Friday, February 14, 2020

Blog #3 Packout and Getting on Trail!

Hello readers!

The last week has been the week of “Ohh wow! We’re leaving for the Green Mountains really soon! We’ve got to get our act together”. It is true, we only have a few days left before we scram out of here. We can no longer pretend to have all the time left in the world, like master procrastinators usually do. 

On Saturday we drove an hour to Peru, Vermont so that we could skate ski on the Wild Wings Trails. I enjoyed the creative bird names of this trail system. We could choose from three different loops: grouse, turkey, and peregrine. We also appreciated the beautiful snow, not yet ruined by the spring like winter we’ve been having. Our goal was to ski without coming to a stop for an hour, then reconvene and ski some more. On two of the trails, this was easy enough but on the last one, peregrine, there was no middle ground – either you were barely moving up the steep incline or you were flying down it. Once we had tired ourselves out we were hangry monsters ready to bite each other’s heads off – but in a good way. Jo made the right call to pull into the Londonderry market and buy us some treats.

Steve, the van, took us to many new places this week like Crotched Mountain, where we went downhill skiing. We all started on the bunny hill, where the lift was really just a long treadmill. It was there on that bunny hill, among all the children that were too small to support the amount of snow gear they had on, that we were introduced to telemark skiing. Telemark skiing is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and is so beautiful when done right. Oliver went ahead and showed us how it's done - “swish, swish, swish, tada!” Yep… That’s exactly how easy it is, you barely have to think about your weight distribution, or how your feet are positioned, or your toe pressure. Yep Oliver, it is a completely effortless sport.

Soon we were ready to go up in a real chair lift. We marveled at the absurdity of semester students being carried up a mountain, it felt very recreational. Telemark skiing is basically skiing in a lunge position. When you want to do a tele-turn, your outer foot should be in front. If your weight isn’t evenly distributed between the two skis then they will cross over, forcing you to the ground. While learning a new skill is never easy, we all had a blast on the slopes and were sad to go back to skate skiing the next day. 

Alongside physical training, we have also started packing out food for the next four months of expedition. After many hours of prep and planning done by Calla, Elena and Zoe, food is finally finding its place in ziplocs, stuff sacks, and orange NRS boxes. Lentils, rice, beans, and oats, all scooped up and stored away until it's time for them to meet our hungry mouths on trail. 

Gear is also being prepared. The Boathouse is covered in anorak jackets, sleds, and snowshoes. Our winter tent has been set up next to the yurt so we could check it for needed repairs and say hello to the beautiful being that is to be our home. Inside feels like you could be anywhere on earth, like a time machine or the magical tents in Harry Potter (except ours definitely isn’t bigger on the inside). There is just enough space to squeeze in 16 individuals with just a little bit of burnt butt for whoever is sleeping next to the stove. This tent will be where we sleep, eat, and do academics on the winter trail. 

Speaking of which, we’ve been rushing to finish our base camp assignments on time. On Friday night many of us stayed up till almost 11pm, finishing our Braiding Sweetgrass essays and creative writing pieces. They look beautiful on our special Book of Wisdom paper in rich black ink, sprinkled with illustrations. 

We haven’t been stuck in the yurt doing academics all week though, we’ve also been entertaining ourselves with wrestling competitions, games, hockey on the Marlow pond with Ice (the semi professional hockey playing farmer), making music, and spending our day of rest at Orchard Hill Bakery.

Orchard Hill is a blessing to Kroka and all those living on campus. How amazing is it that there’s a bakery just two miles away when the local area is mostly comprised of homes, farms, and forested land. We’re even luckier considering that Noah, who runs the bakery, has many ideals that align with Kroka’s and has been partnering with us for many years. Kroka’s freezers are always filled with Noah’s bread and so are the stomachs of semester students! Noah talked to us about all of the semester students that have come and done service for him, both before and after their expeditions, and how he is always amazed at how drastically the group changes. He emphasized that while individuals grow and evolve it is the group that really comes together as one brilliant well-oiled machine that can take on anything. 

Noah also showed us Orchard Hill’s gigantic wood fired bread oven. It’s the size of a small room, and super insulated to the point where it was at 400 degrees and the fire hadn’t been lit for two days. We had many questions about the oven and the bakery in general, and Noah had answers waiting. Sadly when asked if the oven had a name, the answer came back negative. 

What would you name a GIGANTIC wood fired oven?

After Noah got tired of us, he threw us outside into the cold and used us to rearrange his firewood. It was actually a lot of fun to chuck wood onto the top of the pile and watch the hill grow steeper and steeper until adding more to the top just caused more to fall down. Once this point was reached, we meandered down the hill to the sauna.

Noah’s brother built the sauna using traditional Japanese woodworking methods and it’s conveniently situated right next to a pond with a hole cut through the ice. I wonder what the hole could possibly be for??? Perhaps for jumping into the pond naked as can be! Perhaps also for the purposes of screaming and jumping out. The sauna itself was hot with a capital H and Steeaammmyyy. The room had two story seating on both sides, with a wood stove at the end opposite the door. The top benches were so hot it felt as if your bum might just burn off and it was a little difficult to breath - all in all, a very enjoyable experience. By the second round of dunking in the pond, the cold water didn’t feel half as bad and the air temperature felt like a warm spring day. We couldn’t, however, stay there all day and so eventually dried ourselves off and made our way back to the bakery for lunch. 

Lunch, OOOOHHHHHH my god! It might have been some of the best food ever eaten by man or woman or any human or alien kind. Open-faced sandwiches melted in the oven with tomato sauce, pesto, olives, cheese, bacon, peppers, and onions on top! Next came the focaccia bread, so soft and flavorful, then dessert- cinnamon buns sprinkled with pecan pieces and pastries topped with lemon, goat cheese, and honey. The drool poured out of our mouths and must have pooled together all the way to Lake Warren. Plus there was groovy music to dance to. We left Noah feeling like we hadn’t completed enough service to properly thank him, but he told us not to worry, because in the spring he’ll have plenty of work for us to do. Thank goodness!

Here’s a poem by Pele Clark that’s bound to make you giggle or snort:

Tickle bristles,
fall down fast,
make bows,
milk cows,
and after chores we get to chow.
Swallow butter, milk, and grits,
Now I got the sh*ts!

Now go and treat yourselves to some locally baked goodies, help out a neighbor, and enjoy the winter forest. Peace out girl scouts, I’ve got chores to get to!

Sincerely, Oddtree

If you are settling in for a movie night STOP, get up and make yourself some popcorn and chai tea. If you accidentally make too much, invite friends, family, or neighbors to come join you, its more fun with others anyways. And finally, watch Captain Fantastic instead of whatever you had planned. 

This blog is from the week before students left on expedition. After a weekend filled with families, packing, and fulfilling commitments, students set off on trail on Tuesday, February 11th and are currently snowshoeing on the spine of the Green Mountains!

Students performing in the future multipurpose room of the new farmhouse.

Misha and Lynne performing in the parent and staff talent show on Parent Day!

Benjamin performed, "The Cremation of Sam Mcgee" written by Robert W. Service in the early 1900s. 

...and so the expedition begins!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Blog #2: Meet the Team

I would like to begin this blog post by introducing all the members of the team, their assigned trail names, and their responsibilities, also known as Big Jobs. Without further ado…
Elena- Elena Blaina
Basecamp food and trail snacks (day food): responsible for packing our day food for expedition as well as planning meals for Basecamp
Calla- Calladin
Dinner and breakfast trail food: Responsible for planning and packing our expedition breakfasts and dinners
Griffin- Manticore
Kitchen: Responsible for organizing the kitchen (pots, pans, spoons, bowls, sponges, soap…and taking care of the animals that feed us milk and yogurt!)
Pele- StandBuy
Healer: Our medic of both physical and emotional wounds, as well as keeping our space sanitized so he doesn't NEED to heal us.

Elijah- The Prophet

Energy and firewood: Charges our headlamps, makes sure we always have enough firewood, basically in charge of all things fire related including the stoves
Sydney- Melbourne
Logistics: Basically our super important travel agent, responsible for reserving us ferry ride tickets across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, places to sleep at cabins and hostels, along with history tour guides of Quebec City. Melbourne also manages our group’s budget.
Julia- Salinger
Gear: looking after fixing and adjusting our snowshoes, tents, tarps, and more!
Katarina- Dogerina
Water: Hydrate or Diedrate! making sure we have safe water and drink enough, even when we are cold and don't want to have to pee!
Sarah- Helmet
Traveller: Ski, snowshoe, and boat care. We wouldn’t get far without our traveller along for the ride with us.
Eliza- Price is Right
Repair: Responsible for fixing or helping with repairs of both group and personal gear.
Audrey- Oddtree
Scribe and vanager (van and trailer manager): writes the blog, and acts as a mail carrier. Maintains and repairs the van and trailer as the vanager. Obviously the two most important roles should be filled by someone as brilliant and over qualified as Oddtree...
Rachel- Rashell
Navigator: plans out our entire route and is responsible for keeping us NOT LOST
Kai- Caillou
Camp: keeps our camp clean and organized so that systems run smoothly and gear isn’t misplaced. 

You know our team, now this is what we are doing...
Week two began with us celebrating and commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.. During dinner we listened to his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. Many of us had listened to or read parts of it previously, but only a few of us have ever listened to it in its entirety. After listening to the speech there was silence at first. Silence from the awe and power in MLK’s voice. There was silence because we had all forgotten for a moment that this speech was written and delivered in 1963, 57 years ago.
Many issues MLK sang of are still very present today. We can not deny the power of the civil rights movement and other pushes for change, as there have been great improvements. We also can not and must not deny that positive change is still needed. We as a society have not yet reached the ideal this country was supposedly founded on, equal rights and opportunity for everyone, despite many acting as if we have.
We also discussed our group’s composition. We look around the room at each other’s faces – all white. We have more opportunity and privilege in this country simply because we were born caucasian. The outdoor industry community has historically been dominated by white males. This too, is slowly changing, but faster for white women than for African Americans. The lack of diversity is present on semester, and is something we want to see change. Making this change happen is a difficult process. It is difficult to take cultural differences into the equation, to change the community to a more welcoming and safe environment. These are hurdles that can be jumped, especially when there are people who use their privilege to make room for those who don’t have the same opportunities.
While this discussion was held Monday night, the topic stayed in our minds the rest of the week. 

This week has been very rhythmic, skate skiing practice and academics in the morning and knife hafting in the afternoon. Slowly, all of us are mastering our skate skiing techniques with the help of Jo’s tips and tricks and Misha’s inventive races. One of which comprised of teams of two. One person would skate ski while pulling their partner along by their poles. Partners would switch halfway around the loop. Once they’d reached the start/finish line they’d switch to double poling, where partners wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders and only used one pole each. This race was quite a spectacle to behold, arms and legs in every which direction, screams and grunts of frustration emanating from all around the track. These races are a great way to disguise physical exertion as something fun. 

Unfortunately, not all of us had the pleasure of participating in this particular activity, as the plague has befallen our group. One by one it has made its way around our community, ripping our throats, clouding our heads, raising our temperatures, but also gifting us with the opportunity to sleep in and skip chores.
The rest of us who haven’t yet fallen prey to the illness have found a number of other inventive ways to destroy our bodies. Just kidding, that’s only partly true… As I was saying, the rest of us have been forced into a strict regimen of Emergen-C, vitamins, hot hot hot hand and dish washing, and early bedtimes. While Emergen-C flavors are questionable, more time snoozin’ in bed is not. 
Despite the many of us who are under the weather, we are still on track to finish our knives, as some of us are speedy crafters who are ready to sand and make sheaths for those of us who aren’t well enough to make their way to the workshop.
The knife and sheath making process is not easy, especially making the sheath pattern. This brought forth both tears of frustration and of joy when we finally crossed the finish line. We are getting close to the unveiling moment when we finally get to gift our knives to each other. 
This past Monday morning we had our first navigation class with Nathan Lyczak. We started with the basics –  a table, map, and experienced teacher. Though we all have different backgrounds in navigation, compass, and map reading, our end goal is to be able to find a very specific part of a forest using map and compass and then explain over radio where we are.
This skill would be useful (essential) for search and rescue missions, which, knock on wood, we won’t be doing, but still need to be prepared for. Our lesson started with us looking at a map of the area around Keene, NH. The same thought was going through many of our minds, “This is going to be so boring, I can already read a map, Nathan. I know what roads look like, I can understand contour lines...” But we soon realized that there is a lot that we don’t know or understand about maps. We went around the table pointing out different features on the map and explaining or guessing their purpose.
Soon enough, we began pondering complex thoughts, questions, and ideas which took us on a make believe trip around the world. Luckily, we had a globe in the yurt and so we were back in time to go skiing. 
Skiing was a trip in itself (a slip, TRIP, and thump for me). The warm weather and rain that came in this weekend turned our beautiful snowy ski trails into malicious ice sheets. So we hopped into the van and drove to Dublin, NH which has an amazing system of groomed ski trails open to our use.

“Constant movement” is our motto, but breaks are taken anyways, despite Jo’s best efforts to keep us a’ glidin'. We also started working on V2 skiing, another skate skiing method. It requires a rhythm only a gazelle trained as a ballerina (or Jo) could possess, but that did not did not deter us from trying. In the end, it turns out that it doesn’t take a gazelle ballerina to V2, it takes a bunch of smelly, high on life semester students with a patient teacher. 

V2 skiing isn’t the only way to work up a sweat…Tonight we’re going to hit the town of Nelson for some contra dancing. So clean your faces, brush your hair, fling on your snazziest non-stinkiest clothing and make your way down to Nelson. Personally, I’ve only been contra dancing once before, but recently I’ve learned that apparently not only the older generation contra dances. I was told, via the grapevine, that the Greenfield dance is where it's at, with all those young hip contra dancers, whereas Nelson is known as the “birthplace of contra”. But we are going to Nelson and we’re going to have a swell time.
That’s it for this week folks! Please send donations in the form of sweet food divisible by 13 (17 if you want to feed our teachers and farmer). We accept cakes, cookies, brownies, biscuits, chocolate, dried fruit, jerky… But we also appreciate the SWEET comfort of your words so do send letters! We really do read them, and sometimes write back ;)

Sincerely, Oddtree

Butter is life. So here is a beautiful, on point poem about the very thing:
By Sydney Harris
Delicious slippery Lipids
in a beautiful brick- like block
you can make the unimaginable palatable
maybe even a dirty sock

Friday, January 24, 2020

Blog #1: Beginnings

Hello readers! It is I, Audrey, newly appointed scribe for the 2020 Arctic to Manhattan semester team. While I can not know and realistically describe how each of the team members are experiencing the journey, I will do my very best to reach some sort of average.

We all joined together on Monday the 13th, excited and nervous for the beginning of a 5 month journey together. While some of us have known for many years that we wanted to go on winter semester, others joined in just days prior to the start. But now we all have come together, seen each other’s faces for the first time and breathed out in relief. Like Oliver Mednick, semester leader for the first two legs, says, “the hardest part of going for a run is getting out of the door”. While I find the uphills hardest, I, we, understand what he meant by saying this, the hardest part was getting to this moment, now we just move forward. With the blessings bestowed upon us by semester alum and the supportive arch of arms our parents raised to bid us farewell through, we are well equipped for the long journey ahead (despite some missing pieces of gear).

            ~We walk in beauty together~

Monday night after an introductory fire circle and campus tour, among other things, we chose which chores we would be working on for the next week. There is a plethora of options and I just can’t describe the enthusiasm there was to be the one on farm house hormigas, wood yard, chickens, barn, etcetera… at 6:30 in the morning.

After chores on Tuesday morning, we had a delicious breakfast and learned about the flow of the day: Chores, Breakfast, 3 people on clean up and everyone else goes on a sit-spot. For those who aren’t familiar with the art of sit spotting, it is time taken purposefully to sit alone in the woods and to think about or observe the world. Living in a tightly knit community is an amazing, beautiful, lovely, joyful, humorous experience, BUT for our living arrangement to work we need to take time alone and therefore practice the fine art of sit-spotting.

Question for the outside sit-spotter: Sit-spot with or without a journal? Eyes open or closed?(comment below)

Sit-spot time ends with 15 minutes of journaling. Afterwards, we hold morning meeting usually followed by some academics and exercise. Today some of us went  for a run up and down and up and down and up Rogers road (it was hilly). While those who didn’t win the running lottery helped Misha, the co-founder of Kroka, paint colors such as “pure joy” and “oopsie daisy” onto the walls of the food room. After our exercise block we all enjoyed the opportunity to be the first semester students, first Kroka residents, to use the newly finished (the door was hung right before we went in!) showers, also known more commonly as the decontamination center. All in all an amazing experience 5 out of 5 soap bars, as the shower has a very luxurious feel to it with its fancy tiles, donated by a friend of Kroka. If we could suggest any additions we would go ahead and add some moss, spider plants, and a bath mat if we were thinking practically. So if anyone has a spare bath mat that could survive 13 semester students, send it on over!

The rest of the evening was spent organizing lumber for the construction crew and celebrating semester start with Lynne and Misha in their beautifully crafted home.

We rose Wednesday morning ready, or maybe not, for a packed day. We had our first french class with Sylvie, for some of us she was the first non-stressful not-off the walls french teacher, for others she was the first french teacher. We are learning french in preparation for Canada where we will encounter french speaking people! WOW! In class we went over some basics; very important vocab like “Je voudrais un chocolat chaux s’il te plait” and “j’ai vu un grand lac dans la forest” and Eni-mini-mini-moe en francais: “am-stram-gram, pikay-pikay-colegram...”.

After class we got ready for the big moment – the fitness test (part of it). We were challenged to run the 5 miles down forest road and around orchard hill bakery (without stopping for a snack) in under an hour. All of us made it despite the red cheeks, burning lungs, sore muscles, and doubting minds. In the evening we loaded ourselves into the van for the first of many times and drove into the heart of Keene. Our plan was to get dinner at the Keene community kitchen and then do service work in the pantry. While we sorted dry goods by type, Phoebe, the woman in charge of it all, wove stories about the food pantry, the building, the people that came there. These were stories that brought both tears to our eyes and warmth to our hearts. We felt inspired by Phoebe's ability to keep going, always having enough energy to help more people in need. Another outcome of the trip is that thanks to Pele the classic orange traffic cone is now an instrument which receives appraisal from passerbys.

Julia coming in hot with a win for the cardio!

The next day, snow greeted us in the morning, both serene and peaceful but also the gateway to exuberant shouts of joy and flying snow. We made our way to the Beaver pond with snow shovels to clear out a skating rink. Among us are both pro skaters and beginners. Afterwards you could tell the pros and beginners apart by our gait, normal but awkward vs stiff and obviously bruised.

Friday morning we left after breakfast to the Kohout home. We arrived in time for lunch, bagels and cream cheese with a comforting lentil soup created by the much appreciated and loved Jessy. We got right to work after that on our knives and skiing practice. 

Saturday we reached a point where our “knives” started to look like knives and we could all ski down hills without butt breaking – progress.

By the end of the weekend we all have our knife blades. Now we just need to sharpen them, make handles to hold them with, and sheaths to keep them in, before gifting them to each other. When we started making knives we pulled names out of a hat to see who we would be making them for. Most of us decided to keep it secret so we only find out which one is ours on the day of giving.

Jo, our semester long teacher, welcomed us back at Kroka with a big pot of mac and cheese. While we will miss the wisdom and hospitality of Micheal Kohout, Jessy Diamondstone, and Sam Foucher, we are happy to be back at Kroka, a place we have begun referring to as home.

This coming week will be full of skate skiing practice in addition to knife handle and sheath making with Laurel Iselin.

Sending all of you warm thoughts and toes! Until next week! 

Your scribe,