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, June 26, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 3: Welcome to the Club

June and I didn't really have a honeymoon, nor did we expect to get one. That's what getting married in the middle of the school year means. Not only did we each have classes to attend, but June is the director of the children's summer camp, so she's insanely busy right now. The summer solstice was on Thursday, we married on Friday, and the campers arrived on Saturday.

The only advantage to all of this is that June got lots of practice introducing herself as "June Kretzman" to parents (she decided to take my name because she says she's marrying into my family more than I'm marrying into hers, but the decision surprised me. I'd expected her to keep her name).

We did have a week in which we were encouraged to see each other freely, instead of our usual distance designed to give her space to move through the school's program on her own. So there's that. But our week is over now.  Back to the grind, as they say.

Before our week was over, we did have one more event. It wasn't our idea--I think it was Allen's, possibly Kit's, a sort of post-wedding reception for married people only. So, last night,* June and I and a group of our fellow married people took our dinner and few extra chairs out into the formal garden to talk with one another about marriage, drink wine, and swat mosquitoes.

It is a fact of this place that mosquitoes are never considered a reason to not be outside. We cultivate liking to be outside, and that cultivation bears fruit in long, lovely purple June evenings and less than lovely little red welts.

I don't think it being the end of our first week married was exactly planned out deliberately, though we all decided we liked it that way. It's just that every day this week at least one person on the guest list had some other commitment. Monday was the only evening really open on the schedule, and neither Kit nor Allen are on campus on Mondays. They're both with their respective spouses. Tuesday is Philosopher's Stone Soup and it's the Joes' date night. Wednesday is group therapy, so not only is Allen otherwise committed, but so is June, and Friday is Dorm Dinner and Faculty Dinner. Thursday is still Thursday Night Jam, but Kit decided to leave someone else in charge of that and join us instead, which I really appreciated.

The group was me and June, Allen and Lo, Kit and Kevin (her husband), Security Joe and Cuppa Joe, Ollie and Willa, and my brother John and his wife. We'd invited Sarah and her husband, but they politely declined, citing the press of childcare and farm work, though I suspect they also weren't sure their opinions on marriage would really be wanted. And I hate to say it, but they might be right. I've heard they're not really sure whether marriages that aren't Catholic count.

"So, how do you like being married?" asked Allen. I've been getting that question a lot, and there's no real answer. It's like asking someone on their birthday what it's like to be a year older. It's just something they say. But Allen doesn't just say things.

"I'm not sure I know yet," I told him. "Nothing's really different. We don't live together, everything's busy, we don't...." I ran out of words.

"So, basically, you're saying you haven't had sex yet," interjected Willa.

"Willa!" scolded Kit, pretending to be scandalized, "Don't voice such...probably quite accurate assumptions!"

"It's not that we never have," said June, trying to cut through the laughter to defend our honor. Remember, this is a crowd that, except for Ollie, regards premarital abstinence as strange at best.

"Just not recently," I confessed. "You try getting amorous in a hammock full of mosquitoes."

"And ants. Don't forget the ants," added June.

"And it was hot," I added to her adding. "Choose between being in a sleeping bag and too hot to breathe, or being outside of a sleeping bag and chewed by mosquitoes and walked on by ants, and then try to have sex."

"I'd rather not," said Allen.

"I imagine it's different though," said Ollie.

"What's different?" I asked.

"Sex after getting married as opposed to before. I mean, I'm not the only one here who was raised to believe premarital sex is wrong, or at least...naughty. I'm not saying it is wrong, but can you ever really get rid of that voice of doubt, once it's implanted? Now, there's no doubt."

"I never had any doubt," asserted Willa. "But married sex is different because it's with you." She wrapped her arms around her husband's bicep, cooed in his general direction, and turned him pink with embarrassment.

"I had to get rid of a lot of voices of doubt, just to stay alive," said Security Joe.

"Is this what you really want to be talking about?" asked Kit, of June and I. "Sex?"

"No," I admitted. June shook her head slightly.

"Do you really think nothing's different?" asked Allen.

"No," I admitted. "I feel..more solid." I couldn't explain what that meant, though I knew Allen would likely ask, as "solid" isn't itself a feeling. "It's like this. June has always seemed like the most important person in the world to me, since that day in grad school." She took my hand. "But I never expected anyone else to take that seriously. Like, yeah, Daniel's going on about his new girlfriend again, or whatever. But now, she's my wife. No one can question that." I squeezed her hand back.

"Well, they can," interjected Cuppa Joe. "But that's what clocking people is for."

"I'm not your wife, I'm your husband," corrected Security Joe.

"Same diff, lover mine."

"Do any of you have any advice for us?" asked June. "I mean, this is new territory for us. Tell us about the view. What can we expect?"

"Expect it to be hard," said Kit, without hesitation.

"At least in the mornings," added Kevin, and Kit swatted him one.

"I'm trying to tell them things they don't already know," she said. "Anyway, there will be days when you want to get divorced--don't panic, that's normal. Wait a few days, you'll like each other again."

"I'd say don't forget you're married," said Allen, with slow thoughtfulness. "The way you are feeling right now--it's because you're thinking about being married. A year from now, you'll be thinking bout other things--"

"Oh, man, poopy diapers," put in Security Joe. "There is nothing so un-romantic as poopy diapers."

"I was thinking about ferret puke, personally," said Allen.

"I don't think they'll have pet ferrets," said Lo.

"Why not?" said Allen. "Ferrets are fine animals. Except one of ours has a puking problem lately. We'll probably have to take him to the vet...My point is that when you're thinking about ferret puke, your emotions are about ferret puke. It's not that love fades, it's that people think about it less and less, so they feel it less and less. You have to remember to think about love."

"I love you for cleaning up the ferret puke," said Lo. And Allen leaned his head on her shoulder for a moment.

"Does your both being psychologists make it easier?" June asked.

"It means we know bigger words to blame each other with," volunteered Allen.

"Complexes and syndromes and isms," explained Lo. "At least our fights are entertaining."

I asked Ollie what he thought.

"Oh, we haven't been married long enough, yet," he said. "I don't have any real insight. Except that thing about divorce is spot on."

"I didn't know you were thinking about divorce," said Willa, sounding surprised but not concerned.

"Aren't you?"

"Not today. Two days ago, I was."

"Well, that's because two days ago you were crazy."

"Two days ago you were crazy."

"Are either of you thinking about divorce today?" I asked, expecting the answer I got.

"No, today she's the best thing that ever happened to me."

"Yes, I am. Ad you deserve every ounce of me because you're cute."

And on and on. It felt very much like being given the secrets of some club, some initiatory event, though there was no particular ritual to it, just a group of people sitting around, drinking wine, eating, and swatting mosquitoes--we did have a couple of citronella candles burning, and they helped a little. It was nice.

I kept thinking, though, that there was someone missing. Charlie. He woudn't likely attend a party with Kit, nor she with him, and most people would point out that he's not married. He's not in the club. Except he is married. And he's the one who taught me how to love in the first place.




*The "now" of this post is 29th of June, 2007, a Friday, one week after our wedding. So,"last night" is Thursday the 28th. -D.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mastery Year: Part 4: Post 2: Neither Bound nor Free

There are days that belong to the future and then suddenly and surprisingly become the present. My wedding was one of these. I am now a married man. It feels different that I thought it would. I feel different. Something has changed, something I did not expect and cannot describe, since all the practical elements of my life are exactly the same as before.

It's not like we're even living together. We're still in different dorms, and she's still a yearling who's not really supposed to talk to me much, outside of a short honeymoon period we've been allowed.

We'd tossed around the idea of waiting, marrying after she graduates in February, when we can live together again, but June had an answer for that, saying "If we wait until February, and I get hit by a bus in October, I don't want my last thought to be 'I wish I'd married Daniel.'"

Well, then.

Sadie handled all of the details of food. Karen handled flowers. Joy took care of a lot of the other logistics, getting the event tent, ordering Jordan almonds and table cloths, sending out invitations...of course, we paid for their labor, as I've said, but not enough that it wasn't a gift.

We invited our families, our closer friends from home, the master's group, the candidate's group, the sprouts, some friends June has made among the yearlings, and associated partners of all of the above. It added up to almost two hundred people, more than I'd imagined, but June assures me that two hundred is still a small, intimate wedding.

We dispensed with most of the traditional fluff. No rehearsal, no rehearsal dinner, no arranged seating for the ceremony or the reception, no getaway car to be playfully vandalized by the best man (good thing, too--Charlie hates cars, and would probably have slashed its tires)...we decided that as long as we all had a good time and June and I ended up married by the end of it, the day would be a success.

The day was a success.

We met, all of us, out on the pasture in front of the Flat Field, so the embankment of  Edge of the World gave us privacy from campus and the Enchanted Forest gave us privacy from the road. We had a few chairs, for those who needed them, but most of us stood. The day was hot, muggy, and partly cloudy, but a breeze gave relief from the heat and blew away most of the mosquitoes. Sarah had changed the grazing rotation and had the horses cut the grass in that pasture just for us. She'd even had all their droppings picked up and moved, which I appreciated. We met in a big circle defined by Tiki torches, and Kit cast a magic circle on our wedding ground ahead of time so as not to overly frighten my uncle.

Each of us introduced ourselves by first name and by relationship to me and June, going around the circle, except June and I went last. Kit went first, describing what we were supposed to do. The introductions were her way of raising energy for the ritual, as she had told us earlier, but the outside guests just thought it was a way to break the ice, which it was, too, of course. A lot of our guests had never met each other before.

"I'm Kit, I'm Daniel's friend and your Mistress of Ceremonies today."
"I'm John, Daniel's brother."
"I'm Ace, I've known Daniel since middle school."
"I'm Aaron, June's cousin and friend."

And so on.

I didn't know what Charlie would say. He has referred to me as his friend in the past, though I've never been sure if he really is. At other times he's referred to himself formally as my professor, adviser, or primary master, depending on whom he is addressing. I looked at him, standing near me, straight and solid in his full uniform, cloak included despite the heat.

"My name is Charlie and I am Daniel's Teacher," he said. I could hear the capital letter of Teacher in his voice, and I thought it sounded just right. And I could hear a ripple of shifting and murmuring among my guests around the circle. I've been talking about him more than I thought I had.

"I'm Allen, June's teacher and Daniel's friend," said Allen, completing the circle, except for me and June.

"I'm June, and I'm Me. And I'm Daniel's beloved."
"I'm Daniel, myself, and June's beloved."

These were not ritually composed or rehearsed words, but when we said them, the circle erupted in cheering.

In the center was a smaller circle defined by river stones and by potted, flowering plants. Kit stood on its edge and made a short and very funny speech, describing who she is, what being a Wiccan priestess means and what it doesn't (my uncle was not the only one of the guests who might have been confused on that subject), the fact that the wedding ceremony itself wasn't specifically Wiccan just because its officiant is, and what love and marriage are. Then she beckoned us forward.

June and I had been standing roughly on opposite sides of the circle. We came together, towards each other, and stood just outside the inner circle, Charlie by my side, June's mother by hers. She and I had both been wearing cloaks, mine the brown of anyone who has completed the novitiate, hers left white. I took mine off and handed it to Charlie, who folded it over his arm with all the formality of a Marine at a funeral, but he straightened my uniform and dusted off my shoulders with a hint of hidden fondness. Then I turned to face my bride.

I wore my uniform. I had been thinking that men in the armed services wear their uniforms to wed, so I ought to do the same. But June was wearing a white wedding dress I'd never seen before, white with a just-visible blue under-dress or slip beneath, her hair done up and a gorgeous, antique gold necklace across her throat and chest, but no make-up to mar her lovely face, and she was just beautiful.

We stepped into the little circle together and Kit, standing just outside it, led us through saying our vows. These were simple, direct, and I'm not going to tell you what they are. That's private. Then we exchanged rings, rings from the same company and in the same style as the green rings of the masters, except, of course, not green, and we were married. Neither bound nor free, as the occult saying has it. We kissed, because that's what you do, but then we hugged, spontaneously, because we were happy. We were very happy, so we hugged for a very long time.

Later, we all moved to the flower-bedecked event tent on the Central Field (Kit stayed behind to farewell the magic circle) and the rest of the school community joined us there for a fantastic feast. Later, we had dancing. As June and I danced, she leaned close and whispered in my ear, "Are you sure you wouldn't have married Kit?"

"Kit, who?" I answered.

It was the correct response, probably the one she had hoped to elicit, and it made her laugh, but it was also, honestly, the genuine response. Of course, I hadn't actually forgotten my friend and longtime crush, but in that moment my head was so focused on June that it really did take me a few seconds to remember who she was talking about. Everybody but us seemed a million miles away.

That night, June and I retreated to my campsite in my spot in the woods. We had thought that was the only way to find genuine and entire privacy, other than the somewhat undignified option of hiding in crawl spaces in Chapel Hall. Plus, that spot is special to me, and it seemed an appropriate place to spend a special night. In actual fact, our wedding night was muggy and buggy and we hardly got any sleep for reasons that had nothing to do with anything fun, but we're hoping that part of the story gets to be funny someday.

Actually, it's getting to be sort of funny, now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Litha

Happy Litha.

Once again the campus has been happily over-run with friends and family and sprouts--more of that latter group than I expected. Families have expanded and changed since the last time I celebrated the summer solstice here.

Everyone has grown older, this I knew, though it still somehow surprises me that Aidan is seven and not remotely a baby anymore. I mean, I remember seeing him nursing. And Charlie's brother, Mario, died a few years ago, as I'd known. But there are whole new families, too.

One new family is mine--my brother and sister-in-law are both here, and all three of their kids are sprouts--Paul, Ruthie, and Chris. As you can probably tell, my family likes Biblical names. Another belongs to the new treasurer, John (not to be confused with my brother, also John). He has a complicated family consisting of children from the wife he divorced, a child from the wife he buried, and two step-kids, mostly all grown, and starting to present him with grandchildren (who are now sprouts). Also, two more of Charlie's innumerable nephews have married, and one has sprouted twins.

My older niece and nephew are right in the middle of all of this--Paul and Ruthie are five and three, respectively, so John-the-treasurer's three grandkids fit right in--Kyle is four, and Justin and Aimee are both three, so the five of them form a developmentally similar sub-tribe and spent most of the day running around in a group.

Chris can't keep up. He's only two. But Janus and James, the twins, are eighteen months old, and he can play big brother to them.

Anyway, between visiting former students (Willa was here, of course), former faculty (Chuck and Malachi were both here, although Joe S., my old boss, was not), spouses, sprouts, former sprouts, parents, and various other hangers on, I think there must have been well over four hundred people on campus.

Good thing there was extra food.

Two pigs' worth of pork barbecued, fried, and smoked alongside kebabs of mushrooms and onions, tables practically sagged under bowls of steamed greens, salads, baked goods, cheeses, honey, and fruit, and later there were custards and pies and strawberry cake. From about 10 AM on, there was always plenty to eat and always a line up around the tables.

Not surprisingly, my Dad got in there to help with the grilling. He said it was extra-delicious because of "Kretzman magic," though, just between you and me, food here is always about equally delicious. It was good to see my Dad participating--weird that he used the word "magic." Maybe he's starting to come to terms more with what we do here.

I spent most of the day running around with Paul and Ruthie and them--kids their age are much more capable, and much smarter, and much more fun to be with than they get credit for. The day was hot, but not dangerously so. The older kids rode their bikes down to the lake to swim in the afternoon, but the littles were too little to go without an adult, so they ran around in the sprinklers we had set up to wet down the area around the Man.

The Man. This year he was an attractive purple and pale green of phragmites and loose-strife, all tied up with various vines and filled with notes written on little fluttering pieces of paper for the Man to take with him to the Spirit World when he burned.

I didn't see him light up this year. I didn't watch the sunset from up in the tree, either. Instead, I was so involved in playing hide-and-seek with the littles (I am very good and hide-and-seek, by the way. Being a naturalist helps) and totally failed to notice either until it was too late. When it got too dark for us to seek each other, we hunted lightening bugs until the various parents came to collect their children and left me to my own devices.

"Should I fetch you home to bed, too?" said my Dad, when he found me.
"Just cause I act like a kid doesn't mean I am one," I told him.
"Tomorrow, you'll be a married man."
"Yup, that I will."
"Where's June?" he asked.
"I don't know. We're supposed to be avoiding each other this week. Separation before conjunction and all that."
"Conjunction...? Are you talking magic again? or sex?"
"Same thing, I think," I said. That made him laugh.
"Is is it true we dance the sun up tonight?" Dad asked. He's never stayed the night at a Sabbat celebration before.
"Donno, Dad," I told him. "Let's find out."

And we did.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Interlude 4

Hi, all, this is Daniel-of-2017.

I've been doing this project for so long, now--five years! It just suddenly hits me sometimes when I write the date. And it's been 17 years since I first came on the campus of the school with no name. It doesn't feel like that long, except that in that time, I've grown up, gotten two degrees, gotten married, become one of the leaders of a secret, counter-cultural community, had a child...I suppose all of that legitimately takes some time.

Anyway, Father's Day has rolled around again, so I don't want to spend all evening on the computer--I'm supposed to be having desert with my family right now--so I'll make this fairly quick.

This coming week is Litha. It's also my wedding anniversary. Of course, they've both been the same week for the past nine years without causing a problem, but this is the year when it complicates my narrative--if I stuck with my once-weekly posts, then there would be this post (which is really Monday's post, so the 19th), Litha on the 26th, then the post about my wedding would be on on the 3rd of July, almost two weeks after it's supposed to be, and when I'm supposed to be writing about Independence Day....

That won't do. So, you get this post now, you get the Litha post later this week, and if I have time, you'll get the post about my wedding later this week, too.

And then we'll go on from there.

-best, D.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 3: Post 7: Alone for a While

So, I had a bachelor party.

I didn't expect to have one, and I didn't really want to have the kind you hear about, with lots of alcohol and strippers and things. I felt a little self-conscious about not wanting it, like maybe I'm supposed to, or something, but something Kit said last week stuck in my mind and really helped me. She's been going over every aspect of our ceremony with us, helping to understand what the symbolism of traditional (Christian) wedding ceremonies means, so we can figure out what we want to do--learning a language so we can make choices about what to say, as she puts it. And she said that part of the function of a traditional bachelor party is to say goodbye to one's bachelor life, and to allow friends to say goodbye to it. One last hurrah, I guess.

And the thing is, I'm not in any mood for a last hurrah, yet. There is not form of hurrah I want that I can't have when I'm married. It's not like I've been living this wild bachelor lifestyle and I'd better enjoy watching strippers with my friends now, because the Mrs. won't let me out anymore after we wed. For one thing, I can't imagine June not letting me out. For another thing, I've never seen a strip-show and don't especially want to, now. They don't sound like a lot of fun. I mean, frankly, I know what a naked woman looks like, and I can look at a naked woman (whom I really like a lot, by the way) without having to subject myself to noise and crowds of mostly unpleasant strangers.

Anyway, so I didn't expect a bachelor party, and I didn't have the kind I expected, if that makes sense.

Instead, my brother, John, came up to campus this weekend, organized everything, and more-or-less kidnapped me. I didn't know he was even on campus when he drove up beside me and told me to get in. Rick and Eddie and Andy were already in the car.

"But I have to..." I stammered.

"No, you don't," said John. "I looked up your schedule with Sharon and cleared it." He's spent a lot of time on campus over the last few years, even when I was in Absence, because his kids are now sprouts, so he knows everybody and how things work, now."

"I'm in uniform!" There's no rule against going off-campus in uniform, except that we don't ever do it.

Eddie handed me one of my shirts. He's in my dorm, remember. All my excuses defused, I got in and we headed off.

John drove us to Allen's house, where we met, not only Allen, but also Ollie (he stays with Allen on the weekends, remember) and David, who is now 18 years old, in college for ecology, and as tall as I am. Allen put on some music (real records on an actual turn-table, first something mellow and classical I didn't recognize, then jazz, equally mellow and unfamiliar), served excellent wine and equally excellent home-made food, and we sat around and talked.

Allen is a phenomenal host.He knows Rick and I have become sensitive to artificial noise, and that we don't really like being inside, so he chose mellow music, played softly, and seated us on the patio. He knows Andy doesn't drink alcohol and is sensitive to any hint of exclusion or undue attention, so he offered a choice of home-made non-alcoholic cocktails, as well as the wine, without calling attention to Andy's difference. Actually, after the fist glass, the rest of us alternated with the non-alcoholic drinks, too.

When the mosquitoes chased us indoors, we sat in the living-room for a while, and Allen's pet ferrets made very cute pests of themselves, begging for treats and trying to pick our pockets. Later, we played pool in the finished basement. Allen has a pool table in his basement. Of course he does.

Lo and the girls were nowhere around. I asked about that, while we were still in the living room, with the ferrets.

"They're not bachelors," Allen explained, simply.

"Neither are you," I pointed out. "Ollie's not, either."

"True," he acknowledged. "We are men. I think that's the important part."

"Why?"

"Why do you think?"

"I don't know. It does seem right, though." I thought seriously for a moment. "Something about reinforcing...like you have to be friends with your own kind before you can reach out to the other?"

"Separation before conjunction?" suggested Allen. It's an alchemical saying that gets thrown around on campus a lot.

"Yeah, maybe," I said. The saying did articulate my idea fairly well. "Is that really true though? It's not like we're doing anything here we couldn't do with women around. We're not even doing anything especially masculine, it's not like we're doing anything women don't do."

"We wouldn't know," quipped Ollie. "We don't see what they do without us."

"Pretty much this," said Eddie. "I was a spy," he added. "Under cover."

"I don't actually know why we're all men, here," said Allen. "I didn't write the guest list."

"I didn't think about it," confessed John. "It's a bachelor party, so I invited men."

"Thus do the rituals live us," commented Allen, "whether or not we intend to live them."

By the time we were thinking of heading back to campus, John admitted he'd had too much to drink and didn't want to drive.

"I'm sorry," he said. "Since I've been Dad, I haven't really gotten out, much. I didn't know I'd turned into a lightweight."

None of us were sloppy drink, but since we'd been expecting John to drive, none of us were ready to get behind the wheel, either--except for Andy, who doesn't have a driver's license.

"Pick a couch, everyone," said Allen. He put the ferrets to bed in their cage, then retreated to his room.

That night, I couldn't sleep, much. It was too hot, I was itchy from mosquito bites and spots of poison ivy, and I was excited. I kept thinking about last-minute details I still have to take care of, decisions to be made, what I might say to my best friend from middle school, if he even comes to my wedding, and how am I going to explain my wacky wedding ceremony to my overly normal uncle who still thinks I plan to become an Episcopal priest?

While I was wondering about all of this, the air started getting brighter. Dawn was coming. It comes early, this time of year. I got up and let myself out onto Allen's patio. I spent some time out there, by myself, listening to the birds and smelling the perfume of early morning.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Note

Don't worry, everything is fine on my end, I just need to meet a work deadline. I'll post here tomorrow.
-D.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 3: Post 6: Important Question

I've just asked Charlie to have a role in my wedding. I hadn't thought I would ever do that, but once June and I and Kit decided on what roles we wanted there to be, I suddenly realized I couldn't imagine asking anyone else.

I found him sitting on the near edge of the Flat Field, cross-legged, barefoot, with a book open in his lap. If he'd been reading, though, something had distracted him long since. He sat straight, alert, with his eyes closed, evidently listening to or sniffing something.

I listened, sniffed: birds (seven kinds), a distant and irate squirrel, two roosters crowing (that makes eight kinds of bird), traffic on the main road, a small plane overhead, honeysuckle, roses, magnolia blossom, grass, and--faintly--animal waste. Just in case he asked.

"Daniel," he said, before opening his eyes, and then laughed a little at my surprise. "You are still as noisy as a herd of distinctively Daniel-ish elephants."

"Sorry."

"Saves me from being snuck up on." He shrugged his shoulders. "What's up?"

"Sorry for interrupting."

He waved his hand to indicate get on with it.

"Charlie...will you be my best man?"

That surprised him. His eyebrows went up, his lips pouted outward, and he leaned back and turned to look at me.

"Not Rick?" he said. "Or...Ollie?" He seemed to have trouble calling Ollie's name to mind. They hardly ever talk.

"No," I explained. "It's not exactly ordinary best man. We didn't want elaborate wedding parties, so each of us is going to have one person stand up with us...almost like giving us away? But not quite. June is asking her mother. Not that I see you as...." I trailed off, awkwardly.

"Well, so, why not your father? What am I to you that he is not? What is this role you're asking me to fill?"

"You have more to do with who I am today that he does." I said that in an embarrassed rush. I do not like talking about my feelings, especially not with other men.

"Well, I doubt that," he said, and then considered, his lips still pouted out. "Ok, I'll do it," he said, finally. "You'll have to tell me what you want me to do."

"Alright."

"Kit's officiating, right?"

"Yes."

"Does she know you're asking me."

"Not yet."

He harrumphed as though he half-expected her to object. He still expects the worst of her. I thanked him, and he nodded, then lapsed back into what I suppose is some kind of meditative state for him. But I had the momentary impression that he remained surprised, that he had to enlarge himself, somehow, to accommodate the request I'd made.

But I have other news, too, that I'd simply forgotten to give last week because I was so excited about setting a wedding day; Charlie has given me a new assignment.

We had met on that Friday as we usually do, so I could teach him more of what I learned in grad school. We're well into my second semester now, and another subject, besides statistics, where I suddenly know more than he does--digital mapping and related analysis. He's borrowed my computer for its software again and is having a great deal of fun playing around with his new skill. Everything else from that semester so far is old hat to him and he listens politely and then skewers me with thoughtful questions. Anyway.

We'd been talking about academics when he suddenly changed the subject and thoughtfully, almost wistfully said that he'd been thinking about the journal I used to keep for him, back when I was a novice.

"Do you ever think about what you're going to do for a living?" he asked. It seemed like a series of non-sequiturs.

I had to admit I had not thought about it, but that I liked landscaping and I liked teaching. He nodded, thoughtfully.

"Ever think about writing professionally?"

"No...except I edited a literary magazine and coached writing in grad school."

He nodded again. He knew this already. Or, at least I had told him. Perhaps he had forgotten.

"I remember you used to write poetry in your journal. It was pretty good."

"Thank you."

"I want you to write."

"Ok...."

"I want you to write at least one poem per day, in your special spot, for at least a year. When you have enough, we'll publish a collection. That ok with you?"

I said it was, and his strange, wistful mood passed. We returned to discussing project proposals, as I'd had a class in that subject once.

That was a week ago, Friday. Since then, I've written ten poems for him. Writing on command is easier than I'd thought--I had thought I needed to have the creative juices flowing before I could write, but I've found that the act of writing brings on the flow.

Saturday, after breakfast, I handed him my notebook with all the poem I'd written so far. Yesterday morning, he found me and returned the book and stood by while I looked it over.

"Charlie, you've added editing notes?"

"I have."

"Do you want me to rewrite this?"

"I do."

"How can I? It's poetry!"

"Poetry can't be revised?"

"No! It's a spontaneous expression of the writer's soul."

"You're telling me," he said, "that this promising but immature...drivel cannot be improved because it directly reflects the current state of your soul?"

"Yes," I told him, though, even as I said it, I wasn't sure I believed it was true.

He looked at me closely, then spoke.

"Hadn't we better go about improving your soul, then?"

Monday, May 29, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 3: Post 5: Getting a Date

We're getting married!

Of course, you know that already. I've known it for years, and we decided back on Beltane to tie the actual knot this summer. We didn't really set a date, though. We never got around to finding June's calendar that night...and more to the point, we wanted to talk to our families and the people here at school and find out what works for everybody else. And it took us a while to get around to doing that.

We didn't just fart around on the subject for all these weeks. June was on the Island and more or less incommunicado, and then we had to wait until people got back to us, so it really was just now that we could set a date, and in the meantime we were figuring out what we want to do and how and where and all of that. We haven't been wasting our time. And now we have a date.

It's Saturday, June 23, two days after the Summer Solstice.

Of course, it was a forgone conclusion that we would marry here, on campus. Nowhere else is as meaningful, and nowhere else is as simple, logistically for us. The place has all the facilities we need and they often rent out parts of campus for weddings, so they know how to do this. Part of why we chose the date that we did is because we wanted to have it here--so we wouldn't interfere with holiday preparations and so that people from off campus who want to attend both can do so conveniently.

Now, of course, we've suddenly realized we have less than a month to go! So we're in Wedding Planning Mode all the time.

Do we pay for the venue? (Yes, we insisted. We argued that our parents on both sides have had money set aside for our weddings since we were children, and that we want that money to go to support the school. We're still getting a substantial discount, this place is not cheap)

Do we want an outside caterer? (No, we want Sadie, though we waffled on whether to pay her through the school or through her side business. We chose the school, so she can use our kitchens here)

Do we want flowers? (yes: a separate fee to Karen for the arrangements)

Do we want to invite everybody we know, or just close friends and immediate family? (maybe something in the middle?)

What sort of ceremony do we want?

Ah, that last is the big one. We don't have any specific religion, so we didn't know what to do. We started by deciding who should officiate--a touch call, because almost everyone around here is ordained. Among the Six alone, only Charlie and Karen aren't. And lots of graduates and even some students are. Ollie is. Ain't that a kick? How cool would it be to be married by one of my best friends? But June has no special connection to Ollie, so that's out. Allen suggested Kit, since she has the most experience with ritual design, so we asked her. And now we're talking ritual design and ceremonial elements and mythic languages and all kinds of stuff I hadn't even thought about. June seems to be getting into it more than I am. I might leave it to her, as long as we get married by the end of the day.

June wants a dress. I mean a fancy, real, wedding dress that I am not allowed to see until after the ceremony. She's going shopping with her mother for it next week. My job is to find rings--we're going with the same company that makes the green rings masters wear, and I've already placed the order. They won't be green, of course.

This is getting real. Every day it's getting realer. I'm about to pop with excitement.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 3: Post 4: Loving

The yearlings and the masters are back from the Island.

It's curious, I can actually see the difference the trip has made for the yearlings in the way they move, the way they interact with each other. It took me a while to figure out what I was seeing. Part of it is a new confidence in some of them, but it's more than that. Finally, I realized that before, most of them seemed subtly oriented towards senior students and faculty. If I approached a group of yearlings, most of them would turn towards me slightly, as if they all assumed I might tell them something they needed to know. I saw them do it with all of the more experienced community members. Now, they don't do that anymore. They pay more attention to each other. It's as though before they were guests in our home, and now we're renters in theirs.

I never noticed such a transition before, though I remember that when I was a yearling, the trip gave us a greater sense of being a cohesive group, of having a "we" that we shared. Maybe I didn't see the transition from the outside before because I'd been on the trip and, to some degree, watched it happen gradually.

It seems like a lot to happen in just two weeks, but it felt a lot longer than that for me, too. I really missed June--we hadn't gone that long without seeing her in, well, I think maybe ever. Not since that day we played with the lights in grad school.

I met the vans when they returned and we made something of a scene. Bennie, this year's other one-hit-wonder, said "Hey, June, before you get a room, help us unpack." But basically I think they all think we're a cute couple--not that I need anyone else's approval, but it's nice to be accepted, to be found heart-warming and amusing.

While June unpacked, I noticed something odd. It's hard to recognize people in street clothes if you normally see them in uniform, are not where you'd expect them to be, and are mixed in with a crowd of similarly dressed people, but one of the people unpacking personal gear looked a lot older than everybody else....

"Greg! I didn't know you went on the trip!" I said.

He turned, saw me, and stepped out of the crowd to talk to me.

"I missed you, too," he said, rather sarcastically. I think I blushed. You'd think I'd notice that someone I know was just not there for two weeks, but evidently not.

"Sorry," I muttered. "Why did you go? I thought staying behind was your vacation?"

"I took my vacation," he explained. "Karen had charge of Zazen for the week, just like normal. Charlie convinced me to travel this year, before I get too old to enjoy it. We spent most of our time hiking together. The man is a goat--he's not that much younger than I am, but I do believe he had to slow down for me. I'm glad he did so. I'd never been to the Island before, and what he told me about it was very interesting."

A stab of jealousy. Greg had taken my place. But of course I hadn't really spent the trip hiking with Charlie since the year he trained me. It's not really my place.

I hid my reaction, but I think Greg saw. Saw it and accepted it and ignored it, except for a very slight, fond, amused twinkle. There is very little about humanity that surprises Greg or makes him uncomfortable.

Since then, the summer semester has begun. June has new classes, I have new iterations of the same classes I had before, and Rick and I had lunch with Charlie the other day.

The weather was nice, with the new spring green continuing to darken towards summer, so we took our food out to a little gazebo near the Dining Hall and had a kind of picnic there. It was not exactly a social gathering. Very little that either Rick or I do is ever purely social, and nothing that the three of us do together is. It's not that we don't enjoy each others' company, it's that I never forget that Charlie is my teacher, the way I sometimes forget with Allen or Kit. Rick and I both sit up a little straighter when we are with him, at attention.

We chatted about this, that, and the other for a bit, mostly about the progress of the perennial beds around the gazebo, and then Charlie looked at Rick expectantly.

"I haven't made any useful progress," Rick admitted.

"Why not?" Charlie asked.

"I just don't know how to love, I guess," said Rick. Remember that Rick has been assigned to love a human being, a thing he finds difficult. "I thought that maybe I can pick somebody I at least like and 'fake it till I make it,' but I can't imagine doing do without the other person noticing. And if I do not tell them what I'm doing and why, they'll be confused, and if I fail, they'll be hurt. And if I do tell them what I'm doing...I can't imagine anyone taking kindly to being the subject of a homework assignment in love. I have thought all this over carefully, and I remain stuck."

"To work until you are stuck is progress," asserted Charlie. "To be sure you are stuck, to have exhausted all the options that you are aware of, as opposed to simply giving up, is very impressive."

"Falling gives you better balance?" suggested Rick, quoting one of Karen's sayings. It means that you learn when you push yourself through the point of failure.

"In part, yes," Charlie acknowledged. "Your point of being stuck, the problem you are having, is compassionate...."

"It's practical," said Rick, correcting him. "I don't like having people upset with me. It's inconvenient. I know what upsets people. I may be heartless, but I'm not brainless."

"I'm not so sure you are heartless. You do love."

"Yes, just not humans."

Charlie gave him a quick flash of a smile, then lapsed into thought.

"What would you do if I were hurt or threatened in some way?"

"You?" Rick asked. "I'd try to help. But...."

"Do you care about my welfare and happiness?"

"Not inordinately, but yes. But...."

"Do you enjoy my company? Think I'm worthwhile?"

"Yes, but...."

"Then love me."

"You?"

"Yes, me. I already know what you're doing, so it won't be awkward. If you succeed, I won't be surprised. I will forgive you if you don't."

"Forgiven or not, I don't want you to be hurt."

Charlie looked at him and raised an eyebrow.

"Well, yes, that is the problem to committing to love anyone. I will trust you."

Rick sat there, slightly open-mouthed, for a few seconds, looking like Charlie had just asked him to pilot the Space Shuttle, or something.

"Thank you," Rick said, at last. "What do I do? How do I start?"

Charlie nodded, as he does when someone asks a good question.

"Consider my welfare and my happiness in everything you do. You do not have to please me--loving actions may sometimes displease me--but consider me. And take that class, The Art of Listening and Love. I don't think it's met for the first time, yet."

"Alright."

The Art of Listening and Love was one of Greg's classes, when I took it, in my third year as a novice, but Greg is retired, so I don't know who is teaching it now. I should ask. June is taking it now, too.

Charlie had finished his cheese sandwich. He wiped his mouth with a handkerchief (he never uses disposable napkins), and stood up.

"Gentlemen, if you'll excuse me." He never takes a very long lunch break, and that afternoon I understand he had annuals to plant.

"Charlie," I said, "what about me?"

He looked at me and considered for a few seconds.

"Wait," he said. "Next week, I think."

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 3: Post 3: Mother's Day

June is still not back from the Island. I wonder what she's doing? How she is? Is she cold?

I'm wondering especially if she's cold because it just snowed. Here, I mean. I don't know what the weather is like where she is. The thing is, it hasn't been that cold this week--lately it's actually been unseasonably hot--but we had one chilly day, and while it was nowhere near freezing at ground level, it did snow for about five minutes. It was bizarre.

I can't help wondering if the same freakish chill wind was blowing, but harder, where June is. After all, the Island is a few hundred miles north of here. I wish she were safe and warm with me.

Ok, I admit, June can take care of herself. She is safe. I just wish she were here with me.

Anyway.

My workshops are doing well. At least three people have attended each of them, and I've gotten a lot of really useful feedback, not all of it critical...I don't mean that I'm bad at teaching, I'm really not, but Charlie threw me a curveball by demanding that I design workshops to teach material that most of the students here really have no interest in. I suppose it might be possible to make it engaging anyway, but that would take a great teacher and that I am not.

Anyway, Charlie, I'm sure, didn't mean for me to do this so well that everybody loved what I'm doing. He meant for me to learn. He meant for me to try teaching the grad school material, so that I retain it better, and to expand my range as an educator. I suppose I'll be able to take what I've learned from this exercise and use it to create workshops and talks that do appeal more to the students here.

I do wish I had more free time this week, because campus is gorgeous. It's almost empty of people, kind of like winter--the Dining Hall is even shut down, which I hadn't known happens, we've just been getting our meals from the kitchen and eating in our dorms. The place has a restful, introspective feel. But everything's green. Green and red and white and yellow with flowers, and some of the farm fields are sprouting up in rows of lettuce and radishes and peas and whatever else, and there are singing birds all over the place...and this time I know what a lot of them are. I learned my birds in grad school, remember, and I remember most of them. I do what Charlie taught me with plants, greeting each one, in my head, by name, when I encounter it.

I can sit in the middle of their Central Field, or in the Front Garden, or the Formal Garden, or my spot in the forest, and listen in on birds arguing with each other. I know where the nests are, where the property lines are between territories...not exactly of course, and not completely, that would be a full-time job, but I know there's usually a mockingbird singing on the top of that tree, and when he's not there I notice and I wonder what he's doing.

I went home briefly, this weekend, for Mother's Day--another advantage of not going to the Island, I didn't get to visit Mom for Mother's Day once when I was a novice. We had a good time. But today I noticed a pine seedling, the tips of its first whorl of needles still stuck in its seed, just sprouting up along the path in the Formal Garden. It can't stay there, sooner or later it will get stepped on and crushed, and of course if all pine seedlings that sprout grew up, we'd be jam-packed with pines. But something about this one appealed to me, not that it seemed different in any way, just in its particularity, and I thought about how any tree, anywhere, no matter how large or how old it is, was once a seedling. And I thought--this baby, too, has a mother.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 3: Post 2: Workshops



You know, in all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never actually been on campus the second week of May before. 

As you might recall, almost all of May is a gap between the spring and summer semesters, during which time there are a series of workshops and, for the yearlings and faculty, the trip to the Island. I’ve never been clear on whether the gap exists to create space for the Island trip, or if the trip is simply a way of putting to use a gap that has some other purpose. In any case, the trip leaves a few days after Beltane and returns 14 days later, after which there are the workshops, including some required for yearlings. While the masters and the yearlings are away, senior students are allowed to leave campus, or they can take any of a number of other workshops. Since the masters aren’t here, these are taught by mastery candidates.

I never had a chance to go to any of those candidates’ workshops, because first I was a yearling, and then I was assisting Charlie on the Island. This year, I can’t go to the Island, because June is going, and a big part of the trip is an opportunity for the yearlings to bond as a group. June can’t do that if she is distracted from the group by my presence. At least, that is the theory—neither of us are convinced it’s true, but the masters haven’t given us a choice; she has to go to the Island, and I am barred.

So, here I am.

May isn’t the only time candidates can teach, of course. Some teach often. But the middle of May is the only time that we’re not in competition for student attention with masters. It’s also the first chance new candidates, like me, usually have to get on the schedule. In fact, we all more or less have to teach something.

Eddie, of course, is teaching three back-to-back workshops on dog training. If you take all three, it adds up to a full three-credit course. And the public is allowed in. Curiously, participants are not allowed to bring their dogs, except to the first session. After that, Eddie supplies dogs to work with. As he says, “I’m not training your dogs, you have to train your own dogs. I’m training you.

Ebony is teaching one workshop in creativity—it’s mostly discussion—and a second one on ceramics.

Rick is teaching tree identification and advanced tracking. That’s two workshops, I mean, not one on both topics.

Ollie is teaching just one, on Christian therapy. It is, predictably, poorly attended, as most people around here believe Christians should be in therapy, not offering it. It’s probably very good, though. He’s spending the rest of the gap off campus with Willa.

I can’t attend any of those workshops, though, because I’m teaching, get this, six of them. It was probably a bad idea, and I think I was allowed to do it largely so I would know not to try anything this insane again, but I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity—because most of my topics are predictably unpopular, too, and if I had competition from the masters I’m not sure I could get enough attendees to test my material.

I’m doing things like statistical literacy and scientific reasoning. Five out of my six (the sixth being introductory tracking) are drawn directly from my first two semesters at grad school, and I’m focusing on the drier, more technical things I learned there on purpose—because Charlie said I have to teach all of it, or at least try to, and this is the only way I can think to do these topics. The fun things I can do any time.

It’s not that these topics are inherently boring. I wasn’t bored when I learned them. But as Charlie has said, retention depends on context. As a grad student, I had reasons to learn things like ecological research design. And I had an already-established interest in natural science. A lot of the people here have neither. So, it’s on me to figure out ways to explain why anyone should bother with my classes.

Wish me luck.

It looks like summer, here. Everything is green and lush. We’ve even had a few warm days, though no hot ones. But, unlike summer, there are no mosquitoes yet, and even few flies. When I’m not busily rushing around getting my workshops started, I can take naps out on the central field in the sunshine. It’s glorious.

I just wish June were here. How do people cope who must spend months or years away from their sweethearts? It’s been less than a week since I’ve seen mine and already I’m going crazy.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 3: Post 1: Beltane

Last week should have been an interlude post, but I lost track of the time. Beltane snuck up on me. I guess it sort of was anyway, given that I was talking about events now...in any case, it's time to begin a new "part," with Beltane, which is actually today. Happy Beltane.

Why do I keep getting paired with dudes for Beltane? It's not that I mind, it's just bizarre.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

As you might recall, in our version of the Maypole, the dancer you end up facing when the music stops is your partner for the day. Kit thinks that the dance might once have been used to choose sexual partners for a fertility celebration, but for us the partners just work as a team to help put on the holiday feast. Then, at the end of the feast, we stand up and publicly praise each other. Because there's a good chance you'll end up partnered with someone you don't know or don't like, it's an exercise in love--seeing someone as lovable, not because they please you or help you in any way, but just because you've decided to see them that way. Making love where there wasn't any before.

In theory, you're supposed to end up facing someone who identifies as a different gender than yours--they're supposed to be heterosexual pairings. In practice, you can end up paired with anybody, because all you have to do to be a woman for the day is grab a red ribbon for the dance. All you have to do to be a guy is grab a green one. So some people try out a different gender than the normal one.

Anyway, I keep ending up with guys. The first time I danced the Maypole, I found myself facing a guy who was dancing as a woman. Ditto the third time (I did end up with a woman at my second dance--Veery. Oh, how I wished for an old-fashioned fertility rite that year. Dumb-ass that I was, I never even suggested that we try, although I knew other couples from the dance did just that. Veery and I dated for a couple of weeks afterwards, and I never did ask her, and the whole thing was very awkward). The fourth time I danced as a woman and partnered with Steve Bees. This year, I reverted to my own sex, and found myself facing Rick. Four out of five dances! All guys!

It's less weird than it seems, I suppose. Not everybody dances the Maypole, there aren't enough ribbons, and as Rick pointed out, more men dance than women, and some of those women dance as men. So, a large portion of people dancing as women have to be men, that's just how the math works. A lot of guys end up with guys, that way. And it makes me uncomfortable. I don't want it to make me uncomfortable, but it does. It's something I have to get over. I mean, am I afraid someone will think I'm a woman, that someone will think I'm gay? What's wrong with being female or being gay? I don't want to be that guy. I really don't.

At the feast, I asked Rick why he'd chosen to dance as a woman--it seemed an uncharacteristically playful thing for him to do. He and I were sitting together with June and Andy, who partners for the day.

"I didn't dance as a woman," Rick said.

"What, did you grab the wrong ribbon?" I was kidding him. He smiled briefly, marginally.

"I didn't dance as a woman," he repeated, "I danced as a gay man."

"I'm not sure that's an option," I said.

"Of course it's an option! Gay people exist. I exist."

"I know you exist," I said, blushing horribly, "I meant an option in the dance."

"A red ribbon signifies those who partner with men. It's about sex, not identity."

He had a point. I thought of how many different things get conflated by the simple structure of men and women partnering for a dance about sex, and how many possible ways that conflation might be unpacked.

"It's a fertility rite, though," put in June. "Procreative sex. They have to be fertile couples."

"My couplings could be very fertile," said Rick, looking at me oddly. I wondered for the first time if he found me attractive, if he actually wished I were gay. I found the idea momentarily quite flattering, then felt sorry for him because I'm not gay and wishing won't make me so, then I dismissed the whole line of thought because of course I have no idea what Rick thinks of me and my body, and it's pretty egotistical of me to make assumptions.

"Does it matter?" asked Andy. "It's not like we're actually going to have sex."

"Speak for yourself," said Rick, then glanced over at me to see if I'd blushed again. I had.

"Aw, honey, say it ain't so," said June, putting her arm around Andy, who looked very flustered. He's not much fun to tease because he gets uncomfortable so easily. But June smiled and rubbed his back in a comforting, completely platonic way, and he smiled back at her. She's so gentle with him, I found myself wishing, for a moment, that they could be a couple, before I remembered that I'd really rather not share.

After the feast was over, when it was getting dark and the only light under the event tent out on the lawn where we ate came from the season's first citronella candles, we went down the long lines of tables, each of us saying something good about our partners. It took a long time--thirty of us had danced, after all, plus ten from the masters' group. When it down to us, Rick and I looked at each other, not sure who should speak first.  We've been friends for almost seven years now, but we've never really spoken affectionately with each other. It's just not what we do. I stood and spoke before he could.

"Rick is my partner tonight," I explained. "And he is my friend, and the smartest, most observant man I know--that I've ever known, I think. It's easy to be friends when you fit in, when you have a lot in common. It's easy to be friends when you have no choice because you crave company, and most of us do, but Rick doesn't fit in and he doesn't crave company. He'd rather be left alone. When I first met him, he wanted nothing more than to learn how to go live in the woods, alone. And he did it. But when he graduated and he actually could go to the woods, he asked me to go with him. We hiked the Appalachian Trail together. He has been my friend this whole time, not because it's easy for him, and not because he feels like he has to, but because he wants to. I don't mean...I don't know how to say this. I don't want it to sound all abject, like thank you for picking me, or whatever, I mean that not everyone can truly be a friend, freely. Rick can. I think that speaks well of him. And, you know I don't like guys, but if I did, I could do worse than Rick."

That triggered a bit of a laugh. Rick stood up.

"You know I don't like human beings," he began, "but if I did..." and got a big laugh. He smiled a little in the candlelight, his face looking taut and alien. "Seriously, though, Kretzman, did you hear yourself? Everything you said about me, it's not a reason to like a guy. I mean, so Rick doesn't like people, doesn't think he needs people, but he deigns to be friendly with one dude. Well, jack off, jack-ass, right?" More laughter. "Except it's all true. But this guy, he likes it. He likes me. Go figure. Kretzman can see the best, see the worthwhileness, in anybody. Even me. Kretzman, I've never said this to anybody, but I...I think I can stand you."

Big round of laughter, and he sat down. I shoved him, and he shoved me, the way you do, and it was time for the next couple to speak. But I felt very glad to have ended up with Rick at the Maypole dance this year.

Every year, Beltane here changes a little. I think it's the most variable of our holidays. The others mostly stick to tradition, but this one evolves.

This year, Sarah seemed to be in charge. Usually, she and Kit share the holiday, but I really didn't see Kit involved that much. The morning was mostly for kids--there are only eight sprouts now, counting my brother's three kids (they were in attendance, though my brother wasn't. He just dropped them off with me) but several of them brought friends, so there were maybe twelve or thirteen kids. They had their own Maypole dance, and there was a kind of kid-friendly festival, with face-painting and silly relay-races with farm-made candy for prizes, and a kind of petting zoo consisting mostly of sheep and this season's half-grown chicks. Joy took kids around on "pony rides" with the horses, and Allen did magic. Then there was a picnic lunch with lots of kid-friendly foods, and a short concert by Carrie who, I forgot to mention, is our new head of heavy maintenance. She sang kids' song for about forty minutes. Of course, most of the people present were not kids, but we all had a good time anyway, either vicariously or simply by being kids for the morning. I let June talk me into getting my face painted, though the painter complained that it's harder to paint a face with a beard on it. I ended up with a small, orange butterfly high on each cheek.

In the afternoon, we did more adult things--nothing sexual, except the Maypole dances themselves, just things kids might find boring. Most of them ran off and entertained themselves away from adult eyes. We danced the Maypole, the masters' dance first and then the students', then we had the blessing of the animals, including, and this was a new detail, a separate blessing of the bee hives, followed by a tasting party with the last of last year's mead and hard cider. While the priest was blessing the vertebrates (cats and dogs, chickens, horses, and sheep), I looked over at Greg for some reason, and was surprised to see that he was crying. He wasn't making a big deal of it--he wasn't sobbing, and he wasn't hiding his feelings in a way that might draw attention. His face was simply wet.

Last year, of course, Greg's Cat was still alive. Greg always held the little animal, who did not belong to Greg, and who had no name besides his love for this man, during the blessing every year. I suppose, this year, Greg's arms felt very empty.

After the tasting--and of course some people did rather more than taste--we started getting ready for the dinner feast. Rick and I helped put up the event tent. Then, after the feast, there was dancing, another new development.

Most of the May Day couples, I noticed, broke up after the meals, reverting to whatever arrangements they normally had, but I treated Rick as my date for the evening. We danced together, including a couple of slow dances.

I don't know if Rick is attracted to me. Even if he is, I wouldn't have danced with him as a concession to his desire. There would be something condescending it that, I would think. He knows I'm straight and, moreover, committed monogamously to someone other than him. I would not have pretended otherwise to a man, any more that I would have pretended with a woman. No, I danced with him as I might have slow-danced with a female friend, a platonic but quite real date, because I wanted to--I was enjoying his company and, quite surprisingly, the man can dance--and because I wanted to prove to him I'm not afraid of him.

After the dance, while others were cleaning up from the festivities, I said goodnight to Rick and rejoined my actual mate (she had danced with Andy, who did not know how to dance and with whom she was touchingly patient) and we walked back to the Mansion together. We did, in fact, have a sleep-over planned.

"Care for some fertility magic?" she asked, playfully, as we rounded the corner of the Mansion, heading towards the entrance through the Green Room.
"Yes, and no," I answered.
"Huh?"
"The people enacting the Great Rite tonight, you know what they're doing, right?"
"Having sex?" she hazarded.
"Having sex as the Goddess and the God," I clarified. "He becomes the God to her and she becomes the Goddess to him, and together they enact the lovemaking of the gods. It's a pretty powerful thing, I suppose. Making love to God. I don't know if I could do it."
"Why not?" she asked.
"I don't know if I believe in it," I told her. "I shouldn't play at the sacred rites of somebody else's religion. Anyway, I don't want to be the God to you. I want to be Daniel. And I want you to be June."

She started to reply, to say something romantic and sweet, I'm sure, but then, I'm not kidding, the words "oh, god!" shrieked themselves out into the night through some open window above us, and we both cracked up.

"Oh, Daniel," she said. "You're such a trip. You and this whole weird, crazy school of yours."
"Do you like it? Are you glad you've come?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "I am."
"Then, will you marry me?"
"Yes. I said yes already."
"No," I clarified, "Not will you marry me someday, at some vague point in the future. Will you marry me soon. This summer. Say, June, June. Let's set a date."
"Ok, I'll get out my calendar."

And as soon as she said it, this weird mix of elation and fear flowed through me. I don't know how to explain it, just, all of a sudden, it got real. We're getting married!


"Not right now, though," I said.
"No, not right now," she agreed.

Her calendar was up in her room, in the Mansion, and there was somewhere besides the Mansion we wanted to go, first.