This spring semester, in addition to my theses projects, I am currently enrolled in a class called “Wood in Art and Design.” It is the first art course I have taken since my freshman year, and it is more fun than I could have possibly imagined.
I liked the idea of developing woodworking skills, or at the very least learning how to operate a wide range of power tools, but this class has inspired my not only to create practical and artistic pieces but also to look at wood in a new way. When I go on trail runs or drive through Vermont’s backroads, I am keenly aware of the trees on either side of me, and I am beginning to notice new details that previously went unappreciated.
The range of uses for wood is astonishing if you really think about it. My first introduction to the material was stacking firewood with my grandfather, and I have spent many warm evenings next to the fireplace at his homes. I also know the power of fire out in the wilderness, having practiced my fire-starting skills during countless Camp Dudley hikes and overnights in the Adirondacks. Now I am expanding my abilities and perspective. I recently created a toolbox and mallet for a chiseling project, gifted Maddie a handcrafted cutting board, and completed home improvement projects – redoing my closet at home in Williamstown, and building a deer-fence around Maddie’s family’s garden in Pawling, NY. I appreciated the challenge and opportunity wood presented in all of these cases.
Most recently, I acquired two eight-foot by two-foot live edge spruce slabs from a family friend in Hardwick, VT. I felt a little silly dragging them through the slushy snow and into Maddie’s truck, but they will certainly get put to use down the road.
In applying long-term thinking, I can see myself investing in woodworking equipment and building furniture and developing the hobby as far as I can. I love knowing that natural beauty is always hiding behind layers of bark. Each piece of wood tells a story in its grain, and crafting a piece that is worthy of that story is a fun, inspiring, and unpredictable.
Today marks the halfway point of my final semester and the beginning of Spring Break. I am home, eager to spend a few days with my family before returning early to school to have a few days of Vermont and Adirondack adventures. My attitude right now concerning the outdoors is “I’ll take whatever weather Mother Nature has to offer.” The official first day of Spring happened earlier this week, but the conditions call for skis and ice-spikes instead of t-shirts and bikes.
With some extra free time on my hands this week, I hope to post regularly and to explore some unique topics. Before I proceed with anything else, however, I need to give an update about my upcoming summer adventures.
I am fortunate to have a job awaiting me (and I will write about my job and moving to New York in the coming months), but before I launch myself into the “real world,” I have a special opportunity – one that I have dreamed about for many years.
For the month of July, I will lead the Camp Dudley German Exchange trip. The exchange is a 50+ year partnership between Dudley and Camp Abbensen, a YMCA camp located outside of Hannover, Germany. My grandfather, John Storey, took the first group of Dudley boys to Germany in the ’60s, and my uncle and current camp director, Matt Storey, led a trip in the 90s. I am thrilled to continue the legacy.
What has me even more excited, though, is simply the chance to return to Germany for my third time. I was a camper on the exchange trip in the summer of 2009, and it was during that month that I fell in love with the country, got to explore some of it’s charming cities, and established friendships that remain to this day. Camp Abbensen was so incredibly different than Dudley, but adjusting to a new style and program of activities made it all the more fun. My trip leaders were inspiring, and I was lucky to share the experience with lifelong friend Willie Treiber.
When I was considering options for my gap year, the fond memories from my month in Germany made it an easy sell. So, in August of 2012, I flew to Frankfurt, this time alone, and moved in with the Judson family. I cannot possibly summarize my gap year experience in a short paragraph, but I did keep a blog that features my adventures, growing pains, and reflections on the country. If I must, I will simply say that it was one of my favorite times of my life – full of soccer, travel, learning experiences, new friendships, and an introduction to German beer. It set the benchmark for all of my future travels, and so far it has not been beaten – not by a long shot.
Now, round three awaits. I am returning to Abbensen, and we will follow almost the exact same itinerary as my 2009 exchange trip. But everything will be different. I will be the one shepherding the Dudley boys (and Kiniya girls, a new addition to the exchange since I went), many of whom will be traveling to Germany, Europe and/or outside of the US for the first time. I will get to sit in on the leader meetings and help plan out extravaganzas while at the camp. And I will hopefully have a few days to choose my own adventures – a chance to reconnect with friends or return to my gap year stomping grounds.
Having a month in Germany before I start work and getting one last opportunity as a Camp Dudley Leader (especially after spending last summer away from camp) means the world to me. It makes the thought of starting my job less daunting, and most of all, it gives me great joy to imagine instilling in campers the same excitement that I felt when I first went to Germany.
I am commencing the sixth week of my final semester at Middlebury, and in four days I will be home for Spring Break. Whereas February Break was all about the big adventure (my trip to Norway), this upcoming week will be about appreciating the little details and enjoying some of the places that I love most.
Enjoying a place that I love was really the storyline of this past weekend, too. For the fourth year in a row, I helped out at Camp Dudley’s JL Weekend – an opportunity for junior leaders (sixteen-year-olds) to get some training and bonding as they prepare for the summer ahead. It has developed into one of my favorite weekends of the year, for even though it is usually snowy on Dudley’s campus, I always leave feeling like I’ve received a full dose of the summertime Dudley spirit. It is usually at this point in the semester, too, that I need it most. March can be dreary, and a refreshing weekend with fellow Dudleyites always helps me finish the first half of the semester on a high note.
A few items to note about this year’s JL Weekend that made it particularly special. First, I have been taking care of my dog Pepper while my family went to Virginia for the weekend, and having her around always makes things more fun. She had a nice vacation, too, because she got to play with my friend Tom’s puppy named Mango for much of Saturday morning. Second, I had the privilege of touring Dudley’s new Leadership Barn – a multipurpose space that will house many groups in the summertime and off-season, including Dudley’s new gap semester program, and be a hangout spot for Leaders during days off and nights out. It is a beautiful building, and with my newfound appreciation for woodworking and cooking, I was particularly impressed by the kitchen and the detail that went into the building. Lastly, I got to deliver a chapel talk on Sunday morning – a short “words of wisdom” speech to kick off the day. Given that I’m writing a lot about memory, both in my critical thesis and in my reflections for this blog, I decided to apply the framework of collective memory to Camp Dudley. Here is an excerpt meant to inspire the junior leaders to trust in themselves and in the Dudley community.
I feel like I’m at a pretty big transition point in my life. For this reason, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, a lot of reflecting, and a lot of reminiscing. Though I don’t think dwelling on the past is the best way to live life, I’ve become really interested recently in exploring the concept of “memory.”
So let’s talk about it. Memories are kind of funny, aren’t they? It’s crazy that our brains can decide for us, a million times a day, what scraps of information or random experiences get stored away for future recollection. That we can try for hours to memorize facts for a history test, and think that we know them, only to have that critical piece of knowledge slip our minds when it matters. That our memories make up a collection that we call “memory” and that our memory is always evolving and growing. And even more importantly, that our memory plays such a huge role in creating and recreating who we are and how we define ourselves, every single day.
Our group conversation last night was really just an exercise in selecting a memory and channeling a coherent response, and just like that, we had an amazing collection of leaders and leadership characteristics floating around the room. And think about this one: I may have never met your favorite leader, and you may never have met mine, but we can create memories about each other’s memories, and thus learn about each other’s favorite leaders through the process of collective memory.
To put this line of inquiry in other terms, remember as a camper how you probably had a canteen account for purchases at the store, going Sunday golfing, getting those archery pins, etc. right? Well, we all have our metaphorical Dudley canteen accounts, and each of us has been adding memories to that account every time we spend a day on campus, have a conversation with a fellow Dudleyite, or live the other fellow first. What I find inspiring and humbling is that a lot of the ideas and skills and memories that make their way into our accounts are not original. The messages you’ve received over the years from vespers and chapel talks, even from Bill Harper’s Sunday sermons, were all inspired by even older Dudley memories. It’s a cycle of listening, learning, reflecting, and passing on to the next generation of Dudleyites. When we lump all of our individual canteen accounts together, we are constantly building and extending the Dudley community and the Dudley spirit.
So when you’re facing your toughest leadership challenge of the summer, just remember that you not only have all of your Dudley experiences to draw from, but you also have the collective memory of 135 years of Camp Dudley boys and girls, men and women behind you, every hour of every day, without fail. That’s an empowering feeling. Sure, it’s a responsibility to inherit all of these memories from all of these years, but it’s the greatest gift you can receive as a leader. I can’t wait to see all of you put it to use this summer.
I am thankful that I was able to share my thoughts with a group of people who are continuously trying to live the Camp Dudley motto, “the other fellow first,” and that I have been able to mark the JL Weekend on my calendar for the past four years.
It is an evening in the middle of the week
and soon it will begin to snow, not a light
snow like the kind that sifted lazily onto my windowsill
last Sunday morning as I transferred coffee grounds
into the paper filter, water from cold to a slow boil,
my slippered self from groggy to awake—no,
this snow will come hard and fast and could deliver
upwards of twenty inches. I know this, of course,
not because I have watched the sky darken
or the barometer rise, but because the National Weather Service
has issued a blizzard warning for eight states
and my father has sent a series of pixelated maps
highlighting Windsor County as the predicted location
of the highest cumulative snowfall. I also know
that the cabin in which I currently check my phone,
the blue blob inching closer—first the Catskills,
then across the Taconic Range, then into the southern Greens—
has surprisingly good cell reception and an equally surprising
lack of beer in the refrigerator. I am here, in part,
because I have graduated and have not found
the motivation to face the future—because I have been
wrapped in veils of scholarly discourse and intellectual
thought exercises that have taught me little more than
the fact that I require a beer at the end of each day.
At least I have learned how to build a fire.
And now, as the driving flakes begin to appear
in heavy clumps that slide down the length of the glass door,
melting and accelerating as they are touched by the warmth
of the woodstove, I consider the possibility of driving
into town to get more beer, which of course presents
the inherent risk of finding the liquor store closed early
due to the storm; the potential of getting snowed in
so deep that I must spend another night here, alone;
the question of whether we all proceed in life
on insufficient knowledge or if I will ever find something
to hold me in an embrace of willfulness and clarity
and lay me down to sleep.
I often measure and differentiate winters, as I am sure many New Englanders do, through defining events or characteristics. Last winter, the record warm temperatures and meager snowfall were the highlight (lowlights), although I will always remember waking up in Waitsfield, VT over February Break to a foot of powder when the forecast only called for a dusting. The winter of my sophomore year was particularly epic, but the most memorable feature was the stretch of six weeks where temperatures did not rise above freezing in any location in the entire state of Vermont. As a freshman, the single moment I will always remember is the mid-March blizzard that dumped close to three feet on Middlebury’s campus – by far the biggest snowstorm of the year.
Despite wonderful wintery weeks over the past few months, and despite the most enjoyable skiing days of my life, I believe the Nor’easter that is currently dropping snow on Middlebury and the rest of the Northeast will define 2016-17 for me. For one, we already had half-a-day of classes canceled – a first for the college in decades. This is the largest storm of the winter, and it reminds me of the March blizzard from my freshman year. At that point in my life, I did not fully appreciate winter, nor did I know how to fully take advantage of it. Though I woke up this morning with mountain biking and trail running on my mind, I am in no way complaining about this storm. It means one more pow day for me and the potential for another handful of days on skis, especially if the temperatures stay as low as the long range forecast is predicting. I am glad winter decided that it had one last round left to fight and that it was able to unleash all its fury.
UPDATE: Having posted this yesterday evening in the midst of the storm, I had no idea how much snow it would dump, and I was blown away to wake up to nearly two feet in Middlebury – with reports of 25-30 inches at Mad River Glen and 40+ in the Adirondack High Peaks region. Even better, it made my (potentially / probably) last pow day at MRG the best one yet. Cruising in knee deep snow on the groomers felt like floating, and bouncing around trees was a pillowy joy ride. It was the deepest snow I had ever skied, and one of the most enjoyable afternoons of my years as a Middlebury student.
I have been writing a lot this week. It is a good feeling, to have productive stretches of focus when the ideas come easily, fitting together on the page in something that at least approaches the level of coherent literary analysis expected of a Senior English & American Literature major at Middlebury College.
Space is a topic that continues to grace my writing, clearly because of the astute way that Alistair MacLeod approaches the subject in his fiction. I realize that fiction oftentimes possesses more truth than reality, and that in MacLeod’s case, the ways he cuts corners and takes shortcuts with space and time in his writing allows for an intensity rarely matched in real life. And yet, out of this tension, or perhaps immediacy, we learn about our own spaces, be they our geographies, our homes, or the space inside our heads and hearts.
While I cherish the lessons I am learning from writing my thesis, I know I am not the only one concerned about the term ‘space’ these days. Middlebury is an intense place all of the time, but with tensions raised after the Charles Murray episode of last week (I am not going into the details, but Google “Charles Murray Middlebury College” and have yourself a field day), it seems that the foundational values constituting what a college campus and a liberal arts institution should be are under immense pressure. It is necessary to continually reexamine our principles, for as history has taught us, it is not acceptable to unquestioningly rely upon the ways of the past. But recent discourse on campus and in the national media focused on Middlebury makes me realize that the college I have trusted with my education and loved for all that it has given to me is not always able to uphold its promises to every student.
It saddens me to think this, that not every one feels that they are residing in a safe space, be it physically, intellectually, or emotionally. I fear that ‘space’ in modern discourse relies too much on ‘isolation’ – that in attempting to preserve our own ways of thinking and living, we draw further apart from each other and from reasonable, empathetic exchange of diverse ideas. I would like to think that a campus like Middlebury’s can be a space of openness, that perhaps it could represent a microcosm of what our country should aspire to achieve. But after the events of last week, I know that even here, where our collective heads tell us to unify and our collective hearts yearn to do so, our collective souls are fragmented.
This past weekend, Maddie and I traversed across New England and found ourselves in Maine to visit my sister at Bowdoin College and to stay with my longtime family friends, the Appleyards. The weekend marked our one-quarter mark of the Spring semester, so it felt right to break up the predictable/unpredictable patterns of life in Middlebury with a big trip. We were lucky that our schedules allowed an adventure of this distance, and we were even luckier to have such wonderful people to greet us at our destination.
The ocean breezes of the Maine coastline were particularly biting and difficult to escape, despite our best efforts to bundle up. We picked up Miranda at Bowdoin on Friday evening and the three of us joined Ruth and Jonathan Appleyard at their beautiful Woolwich home for dinner. Rekindling old friendships and in Maddie’s case making new ones was easy sitting around the wood stove; we’re all on our individual adventures, but seeing how they overlap is a joyful process of discovery, memory, and self-reflection. I think this is a process that occurs any time I return to a space that feels like home, and I want to thank the Appleyards for welcoming us into such a space. (And for letting us take their dog for a chilly but beautiful sunrise run!) I was born in Maine, and though my memories of my time living there are probably recreations of stories told to me about my two and three-year-old self, I still feel rooted in the landscapes and geography.
I was reminded throughout our stay of the last time I visited the Appleyard’s home on my way to Cape Breton in May of 2016. Then, my eagerness to explore a new corner of the world was tempered by the exhaustion I felt coming off the most grueling semester of my time at Middlebury. I was traveling alone, too, and though I have practiced and loved solo traveling since my gap year, there is something special about sharing a journey with my best friend my your side. That was the case this time around, and Maddie and I had a fantastic weekend.
Highlights included visiting Portland for some winter farmers’ markets, warming drinks at Bard Coffee, and a brief stop at the Bissell Brothers, one of Maine’s finest breweries. We also explored Freeport and the L.L.Bean flagship store, further inspiring me to make this spring and the month of June as outdoors-oriented as possible.
The crowning moment of the trip, however, was watching Maddie cross the finish line in PR time at the very cold and windy Hampton Beach half marathon. She is launching a blog with her best friend and training partner about racing, training, and cooking, and it’s nice to start the 2017 racing season off with a PR!