Saturday, January 14, 2012

Update 1

Dear Readers,
I am honored to be your contact to our lives aboard the Vermont Semester.

Every day here feels like several. At night it is difficult to realize that what happened in the morning happened that morning! We are always in motion, even when we are seated. So you can imagine how, even if I am incredibly thorough, there will always be much more happening than I could possibly describe. This is an incredible place. With this in mind, I will do my best to share our story.

We are nine students named Willie, Noah, Josia, Michal, Malcolm, Everett, Conor, Adam, and Dean.

My name is Dean.

Lu and Lisl will be our teachers throughout the Semester.
Along the way, we will be guided by Andrew, Misha, Chris, Tom and many guest teachers, each with their own specialty and way of life. We are very lucky to be able to learn from all of these people. I hope that all of our personalities come out through my entries.

Let’s begin.

Our journey began with a ceremony.

We and our families gathered in the Big Yurt, where we shared food and stories and began to realize that what we had been dreaming of for so long was finally about to begin.

After the food was eaten, graduates from previous semesters put on a performance for us all, and they succeeded in making us laugh. They demonstrated the many possible uses of hand axes, mostly ones that we will not be using our axes for, such as slicing up huge blocks of chocolate.

The performance ended and the end of the ceremony began. One by one the future Semester Students were called to the center of the Big Yurt.  We knelt on one knee, head bowed, while a Graduate used the back of an axe to tap our shoulders and our head. When the metal touched me, I could not help but shiver. We rose and were presented with the axe.

This was now our journey, and this was our first tool.

We walked our parents to the top of the big hill and said goodbye. My mom and I hugged each other and said “I love you very much”. She is a wonderful artist and I know she would love to be here as much as I do right now.

Coming back down the hill, I kept looking back. It was a little sad, but it felt right.

We collected back at the Big Yurt and wrapped the top of our axe handles with cord to protect them. Behind us it began to snow, and by the time we turned around, it was truly winter outside.

We couldn’t believe what was happening.
It was the beginning of it all and the world had taken notice. So it was a shame when the snow melted the next day…

We have many projects at Kroka.

Lisl and Lu taught us how to knit down in the Big Yurt, and it is a small joy to experience your fingers flying through the yarn when before they were a thousand times too big to handle anything. Lu was also knitting her own hat and, at Lisl’s suggestion, started creating a tube for an earflap. That was much more advanced than what we were doing!  I think she’s still working on it.

We might even be adding ears to our hats as well as earflaps. Josia has a brown hat with rabbit ears that Misha loved so much that he wants us all to have different animals. Lisl wants to give him pig ears! I hope that mine are removable.

Tom, who is the true definition of an old soul in a young body, taught us knife making in the Workshop up the hill.  He shared with us a special understanding of what it means to create. He told us how he found the burl that most of us used for handles while canoeing, and reminded us that our sheaths were once a running and snorting pig. He told us of the bees who made the wax for our sheaths. We heard about the inner motions of the Earth grinding minerals into formation, and we gave recognition to those who developed the epoxy, oil, and thread we used.

To honor what Tom taught us, I named my blade Time to remind me of what every process must take and the story that each object has behind it.

Without snow, but needing to practice skiing, Lisl thought we should bring ice skates and hockey sticks down to the Beaver Pond. Most of us didn’t bring those things though, so we ended up playing Ninja on the ice. In an attempt to slap each other’s hands before both of ours were out, we all ended up on our backs trying to fight off laughter. Michal won that round. She rolls and tumbles around and is always in the thick of it. She can do a cartwheel on the ice. We also did relay races.  Our noise and cheer must have woken the whole night up.

On the Fifth Day we made a group decision to step outside Kroka tradition. We would sauna boys and girls together, and wear swimsuits. It was outrageously fun. We all ran to the Orchard Hill sauna. Adam, Conor, and I pushed each other to run a little too fast. Although we had some impressive footwork over the icy, rocky terrain, we missed the group fall into a hollow ice puddle.

It was close to three miles until we hit the sauna, and Josia, Michal, and Lu wasted no time in upholding a different Kroka tradition. In front of the sauna there is a small iced over pond and the tradition is to saw a hole in it and jump in. The saw we used was over five feet tall! Michal jumped in before we had removed the two squares we had sawed out, so she went through a trapdoor and came back out with a few cuts on her legs. She was fine, but she felt bad about bleeding inside the sauna. We all teased her for it.

Lu told us that she heard that in Norway when you sauna you are supposed to jump in the icy water seven times, so the next hour was an almost constant chain of rushing in and out and cheering at the small window where we could see the plunges. Willie, who is from Texas, came close but couldn’t do it yet. It was just too cold! We all know that he will.

Adam & Andrew invented a quick game where you must answer an historical question before you are allowed out of the water, which we all fell in love with immediately. It’s a game that only they would have thought up.

Adam knows a vast range of history. He knows a relevant story for almost any occasion and he hasn’t had to truly say “I don’t know” to a question yet. When he does, however, he just means that he has less to say. When we were studying the expedition novels that Misha had asked us to read, Adam was immersed in his more than any of us. His explanation of a Pacific Ocean crossing only through indigenous tools and techniques was very knowledgeable and easy to listen to. I hope that I can learn a lot from him along the way.

Later that day we met Nate, one of the previous Semester Teachers, who gave us many stories and songs, as well as an apple crisp. He takes a tracking class for one weekend every month, and it is a long drive away. On his way there the other night he realized that he had forgotten the dessert that he was going to share with his group. His mind occupied, he barely skipped a beat as he slammed on the brakes and swerved to the edge of the road, just missing the enormous moose that had been standing in the center of the lane.  He came back to the right side of the road and thought about how quickly life can change, and how it almost just did. That was the story of our apple crisp, and yes, I do believe that he was as calm during the event as he sounds as I write it!

There were beautiful songs that night and I truly hope to sing strongly and powerfully on my own at the end of the Semester. I accidently volunteered myself to lead one of the dinner songs and I was so nervous that I couldn’t find the tune. It was embarrassing, but hilarious. Most of us started out shy with our singing, but the voices are coming out. It is really something to listen to and be a part of every meal.

We sang one of Nate’s songs during our knife completion ceremony. Tom asked us to use it because it is meant to be sung on special occasions. We cannot help but hum it during our free time though! It’s a song about remembering others and others remembering you.

We sometimes have trouble not bringing up subjects from home. During a Community Guideline meeting Willie suggested that we use the word Albatross when we leave the here and now. It caught on, but it has turned into just making screeching sounds. Malcolm produces a guttural call that would terrify everyone if it weren’t clearly coming from our goofy friend, flapping his arms in broad daylight.

We’ve skied four times so far.

Grafton Ponds Cross Country Ski Center makes their own snow, so we drove there for a little under an hour and spent a few hours more there. For many of us it was close to our first time on skis! I had half an hour of previous skiing experience, and that was many years ago. For others, it was the first time back on in a while. If they were rusty, I couldn’t tell!  Everett, Josia, Noah, and Michal were the ones who stood out to me as the most comfortable.  Conor and I face-planted on the hard packed snow when snowplowing down a hill. Once our egos recovered, we took pride in the distinction.

Malcolm says he went airborne for a full second yesterday when we were finally able to ski at Kroka. It snowed this beautiful soft powder! It was just barely enough and it was amazing. I felt so much more comfortable on the second day, and on our own skis instead of rented ones like at Grafton. We did three races while Lisl took pictures, and I don’t know about anybody else, but I was definitely trying to get into the lead so I would be a major face in a picture! Even though I am still a pretty slow skier, I was able to run with skis on fast enough to be up there with them! Look for the bright blue hat if there is one there, that’ll be me. 
Everett won two of those races. I always think that he looks more typical of Kroka than any of the rest of us. I want to know more about how he grew up. On the first few days he had this long flowing hair down to his chest, but he had just made it into dreadlocks that he didn’t want anymore so he had them all cut off in the Big Yurt just the other day. His hair now points out in every direction, and it suits him well.

Several days ago we chose our Big Jobs. These are incredibly important jobs that each of us must take on and, when put together, they make our Semester Expedition a reality. It is beautiful to see everyone working as hard as they can every day, even when we have so little time to make it happen, and still making true progress.  For example, I was walking through the Kitchen last night to do group laundry and there were these reddish-brown chunks of meat strung up high to dry over the oven! I knew that our trail-food manager must have done it, but I had no idea when. It made me smile.

We are learning to use up every moment of the day and that is why I’m here. I wanted to do something incredible and I wanted to be a part of something here at Kroka on the Vermont Semester.  I can tell I will be an older mind when I leave here, and am just a little more already. I don’t want to stop making things happen. I love all of the people here.

I hope everyone back home understands just a little bit more about why I had to come to the semester.

There is so much more to say, but there is even much more to do! My current tasks are to write this update, make my ski gaiters, and wax the skis, because I am the both the Scribe & Ski Manager. Everyone is working nonstop to keep on top of his or her Big Job. They are all doing a fantastic job, and I can’t wait to write more about what we are all doing and who we all are.

Thank you for following us!

I hope you enjoyed it so far.

Dean – Scribe & Ski Manager
Adam – Camp Food Manager
Conor – Trail Food Manager
Everett – Gear & Repair Manager
Josia – Kitchen & Logistics Manager
Malcolm – Navigator
Michal – Sewing & Energy Manager
Noah – Camp Manager
Willie – Medic
Lu, Andrew, & Lisl are by our sides


  1. Hi Everett! It all sounds interesting. We're so proud of you. Looks like you're all having fun but working your tails off at it. :-) from the Manafo relatives

  2. Love the blog! Keep them coming. I'm so proud of you, Willie, and all the rest of you too!

  3. This blog is GREAT! Thanks for the update. It looks like Malcolm is having more fun than we expected, if that's even possible! I'm looking forward to reading the next installment of "The Exciting Adventures of Vermont Semester 2012"

    Rickey (Malcolm's Dad) Harris

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  5. Hi Dean! We're all going to miss you at school! The floor won't be the same without you! Hope you have lots of fun and make sure you stay in touch!
    -Melissa :)

  6. I actually used my axe to chop up some chocolate a few days after the alumni presentation- happens more often than you'd think (but less often than you'd like)