hear me?" Charlie asked. "I said they're going to cut your trees down. The spot you've been living in for a year is going to be gone."

"I don't believe it," I mumbled. And then, in a very different tone of voice, "I don't believe it. My spot is on our side of the boundary! Anyway, the land trust wouldn't do that." I looked at Charlie. He was having trouble keeping a straight face and not entirely succeeding. "You lied to me! What the hell?"

Charlie shifted his stance, subtly readying himself for self-defense the way Karen taught her senior students. He thought I was going to hit him. And I might have, if his defensive posture hadn't made me think. My hands had made fists of themselves. I turned away.

"Why did you lie to me?" I asked.

"It was necessary," he said, calmly. "But it won't be again. You have my vote to graduate."

"This was a test?"

"Almost four years ago, you said you want what I have. The only thing I really have is love--and I know of only one way to check if you have it, too. You have my vote. I'm sorry it had to hurt. I won't lie t you again."

"I don't know what to say," I told him. I didn't want to hit him anymore, but I couldn't just absorb something like that as if it were nothing. For a moment I'd thought he was screwing with me. I couldn't get that feeling out of my head. I looked over at him again, unable to instantly forgive him, and I saw the most extraordinary sadness on his face, just for a moment. It was a subtle thing, something in his eyes. The rest of his face did not move.

"For horticulture today," he told me, "survey some of the forest trails for exotics. You don't have to speak to anyone, if you don't want to."

He meant, I'm sure, that I don't have to speak to him.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 6: Choices

So, I asked Charlie for his vote. He said no.

Or, more precisely, he said "not yet." I asked him what more he wanted me to do, and he said he'd let me know. I just don't know what to do with that. I finally got up the courage to ask him and he basically said no. I suppose he'll get around to telling me what to do next one of these days. I can't even imagine what ridiculous challenge or test it might be, and now all I can do is wait for it.

I asked him right after I got back from work on Monday, and I didn't have anything particular to do afterwards other than wander around disconsolately, so that's what I did. I meandered on down towards the Martin House and then beyond it, towards the sugar maple rows along the entrance way. The leaves are just starting to turn--still green, for the most part, but it's a paler green, and a few are starting to yellow a little on the edges.

There, I met Kit coming the other way, as though she's walked off campus and was just now coming back--which is plausible. The school is on good terms with our neighbors and she might have gone visiting, and the Lake is close enough to make a pleasant walk in nice weather. As she came out from the shadow of the big trees, her red hair caught the sunshine and lit up. A grasshopper who had been singing on the roadside stopped at her nearness and she stepped away so as not to bother the animal. The cicadas buzzed thinly in the trees overhead. It still feels like summer.

She saw me, greeted me, and I guess noticed that I looked upset. She asked me if I was ok.

"I guess so," I told her, seriously. "I asked Charlie for his vote and he said not yet."

Even as I said it I realized I shouldn't, because Kit uses every available opportunity to put Charlie down, and that's not what I wanted from her. I closed my mouth as though I could take back the words. But Kit just smiled a little.

"Yeah, he does that," she said. "You'll get it."
"I know."
"Come sit?"

And we settled ourselves under the nearest sugar maple, our backed against its ridged bark.

"Everybody and their mother's asking for votes this week," Kit said, after a bit. She sounded tired.
"Yeah. I've just been talking to Joy about Eddie."
"Eddie's not your student, though, is he?"
"I'm his music master, but he's had my vote since Beltane. No, Joy wanted to ask me about her vote."
"I'm kind of involved."

Kit is the occasion of Eddie's spiritual growth. Like me, he has a serious, longstanding, and obviously hopeless crush on her, but he's working with Joy to transmute that attraction to devotion and let it teach him.

"So, you know?"
"I always know. I wish I didn't."

I opened my mouth to speak, she looked at me, and I closed it again. She still looked tired.

"Daniel, you know why I flirt, don't you?"
"I have some ideas. I'm not sure if they're right. I know you're not...serious."
"Oh, no, definitely not. Look, people are going to be attracted to me, and I'd be a pretty poor witch if I couldn't play with that, affirm that. It's a part of life I want to be able to encourage, y'know? But you're supposed to see through me to the Goddess behind me--eventually so, anyway. When students make it personal with me...I'm flattered, of course, but, I wish I didn't know."

I didn't know how to respond, so I asked how Eddie was doing with it.

"I shouldn't be talking about this with you."
"I'm sorry."
"No, you know what? Screw it. You're almost one of us, anyway. He's doing fine. He...treats me like a real person, you know? That's what a lot of people don't get--they see the Goddess in me, or they see their fantasies in me, but they don't see me. They don't realize there's a difference. They miss the woman for Woman. Like, I want them to find the Goddess in me, or the priestess-teacher, or whatever archetype they need to encounter right now, but I don't want to feel like they're choosing me-as-a-symbol over the real me, you know?"

"Kit, I'd choose the real you," I told her, and meant it.
"You're a good friend, Daniel," she said, and squeezed my hand.