Monday, January 23, 2012

Update 2

To Anyone who is Expecting a Letter from a Semester Student;

We are all very sorry. It has been extraordinarily tough to find the time to write letters, even when we remember to look for it. A few have certainly made their way through, but there is always something more to be done for the group.

It is a powerfully good feeling to be kept busy with important work, work that makes the rest of your day possible. So we have a favor to ask of those still waiting. Please know that we have many half-written letters, and for now, please enjoy what I am about write and know that we are thinking of you all.

(I also want to say that I have received one letter so far, and that I’ve read it over and over again. I want to respond to it very much but I have not been able to. I hope these updates are read as my response for now.)

At 5:30 in the morning, one of our teachers walks to where the Milker is sleeping and sings a morning song to wake them up.

Today, Lisl was the one waking and Josia was the one Milking.
We rotate every four days.

Startled from wakeup, but still very warm & a little drowsy, Josia must soon get out of her sleeping bag and into the brisk cold air within the Gamme, the girls’ home. The fire that is lit every night is always out by morning. She quietly puts on her layers inside of her sleeping bag, trying to let Michal either stay or get back to sleep. Josia is worried she’s waking her up anyway, but she can now leave the Gamme and stop by the Big Yurt to fill her water bottle and grab yesterday’s empty milk jar. After she has done both, she begins the trudge up the steep hill towards the Farm House to meet Lynne. Together, they will prepare to milk Daisy.

It is now 5:45 and Lisl is waking up Adam and Willie in the New Lodge, the boys’ lodge. I wake up too but I get to fall right back asleep, which is even better than not waking up. For a few groggy minutes I feel bright headlamps moving around as the two Cooks get ready to leave, but soon I am dreaming and they are in the Big Yurt starting a fire in the big stove, boiling water, and preparing breakfast.

At 6:15 the rest of us are woken up. One by one we leave our lodges and stop by the Big Yurt before we spread out for our morning chores. Soon, we are at work.

Michal and Noah are beside the Big Yurt splitting kindling and gathering firewood from the drying shed. There is enough snow on the ground so they will load up their black sled and deliver a bundle of each to the five nearby dwellings. Sometimes they pull each other in the sled as well as the firewood! Each morning, they will also refill the Big Yurt’s woodbox and then begin splitting logs near the Carriage Barn that Kroka will burn a year from now.

Malcolm and Everett are at the animal pens where Josia milked Daisy, gathering hay and water for the winter pastures beside the Farm House. Today, Misha and his dog Violet will help them move Brita the horse, Daisy the cow, Dandelion the calf, and Miss Muffet & Bo Peep, the sheep, into the pastures. They will also have to scrape and shovel out each stall, but not Daisy’s. Josia had to do that before milking. Afterwards they will head down to the Chicken Coop to collect eggs and feed the hens.

By now the Cooks have boiled most of their water, so Conor is at the stream behind the Big Yurt filling two buckets with more. On colder mornings he has to re-break the hole in the ice with a stick, but not today. I am pouring out the grey wash-water from the breakfast’s extra pots and pans into our sump-hole, then rushing back to take one of the filled buckets from Conor. After we deliver the water, we clean and sweep the bathroom stalls by the bottom of the Big Hill, then head up to the Farm House for more.

Walking up the Big Hill in the morning is always beautiful.

Today the world is blanketed with grey and falling snow. The light is on in the Farmhouse and it is a bright white, but the forest is black and almost solid. When we reach the top we are dusted. The fog from our breath is deeper and lasts longer, and behind us we can see the Big Yurt’s own smoky breath blend into the black and grey forested mountains.

The snow is powdery so we know that soon every chore, save the Cooks, will be finishing up with a strong and quick group shovel.

Other days the sky is warm and washed by the red rising sun. Both radiate across the soft white earth and the dry grass. On days like those you don’t feel like you need a jacket, even if it is cold.

After everyone finishes shoveling the many driveways, Adam will play his fife to call us into a breakfast of millet, applesauce, yogurt, cheese, raisins, walnuts, and tea. As Camp Food Manager, he is responsible for making the yogurt. I love it!

I wanted to give you an idea of how we begin every one of our days here at the Kroka Village. I’m not going to include the evening or even the midday chores, but you can imagine how they intertwine as well.

We work all day, but when we are not doing chores we are often sewing on machines in the Farm House, skiing around the hilly fields, or doing more for our Big Jobs. We have more than enough to do!

Conor must dehydrate vegetables, meat, and make three hundred biscuits. Adam has to bring all of the food that we eat down from the Farm House every day and he makes us yogurt and mung beans. Michal must manage the sewing room when Lisl is not around and manage the electricity that we use at camp and on trail. Everett must gather, sort, and repair all of the gear that we need and I saw him painting saw handles just yesterday. Josia organizes kitchen cleaning, she’s created a chore wheel, and she handles our money, thank you letters, and more than I know about.

Malcolm has 33 maps to sort through and he has already led us on a full day hike through the woods! It was from the top of Pitcher Mountain back down and across to Kroka. We believe that it was over 10 miles. We got to drink like deer from a clear and cold spring about halfway through. There were some bumps in the road but we made it, I saw him get more comfortable with it, and it was a lot of fun.

Willie has to learn how to handle any of our daily injuries and he makes sure that we are on top of staying healthy with vitamins. I have a lot of ski work to do, waxing and replacing bindings. Noah is the Camp Manager. He goes on recycling runs, built bathroom cubbies in the Farm House for us, made and installed beautiful tile hearths for the wood stoves in both Lodges and the Gamme, and I’m sure he’s completed many more small projects that he hasn’t told us about yet.

Noah is hilarious and has countless surprising moments that will not stop being surprising. He’s a regular to call the pot, which is eating the rest of what’s in the bowl when it is basically finished. Today he couldn’t finish and he kept asking us to eat the cabbage. He admitted that he didn’t know why he called it, because he didn’t actually want to eat the rest of it! He slips in little jokes here and there that always catch us off guard, and he has moments where he moves really fast and I always do a double take. I found out that he was there when his family dropped off his sister to the first Kroka expedition that I ever did! We shook hands and said that we were glad to finally meet each other for real.

All of us here knew our Noah, and now we also know another. Noah Elbers is a baker, and we visited him at his house and bakery for the second time last night. We met him after 7’o’clock at night as he was loading bread into a massive circular oven and left just before 9. He would be baking bread until close to 3’o’clock in the morning.

It was amazing to watch the way he moved and baked. I thought it was almost like a dance that he had practiced and practiced until it was as smooth as he needed it to be. He had his long-handled baking paddle at waist height in the middle of the room and when he wanted to move by it, it came up and down again so quickly it was like he had walked through it. When the bread went in he floured and nicked every single one exactly the way that he wanted, and when they came out he could just pick them up before they cooled and set them on racks.

He talked and answered our questions the entire time he was doing this, and even some of his own family stayed to listen and ask a question or two of their own. He explained the way his oven worked, the way heat baked the bread, how he tried to capture some of the excess heat for his house, and the yeast and bacteria within the bread, but although I don’t remember every detail I remember just how thoroughly he put himself into every process. He would never give you an incomplete answer.

He sent us away with a loaf of bread, and when we got back home we each tore pieces from it and ate it before falling asleep. It was delicious. He bakes all of the bread that we eat here, but it’s something else when you are there as he does it.

We are all having a great time here and we feel very lucky. Not everyone gets to do something like this. I already feel like I have come a long way and it’s only been the first two weeks. If you really want to, set your alarm to 5:45 in the morning tomorrow. That is when I will be waking up, and when I begin my new chore as Cook with Josia for the next several days. You can fall back asleep. Maybe you’ll dream of what I’ve shared with you.

Ps. Mom and Dad, any idea where my ski pants are?

Work from Pushups and Poetry

One spot
Maybe lush, plentiful moss
Or rather hard, desolate concrete
Both are somewhere

But where?
Can it be described?
In one word, or many
Can a picture suffice?
I think not
Words can help
Images spark memories
But there are more senses than that
To really know a place, you must
feel it, taste it, smell it
Breathe in its life blood
Wallow in its imperfections kiss it for its beauty
Be there not only when the blossoms bloom, the ice shines clear
But all times
Know it after being washed out by rain,
Everything is somewhere
It knows its righteous place
It is there, under sky,
Over the Earth’s core
Between its neighbors
Who it knows squabble every spring
Over the most nutritious soil.
When you get somewhere new,
Its an opportunity to meet a steadfast friend
All you see is the surface
But we all know
The best things are beneath,
Things you must work
To get to know


When sitting at a sewing machine, close to finishing my second bag of the day,  I started to become more and more frustrated with the tangled thread.  Somewhere in the machine, there was one miniscule piece that was perhaps wound too tight or too loosely.  This one small thing made the whole mechanical wonder into a nonfunctional piece of annoyance. As I became more and more frustrated, I realized I was becoming a small piece of our group that was malfunctioning and that if I didn’t loosten up a little bit I would cause everyone else to stop working.  Without anyone using a wrench or a screwdriver on me, I fixed up my issue and continued working with the “infernal” machine.


Creating a knife was a process I had eagerly looked forward to.

I was well aware of the great value a knife has, especially on the trail. Being able to possess the advantage a knife offers as a result of my own labors is an exciting thought, but leads to a problem – how does one make a knife?

I found the process to be much simpler that expected. Simple, yet demanding a lot of attention to detail and a collection of knowledge and materials. So much of others went into my knife: the knowledge and experience of others, a pig, wax created by many bees, the burl of a yellow birch, a blade.

Having combined all of these things, I have developed a connection to my knife. I hope to use it for many years to come and to pass on the knowledge of knife making.


Everywhere has its secrets
and if you listen it will tell you
answers to questions you don’t know to ask
if you watch it will show you
beauties you never looked for

Without books and without teachers,
but with each breath it fills you with its knowledge

Every place has its secrets
if you open your soul you can feel it
feelings you can never touch
if you open your heart you can taste its love
a flavor no food can offer

Every place has its secrets
All you have to do is open up



  1. Thanks so much for the wonderful update. Please tell Willie I really appreciate his letter...even more so now that I hear how hard it is to find time to write. Can't wait to see you all!

  2. It's so good to hear the update. We've been looking every day for a while and wondering, especially after hearing weather reports for your region filled with snow. Everett's relatives are emailing back and forth every tidbit, so keep 'em coming as often as you can and photos, too! We do get up at 5:45 with some of you; it's still dark here then also. While you were doing a group shovel one day this past week, the Big Island had an earthquake (5.0 with aftershocks but no tsunami) and Oscar nominations were announced. But like there, the breakfast still gets made and the jobs get attended to. Keep up the hard, sometimes frustrating, good work that you're doing. It's quite exciting to see you change and grow during this semester!