Friday, September 22, 2017

Of Backpacks and Rivers

Preparing for navigation on the river
Backpack Making and Academics
The week following our biking expedition was filled with sewing backpacks with Lisl and Nicole, our wonderful sewing instructors. The first step in the process was sewing all the different parts for the packs-the bodies, the pockets, the straps, the pocket lids, and so on. Working with all these little pieces in the beginning, it was hard to imagine an actual backpack coming together. But, we dialed in and focused, and before we knew it we were sewing our own backpacks together. Nicole brought beautiful ribbon from Ecuador that she let us use to line our pockets. Although we each sewed together our own backpacks, each one is made up of parts that the whole group created. So in a way, we all made backpacks for one another.

Our beautiful backpacks!
I really enjoyed working with Lisl to make our backpacks. We started from scratch, using just fabric and thread, and constructed beautiful and durable expedition packs. We worked in the sewing room for long periods of time, but Lisl’s positive attitude created a positive environment for us to work, make mistakes, and learn. Most semester students began the project without having previous sewing experience. However, on day five, we finished our backpacks with newly developed sewing expertise and great smiles. I felt so gratified once I could hold the backpack in front of me and say, “I finished.” Now I’m even more excited to put it to use.
The week was also filled with hard work on academics. Many guest teachers came and taught us lessons-Bob Brown taught us about New England Geology, Nathan taught Navigation, Silvano taught Biodynamics, Matias taught Permaculture, and Nora taught Creative Writing. In Nora’s class we did an exercise where we wrote continuously for five minutes in response to a reading she read. When we couldn’t think of anything else in response, we wrote whatever came to mind. When the five minutes were up, Nora asked us to pass our journals to our right. She then asked us to write a poem using only the words the person before had written. Here is Aisha’s poem, written from Whitley’s words:

Keep going
this is necessary
in turbulent times
in troubled times.
How do we catch solid ground
long enough to let the sediment settle.
This must be done in many places.
Where would we be?
On a solid slab of granite
or a solid slab of marble.
If every piece settled
just a little bit within themselves
We could keep going,
this is necessary.

Once every two days we have “sit spots,” which is a time meant for being still by ourselves-sitting in the woods, the field, or whatever spot we feel connected to. This past week we have not had as much time to run around outside. So for some, sit spot time has become more active. One afternoon during sit spots, I was sitting at the edge of the woods in the field of the camp village. I began to hear rustling coming from the forest. I ignored it, thinking it was a chipmunk or something. The noise continued to grow louder and voices joined in- I recognized Griffin and Luke’s. As I watched the tops of the trees, two next to each other started shaking, and the boy’s laughter grew louder. Apparently tree climbing wasn’t the only activity that occurred during the sit spot. Later, Jule and Harry shared with us that they had gone out to the beaver pond in the Kroka woods, and paddled across it with the canoe there. They told us that once across, they cut pieces of a fallen oak for making wooden spoons.

A couple mornings ago we got up before the sun rose to take a run. The moon and the stars were still out, bright in the clear sky. On our way back, pinks and oranges appeared with the sun. When we got home, we ran straight into the pond together where fog was gently rising, swirling and dancing around all of us.

Our Paddling Expedition with Misha
The morning we left for our four day paddling expedition, Misha drove us to Bellows Falls and we swam across the Connecticut River. He asked us to climb the cliffs on the other side and find the petroglyphs- rock carvings the the Abenaki people created. When we found them, almost buried from construction materials, we sat in silence for a while. We stared at the faces in the rocks and could feel that this was a special place people long before us knew.

Sunset on the river

Working on our portaging skills

Aisha- enjoying the river
Our first two days of paddling were on the Connecticut River. We drifted along on the flat water, slowly rounding lazy curves. If you were behind everyone in the beginning of the first day, you would see boats zigzagging back and forth from bank to bank. But, once Misha taught us the correct paddling strokes and we took some time to practice, straight paths were made by most all of the canoes.

Classroom by the river's side

Bryony and Zoe- working on academics at the edge of the forest

The one night we slept by the Connecticut we found a beautiful island to camp on. It had a beach with sand so soft it felt like being at the ocean. When the stars came out, we lay on our backs around the fire. Nora told us a story about the constellations.

Harry cooking our dinner

The first rapid we paddled was Sumner Falls. The swirling, churning white water carried us fast through channels of rocks. Some of us flipped, but the water wasn’t too cold and the sun was shining warm that day. By the time we left, Wilder Dam upstream had released. The water went from 800 cubic feet per second to 9,800. The river looked completely different. Most all of the rocks had disappeared.

Hannah and Whitley- playing in the waves!

Griffin and Luke, taking a hard line

After a nice flip into the river!

Hyim- testing his skill in the solo canoe

The van ride to the Deerfield River was full of singing, laughter, and some music played on Misha’s travel guitar. We arrived at camp late at night and went to sleep promptly, preparing ourselves mentally and physically for running the river rapids for the next two days. In the morning, Misha had us go find our own spots to sit next to the river. He told us to listen to what it was saying and write down what we heard. Here is what Hannah heard:

She rushes to get where I sit,
toppling over rocks, springing up white wash.
I hear her energy, high and continuous.
As she weaves through obstacles, her voice lowers.
Her rippling, spiraling intention is pronounced.
Her confidence is clear.

She sings to the pools of still water,
lapping at my feet.

On her path, she does not turn to see where it flows from,
but rather greets and welcomes the forgotten stream
that trickles in closely with her warm song.
Together they hum, softly,
Winding their way,
forward in harmony.
Griffin and Aisha

Nica and Luke

Tikko and Zoe

Paddling the Deerfield rapids was exhilarating. Misha taught us techniques and sometimes we stayed at one rapid for hours, practicing and flipping over and over again until we felt strong. The last day we paddled Zoar Gap, a class three rapid. Before we paddled it, Misha told us “this rapid isn’t two times harder than all the rapids you’ve paddled so far, but three.” We were very nervous. Before we ran Zoar Gap, we stopped on land to scout it and plan our passage through. After much conversation of strategy, and debate about which route would be the best, we walked back to the canoes with our partners. Some of us ran to the put-in, the adrenaline already kicking in.

Flipping out!

It was awesome to watch partners go down the rapid, working together and the using skills that we had just learned in the past two days. Later on land, we went around in a circle and thanked our canoe partners, all expressing something we were grateful for.

Over the course of the expedition we studied Hydrology and Watersheds with Misha. We visited an 18th century grist mill and a sewage treatment plant, arriving by canoe. We learned about the water cycle, point-source and non-point source pollution, and histories of logging, flooding, and dam construction on the Connecticut and the Deerfield. Now, all of us are a lot more aware of how our actions affect the water.

Our favorite classrooms are the ones we find on expedition!

On our last night of expedition, Misha took out his guitar and sang us songs. Tikko sang us lullabies too. Before going to bed, we all started to sing one together. All of a sudden, we heard rumbling from the train tracks across the river. Our voices became louder together and the momentum and energy grew and grew as the train went by. After, there was silence for a while. Everyone was smiling.

Feeling like champions!

On to the next adventure...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Drum roll please! ...Presenting the 2017 Ecuador Semester!

Presenting, the Ecuador Semester 2017 Team!...What is the gift you bring?

Mathias Dammer, Leader: Experience

Nicole Marchan, Leader: Love

Nora Spicer, Leader: Expansiveness

Hannah Billian, Leader and Coordinator: Playfulness

Griffin Harvey, Shaman: Motivation

Luke Yourzak, Farm Manager: Enthusiasm

Nica Morris, Hygiene and Water: Joy

Zoe McNerney, Gear Manager: Persistence

Harry Whitfield-Rosenbaum, Energy Manager: Appreciation

Jule Jacobs, Bike Manager: Understanding

Whitley Rummel, Navigator: Listening

Hyim Savel, Camp Manager: Wisdom

Bryony Forestier-Walker, Sewing and Crafts Manager: Compassion

Aisha Swartz, Kitchen and Food Processing Manager: Friendship

Tikko Freillch, Food Manager: Quiet Kindness

Hannah Ennis, Logistics Manager: An Open Heart

Charly Sperling, Scribe: Awareness

My name is Charly Sperling. I will be the scribe for Ecuador Semester 2017, sharing stories and experiences from our journey!

The First Few Days: Settling in at Kroka and Expedition Preparation
       On our first morning when the sun rose, it was a striking orange and doubled its normal size. This moon-like sun cutting through the cool mists rising from the Kroka pond made us grateful to be awake at the early hours. We are all slowly becoming used to waking up at five o'clock for morning exercise (whether it be yoga with Nicole or biking up and over hills with Nora), followed by chores on the farm. We can feel fall coming quickly; the nights have been cold and these early mornings crisp.

Opening Day
        We are becoming friends while working side by side in the fields, harvesting food and cultivating soil, playing charades in Spanish class, and singing, laughing, and sharing stories over meal times. A feeling of community is beginning to grow.
        On one of our first evenings, Misha and Lynne invited us to their house for dinner. We were served delicious Russian soup with apple pie and Kroka yogurt with peaches for dessert. After dinner, Hyim stationed himself next to the last piece of pie that was sitting on the counter. He continued to glance at it out of the corner of his eye. Hannah noticed this and exclaimed, “Send it.” He listened.
        After dinner, we gathered together with Misha and Lynne to sing. A candle burned in the center of our circle, creating shadows that danced on the walls, and around our smiling faces and moving bodies. Lynne shared a song called “Galileo’s Epitaph,” and told us it was most often sung to the night sky. Nika asked, “Then why don’t we go outside?” So, we walked into the field together and gathered under the crescent moon and a sprinkling of stars. The cows listened to our song and seemed to relax.

        “Though my soul may set in darkness
        It will rise in perfect light
        I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night
        Fearful of the night”
       Our first few days were spent preparing for our first bike expedition, a week long journey visiting farms and local businesses around this region of New Hampshire. Mathias has been teaching us how to fix our bikes and use them on expedition. One afternoon, he took us on a shred through the woods. We see-sawed up and over ramps in the obstacle course and rolled over the forest floor, twisting through trees.
        In these days of preparation, we received our Big Jobs- responsibilities that each of us are in charge of holding. They maintain important aspects of our life together. Our Navigator guides us on trial, our Shaman heals us, our Food Manager packs expedition food and coordinates cooking over the fire, and so on. Once we had these realms that we knew we were in charge of, everyone was able to move into action, and soon enough, campus was alive with a buzz.
        We left for expedition on a beautiful day. The sun was shining warm and the sky was a clear blue. As we rode through Marlow, children were getting off the bus. They waved and said, “Good luck! Have fun!”

Our First Expedition: Biking through the Woods from Farm to Farm
        The silence of the woods welcomed us. Sunlight streamed through the ferns and the grass. Mushrooms and little purple flowers grew along the trail; we tried our best not to crush them. Roots and rocks made us bob up and down. On our first day we got mixed up on the trails and took a couple wrong turns. But as it got later and we continued to bushwack through thick brush and marshland, and have no luck finding camp, laughter was still heard ringing through the trees.
        That night we camped beside an old foundation covered with a blanket of wide-leaved undergrowth. Down the trail was a graveyard with stones from the 1800’s, marking this early settlement. Before slipping into our tents to sleep, the last thing we saw was a slowly growing, brightly glowing, hazy crescent moon.
Bryony- cleaning up the gears after a muddy ride
       As we climbed Hubbard Hill the following morning, light from the crest streamed through the last line of trees. Blueberry bushes grew all around and down as far as the eye could see. Faraway blue mountains rose up, encircling us. We biked on secret pathways to a little clearing where we snacked on blackberries. There, we had a lesson on New England geography and geology. We found that the majority of us did not know the shape of New England nor all the states within it. On our way down the mountain, we discovered a wild apple tree hidden within the bushes. The apples were delicious- sweet and tart at the same time.
        We found camp that night in the woods next to a wide pond covered with lily pads. Camp set-up is becoming faster and faster as Nora teaches us how to tie the knots for setting up the tarp, Matias shows us how to take care of our gear and make transitions fast, and Nicole shows us how to support one another. Little Ayra, Mathias and Nicole’s daughter, makes us smile and laugh; she has many beautiful things to say and teach.
Ayra brings wisdom and playfulness to our group!
        In the morning, Whitley (our Navigator) informed us that we would be crossing the pond, carrying our bikes on our backs. This drew questions like, “Why? Can’t we just go around?” Whitley just smiled and said, “Nope.” So, barefoot, we began. The water was warm and the mud squishy and soft at the bottom. Looking back after crossing, everyone seemed strong and wild, with water almost up to their waists and fully loaded mountain bikes on their backs. We only found one leech afterwards.
        That day we stopped by the Ashuelot River and went down to the water to sit on the rocky banks. Matias gave us a lesson on knife safety and taught us how to sharpen our knives. With pieces of White Ash he had found for us the night before, we began to carve spoons. Bright red flowers grew from the forest, reaching out towards the riverbed. The sun began to come out. We took a break from carving and ventured downstream to a deep pool with a small waterfall running into it. It felt good to sit in the rocks and lean our heads back into the rushing water. We then zoomed to the Badger Company just up the road and we were welcomed by employees sitting outside eating their lunch, and by the owners, Bill and Kate. They told us to help ourselves to food inside. The Badger Company makes healing body products. They run a business that is respectful and loving towards their employees, the earth, and their customers. Beautiful flower and vegetable gardens surround the building.
        After lunch, some of us went to work in the gardens while others set up camp down by the river. When set up was finished, we washed clothes and laid them out to dry on the hot rocks. I had sat down to write in my journal when Ayra appeared next to me, clicking little stones together. She asked if I would teach her to skip rocks. As I looked for flat ones, there was a moment of silence. All of a sudden she said, “Charly I love your laugh. I love things that are different and it is different.” After she said this, she picked up one of the rocks I had found and skipped it three times on her first try.
        That evening, Tikko told me a story about Arya: We were walking down the hill from Badger, and she had my hand in hers. She said, “Every time I go like this”-and pulled, “we have to stop and look. Look at the fungus, they’re magic. You have to be very quiet, only your feet make noise.” She pointed to tall white ones with dew-drop shaped flowers and said, “These are for the fairies.” And we both picked one and laid them down for them to find.
        That night at dinner, Bill and Kate surprised us and joined our circle, with them a blueberry peach crisp, still warm from the oven. Bill told us wonderful stories, and Kate taught us songs. As we sang, our voices mixed with the sound of the water. When we left in the morning, I looked back and saw that someone had balanced stones on rocks all along the river.
The day we biked to Hillside Springs Farm, we flew down hills together, fields full of Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace rushing by. Big puffy clouds gently came up from behind the mountains. They glowed from the sun at the other side of the sky.
As we biked up the driveway of Hillside Springs, a horse-powered family farm, we were welcomed by Sumac trees filled with fruit and a long greenhouse with tomatoes creeping out of the door. Frank showed us a good place in the woods to camp for the night. This spot was on the outskirts of a huge field. Before setting up camp, Mathias asked us to go out and find a spot to sit in silence for a while. As we each trickled into the open sunshine, three beautiful horses galloped towards us from where they had been grazing at the far side of the field. We gathered around them and they snorted gently and stomped their hooves. Their breath was warm on our hands.

Frank Hunter

In the morning, Frank led us into the gardens up behind the house. Tall apple trees lined one side, overflowing with fruit we snacked on all day. The huge field was full of rainbow chard, green beans, raspberry bushes, tomatoes, and squash. Through the center grew a row of sunflowers, zinnias, daisies, and snap dragons- flowers for CSA members to make a bouquet. This haven was not visible from the outside in any direction. It was a secret garden.
Tikko with onions in hand and a smile on her face
We spent the morning harvesting onions, three rows of white, golden, and red. Another crew washed and trimmed them for CSA members. In the afternoon, some of us worked with the horses, grooming and then driving them to turn up the soil. We finished the day weeding potatoes, picking carefully through a thick jungle of plants.

Home is wherever we lay our tents...
That afternoon we searched for camp along the Cold River. Jule found a long winding path that twisted through the woods, leading to a beach of pebbles. Pools of deep, crystal clear water were lined by smooth faces of rock on the opposite shore. Little plants grew from the cracks. It felt like a secret cove. Nora asked us to go find a quiet spot with our journals and respond to the prompt, “I am from…” in any way we like. Here are a couple of the poems that were written:

I am from the wooden house by the pond,
the Unity Ball slowly rowing me across.
Just the tip of a memory.
I am from the red house, small,
“Did you grow up in a barn?”
“Why yes, indeed, I did”
A little red barn with sparkle lights
and sunsets, with Wednesdays in
wheelbarrows, Kiki, the blue heron
staying watch by the pond.
A memory fully rooted in the depth of my head.
“Who cooks for you?” the owl asks.
I am from the big brown house,
guided by the river, the kitchen
a haze of purple, the house
red and yellow and blue.
A place of so much and so little,
of family and breakfasts and lunches and dinners.
Still unbelieving of the fact that it’s just a memory.
I am from hands and hard work, hardworking hands.
Fire for fuel, fire for bread.
I am from flour and water and a big yellow mixer,
from sweet peaches and pears and onions that burn.
I am from song, from harmony, from beauty and calm.
I am a recipe in progress,
still missing a pinch of this
and a dollop of that.

Hyim and Jule, resting among the trees
I am from the water, rushing, churning, and flowing from rock to rock, carving a landscape with the incessant face of a mother’s will. I am from the fire, destroying all in its wake as it crackles innovation into being. I am from the soil, giving without question until there is nothing left to give. I am from the winds, the fisherman’s bane, the sailor’s fuel, the explorer’s spark of curiosity. I am from the people he meets when the curiosity leads him far from home. I am from the laughter, knowledge, and courage he brings back before departing again to his new friends in that far away land. I am from his children, running through the forested mountains of their mother’s home. I am from the love of people, of earth and of learning, and from the sharing of lives that created everything beautiful surrounding me today. I am from a dream. A dream of what could have been, would have been. I am from what can be, as I look forwards with the past forever close to my heart. I am from the dreams of those before me. I am from the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad. I am from the newborn babe and the dying elder. I am from all that has been, and all that will be.

The last day of biking was the only day it rained. It poured down hard, soaking through all of our raincoats. We splashed through mud and slid over slippery rocks. When we arrived at Orchard Hill, we set up camp down by the pond. Set up was slow because everyone’s hands were so cold it was hard to use them. Orchard Hill is a community a couple miles away from Kroka. It is made up of families who run an oven-fired bakery, raise animals, and grow fruits and vegetables in orchards and gardens. Marty and his three-year-old son Jule came and visited us during dinner and told us about their homestead. The sunrise the next morning was pink and cotton candy blue. By late morning, the sky had cleared. Grateful for the sunshine after the day before, we worked at Marty’s house, stacking wood in rounds, painting his house made of clay and straw bales with limestone, and creating new garden beds with compost.

Taking shelter from the storm under a rowboat
There was a lightness among the group as we rode back to Kroka. Nora had already taken all our gear back, and with no extra weight on our bikes on the last stretch of first expedition, we felt free and whole.

Coming Home

How many semester students can you fit in a truck? Our last days at Palugo were spent by celebrating one another and the beautiful pl...