Shift 23: Summer

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Summer came. I had to do a lot of persuading, but I talked Aadhya into supporting my spending the summer with Ted. I would have gone, anyway, even if it meant losing my place at YOTO, so maybe that’s why she eventually caved.

“But we prefer for the youth to spend the summer here,” she said, over and over. “It works better. You can get a job or take AP classes or even take yoga-teacher-training.”

I told her I had a promise to keep. To me and to Ted.

“But we find that when the kids leave, they sometimes don’t return,” she said at last. “It really doesn’t promote success.”

“I’ll be back,” I told her. “If you let me go, I’ll be back, if you’ll have me. If you don’t let me go, I’ll leave anyway, and not come back.”

We fought. And the funny thing was that I really enjoyed fighting! I mean, this is what teens are supposed to do, right? Fight with grown-ups! And for the past few years, all the grown-ups in my life treated me with kid gloves, like I’m gonna break and like they have to “support me in all I do” so it actually really felt awesome to throw around my weight.

Eventually, Deon called and talked her down. Then she was like, “Jazz, we trust you. If you feel this is best for you, go. We’ll see you back before Labor Day.”

And so here I am! Deon drove me and we camped for a few days in the park, and then I hiked up here to Ted’s cabin, and Deon drove back home for the summer. He’ll pick me up in a few months.

It felt great to smell the vanilla scent of the pines, to hear the wind in the branches, and to see Ted again.

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“You look like a hermit,” I told him.

“Well, that’s pretty much the deal,” he joked back.

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“How was your winter?” I asked.

He had so much to tell me. He read Homer, in Greek, again.

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“Truthfully, Starshine,” he said, “making it through a winter is a miracle. You don’t know cold until you live through a winter here. But I’ve done it for a while. There’s so much planning: chopping and stacking cords of wood. Laying up supplies. Doling it out carefully to last until the thaw, or even longer, in case we get a second cold-spell. There’s always a fear of not making it, even if I figure I will. In my bones, there’s that ancient winter dread that settles in, and that, somehow, makes it feel all the more miraculous to survive.”

“I’d love to spend a winter up here sometime,” I told him.

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He asked me what I’d learn on my adventure in the world. The way he asked it, he made me feel like I was just as much an adventurer back in the normal world of San Myshuno High as he was living up here.

I told him all about my temporary stay at the park where Deon’s office was, and then I told him about YOTO. I filled him in on the cross country team and the track team. I told him about the mentors. And I told him about reading Goethe’s Young Werther.

“You did well,” he said. “You took all you learned last summer, and you brought it back to the world with you.”

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I felt proud the way he said that. It felt like the universe had a plan, and I was part of it.

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“Do you believe in a personal universe?” I asked him.

“Hell, no!” he said. “The universe doesn’t care about me personally!”

I laughed. I thought he was joking.

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But he said he wasn’t.

I don’t know what to think now. I thought that all I’d learned, spiritually, about connection and stuff, was what Ted believed, too, and that somehow I was on the right track, and he was going to teach me more.

But if he doesn’t believe the same as I do, then what does that mean about what I believe? Is it all wrong, what I learned last summer and what’s pulled me through this far? Is it just the magical thinking of a lonely girl who doesn’t want to grow up?

I’m suddenly wondering what I’m doing here this summer. If I have to give up what I believe at heart, then what will I learn? Is it worth knowing something if it supplants what’s kept you going for so long?

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Shift 15: Wildcraft

Ted got home the morning after my birthday. I found him sitting at the kitchen table, having eaten two pieces of cake. He said he liked the strawberries.

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I had woken up with cramps. I didn’t want any cake.

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I went outside and lay on my belly on a granite slab that had been baking in the sun all morning. The warmth felt good.

I thought about what I’d learned last night. Cramps aren’t personal. They’re part of being in a female body.

The warmth of the rock soaked through me.

As I stopped resisting, the pain shifted to discomfort. Pretty soon, it felt like heaviness or fullness. That was all.

I still had an icky stomach, though.

When I got back to the cabin, Ted fixed me a cup of tea.

After I drank it, my stomach felt settled, and I felt good enough to eat my two slices of cake.

“What was in that tea?” I asked Ted.

“Black cohosh, white willow bark, and wintergreen,” he said. “Good for when the dreams in you are full and need release.”

“How did you learn about this?” I asked him.

He handed me a wildcrafting book.

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The information in that book excited me. It’s just like I thought! The universe really is our grandmother. We have here everything we need for our health and well-being, growing right outside our homes, in the wild green places.

I asked Ted if I could live with him, forever. For good. I feel safe here. I want to stay and learn wildcrafting. I want to be here where I hear the wilderness’s whispers when I walk outside the door. I want to stay where I’m cared for.

He said I couldn’t. I had to go back into the world.

“You can take refuge here,” he said. “But you can’t stay.”

“But you stay,” I said. “If you stay, I can. It’s not fair.”

He explained that he hadn’t always lived here. He’d had a wife and kids. He worked on fricking Wall Street. He was part of the world, before he left it.

I thought about his words while I carved the wood.

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“You can’t drop out before you’ve dropped in,” he said. “Your life hasn’t yet begun. Sure, you’ve had some challenges. And your life hasn’t taken a typical course. You don’t know it yet, but that’s your gift. That’s your grace. You stay here, and you’ll never know that. You’ll never take that grace and share it.”

He told me I had to go back first, so that I could see if what I learned could stand the test of the world of people. If I could integrate what I knew into daily life, then I’d learned it. If not, then it was merely the first knocking of the spirit.

“Let’s see if you’ve got what it takes,” he said. “See if you can go back and keep what’s been given you. Don’t let that world rob you of it. You do that, and then maybe the world will discover that you, Little Starshine of the Universe, has something incredible to offer back.”

He made it sound important, going back. He made it seem like it was part of my path. Plus, he said I could come back next summer and spend the whole summer up here.

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The last day, before I left, I couldn’t figure out how to thank him.

I thought back to who I was before I came up here, how I felt like I was just a kid struggling to find a place, and now and then, I had a hope that maybe I belonged in the big scheme of things, but that I always treated that hope like it was a little kid’s dream or wish. I thought my ideas about the universe being our grandmother was make-believe, and I let myself make-believe it because I was so alone, and that little piece of imagination was the only thing that kept me going, the only thing I could cling to when things were the toughest.

And now, I don’t think it’s make-believe.

Now I’ve felt that it’s true. The Universe is our Grandmother. And we’re all cousins. And it’s both personal and not personal, all at the same time. And I don’t have to make up my mind and I can be everything.

“Thanks, Ted,” I said. “I can see why Deon loves you.”

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He wrapped me in a big hug.

“Do you know what love is?” he asked. I said no.

“Better than peanut butter,” he replied.

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“So, come back next summer,” he said, “and I’ll teach you wildcrafting. If you want to learn, that is.”

I do!

He said he would be interested in hearing all about my year at school and what it’s like for me to come back to the world of people after living here, in the real world.

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I gained a home, that’s what I realized when I hiked back to where Deon was going to meet me. You can think of it as being a place. But it’s not an actual physical place. Or if it is, it’s too vast to fit inside of any one thing, and it has to fit through and around everything. That’s where home is. And I’m taking it with me now when I head back to the people world.

But there’s one sure thing I decided on my hike back, I might be returning to the people world, but I wasn’t going back to Oasis Springs. There’s no way I was going to be that kid they call Stink at Oasis Springs High. I don’t know where I’ll stay or what school I’ll be in, but I won’t be at that school where they called me Stink.

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Whisper 2.24

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Dear me,

I feel I’ve never noticed how beautiful autumn is before! At home, it’s not so different from the other seasons–gray skies and rain. Here, we get enough rain that I don’t feel homesick, but we also get sun that sparkles the ground in gold light.

I’ve been watching the chipmunks and squirrels. We have so many now! More than were here in Mom’s day. They chase each other over the lawn.

One squirrel grabbed a twig and began doing gymnastics with it, and the more I laughed, the sillier he got!

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Since Shannon and I reached our sort of understanding, I’ve been feeling peaceful. Settled. All my doubts and questions have dissipated, and I can concentrate more on my studies.

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Funny thing is, I actually don’t need to concentrate on phys ed. It just comes naturally to me. So I’ve been reading the chapters in my art history book that I skipped last time. It’s fascinating stuff, and surprisingly, a lot of it seems to intersect with phys ed. For example, in art, the Fibonacci sequence forms the essence of Classical composition. And, in phys ed, we find this same sequence is repeated throughout the human body.

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It’s fascinating to me! How is it that something can be at the core of both of these disciplines? And would I find it in music, too? (Answer: yes.) But what about technology?

I asked one of my dorm-mates, who’s a tech major and one of the biggest geeks I know.

“I live for Fibonacci!” He said.”It’s for recursion. It gives a base case then allows a program to make repeated calls to a method to solve the problem.”

“Do you think there’s something mystical about it?” I asked him. I’m starting to think there is.

“Oh, no!” He replied. “It is no more mystical than the human mind! It is something we invent. Outside of us, and our ceaseless quest for patterns, it doesn’t exist.”

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I’m not so sure.  I asked Kenyon about it. He didn’t know what the Fibonacci was, but as I explained that it’s a sequence that shows exponential growth over time, he thought for a bit, and then he said that, in the creation of the universe, exponential growth was essential.

“That’s what allows creation to flower,” he said. “You need the exponential. So, yeah. I think it’s, like, integral.”

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I asked Melvin Moon.

“I use the Fibonacci all the time in computer graphics,” he said. He told me he even designs color palettes using the sequence.

“But what I’m getting at,” I asked him, “is whether it’s a human thing or more universal?”

“Does it matter?” he asked. “I mean, we’re part of the universe, right?”

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Melvin and I played a game of hopscotch on a hopscotch court designed with galactic patterns.

Melvin said, “Let’s play Fibonacci hopscotch.”

We hopped once, once, twice, three times, five times, eight.

“I’m out of court!” Melvin yelled.

“Keep going!” I encouraged him.

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It was the funnest game of hopscotch I’d ever played.

I watched the chipmunk run across the lawn. Of course! The Fibonacci sequence was first developed to predict the population growth of rabbits! It applies to little rodents, too. No wonder we have so many more here now than we did when Mom was here, when there was just one, then another one, then two, then three…

I looked at the pile of leaves that Kenyon had raked. The shape of the pile, the shape of each leaf, the gradation of color from one hue to the next, the various hues themselves. When I toss them, do they even fall in Fibonacci sequence?

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Miracles repeat–within us, without. Is it any wonder that we fall in love when the very universe is designed in mystery?

Keep wondering,

me

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