Hello Friend

Thursday, September 29

The beginning

I'm finding this blog harder to keep up with than I initially anticipated....

A quick recap of the first two weeks of my time at Sterling. The first two weeks of every semester is what is called the "intensive;" for first year students it's required and called 'A Sense of Place' (ASOP). And intensive is truly intense; my schedule was jam packed every day starting immediately after the move-in day. Our first two days started at 6:30am, honestly I think the only reason behind this is to shock us into the life here (6:30am days are not typical; there is only 1 week each semester that each student is responsible to be on the farm for farm chores and there are 1 or 2 summer courses that begin that early, otherwise it's breakfast at 7:30am if you want, but no classes begin before 8:30am). Anyway, we spent these very early morning hours doing team building activities with our assigned small groups. I will say that the 7 other members of my small group were very important for my integration into this community. In a nutshell, I was completely freaking out, questioning this choice, and sporradically bursting into full blown tears for the first two days. Like summer camp homesickness on sterioids. And I'm 27.

We spent our first two weeks taking field trips, getting introduced to the community, and learning about the different offerings and opportunities here on campus as well as in the surrounding areas. One of the field trips we took was to a lovely little mans home, Dave Brown. A former Sterling student who built his house with his wife, and now makes a beautiful living working his craft, living mostly off the land that he and his wife has gorgeously built into an inviting permaculture garden (they still have raspberries fruiting, I wanted to eat all of them). I also want to call Dave someday and just hang out with him and his wife, Dave regularly bakes in their wood fire oven that they built together in the back yard; his specialty is sourdough bread, my favorite!

Another eventful day was the Garden Harvest we all partook in last Wednesday. I don't have much to say about it other than the fruits and veggies harvested from our very own grounds were simply astounding. The size of the carrots and beets were enormous! I chose to be on the potato harvest team; I wanted nothing more than to dig into the dirt, feel the earth between my fingers and truly connect. It was so satisfying! Although potato boogers (rotten potatoes still buried) are probably the grossest thing I've ever unknowingly stuck my finger into yet.

The highlight of the first two week intensive was the night hike. Each group had one full afternoon of Map and Compass class before being sent off into the woods, 8 o'clock at night (and it's pitch up here when the sun goes down, no city light pollution which also makes for some stellar start gazing...catch that?) with nothing more than a few compass bearings and a point A and point B marked on our maps. Bushwhack through the forest, up and over a mountain range in the middle of the night. Yes, everyone had a teacher with the group but the unspoken rule is that they don't provide any sort of instruction, clues, or help until 5am--that's a minimum of 8 hours already spent in the woods, potentially very, very lost. Group B hit the "trail" at about 9pm; I was showered and in bed at 12:30am. We matched the annual record of hitting our end point no later than 11:45pm! Epic. Life-changing. Empowering. Breathtaking.

My favorite part of the night was the fact that even though we were seemingly booking it (yes, booking it but we never once decided that we were going to be racing any of the other groups. The coolest thing is that I knew in my bones that with my group, we were going to rock it just as we did, I had no doubt in the awesome connections and communications of my small group. They are some beautiful people), every time we stopped, we made sure to take some time to just be. We turned out our headlamps, stood quietly, and just became part of wherever we were in those moments of stillness. It was beautiful.

Needless to say, Sterling has been rocking my world since day one.

So because time is such a lacking commodity here, I am providing a collection of pics I took at the end of my first two weeks here and of my first day of "real school" or long block as we call it here (I have to hit the books pretty hard tonight):

These are photos of the path along which our Botony final was performed. Yes, our tests even happen OUTSIDE. This place is, at the risk of killing it, AMAZING!

Here you will see Red Maples, White or Paper Birches, Sugar Maples, a small Spruce, and part of a Cedar tree. This particular area is called an Edge Forest because, well, it's the edge of the forest. Significant because of the wide variety of flora the grow in these types of areas. The forest trees thin out and allow for hardwoods (trees that thrive in the sun) and the ground vegetation is allowed the space and sun to grow as well, blanketing these edges with thick and diverse plant life.

Here are more Cedars, Maples (obviously) and several Tamarack trees--they're one of my favorites because they truly are Dr. Seuss trees. Their needles grow in crazy bunches (like Pines almost but not as orderly, nor are the actual needles nearly as long) clumped onto the branches rather than organized like Spruces or Firs.

Towards the end of ASOP, it quickly begins to wear on you--it's too long, too slow and too fast, too boring and too involved, it's everything but in overdrive.
And yet, the "final" was the most exciting and fun assignment (at least for a craftsy freak like myself)!

We were to build a map that told the story of where we came from and what motivated us to come to Sterling and the pieces and parts of ASOP that were most impactful for us.

I built Denver with curved buildings closing in on me and trash everywhere; the red symbolizes stress and that's me, with stress lightning bolts over the recycling, trash, and general anger of the city.

Then I made Sterling--complete with fluffy white clouds in the piercing blue sky with a brightly painted sun; sparkling stars and the brightest moon that casts shadows light the noonday sun; the greenest and softest grass for lying and frolicking; my favorite new (not new, recognizable though) trees--Tamarack, Yellow Birch, Red Maple, Balsam Fir, Moose or Striped Maple, and Sugar Maple--fluffy little tufts of sheep and of course, my SUPER TEAM B!

The night sky represents the magic of our Night Hike; the Trees represent my newly discovered fascination and enjoyment of Botony; the Sun represents my thankfullness for a place like this--on sunny days, I am outside, barefoot, lying in the grass and doing homework, or just being--and the sheep represent, well, the sheep! Early last week, my mom had a Burlington layover so she surprised me and came to visit for an evening! While showing her around campus, we made sure to stop and see the sheep. For the first time in my life, I pet the sheep and they loved me and I was giddier than I've ever felt over something seemingly so simple!

 Anyway, so the long block schedule began on Monday. I must say, I am probably the luckiest that not only did my entire semester kick off with, but each and every dreaded Monday begins my weeks with nearly 4 hours of Fiber Arts class! What a treat, we've already washed some wool (I did both white and black--these are my before and after photos of each) and today we learned the next phases of prep. I believe the eventual goal with these is to work on the final project being, make yarn with it, dye it if desired, and we're to knit a hat by the end of the term! Believe me, I am whole heartedly all over this class!

Monday afternoons I have a class called Agricultural Techniques. Let me just say, I did read through A LOT of class descriptions online before meeting with my advisor. And I did get each and every class I requested for this semester. But I didn't quite remember which class description went with which class title. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered the Ag Tech isn't just being outside and checking out the farm, in fact, it's not a lot of that at all--Ag Tech teaches us how to produce "value added products." Meaning, learning skills like fermenting.

Class, this semester we're going to focus on fermented foods; like beer, hard apple cider, pickles, and sauerkraut!
This is John, Kendra, and Dave admiring our
final batch of spicy sauerkraut that we made
in our Agricultural Techniques class.

Kendra "sealing" the crocks of our first few batches of kraut
with water.
I am also enrolled in Environmental Science which pretty much sent me into a panic attack midway through the first class. This one will be interesting I'm sure.

And unfortunately, because I was having WAY too much fun just ripping it up, the other MOST EPIC class I am in is Tools and their Application--for this class we were required to purchase an axe. And not just any wussy little camp hatchet--full on, real tree-chopping, don't #&@% with me axe.

I haven't named mine yet, she hasn't told me but we've only just met and I've only just proved myself to her.

We spent Tuesday hiking through the woods, chopping felled tress in half--my teacher three times now (twice on site, and today getting my grade) questioned the truth in my sharing "I've never held or weilded an axe before, I'm quite nervous." Apparently, according to the mountainest of mountain women I've met up here thus far, I am "a Natural"! I love it--talk about pure empowerment!

It truly is fall here. And I love it when the sun hits the trees just right. This is the huge tree in my neighbors front yard at late afternoon. The photo doesn't do great justice to the golden flame of the leaves.

Front door, "entertainment" desk and "kitchen" on the right

As some of you know, there have been...issues with the roommate. All have been resolved and the resolution is that now I have my very own, huge sanctuary of a room!

Here is the new set up.
"Living Room"

My homework desk (although I find myself doing homework
on the "couch" most of the time, typical)
And I have a "gear closet" now. Nothing is
crammed under my bed anymore, everything
is very accessible! I love it!
I know, it's a closet. But I'm just showing you
how UNcrammed it is, there is room to move
so it should never get messy in my room!
And... my princess bed, complete with comforter and gorgeous
duvet handmade by my mom!

Speaking of sanctuary (and yarn) check out the sweater progress!
This one's for my Mom: First Day of School 2011!


Wednesday, September 14

Fall Schedule WOO HOO!!!

I am wicked pumped, just had my first official meeting with my wonderful advisor, Ned Houston, and we built my very first semester here at Sterling.

I love that I get to literally pick and choose the classes that I want to take, and have a supportive advisor who will be with me every step of the self-designing way!

(parenthesis refer to classes that are yet to be determined as to which days and times I will be taking them based on class sizes and schedules. I don't envy the registrar for having to coordinate some 130+ student schedules each semester)

8:30-11:45am--Fiber Arts
     The use of animal and plant fibers, both wild and cultivated, has ancient and world-wide roots. Products carefully and lovingly made from the fiber resources at hand have served people well for millennia
1:00-4:15pm--Agricultural Techniques
     Explores specific topics in animal and crop husbandry. Selected skills will be taught along with the theoretical background needed to apply those skills appropriately. Each semester focuses on those skills most appropriate to that time of year. Fall semester may include cider pressing, handling livestock and understanding animal behavior, poultry, garden season extension, composting, winter vegetable storage, and food preservation.

10:15-11:45am--Environmental Science
     Applies principles of ecology toenvironmental problems of air, water, and biota. Focuses on quantitative measurements of human impacts and converting those understandings to personal change. Reviews scientific methods and fundamentals of chemistry and physics. Writing assignments refine the use of lab report and scientific paper formats. Culminates with an independent project assessing local impact and proposing solutions.
1:00-4:15pm--(Tools or Experiential Education I/Bounder)
     Tools - Teaches safe, efficient use and maintenance of toolsimportant to outdoor natural resource work, primarily: axe, crosscut saw, and chainsaw. Weekly applications cover skills needed for timber harvesting, firewood processing, trail construction and maintenance, and outdoor building projects and form the foundation for skills developed further in other classes. Woodlot and trail-work skills are applied to the management of Sterling's land, and the management goals are discussed. Teamwork, personal responsibility, and personal confidence building are also goals of the class. Students are required to provide their own axe and personal protective gear.
     Bounder - Focuses on how people work in groups when facing challenges and unfamiliar situations. Building self-confidence and trusting teammates are core elements of personal development fostered by this course. Students are introduced to group problem solving, communication skills, and leadership roles through active participation in classes followed by discussion of the consequences of their actions. Scheduled classes include group initiatives, flatwater canoeing, navigation with map and compass, and basic winter camping techniques in preparation for a four-day winter backpacking expedition. This experiential learning is augmented by assigned readings and a weekly reflective journal. A significant amount of personal equipment is required for these activities. 


8:30-10:00am--Fiber Arts

8:30-11:45am--Environmental Science
1:00-4:15--Exploring Alternative Agriculture
     An introduction to alternative farming through the classics of sustainable agricultural literature and through visits to local farming operations. Approaches surveyed will include organic, biodynamic, homesteading, natural farming, perennial polyculture, permaculture, and holistic management. Field trips take students to contrasting local farm operations, from corporate operations to homesteads and from family farms to land trusts.

Tuesday, September 13

A very brief photo tour of the travels et al

Left right on time September 1st

Bettey - Fully-Loaded
Yes, this is actually how we drove across the country
We hit Chicago at sunset Sunday evening after spending
the weekend in Wisconsin with family and friends.
We're both big fans of the symmetry of the Chi-Skyline


Indiana (obviously) just after dark, Sunday night

Cleveland, Ohio at God-only-knows when (Steve and I had
planned to drive through the Niagara Falls, NY from WI; a 12
hour drive that we just couldn't do. Wound up napping some-
where half way through the state of OH)

Follow the "Falling Water" signs

Honestly, not as mind-blowing as we both expected--keep in
mind though that we'd been driving for....EVER.

Not bad for 8am, or something like that! It was fun, worth
the stop

I love bridges, even though some make me nervous. These
did not and I think they're just beautiful; passing from Grand Island
back over the NY state proper
Just outside of Burlington, VT

Headed to Craftsbury, somewhere between Stowe and our
final destination! Oh, this is Tuesday (finally).

The sunset over the river outside of Claire's
(yes, of course I took Steve there for our last
dinner together for a moment)!

This is what happens when you're so wicked tired, after travelling
across the country, getting up at 6:30 for class and decide, after
wearing your slop boots all morning, it's nice enough for flippies
but conveniently forgetting you have Botony I (and your teacher
decides to introduce you to the Cedar Swamp right away, after
3 days of rain). Awesome. Getting into the nature of it all
 head (or feet) first!

It took every spare moment of free time I could find in my
first 3 days here but I finally got my room (and my life) in
order! Yay! I actually, super love it!

Monday, September 12

Love, love, lovin' it!

I love it here.

I love that I get to walk barefoot through soft, supple, green grass from class to class; that I can walk by any one of the numerous apple trees throughout campus, pluck a sweet, juicy, crunchy fruit for a snack at any time.

I love that while laying out on the green, I am quietly--inadvertently--serenaded by the broken wind-blown tinkerings of the tinny, hollow box sounds of the guitar being plucked on by the boy in the room at the end of the hall.

I love that I get to lie in the grass under the warm late-summer sun while doing my homework (which doesn't feel like homework at all, more like reading the love letters between man and earth).

I love the sounds of nature blowing through the breezes--the chirping of the insects in the grasses and fields surrounding me; the tweeting broken harmonious songs of the birds as they flutter by, playing and swooping and riding the winds; the sound of the distant neighbor's lawn mower breaking through intermittently; the pigs in the stall snorting and grunting when the breeze blows just right.

I love that this is school but feels nothing like it--nothing like the suffocating fluorescent lighting in lecture halls; nothing like the pressing weight of the papers, terms, and tests piling up; nothing like the loss of self wandering through vacant packed hallways.

I love that this is my school.