Wednesday, April 20, 2011

NHVSP 2011 Update 11

A warming fire at Andy and Tom's 

Kroka’s NH-Vermont Semester ’11 is touring the Northeast Kingdom! You gotta go see them! They’re great! Magnificent! What a band!

Jack Lazor of Butterworks

Thursday morning we loaded up the van after a real Ecuadorian breakfast. Sleeping bags and pads on the roof, and people and food inside – all tight and cozy. Maybe not what a world famous band would go for, but great for us. We were leaving our primed but unpainted canoe behind, holding just memories now of our good times with Scott and Elisa, who left us last Wednesday.  We were ready for new adventures, ready for “vacation”. And so we went- down the driveway, west and south, moving a lot faster than we usually do.

The solar barn at Butterworks 

Our first visit was to Jack Lazor at Butterworks Farm in Westmore, VT ( ). If its name doesn’t tell you, Butterworks is an organic dairy farm that makes heavenly good yogurt. In addition to the dairy, Jack grows all the cows’ food.  He also grows a lot of other grains and beans, which he processes in his own granary. Jack showed us all around the farm and told us his inspiring story. We were amazed by his solar barn, a 60x120’ see-through tunnel for the cows, where they live on several feet of straw bedding, which builds up throughout the winter. The barn was so light and good-smelling that we wanted to be cows there ourselves.  We also wouldn’t have minded staying just to cuddle the small cute calves a bit longer. Afterwards, we were taken to the granary for some practical work.  We had good fun with a bean sorting machine before we climbed the stairs up to the highest tower.  It gave us an amazing view all around.  We could see to Canada, much to Serene’s delight. We left Butterworks even more cramped up in our van, having bought some good food for our river trip directly from it’s birthplace – sun flower seed oil, spelt flour, cranberry beans and whole oats (and maple yogurt for a snack in the parking lot).

Next we visited Sterling College in Craftsbury, VT ( ). We were welcomed by Stephanie George, Assistant Director of Admissions, and Deborah Benson, a Sterling student who has done Kroka’s Ecuador Semester in 2008. We were happily surprised by a visit from Rosa’s good friend Susanna, also a Kroka semester alumna.  Stephanie and Deborah showed us around Sterling’s farm, where we saw enough cute baby animals to melt anyone’s heart.  We jumped into practical work with building compost piles and learning about draft horses, Deborah’s specialty. Afterwards, we ate a great dinner in their dining hall (some of the students had already heard rumors of our eating abilities, so we couldn’t let them down), followed by our presentation for the students and faculty (with an improvised dance from Zane).

Deborah Benson, NHESP '09 alumna and Sterling student, sharing
her and work with horses
It was just getting dark as we arrived at our last stop for the night. We were sleeping over at Andy Paonessa’s place.  Andy is a former Vermont Semester teacher who lives in a little village of wall tents and root cellars on his friend Tom Rowell‘s farm. It was really fun to see how he has made the life we are currently living (in our wall tents) quite permanent.  He has built a great home with everything he needs. When we arrived in the evening we went ahead with making stakes and putting up tarps by a couple of apple trees on top of the hill – one of the few places that hadn’t been recently flooded. It was our first night sleeping all together under the tarps (instead of in the tent), an especially momentous occasion because one was newly made by Tobias, our wonderful sewing manager. We crawled into our sleeping bags, a long row of invisibly colorful cocoons in the dark, snuggling together in the windy, clear and cold night.

Tom Stearns at High Mowing Seeds
The next morning dawned just as clear. As Julian and Tim huddled around the cooking fire, the rest of us had a long morning meditation.  We went up into the field above and looked at the beauty of the world and climbed some trees.  Then we played a fun game of “everyone’s it”, a tag game that had us all running around and dodging. Tobias developed a technique of throwing himself at peoples’ legs, which did him well, and was thus copied by others – but the morning frost made sure we weren’t rolling around in the mud, for all was solid. After testing out our new whole oats for breakfast, we piled into the van again.  We drove to High Mowing Organic Seeds (, a seed company in Wolcott, VT. None of us really had any thoughts about seeds beforehand, but we learned that they could be more interesting than we would ever have imagined. Both Tom Stearns’ story of how he started the company as a small money making hobby when he was 19 years old (and now he now has over 2 million customers and is fighting Monsanto in court and yeah…) and what we were taught and shown about seeds and his business, was really fascinating. By the time we were back in the van again we were mostly nose-deep in the “2011 High Mowing Seeds” Catalog, and I’m warning you parents that you might get seed-crazy kids back home in June, wanting to sow 20 different types of tomatoes in your garden.

From there we went to Pete’s Greens (, “Vermont’s Four Season Vegetable Farm” in Craftsbury, VT. It is a big organic farm that grows vegetables and some animals on their own, and also serves as a distribution center for other farms’ produce. They have a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) that serves 350 households.  They also sell their produce to restaurants and stores. In addition, they make value-added foods like tomato sauce, applesauce and other products from produce with “blemishes” that can’t be sold directly. We were welcomed and given a tour before we got our hands on some practical work (we like that). We transplanted lots of tiny plants, before we did a big green house shuffle, moving different greens into new green houses. This was a different world than we have been in lately, warm and oh so green. Jake and Zane were made to suffer in one of the warmer green houses, having to stay in the unbearable heat and put all the plants we shuffled into the right spots. Afterwards several of the boys had a great time playing cows, grazing of the tasty “weeds” growing along the inside of another greenhouse. Julian though didn’t follow the cow-standard, doing push-ups while eating greens every time he came close to the ground. As we were finishing up we got our reward of getting to pick all these weeds that would just be given to the chickens anyway. We stuffed our big bucket, and have been munching as many greens as we could all the way ‘til lunch yesterday, four days later (I’ve been somewhat worried that we could get sick from being let out onto the green grass too quickly, like horses). We were also given 50 lbs of dried apples. Thank you Pete’s Greens!

As we left the green houses, the temperature had luckily risen in the outside world too (sunny and at least above freezing), and we were all hit by a spring fever. We stopped in Hardwick for an ice cream treat, and Nimrod, our expert dessert master (and finance manager) went inside, the rest of us found a bridge to jump up and down on while Tim got a 5 foot stick to play the Pooh game with. Nate and Rosa found a few new twigs that can’t be found on Northwoods’ grounds, and after enjoying our ice cream we were ready to head back to Tom and Andy.

Sam rasping his paddle
We had some extra time before dinner that day, and though is was colder up in the hills where Tom’s farm is, the sun was still shining, and we spread out across the fields and woods – Tim, Jake & Tobias went exploring up the stream in the woods; Serene, Jon & Rosa went exploring beyond the field, finding a horse to spend time with and running around barefoot in a spring mood; Julian & Bridie each found their own places to relax enjoying the amazing view and sun, while Zane relaxed reading through his whole book; Nimrod & I went burl hunting (and were later joined by Jake & Tim back from expedition), which ended as a good hunt for all the boys while I still can’t seem to have luck with my burls; Sam explored the woods too and also found himself a burl, finally hit by the fever now a month after the rest of us. Then we gathered up for a feast together with Tom and Andy: Hamburgers with local meat from Tom, amazing cheese to put on top from a friend of Andy’s, salad from Pete’s Greens with goat cheese from Hardwick’s co-op, and finishing up with apple- and berry pie with maple yoghurt from Butterworks around the bonfire in the dark clear night. I don’t know why we are so food crazy when we eat so many amazing meals, but thank you everyone who stands behind the glorious food we eat (people, animals, and big nature herself).

Mathilde quality checking her paddle
The next morning we set the course north and headed home – though the time looms closer that this won’t be our home anymore. Five more days is all we have got before we set out on the river, and though we look forward to it, we have also entertained thoughts of just hibernating and waiting for the real spring to come (suggested by Serene), or doing a building project up here while we wait around for the ice to melt (suggested by Sam).
 I wanted to write to you about how the beaked hazelnut finally started blooming last Sunday, and Rosa came up and showed me a perfectly magenta Mohawk sticking out a bud. But then the next morning after we stuck our heads out of the tent we saw the world covered in a new inch of snow. It did melt again the same day, and we seem to have a little rhythm going of about 22 F in the morning and evening, and then getting above freezing and starting to melt away our paths of snow in the middle of the day. It is getting less snow all around, but we are also getting more impatient. My conclusion, this spring is a melancholic, unable to decide upon anything, so slow and deep thinking that it can’t get half of what it should do done.
Grandfather Ray Reitze and his wife Nancy Reitze have arrived, and we practice our listening skills as we try to imprint in ourselves as much of his wisdom as possible. Our paddles are on their way, and we practice working with the wood. And I’ll practice my patience, though I really just want to experience the pleasures of spring and warmth with these amazing people.

Until next time, the best wishes for you all,

Mathilde Vikene
Spring Scribe, NH-Vermont Semester ‘11

Julian at work with the hides

Poet’s Yurt

“We feel like the loggers of the old North, waiting for the ice to break up so we can ride the melting winter back down to our southern home.”
- Sam

The Good Life
Essay by Jon Cox

Everything is beautiful

     What is my picture of the good life? I am tempted to say it’s five acres way out in the hills, a log cabin, a sugar bush, a garden, some apple trees, a stand of oaks, some pigs or goats, maybe a milk cow and of course a beautiful girl. Maybe some beautiful friends nearby. But I know that’s not really the heart of what I’m after. I know I could have all that and be a ball of suffering, wrapped up in fear and doubt or anger and frustration. Always wondering what I might loose, what I should have or could have, wanting that one last thing to complete the perfect picture.
      What I am really after is peace. Deep peace. I want contentment, to be in this moment for want of nothing. I want to breathe deeply and easily like a wise man, to conquer fear and to swallow my insecurities. Nirvana, you know? The impossible I guess, but I’m not too picky. I’ll settle for gradual progress. When I look back at where I was six months, a year, two years ago, I get a lot of peace knowing I’m where I am now.
      I know, or should I say I believe, that peace comes from within. That with introspection, mental discipline and practice we can choose how we react to life events. That we can step back and choose happiness in face of despair. But I’ve also seen how much my physical life impacts my state of mind and how it makes sense to shape it to my benefit.
      So it is not that I feel my personal salvation lies in growing my own food or building my own house. It is that the more I take charge of my own sustenance, the easier it becomes to foster feelings of satisfaction and contentment. While it may be entirely possible to live a happy, satisfied life in the 21st century suburban landscape, I have found such a life to be very elusive. Modern systems provide the kind of comfort that invite laziness, shun appreciation & diminish relationships. Laziness in turn invites guilt, self-doubt and lack of worth. When you heat with wood the cold kills the laziness and brings the satisfaction that comes with a full wood stack. How can anyone truly appreciate running water when they’ve never carried full buckets uphill from a stream or dry socks when they’ve never walked all day through wet snow? I used to underestimate the power of appreciation. I knew I took many different things for granted, but I didn’t understand the richness and depth my life was lacking as a result. It’s easy in the modern world to become cynical and see only the dark side of everything and that’s just what I did. I saw only how things were bringing me down and never how they were holding me up. As a result I became closed up and guarded and lost much of my excitement for life. As I’ve come to appreciate more things like the clothes on my skin and the trees standing around me, the world has begun to open up again as a rich and wonderful place where most everything is a gift that in some way enriches my life.

     There are those that have found freedom and peace in a prison cell, but since I have the choice I would rather do my work under an open sky, where the people and things around me reinforce the positive and diminish the negative. The other night, while looking up at the sky, I thought of all the people that never see the stars and wondered how that affects the course of their lives. So many times I have been rescued from a downward spiral, by just a glimpse upward on a clear night, or the sight of fresh snow covering the bows of a spruce forest, that I know whatever shape my good life takes, it will happen in the midst of the untamed forest and under an open sky.
Zane hard at work
Sorting beans at Butterworks

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