Inside an Earth Faerie College
MERIDELL - Just south off the coast of Meridell lies three relatively small islands.
The two southern islands, riddled with overgrown vegetation and wild petpets,
are quite dangerous for untrained Neopets to wander through. As a result, these
two islands are usually restricted to visitors by the Neopian Park Service (NPS)
and guarded by a special branch of the NPs for reasons of safety and preservation.
Perhaps here, in this very natural, organic environment, it is most appropriate
for the hands-on education of the stewards of plants and soil to take place. The
Institute for Earth Faerie Education (called the “Institute” by its faculty and
students) has been located on the northernmost island of the little-known trio
for about thirty years, giving earth faeries one of the very finest and most unusual
The island of the Institute stands in pleasant contrast to the other two islands.
Though almost completely covered with forest, the Institute’s island is not
overgrown. The trees are well tended to and pruned, and the caretakers of the
island (the earth faerie students) periodically conduct brush burnings to keep
thorns from overtaking the forest and to dispose of fallen limbs. Like the rugged
environment the Institute is found in, the Institute itself allows nothing incredibly
luxurious. Earth faerie students live in rough-hewn log cabins, often unheated
during the winter and lacking coolness during the summer. Basic lighting and
plumbing needs are absent in the majority of cabins. Other than the few possessions
they bring with them, the earth faerie students are each provided with a bed,
several blankets, and a single, green journal with unlined pages (as well as
painting and writing utensils). Needless to say, the Institute is committed
to a simplistic lifestyle.
Despite the fact the island is occupied, the island’s numerous petpet species
can still present a danger to students. Ganuthors and Crokabeks have been particularly
trying species to live with on the island. Ganuthors, stealthily sneaking into
the faeries’ cabins, often steal their meager possessions or destroy them looking
for food. Crokabeks tend to be a bit less destructive, but more annoying, as
they will fearlessly dive from the heights of the trees and snatch up an earth
faerie’s lunch or pencils. Sometimes, when these species attack in large bands,
parts of the Institute must be evacuated, and the earth faeries return to find
their cabins in ruins.
In a rough environment, where not even one’s lodgings are a refuge, what attracts
earth faeries to study here? The answer, according to Ms. Aertha Fledgling,
the Institute’s president, is the curriculum. “We don’t have any textbooks!”
remarked Ms. Fledgling. “Our curriculum is the island itself – what would be
more appropriate for a young Earth Faerie?” Indeed, the closest thing Faerie
students have to a textbook is their journal. It is in these books that students
write their observations of the island, personal reflections, and even draw
and paint. “They already have book-knowledge of how nature works – they’ve been
getting that since they first entered school,” Ms. Fledgling continued. “We
want to give them a working knowledge while allowing them to express
the lessons they learn from nature through prose, poetry, and art.”
This working knowledge of the environment is gained through just that
– working. As noted above, the caretakers of the island are the Faeries themselves.
Earth faerie students capture, weigh, measure, and tag petpets to monitor their
populations on the Institute’s island. They harvest fruit, plant new trees while
removing diseased ones, plant crops and gardens, as well as keep streams and
rivers clean for water-dwelling petpets. The Institute also encourages charity,
and the surplus of their crops is donated to the Soup Faerie. Exams are conducted
in a much looser manner than at traditional colleges and universities. The Institute
uses “working exams”. (An instructor observes an individual student or group
of students work or collect field specimens to ensure they are becoming proficient
in their skills. Interestingly, these “working exams” may be conducted with
or without a student’s knowledge.)
One integral part of the earth faeries’ education, however, is simply going
out into the island (usually with a buddy) and observe the plants and animals.
“When we go out to observe, we learn more than just the technical elements of
stewardship.” One student, Autumn Brownleaf remarked, “We learn to see morality
reflected in nature, too. Knowing the character of the animals and plants we’re
working with will help us to be better caretakers.” It is at this time, during
observation, that most of the art produced by the Institute is created. Faeries
are often inspired to draw or paint what they observe, and others make up stories
to explain the behavior of certain petpets. Many of these stories and artworks
can be found in the book published by the Institute, Earth Faeries. New
editions of this book come out every so often, showcasing the talent of the
artists at the Institute for Earth Faerie Education.
Faeries often enjoy sharing what they learn on their nature walks: “I think
the thing I learned the most today was something I saw a Scamander doing,” a
student said when she returned from the field. “He was playing in the flow of
the stream by himself. Scamanders usually live in solitude, and they’re content
like that. They’ve learned to take care of themselves without being overly dependant
on a group. I like that. It helps me understand that being alone is not always
bad, and it’s okay to do things by myself.” Another student remarked: “I love
watching the Dragoyles! They collect shiny things – I’ve even seen a few of
my bracelets I thought I had lost in their hoards. But, even though the Dragoyles
love their material possessions, they love each other more. I’ve often seen
them exchange gifts and sacrifice other possessions on behalf of their clans.
It’s a beautiful sight, really; no matter how rich you are, other people will
always be more important.” It is these principals, learned firsthand from nature,
that have the most impact on the lives of students at the Institute. Some students
arrive at the Institute with less-than-remarkable character. It is through these
lessons – and lasting friendships formed at the Institute – that many have come
to be content, productive members of Neopia.
As far as success off the island goes, perhaps the most telling detail of the
success of the Institute’s hands-on methods is what happens after they
graduate from the Institute. Most of the time, graduates go on to care for the
forests of Neopia. Other Faeries tend to various gardens or assist water faeries
in the maintenance of mountain streams and rivers. Perhaps the most well known
of Institute graduates is Illusen, the famous, generous Faerie of Meridell.
World-famous earth faerie poets, prose-writers, and artists have come out of
the Institute as well. Due to the hands-on approach the institute takes to education,
it can be concluded that, seen and unseen, earth faerie graduates from this
little-known college are of the highest quality.
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