Friday, June 7, 2013

NHVSP Update 13

At last the rugged traveling bicycle crew road warriors come home from their raid of the North Country. They arrive safely to their point of origin atop the hill, down in the valley below, in the sod house nestled under the shade of the hemlock trees. We roll in down the hill proud, and overwhelmed by the old sights so long awaited for. Fueled in the last few miles by chocolate and ice cream and the motivation of home, we were glad to be back, and were greeted by corn chowder, goulash and familiar faces. As the hot sun sets into the hills, and sleep sets in, the growing evening dark creeps over us and sends our weary souls to bed.
The twelve days of road touring brought us new sights. We farmed, we fared rain and thunder storms and went to museums, we saw the weather go from freezing cold to scorching hot, and traveled the road to unknown corners of adventure. The mosquitos procreated like mad and repopulated the land with their kind. Onward the brave eleven rode, up the Green Mountains, into the valleys of lush vegetation and down the road home.
We farmed at places of all shapes and sizes. We farmed at Someday Farms, a quaint little spot that became our support away from support, our cheerleaders in eggs and potatoes. We learned about their many chickens and their year round growing season. Much love to Mara and Scout of Someday for all their support and care of us when the rain came down and the thunder ripped the sky. We slept in a cabin that looked much like a powder keg, and met a troupe of authentic farming Jamaicans, while farming the big organic farm, Harlow’s.
Someday Farm
The weather treated us with strange hands. In thunder stormed hard and beautifully, and it got cold and wet like you wouldn’t believe on Memorial Day. We huddled under our dripping tarp, reading books to pass time, eating cream cheese to stay warm. And then, as if all of the sudden the switch was thrown, the sun came and baked us in a steam oven. The humidity rose and the sun got hot, but it was a welcome change.
Climbing Mt Equinox
Riding up the hills to base from Alstead was a familiar sight, and to stave off the heat and to keep ourselves in high condition we swam in every stream and lake on the way. And then it happened. We were there, the last hill rode out and the little valley with the village at the bottom opened up and a small crowd of well-known faces was there. So distinct were the sights, truly how the time has crept up on us so fast. It was just yesterday that it was February with snow, and now the garden grows, flourishing with plant and flower. Much has changed since we’ve been gone, and yet much is the same. We’ve come back to a place we thought we once knew, and now know it in such a different lens. But it is not an unpleasant change at all, for there is much to see, once again as before.                                                                                    

Working at Harlow's

Lunch at Merck Forrest

Thursday, May 23, 2013

NHVSP Update 12

From left to right standing: Zach, Emily, Wayland, Kreston, Angus, Noah, Sam
Kneeling: Elliot, Lotte, Kerensa, Kenya, and Max 

Two weeks ago we canoed  to the town of Swanton, Vermont, where we switched to rowboats from Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The boats included two fine large crafts outfitted for carrying loads over distance: a six-oared boat, Harvest Moon Sports, with a purple maroon and black paint job with varnished oak trim, and a four-oared craft, American Shad, dressed in canary yellow and blue with no trim and less powerful than her larger cousin in windy waters but an eager match on the flat lake. The boats were given to us with a warning that “it could get rough out there” and that we should take it easy on the windy days. Of all the days we rowed down the lake, only one of them was with the wind. We rowed in merciless head winds and covered good distance as well, despite the “rough winds.” Indeed on our second day of travel, a large windstorm with thunder and lightening hit us, boats tacked against the waves, but we did persevere!

The American Shad and the Harvest Moon
That night we slept in a State Park in New York, seeing as we got to camp so late. We slept under a gazebo and awoke to the sight of an impenetrable fog and local people running in the early morning.  Although it was called a State Park it was in fact the city of Plattsburg’s newest local park.  We cast off quickly and rowed into the cloud shrouding Valcour Island, our next destination. On Valcour we learned about a battle that happened between Benedict Arnold and the British. Although Arnold won, he didn’t win by much having saved only four of his 15 boat fleet. Yet it delayed the British from invading the South Bay of the lake for one more year. So the fledgling nation was safe for then.

The next day the Harvest Moon and it’s crew were sabotaged by the crew and company of the Shad. They left at first light like thieves in the night, shirking to take down camp, stealing some of our rudder and some of our oar pins as well as breakfast. Wounded and infuriated, the Moon rowed on out and beat the Shad to Burlington despite its handicap.  We landed in good spirits on North Beach, a popular little spot, to cook our leftover supplies over a fire grate. Later that day we hauled out gear to the Rockpoint School, which was just up the road from North Beach. The school is an old Episcopalian church, all built out of firestone and mortar. The student body of some 40 kids and staff listened to us talk about our semester and then invited us to dinner, which we of course accepted cordially. What a great dinner. We then spent time with some students, listening to music, playing pool and some of us even gardened with them. That night we slept in the chapel of the church and woke early to visit the Burlington Farmer’s Market and later Shelburne Farms.  When we got to the “Farm” we were surprised how big it was. From the shore to the rocky lake cliffs you couldn’t see the other side of the ever expansive fields of green grass. We camped in a small cave of woods up from the road, and met the groundskeeper, a descendant of Cornelius Vanderbuilt. He told us the story of the farm and how it came to be a non-profit organization and teaching farm. 

The following day we arrived at the Lake Champlain Waldorf High School, where we met Rosa Dews, our semester mate who had gotten injured on the winter trail.  She had a knee operation in April and is now on her way to healing.  Rosa’s mother, Bet, is the Life Science teacher at the Waldorf School and she taught us about flower biology and botany. The next morning we joined the 11th grade class for another interesting botany lesson. The visit to the school was topped off with pizza and ice cream.  All of the faculty and students were incredibly hospitable to us and gave us a fun time. Thank you Bet! Thank you faculty and students!  We now were on our way to Barn Rock Harbor, where we stayed for three nights. From there we visited the Maritime Museum to see where our boats came from. We did some conservation work in the lab there as well, scraping rust from Revolutionary musket shot. 

Solos came and went, and I cannot say how it was for the others, but it seemed that everyone was in high spirits about it. We fasted for 24 hours and had the fires listen. Although my solo was meditative I got bored pretty fast and was spooked by the dark woods a few times. When we got back Emily and Zack had made a feast for us of bread and soup and chocolate biscuits!

Days of rowing brought us to the Narrows of Dresden, the thinnest part of the lake, where it is hardly a lake, but a swampy river moving to nowhere. That day was our only inclement weather in which it rained good and clean. For our last camp we perched on a muddy cliff in a grove of beech, sleeping to the sound of railroads and night winds. By 6 AM we were back in our boats rowing to Lake Champlain Canal Lock 12 in Whitehall NY. The locks are huge yellow vault doors that granted us entrance and let us rise in our boats over fifteen feet to the canal elevation, over a distance of two hundred feet in seven minutes. Passing through the other end to the Lake Champlain Canal, we completed our journey of the lake and it’s treasures. We arrived at a park in Whitehall and greeted Lisl, who brought a different treasure, food and stories. Fresh bagels, milk and yogurt from Kroka’s cow Daisy as well as cheese and Russian sausages made a holiday of eating. 

From here on only twelve more days away we will cross paths, dear readers, with base camp at Kroka once again. And from there only one more week till we see YOU. Till then we will be bicycling and experiencing the last adventures of our journey.

Hasta la vista, Max Rubin.

At the blacksmith shop at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

Leaving Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and heading back to camp across the lake

Thursday, May 9, 2013

NHVSP Update 11

Canada, here we come!
Leaving Northwoods
Finally, news from the traveling semester! As of late, things have been ebb and flow. Life is moving at a swift pace, and despite much needed downtimes we’ve been making out pretty well. We started out on the Clyde River on a cold grey morning with nothing spectacular about it. In fact it seemed like the weather was trying to downplay our grand departure. The Clyde, when we left, was higher than high water average. All along the first half of the river run, the downed trees we had seen earlier during our training runs and had passed under before, now barred our progress downstream. The whole run down the Clyde really sharpened everyone up to white-water paddling. In both our river sections we had only two flipped boats, both of which were on slack water.
Good bye Northwoods
         The end of the Clyde brought us to Lake Memphremagog and Newport, the last town we saw in the U.S. before crossing the border into Canada. We went up the lake in a strong headwind and had a fine lunch of tuna sandwiches by a cemetery. We crossed the border in warm sunshine and got to the Canadian customs house. There was nobody there at the booth, but there was a telephone we had to use to call the border police. We had a hilarious conversation, telling the border guard that we had twelve people in canoes wanting to come into Canada. He asked us if we had alcohol or tobacco, told us to write down how many we were and that was the end of Canadian customs. We would learn later that American customs was not as funny or easy to pass through.
The Grand Portage
         When we got to Canada, it just had that feeling of a totally different place. We landed at the town of Vale Perkins, a small niche with a general store. We did the Grand Portage in flawless style. Six miles one way with all our gear to the headwaters of the Mississqoui River, and back the next day to Vale Perkins to collect our boats, which we had stashed at the general store upon our arrival the day before. Three sisters, the Jewetts, run the store. We met the eldest of the three, Sandra, for a story telling. These were not ordinary stories though, but heart felt narratives of treasured memories. She told us stories of real community, now gone in modern Vale Perkins.
         After the stories, we met the other two sisters, Caroll and Jane. The Jewetts are all characters in their own right. They’re what I call “the classiest women in the bar.” They were ladies, all three of them, but they were still the farmers’ daughters, who weren’t afraid to say what they wanted to and who’d step with anyone, gal or guy.
In Vale Perkins with the "Jewetts"
         We moved our boats with haste back to our riverside camp. I will tell you the Mississqoui is not far different from the Clyde. In fact I figure it to be far less grand on account of it going through so many farm fields. At our camp we had visitors, Glen and Jannet. These folks had met us at Northwoods earlier in the month and living in this area they decided they’d stop by and check us out when we crossed paths. That day was my birthday, and they brought us a surprise dinner of salad, lasagna and a birthday cake. What hospitality.
Zack with our friends and supporters, Glenn and Jannet
         On the Mississqoui we went back down and into the States, which was a bit of a hassle. The customs officers didn’t know what to do with us, and we really made their day, I guess, all twelve of us smelling up their tiny office. We passed through though, and made it safe into the U.S. again.
         Later that day we met Kevin from Mahoosuc Guide Service in Newry, Maine. Kevin is the other half of the business with our friend, Polly, who we met earlier at Northwoods. Kevin is an old school paddler and backwoods river man. He was soft spoken and had good stories to tell us and teach. He only stayed for two days, but he was a good old cat and we had much to learn from him.
         We’ve been on a craft kick lately making white pine bark containers. Zack showed us how to peel the bark off, which comes off clean in cut sections when you score it with a knife. After that you bend if to shape, and dig up some yellow birch roots, which you split to sew together the opened sides. Everyone’s been in a frenzy about them, making these containers in force, myself being most guilty of this. We also had a wild edibles class and a fresh feast of cooked greens, straight from the field we were camped in.
         Today, we are here on Lake Champlain; we’ve made it, with all members of our crew intact. We switched our boats, sending back the white water canoes to Kroka with Nathan and hopping in our new boats from the Maritime Museum. They’re big, powerful, and cool. We’ve paddled hard into the wind, and have made it to our first camp. We are excited and ramped up to get going in our new pirate ships. All is well and we’ll be reporting in soon, till then hasta la vista.
Max Rubin
Emily, our fearless leader
Girls time

Who is this???

Saturday, April 20, 2013

NHVSP Update 10

Last week here at Northwoods, and its been packed. Allow me to recount you our progress and stumbles.
            Not more than a week ago Misha came to visit us and brought our brand new canoes, still so new and clean you could eat off them. We spent quite a bit of time outfitting these new unruly beasts of plastic and foam to get them rigged up for the road ahead. No detail was spared; foam knee pads, thigh straps, floatations, painter lines, the whole nine yards. We all worked in the Northwoods wood-shop up near our camp, and after a couple hours of rigging our boats were ready for water use. You should see these things, they look like some kind of European speedboat, ready for a track run in Italy racing a Formula One car. Beautiful vessels they are.
            We went for our test run out on the flats of the Clyde River, near the highway overpass. Everyone seemed to be getting the hang of it pretty well, no catastrophic failures or punctured boat hulls, but just as we approached a stern looking sheet of ice, and were practicing leaning into turns, the first casualties of the water fell in, flipping the boat one-hundred and eighty degrees around, head over heels into the water. Kerensa and Kenya looked quite like the proverbial wet cats as they got fished out of the frigid water and into the adjacent boats standing by. Thus we learned our first lesson in canoe technique, the “T” rescue. Simply enough its just getting into a T with your canoe with the flipped boat and then hauling it rail over rail onto the upright boat and righting the flipped one onto its belly.  As for our soaking friends, they departed back to camp to warm up and recuperate.
            The day was far from over though; we had another flip into the water, with Angus and Zack this time, but for some reason, a short spurt of insanity I bet, they stayed for the rest of the class on the cold and windy river. After this class, we all rode our bikes back to camp on Ten Square Mile road, and although it was muddy like you wouldn’t believe it, it was pretty fun for everyone, since the only moving we’ve been doing is under heavy packs with skis, this felt quite like flying down a road.
            We had another paddling class with Misha again the next day, and went to what although he called “swift-water” I call “whitewater.” Terror in the water for me comes at the lazy speed of two mile an hour currents, and with the task at hand we were given, which was paddling UPSTREAM, you can bet I was in the throes of panic. We all did it though with much blundering at first, but by days end, wet and happy and cold, we all could more or less turn in and out of eddies, which is the slow part of the river where the current turns back on itself and makes a little parking spot on the fast moving water. There is something in the primal fear of all people, of losing control of their surroundings, and I figure this fear is prevalent in people on the river, when its going fast and they just don’t know what they’re doing, so it’s very important to us that we learn how to avoid situations like that.
            Misha left us the next day with as much wisdom and instruction he could give us in the time allotted, and parted us with words of encouragement on the new route. We were all supposed to go to Maine to see Chris and Ashirah Knapp, and learn paddle making at their school Koviashuvik, but we were far too swamped with work and so we chose instead to stay here at camp and finish our work without being rushed. It’s been a good sacrifice so far, and although we haven’t gotten much free time, our work has been worthwhile and productive. Things went well over the weekend, although the weather has been inclement the whole almost the whole time, with sporadic rain, sleet, hail and snow throughout.
             The 15th was a break in the sky and the sun came down in beautiful form, filling the land with light and warmth. We went on a long bike ride up to the top of a hill over-looking Lake Willoughby. The climb to the top of the hill was hard, it was muddy and warm out, and the little rivulets of water ran down the hill, imposing on our good roads, threatening to make them into pure mud. We did ascend though, and the road to the bottom was a clear shot of gravel and half paved concrete, a mile long stretch of downhill derby delight. Ripping down at what I figured to be at least a hundred and fifteen miles an hour we rounded the corner into the town of Westmore and settled down on the white sand beach of the lake to have our lunch and learn about glaciers.
            We rode back on the flat roads with the occasional down hill and made good time in the late afternoon, with the golden sun at our backs. Upon our arrival back, we made it with five minutes to spare before our guest arrived for dinner. The county game warden, who we invited earlier that week, came to speak to us and just to pleasure us with his company. He was a friendly ex-military man, with an air of authority and training that comes with his profession as a law enforcement officer. We ate dinner with him, which was kale and wild turkey, which Noah’s mother brought to us earlier that week, a premium score of road-kill delight.
That next morning we went for a good run. It was still fair weather with a southerly breeze blowing at our backs. We stopped at the top of the hill near our camp, by the dairy where we get our milk, to watch the sunrise. We sat under a set of spruce trees across the way from a flat field and had an unobstructed view of the coming sun. Much has been written on the subject of sunrises, but I feel obligated to share what I saw in that patch of sky. I sat watching the coming light before it came into the sky. The sun was just beneath a large hill off in the distance, and the sun gave it a crown of light. It took no more than five full minutes, but as the sun crept up, it felt like it would never peak, and all of the sudden it did, it burst over the ridge in a explosion of light as if the earth had never seen light before, a wash of light blanketing the world. It is no wonder the ancient peoples had the sun as the center of their worship, and feared its loss in the night, and prayed for its return in the morning.
The following days were days of fun and work. We went to Butterworks farm to see where the yogurt we eat comes from. Its not what you’d think either; it’s a small farm, for the scale they put out on, and it’s a cozy one too. It really speaks to their way of production, which is ethical and in touch with the products they make. The owner, Jack Lazor, gave us a tour and let us sample his maple kefir, which is like fizzy yogurt, and let us pet his cows. Both are of excellent quality. We sorted beans for him in return, which was sitting at a conveyor belt pulling the bad beans from the good, as they fell out of a grain hopper and rolled across the track into a bucket for bagging.  We took home a small case of yogurt for the road and we thank Jack for his

kindness and willingness to show us his farm. One piece of advice he gave us to take home was to always stay small, small is better than large, and I’d guess that’s pretty true for the things that you like doing
On the way back to Northwoods we got ice cream, a sure sign of spring even though it was cold enough that if you stood outside, your ice cream literally could not have melted all day. At the ice cream place, we also saw someone in shorts, even though it was also about thirty-eight degrees. I cannot tell if this is a sign of spring, bravery, foolishness or a combination of all the three.
The next day was one of full throttle working, but it was all for the greater progress, so I didn’t feel to worked. A former Semester teacher, Nate Johnson, came to teach us about hide tanning. He taught us how to scrape the hair off and how to tan it in the future to make sure we can all make moccasins later this next month. Its smelly work scraping the hides, but totally worth it, Nate left us that evening and in his stead came Polly, from Mahoosuc Guide Service. She and her partner Kevin run a dog sledding and paddling guide service in Maine. She brought us chocolate chip cookies and a slide show to watch of her years in the Yukon Territory as a dog sled musher and hunting guide. She showed us pictures on an old film slide projector and they were of stunning top-notch quality, and had that vintage genuine look to them, the look that these pictures were taken sincerely and not out of just the want to document, but to preserve a moment in time, and they did that.
As our last days draw to a close, we’re getting ready to leave, everyone is bustling about, filling in last minute jobs and tasks, random loose ends have to be cut before we can cast off into the river, and its been busy. The weather is warming up and I can only hope it stays that way. This’ll be the last update for quite a while, since were not stopping till we get to Lake Champlain, but till then, all is going well on the home front and we will carry on, my wayward sons and daughters.

Pushups and Poetry: On Cold Water and Cheese

            There’s a moment where you feel fear and excitement, when you see a rock in sight, a rock that if you don’t move the canoe right then, you will hit that rock. And who knows what will happen then. You have this fear and excitement running through you and put your paddle in the water, and putting your paddle in the water, trying to think clearly through your fear, magically or maybe not at all, just my luck! You do the correct strokes that turn you away from the rock in your way.    – Kenya

Jack of Butterworks Farm
River, river, running river
down I go and I don’t know
don’t know how to hold me up
& panic, grab the gunwale
running river down I’m pulled!
river grabs me, lost the gunwale
cold & panic, panic more
& breathless —
get to shore.      —Anonymous

Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far a whey
            In the depths of my dairy bucket, something scary was brewing
            Like the salts of Nantcuket, the sour scent made my nose hairs bent
            And from the bottom of the bucket came ricotta
            Standing there with my hair looking steazy, I said
             “It aint easy, being cheesy”  —Anonymous

Socks and Sandals

My socks and sandals.
My two pairs of wool socks
It doesn’t make any sense
My feet are warm
Until I’m in the boat
Until we don’t lean enough
Until they are soaked
And laying in puddles
Then they are freezing or frozen
My socks like the womb of a
Woman that’s been dead for a while
My feet like the dead babies inside them — Lotte

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

NHVSP Update 9

Hello interested people, and welcome to a new chapter in updating history, written by a new writer, yours truly, so buckle up for a wild ride of literary twists and turns. As with new beginnings we’ve had plenty in the week prior to the arrival of the parents. Before everyone arrived we all received our new big job assignments, for the lineup we’ve got:
Elliot on Kitchen Wizard and Naturalist
Wayland on Seamster and Culture Keeper: Baker/Yogurt Maker
Kenya on Boat and Camp Manager
Angus on HyGenie and Medic
Lotte on Base Camp Food Manager and Wild Foods Forager or W.F.F. for short
Max on Writer and Hide Tanner
Noah on Trail Food Manager
Sam on Bike Repair and “Fitness Fun-stigator” like instigator, but with fitness related jazz
And last but not least Kerensa on Navigator and List Master General, also called Logistics
     So far we’ve launched into them pretty fairly, we’ve got a deer hide for tanning already going, the route being planned for boating and biking and food is already flying in a bustle around the kitchen, waiting to be packed. List making is already running high into it’s prime of life, with a list for what looks like just about everything, from personal gear to the camps we’re going to.
     Aside from big jobs we had some craft making in the days leading up to parent day with our good friend, Chris Knapp. He joined us out from his fortress of fun in Temple, Maine to make pack-baskets; the long sought-after project semester has been waiting to do. This was a pretty laborious task involving a lot of foresight and careful planning, but it was all well worth it to see our hard work turn to beautifully woven baskets.
The process starts with harvesting your brown ash tree, which we did in a local swamp across the Clyde River down the road from NorthWoods. We did this all pretty thoughtfully, thinking about which tree wasn’t doing so hot, and taking it out to help the other healthier ones grow better. After felling it, we bucked it up into several manageable logs, and hauled it back to base. You spend an awful lot of time then scoring the log with knives and pounding off the growth rings in floorboard-sized straight sections with a three-pound hammer. It’s hard to get a good visual of this, but to sum it up, we cut the round growth rings into roughly straight sixths around the circumference of the log and then when you pound the log on those sections, they peel off flat. As a whole we did this for two days, and got quite a bit of “wood splints,” as they’re called. Once we had our desired amount we called the operation to a new phase, which was cutting up the splints to size and width wanted, which was pretty quick business. After the splitting of the splints, we made our baseboards and straps for the baskets, and began weaving, which was the bulk of the work, and where the baskets began to take shape. We wove for about a day and a half and finished the day parents arrived, and they were beautiful for the showing, just in time!
Nathan, Hanah and Misha showed up on Saturday after their Canadian ski trip up north with a school class. They brought us food and although Misha left, Nathan and Hanah stayed to give us a communications workshop, in which we said some much needed truths to one another. An old Kroka friend, Pasha, came to teach us about the making of dry bags, which look like big rubbery envelopes now that they’re done.
We also visited Sterling College on Wednesday, down south of here in Craftsbury Common, where we gave our presentation and were lucky enough to get two treats; dinner made for us and a lecture hearing Sandor Katz speak, who is a semi-famous fermentation specialist. He gave a talk about the fermentation process of many foods, including sauerkraut, yogurt and kimchee. Sterling was a real interesting place to see since it’s a fair jumping off point after Kroka for some people looking to do the same things, like agriculture and natural history.
     Parent visit rolled around Friday afternoon, with everyone looking happy and nostalgic to see their families and friends, and we thank all the family and friends for coming out to see us, for feeding us delicious treats, and listening to all our stories.
 After all the folks left and all was said and done with the winter expedition, which came to it’s close in the performance, Emily’s parents, Robert and Jennifer, brought us some roosters to put down for food. It wasn’t a real somber experience because there wasn’t too much to be sad about, we didn’t dwell on the fact that we were putting down an animal, but that it was becoming yet another part in the circle of life, and so we thanked them and processed the animals well, with nobody looking too squeamish at all. Jennifer taught us how to pluck and gut the chickens, and showed around the inner workings of the rooster. That night we had venison and fresh chicken for dinner, and the leftovers of the parent potluck lunch that day, and we all went to bed satisfied on the memories and joys of the week.
We’re scheduled for rain though for the next few days and although it puts a grey-slated light on the area and makes everything damp, it still stands as a true sign of spring. The birds sing in the early pre-dawn grey at five in the morning without fear of freezing to death now that it doesn’t snow, and in a place before waking up, laying in the tent, somewhere off in the hazy unconscious of sleep you here the patter or rain on the roof of the tent fly and can feel no feeling but life itself, a nameless state of rest and waiting patience. But we all take the weather with a grain of salt and don’t dwell to much on how wet it is and expect better, sunnier times in the near future, with dreams of spring on all our minds.

Gratitude to all our families for coming and sharing wonderful food       and stories.