Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Blog #8: Row Row Row Your Boat...

Special Edition- An Addition to Blog #7!


When Gil first mentioned feeling queasy on our live-over, we were baffled. Was the lobsterman himself seasick from all our paddling? Slowly and quietly, the mysterious pathogen spread throughout the group, sparing a single paddler. We never imagined it would take hold for as many days as it did.
The plague continues, but so too must the expedition. With about half the group paddling bowseat, holding their heads or clutching the gunwhales, retching overboard—it feels as though we’re facing the same adversity that the crew of the Endurance was well accustomed to.

Stroke after stroke, we push each other out of our comfort zones and into a place of growth. With one of our instructors needing time to rest and recuperate, the few healthy individuals really stepped up to the plate—ensuring that camp stays up and running.

Rain falls on our tents and tarps; we wake on May 1st to the timpani of drops. Having the time to sleep in, we rejoice in the freedom to slumber, or walk out to the river, or stretch toward the sky, feeling the vibrant energy of the light sprinkling. Commencing our academics, we dig into scientific and social articles and prepare to present our findings to our colleagues and travel companions. Another deadline is established: our finished essays by nightfall, fully ready for the final copy on Book of Wisdom paper in ink.

Setting out before the morning lifts her dark, heavy eyes, our group solo goes swiftly and smoothly. No other sounds lurk in the air aside from the occasional slap of a beaver’s tale and the birdsong filtering through the trees. We know what needs to be done and the worth of Misha’s trust.

Resupply at Mac's Bend

Row Row Row Your Boat...

Lake Champlain is as unpredictable as the winds and as complex as the stars. Her waters are full of stories, her shores attracting people and ideas in constant motion. The land is etched in the history of the natives, the exploring French Canadians, and the colonists that settled and gave rise to the modern population currently dotting the shores with urban lights. Our course traces the paths of tradesmen, smugglers, soldiers, traitors—and we stop along the way to learn their histories. We add our own stories, with every stroke of the oar, turning the blue water white. To tell the tale of our expedition, we must begin with our vessels. Courtesy of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, we had use of two Scottish fishing boats, Resilience and Perseverance, as well as a Cornish pilot gig, the Jimmy D (named for the individual who started a ship building program for high school students at the Maritime Museum).

Serenaded by the coxswain while rowing

Laszlo- cooking up a storm!
Lunch break

Erica and Morgan met us at the landing and that night we camped at Mac’s Bend, nestled in the safe waters of the Missisquoi River. We would have 30km to travel the next day, and feasted on a glorious diner of spaghetti and tomato sauce.

"Toss your oars!"
Excited to begin rowing
With our boats loaded, we tossed our oars into the sky and counted off starting with bowseat. On the command from the coxswain, we plunged the long, wooden poles into the Mississquoi, flat as a meadow. Heading for our first destination, the boats immediately began to rock into the waves. Even after studying the weather patterns from shore, no one could have predicted the three-foot swells that tossed the pilot gigs and fishing boats like a toddler in a bathtub. Uneasy thoughts entered our minds, “Are we really going to out row all this wind? Whoa wait up, how do you turn this thing around again? Has anyone ever capsized these things?” Running low on options, we rafted up dangerously close to the surrounding wetlands, wedged in between trees, intensely focused, listening to the static-y voice announce how many knots of wind hitting the Lake Champlain geographic area. We decided to make a break for the next piece of protected land and wait out the fast-moving weather. After our assessment of the white caps and choppy waters and peanut butter and jelly wraps, we tossed our oars and plowed ahead to North Hero Island.

On Valcour Island, we learned of the confrontation between English troops and British/American colonists on October 11, 1776. As Morgan directed the 13 actors in the reenactment, Benedict Arnold (as played by Laszlo Reed) leads the Americans: Gil, Hyim, and Sharon in a battle scene. Through acting, we explored the motives of he soldiers for taking Valcour Island and fleeing to Fort Ticonderoga. After, on that rainy day, we transform into explorers. Seeking to discover more about the island and who may have previously walked where we now find ourselves setting camp. Hyim and Julian bring back news of sighting old, rusted farm equipment. Gil followed deer paths and came across an old foundation. Twisted apple trees mark a footpath for us to follow.

Trailside academics

What do we do in our free time? Tan and soften deer hides!

Our experience of Lake Champlain strongly contrasts that of Samuel de Champlain’s discovery. He wrote descriptions of the flora and fauna not from a scientific, reductionist perspective that was popular at the time—but from the point of view that a curious explorer possesses.  Champlain was intrigued by the actions and fascinated at the height of the forests that had yet to be leveled, like those in Europe.

We continued on toward Fort Ticonderoga.

Watching the artillery men at Fort Ticonderoga

We also connected in a deeper way to our surroundings, through our 24-hour solo.
The story of our solos can be read in some of the works that reflect our pensive thoughts and deeper emotions.

The day my solo begins
Is the day in which I take flight
I’ll soar in the freedom of desirelessness
No longer bound to want, frustration, fatigue
The day my solo begins
Like bluets and Queen Anne’s lace will bloom
The mossy rocks will greet me by name
And show me a place for me to sit
Gazing across the lake, I’ll observe my past
On the same horizon—my future will I find
I’ll cross my legs and look about the woods
A loon might call and the cedar might sing
The day my solo begins
Reflecting back in a watery pool, the present seems crystal clear

Connor cooking up some dandelion pancakes

Studying about city hydrology at the Rubenstein Lab
A Lake Champlain ecology lesson with Vermont Semester '04 Alum Saul Blocher
Learning about the pilot gig row boats at the Maritime Museum

Monday, May 22, 2017

Blog #7: River Expedition

Spring Big Jobs!

Our two navigators include Grant, who charted our course along the river, and Samuel, who will take charge of the lake navigation. The duo is enthused to work together and dive into the details of compasses and charts.

Mapping out our entire spring expedition

Connor has accepted his role as boat manager with a sense of pride for our water vessels—seven Esquif canoes and on the lake, our Scottish fishing boats and Cornish pilot gig: Resilience, Perseverance, and the Jimmy D. Alongside the maintenance of the boats, the manager of all water gear is a position given to Laszlo. All equipment (PFDs, paddles, helmets, and wetsuits to name a few) that needs to be issued out falls under his domain as well as oversight of its proper use.
The position of energy manager goes to Gil. Although the stove may weigh less in the springtime, it carries equal importance.
Zoe will take on the role of medic alongside hygiene, swapping big jobs with Serena, who will now manage food on trail. Our wannigan manager, Hyim, reluctantly showed his enthusiasm for the kitchen organization job but has since grown to embrace the responsibility. Nevertheless, the wannigan continues to remain the heaviest load during portages. Our logistics manager, Charly, is the girl with the lists and brings organization to our resupplies, academia, and life in general. Her love for mountain biking fuels her work repairing the bikes that will bring us home through the Green Mountains on the final leg of spring expedition.

Packing out all of the food for an expedition is exhausting!

As we no longer have snow to melt into drinking water, we now have Ila to guide us to sources of freshwater. Understanding the gravity of this job, Ila confesses to have been nervous taking on her role but quickly took to filling water bottles from the filter and sharing this gift of the earth amongst the group.
At Northwoods, Alessio furiously began sewing the seams of our green tarp that protects our stove and academic work from the elements. As sewing manager, he facilitates group gear projects as well as personal repairs. Julian’s inquisitive mind has been occupied with the challenge of setting our tarp and four tents, providing us with shelter and a dry place to sleep. The two are partners in crime when it comes to photography and artistically capture our expedition by camera.

Alessio- champion of the sewing machine
I, Sharon, have the privilege of documenting our spring expedition and officially introduce the latest blog post. Stay tuned for more!

Your humble scribe...
The definition of white water, the anatomy of a canoe, and our lessons on hydrology have brought us to mentally accept the expedition we prepared to embark on, but it was not until we were all suited up and paddling in the Clyde River that it became real. After a weekend with our loved ones, sharing the joys and hardships of living in a close community, we had serious work ahead of us. Takedown of camp at Honey Hollow, a few trust-building exercises and gear pack-outs later—we were nearly ready to put in our canoes.

Monday morning we finalized our plans and loaded up our gear in sea worthy blue barrels and dry bags. As for our personal gear, the spring season calls for attention to potentially hypothermic conditions. Bodies of water retain their temperature longer than the land, so even when spring is lived out in warm winds and sunshine, the water continues to reflect the cold winter. But as the saying goes, there is no such phenomenon as inclement weather only inappropriate clothing. So there we were from head to toe in woolen hats, long underwear, long sleeves, and sweaters. Over our darn tough socks we wore neoprene water shoes and over our layers, thick 5mm wet suits. Some opted for neoprene gloves, all chose to don paddling jackets and rain pants.

Zoe and Sam, taking an elegant line down the river
Morgan and Hannah sent us on our way and then drove our gear to Clyde pond—our final destination for the day. We certainly appreciated the lighter load, as it was only our third day of paddling together. For some it was only the third day of picking up a paddle and traveling by canoe- ever! Some of our premonitions about paddling and reservations were put to rest once we got out on the water. There is something beautifully reassuring about the buoyancy of water.
Even though the rescue protocol was debriefed back at Northwoods, we sure didn’t expect to have to employ the rescue ropes as soon as we did! In the words of sir Laszlo Reed, “It all started with the simple drop of a paddle.” It wasn’t tough rapids we were traveling through, but still he dropped it anyway. Quickly reaching for the spare, Laszlo and Sharon caught an eddy anticipating the oncoming rapid. In our haste, we were oblivious to the dead tree not five feet down stream, and the insidious strainer that threatened our canyon canoe. Peeling out, Sharon came into contact with a limb of the tree, promptly swamping the red canoe. Laszlo then found himself drifting down the river, colliding with every rock and obstacle along the way; while Sharon immediately swam to shore, paddle in hand. Reaching out for the canoe, Laszlo spotted what he thought was salvation. “Two friends, Samuel and Julian with a rope each, ready to save me from the swirling vortex of the water.” A wave of dismay washed over him as the first rope wrapped itself around a tree, and the second landed five feet upstream, completely out of reach. Laszlo could only helplessly watch the lifelines recoil and the would-be first responders sprint down stream in a futile attempt to out run the Clyde River.
As he came around the bend, he greeted the next set of rescuers with a free hand, the other still clutching the upturned canoe with white knuckles. But Hyim’s rope was downstream of the paddler, whose knees acted like magnets, attracting every precipice and rocky crag. Around the final bend, Alessio and Misha sprang into action, the last throw rope hit its mark, and again in haste Laszlo scrabbled toward the symbol of safety—abandoning the canoe in desperation. Climbing out he was met with the words, “You idiot why did you drop the canoe?!” Alessio and Misha jumped into their canoe and into the unfolding catastrophe, emerging with the lost boat as heroes. The only partners who remained dry that day were Gil and Serena, who rescued the paddle that started the whole thing. Our time spent in the water swimming when we should have been paddling did not stop there, but our first day certainly met the trip’s quota of action-packed rescues.

Grant and Julian, braving the white water
Charly and Gil- crossing Lake Memphremagog
Arriving to camp was in some ways shocking. No longer were we traveling through untouched wilderness, or where very few have left their mark, but on heavily trodden campsites, littered with vestiges of human consumerism. Yet the choices made by those before us could not taint the unique, mystic call of the loon or tarnish the joyful slap of a beaver’s tail. They do not fade the color of the sunset, or keep the winds from blowing. Instead, what we found prompted us to act by forcing us to finding durable spaces to sleep on. We cleaned up the fire pit, anticipating future use, and picked up trash and recycling to properly dispose of later. Throughout the trip, we continued our Leave No Trace practices, and did our best to clean up the put-in’s and take outs along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. In French, the word portage comes from the verb portager, meaning, “to carry.” The next day we learned the physical demands placed on the body…and what it actually means to carry all seven canoes and the entire group’s gear from take out to put in. As Samuel, Julian and I walked along, we jokingly came to the conclusion that the skill of balancing a canoe on one’s shoulders relies not on the strength of the individual, but his or her tolerance for pain. Le Grand Portage spans 6 miles, leading travelers from one watershed to the next. What could have been 18 miles there and back and there again, was greatly reduced, courtesy of two gentlemen working with a truck nearby.

Studying the signs along the river
Charly- ready to take on the next rapid!           
Passing into Canada by way of Lake Memphremagog, we found the serenity of gentle waves quietly lapping the shores of smooth black stones. After a day of paddling through a series of towns, we had finally made it to open water when the rain started to set in. Searching for camp became a mental push as the cold rain soaked our group’s morale. Thankfully, our second try led us to Long Island, a nature preserve and home to all kinds of wildlife, including deer that most likely venture across the ice in the winter to graze.

Sharon shows focus as she voyages onward
Laszlo- looking strong in the solo canoe
            Following dinner, our evening meeting was interrupted by the harsh sound of the grate coming off of the spring stove. In one swift motion, Misha swung the titanium into the center of our circle. Charly and I looked at each other with wide eyes, completely taken aback. What was going on? Misha simply continued our discussion, insistent that a circle was not complete without a proper fire circle. So we talked into the night, sharing our ideas on friendship, sense of place, and connection- all themes interwoven through our latest piece of literature, Where the Rivers Flow North. Misha talked to us on the importance of connecting community to nature and the discovery of self. He echoed the words of Grandfather who encouraged going out into the wilderness when things aren’t clear to hopefully return with the answers. Grant shared with the group about his mentor, Chris Knapp, “who taught me that the woods are not a place to escape from the world, but rather a place to go to understand and connect with it.”

Grant and Ila, weaving their way down the river
            Our days white water canoeing were interspersed with days on flat water, but we craved the adrenaline rush of navigating our boats around obstacle courses of rock, logs, and once- even rebar and cement. The clarity and focus that comes with this sport brought out the best in our teamwork. Julian made the comparison of white water to that of the satisfactory level of downhill skiing without a backpack- a sentiment we all agreed with.

Hyim feeling victorious
At the takeout- ready to row!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Blog #6- Spring Interlude

March 27th :
         Now that we have arrived at the Northwoods Stewardship Center, we can ease back into our basecamp rhythm. Over the course of the next few days we will be transitioning out of winter and preparing for spring, leaving behind anything that we will no longer need. While helping out with service around campus, we also began taking our Wilderness First Aid (WFA) Course. As we feel winter slowly loosening her grip, we will shed most of the equipment that we used for the last three months including skis, the winter stove (lovingly named Princess), and our big Osprey backpacks.

April 3rd:
         We successfully completed the Wilderness First Aid course in two days! The weekend covered important information about how to care for others in wilderness environments and required us to employ our acting skills. Suddenly Laszlo was a nine year old with a rash, while Zoe and Grant aged forty years and were demonstrating different signs of a heart attack. My personal favorite was to have sever hypothermia and lay in the warm sun while my fellow students gently carried me and wrapped me in a “burrito” blanket. Walking away being certified in WFA was a real feeling of accomplishment. Most students anticipate taking more advanced wilderness medicine courses in the future, and continuing to learn more about the amazing capabilities of the human body.

[Submit your own caption to winter.semester@kroka.org- the best caption wins a prize!]

Koviashuvik- Temple, Maine: April 4th:
         We walked down the winding snowy path, lugging our barrels—entering the story, helping to write the next chapter of pack baskets and craftsmanship. For the next two weeks, we will learn the art and work of homesteading: leeching acorns, working with hides, taking care of animals, maintaining a root cellar, starting plants in a green house, and so much more. The Knapp family [Chris, Ashirah, Owen (age 9), and Bonnie Bee (age 6)] welcomed us graciously and showed us the beautiful world they create living sustainably.

Ila, learning to process different kinds of foods that the Knapp family grew/harvested

         Intrinsic to the Knapp family lifestyle is the reverence for education and living with an open mind. Almost every morning we read from the poetry of A.R. Ammons, Wendell Berry, and Wes McNair. We could count on a different writing prompt and conversation topic every day, encouraging us to communicate with others. The following poem was inspired from Walt Whitman’s:

I am singing a song of peace
though I am dressed for war
I am singing a song of relief
for those who only know darkness
I am singing a song of brotherhood
for the men and women who fight by my side

I am singing a song of sacrifice
for my friends and loved ones
I am singing a song of freedom
for the people that live on this beautiful land
I am singing a song of preservation
for the generations to come

April 7th:
Today was a generally drippy day of on and off rain. Southeast wind gave way to the call of the Queen of the Southwest. Pushing and pulling clouds across the atmosphere, she briefly opened the sky to a royal blue and the unmistakable sun. Only for a moment did we bask in the glory of the sun’s rays before the clouds rolled back over, closing the trap door. Late at night the wind picked up to a roar.

April 8th:
We awoke to the sound of new birds and with each day the white blanket of snow melted more and more. Spring, unveiled before our eyes.

Studying on the only patch of ground where there wasn't snow!

         Today marked Connor’s birthday and our chance to head into town for a contra dance. After we were all dressed up, we drove into town and walked into a small building alive with the energy of dance and song. Music of the Franklin County Fiddlers filled the room while stomping feet danced in time. The contra was a small gathering of all ages; a beautiful way to meet the people around us.

Making our way to town for the contra dance

Skirts spin and move gently like falling flower petals
Bare feet stomp and step across the wooden floor, in time with the music,
another kind of percussion
An old woman swings me around, smiling and laughing with her twinkling eyes
Energy bursts from the room, an explosion of happiness
You can find a special kind of love sashaying through a tunnel of hands and smiling faces.

Swing your partner...

April 10th:
The magic of delicious acorn pancakes begins with processing and separating the shells from their nut. One of our morning chores involved cracking the shells off of the collected acorns with the Dave Bilt machine. Samuel shared with the group about the satisfaction of turning the crank of the machine, while watching the nuts and shells pour out into the wooden box below. During our morning discussions, we hand separated the remaining fragments of shell from the nuts.
Chris teaching proper acorn de-shelling methods

Chris teaching us how to use a froe  

Once the acorns were no longer attached to shells, they were run through a grinder and sifted by hand into their size categories: Chunks, grits, and flour.

Pulling off any remaining bits of shell from last year's acorn crop

After the acorns are thoroughly separated and sifted, the raw flours and chunks still needed to be leeched. By placing the nuts under a PVC pipe, a steady stream of water continually permeates and soaks the acorn, releasing the strong tannins that give the nut its sour, chalky flavor that Connor mistakenly sampled. The leaching time varies depending on the size of the acorn but the only way to tell fully if it is ready is to taste the acorn. If any of the sour flavor remains, they need to be leached for longer. After all is leached, it is time to turn this beautiful raw material into something absolutely delicious. We mixed our acorn flour with a little bit of oat flour, some raisins, and the very maple syrup we helped collect and boil. The cookies were absolutely to die for.

April 13th:
How To: Create your own pack basket
Ever see a wild Krokus transporting their wares in beautifully woven ash baskets? Ever wanted one of your own? Well, after sharing the following secrets of ash pounding, you can!

Working with the brown ash weavers
Every basket starts with a tree. A healthy brown ash can be identified by a full crown, light caramel coloration and spongy texture of bark. In our search, we studied the grove of trees near Koviashuvik and tried to guess the age and number of growth rings of the various brown ash mixed amongst the forest. With help of a chainsaw, we felled two and brought them back to our pounding stations. In order to turn a solid log of wood into thin strips of basket material, it’s important to separate summer and winter growth rings. The separation process consists of scoring wood with Opinel knives, swinging down on the logs with metal hammers and wooden mallets, and singing songs to keep a cadence. Once the ash is pounded satisfactorily it peels off in beautiful strips, ready to be stripped and split. The ash trees we selected were well hydrated with impressively thick growth rings, adding one step to our process: splitting. In order to work with the stripped wood we had to split the growth rings in half, they were now thin enough to become future weavers for our baskets.

Sharon working carefully on the base of her basket
April 15th:
This afternoon we met Grandfather Ray, the influential mentor of Chris and Ashirah. His story is one of education and growth, of finding what it means to live in harmony with all things, of trusting his heart and aligning it with the heartbeat of Mother Earth. As the student of Grandfather Joe since the age of 8, Ray shared with us stories of woodworking, patience, and listening. Some of the lessons he left with us that resonated with the group are as follows:

1.     You can’t do anything about anyone else. All you can work with is the person in the mirror staring back at you.
2.     Every day you have a choice to be happy, productive, quiet, mindful…only you can change your attitude
3.     When things aren’t working, stop. Take time to find out why. Take as much time as you need.

Grandfather’s refreshing wisdom expressed the hope he had for healing the relationship between people and planet.

Morning class

April 17th:
Today we left Koviashuvik with the exciting news that we had been given a generous gift to celebrate all the recent and upcoming birthdays. Thank you Kim Martin! Our new navigators led the way to brick oven pizza in Gorham, NH. We ate our picnic dinner at the grassy park in the center of town, enjoying the weather and each other’s company. Kicking off our shoes, some started a game of Frisbee while others explored the jungle gym.

Happy Birthday to you all!
Charly March 28th
Samuel April 5th
Julian April 7th
Connor April 8th
Alessio April 18th

And we are now back at Northwoods. The landscape has changed as the snow is now all melted. We now hear the soothing sound of running water and watch the buds of spring begin to unfold.

This final blog was a collaborative effort of both Sharon’s work and my own. For the following blogs to come, Sharon will be picking up the reigns and, to quote our navigator Hyim, “riding north into the setting sun.”

Thanks for reading,
Ila and Sharon

The group with their beautiful baskets

Editor’s Note: Students are now off on their spring expedition! In a few days they will be arriving at the head of Lake Champlain, after an exciting 8 days of the river. We will hear more from them as the weather warms and they make their way south!

Circled together, enjoying our meal

Knife sharpening class with Chris

Spotted through the cracks in the second floor: students hard at work!