Just around the time I was hatching my first spawn, my mother-in-law was heading to her 50th high school reunion. She was 31 years older than me, and I thought her ancient. Time compresses as we age.

Last week, I drove down to Lincoln, Mass. I have family there and needed a place to stay for my own 50th high school reunion, that of the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Class of 1971. It was planned simply, a small buffet for those who’ve been waiting so long, a precursor to a larger celebration, hopefully next year.

I go to these things. At the 10th, I bonded with old friends. I organized a 20th, because I was ready to check in and nobody else took it on. That was before FaceBoss. I was living in Maine and looked to organize things using the fewest number of phone calls to trustworthy people I hadn’t met, while meeting whatever expectations I might be giving my classmates, most of whom I never really knew back in high school.

There were 347 of us, collecting diplomas on that beautiful day in June. My general circle of acquaintance within the class couldn’t have been more than 50. I recognized most of the rest, enough to know what basic demographic they hung out with – jocks, hippie freaks, science geeks, artists and theater people, politics nerds – and maybe their names.

Using an idea from my brother’s Class of ’69, I mailed a form to everyone I could find and put together a book of who we were, where we were living and what we’d been up to. I had it printed at Rockport Blueprint – one of my favorite hangouts in the early 90s – with a GBC binding and blue covers to recognize our school colors of blue and white.

Putting the book together helped me get to know a few more classmates and see up-to-date photographs of them ahead of the actual reunion.

I decided to hold the event at the high school and have it catered by the school chef, who was probably called a cook in our school days. We engaged the services of a custodian for the night, one who was glad to wander the halls with us and hear our stories of ending the dress code for girls, creating a permitting system for smoking in designated outdoor locations on campus, and sitting together on the Movie of Life stairs, according to one of us, “ … looking up boys pants.”

I got to see the science wing on that tour, something I pretty much managed to avoid as a student. Supper was chicken parmigiana, with or without chicken, a seasonal vegetable and, as I remember, cake. Nothing fancy.

After supper, I put on a couple of mixed tapes and some of us danced. When it looked like people might be thinking of leaving, I called a brief meeting, to give an accounting of how I’d spent their $25 a head and to find someone to receive the leftover money and take on the next reunion.

There was talk about what people wanted the next one to be like. There was strong lobbying for it to be in a place where alcohol was allowed, preferably served by someone dressed as a waiter. When suggestion turned to complaint, an alum suggested we could always sneak out to our cars to drink or to the cross-country course to smoke pot.

“It’s what we did in high school,” the former student said.

A short time after that reunion, a group of folks asked for my spreadsheet of the addresses and I sent that to them, along with a check for the leftover cash. They put together a 25th in a hotel function hall in Marlborough, Mass.. There was a band, still together after all those years, choices of entrees and some deep conversation among people I thought I knew well. I got to know them better. We were all in our 40s, after all, and middle age is a time of reflection.

Somewhere in there, I missed one, either a 35th or 45th, but I was part of the 40th, put together on Facebook and held in an Episcopal church in Lincoln where none of the organizers worshipped. It was small and surprising.

I learned someone I thought was really cute in high school had a crush on me back then, and that more people recognized me than I did. That made me sad. After all, I have all the time in the world to experience me, but those days, those moments, the people we were when we were just emerging from our shells – they’re a time that can’t be brought back.

Last week’s mini-reunion was held at a not-too-fancy restaurant. We had a function room with a bar and the deck outside. One old friend, with whom I’ve stayed in sporadic contact, handed me a gift when I arrived. As he put the mailing tube into my hand he said, “Put it in your car. It might be weird to open it here. It’s a wand.”

I followed his suggestion and left the package in my car. For a couple of hours, I caught up with people, learned more about the live of those I never really knew, laughed and listened and enjoyed. There was no band, no dancing.

After we ate, we gathered to talk about plans for next year’s big event and heard the names of those who died. After the last name was red, someone called out yet another – a friend whose life ended between the time I left Maine Wednesday and when I arrived at the reunion Saturday night. These deaths are less of a surprise every day, but the losses go deep.

Back in my car, I opened the mailing tube and found a well-oiled stick, about a half-inch in diameter and written over with the paths that insects make under bark. With it, in the tissue paper wrap, was a small bright feather – a surprisingly beautiful gift, fallen from the breast of a wild turkey.

The gift, from someone knew as a logical-thinking science geek, intrigued and confused me, but I have used sticks as meditation tools in the past, and wrote to my friend to learn more.

For 20 years he has been making these wands sometimes decorating them with, “… feathers, dried flowers, twigs, shells or other compatible objects, and giving them to folks of an artistic, naturalistic and/or shamanic inclination,” he wrote back. More recently, this work became part of his daily meditations.

As he worked with this one, not knowing how it would turn out or to whom he might give it, he got the sense that a dried Queen Anne’s lace seed-head might be a good embellishment.

“Some pieces ‘speak’ when I first see them; others don’t reveal purpose for quite a while.” he wrote. “The one I gave you I almost kept for myself, but the message was something like ‘for a far-traveling writer’ – which isn’t me, at least not anymore. I decided a couple of years ago that it was probably you, so set it aside until we might meet.”

He said he chose the feather because it was less fragile than the dried head of a delicate flower.

“I realize that this all sounds like new-age nonsense, and I don’t take it very seriously myself. It’s just a handy way to characterize what I feel when I make them,” he said. “If it’s just another piece of baggage, you can toss it back into the woods.”

I didn’t toss it back in the woods. Instead, I went to a favorite meadow and found some end-of-season Queen Anne’s Lace. As I wrapped hemp chord around the plant stem and feather, I thought of the feather as protecting the flower’s fragility, of the seed pods’ destiny of travel and of the feather’s resemblance to a writer’s quill.

We are all travelers and storytellers. We make our tracks under the protective bark of convention and pretense, and reveal them over time, smoothing our surfaces, adding embellishments, passing the tales to others, sometimes leaving them in the woods.

By next year, or whenever circumstances allow us to gather again, there’s a strong chance death will find more members of the Class of 1971. If I’m alive, I plan to be there to hear their names and to share the stories of those who continue to survive and spread their own particular magic.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.