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.