Hello from Northwoods Stewardship Center! As we look back on the distance we have traveled from when first we set ski upon the trail, all the way to Farm and Wilderness, Waitsfield, Craftsbury, and now here, it is difficult to believe that it was we who felled all those dead trees for firewood, scaled those mountains, and, most impressively, ate all that food! The journey has been long and the challenges great, yet here we are, 400 kilometers in and at the end of the winter portion of our expedition.
Leg four (which was about about 50 km) was likely the most amazing portion of Semester thus far, because we had our independent group travel. Oh, where to begin? There are so many stories to tell, one could not possibly fit them into a single blog post!
To start, we spent our Craftsbury layover preparing: planning routes, packing food, learning how to set up a tarp, and more. After saying goodbye to our friends and fantastic instructors, Zoe and Dave, we set out in our individual groups of twos and threes, headed into a new realm of possibility and excitement. But we couldn’t just dilly-dally and waste our time on random shenanigans, because we were on a scavenger hunt! And not just any old scavenger hunt: The biggest, most epic and adventurous one of all time, the likes of which you have never heard! On the list included things like performing a service project in the community, full group full body immersion, drinking maple sap (with the permission of the owner), and interviewing an older folk born in VT. As you may notice, many of these things involve interacting with people in the community, which (as it turns out) is a fascinating way to spend one’s time. Especially in the Northeast Kingdom, you’re likely to meet some of the most quirky and interesting people around.
One theme that came up as we shared about our experiences with one another is how willing, and even excited, people are to help us out. Folks have gifted us brownies and maple syrup, and let us sleep in their fields. We’ve been offered job and WWOOF opportunities, told about nice places to camp or swim, and had water bottles kindly forced into our hands. The list goes on, but it just goes to show how much good there is in the world, and there is never really anything to lose by striking up a conversation with a stranger.
Similarly, we all felt a deep sense of fulfillment in giving back to the community through our service projects. Some of us picked up trash and scattered sticks in the lawn of a local library, or helped maintain a road that was built in 1791 (Hinman Settler Road), by clearing away fallen branches and logs. Others helped to bottle maple syrup and tend to taps on maple trees, or cleared brush from a nature center where summer camps are held. There is something immensely rewarding about putting effort into helping someone other than ourselves for once. A sense of being part of the larger community, a wholeness, as it were. Many of us even felt that we received more than we gave – new skills, more knowledge, and a valuable experience we wouldn’t have gained had we not reached out and asked: how can we help?
Another theme is one of feeling empowered to be able to go out into the world after Semester ends, and go on travels of our own. We know how to interact with people and ask for help, how to navigate using a map and compass, how to find a home anywhere there are trees and running water, and how to cook over a firescreen. We know what it’s like to be on our own and how to support ourselves, how to troubleshoot and be independent people. Most importantly however, we have learned the art of living comfortably in nature – not just to visit for the weekend, but to really truly live and be happy in the outdoors for the long term. We had even more time to soak in our surroundings and connect with the great outdoors than we did back on leg three, when we each went on a 24 hour solo to sit and think by ourselves, which was also a very profound experience. Through all of these moments we are growing closer to the beautiful world around us and learning to call it home, and recognizing that we are a part of it as much as it is a part of us.
Throughout our travels each group had their own exciting adventures and misadventures. Some of us had campfires and ate canned baked beans by the side of the road, and had to argue a group member out of using grocery money to purchase a goat. Others climbed a mountain and found a spectacular view, and picked up a book at a free pile and read it together every night. Many of us found space to simply sit in nature with our own thoughts for a while.
Warm bread, butter and honey
Toasted by the fire.
Our spirits they rise with the sun
Like a spire.
Peacefully we go and sing,
We walk these long dirt roads.
Lunch by the graveyard
Like times of old.
In gratitude for this life we will continue on,
Thankful for the sun for it hath shone.
- Will, Rose, and Teo
On April 8th we arrived at Northwoods Stewardship Center and greeted each other, happy to be a whole group once again. I felt – and I’m sure we all did – that everyone had changed in some way. That we had become more independent and had begun to realize our full potential in the world, and that we’d all grown closer to one another. We had become more empowered to work towards community at a larger scale, and had begun to fully live into the natural world and all her amazing resources. Perhaps we all just looked more tan as well! However, there was much to be done and we soon got to work, unpacking our backpacks, sorting gear, and settling into our new home for the next few weeks. We shared our stories by the fireside that night, and later the next day when each group performed a goofy skit themed on their adventures together.
We feel a rush of gratitude knowing we have made it all this way, and we look forward to the next portion of expedition. But in between these two things is the present moment – our time here at NSC – and we strive to soak in every last drop of it as we can. Our time here is special to us and as we are already more than halfway through Semester, it grows ever more close to our hearts. What a long way we’ve come to be here. What a precious thing it is to be a part of this community. What a gift it is to be so deeply immersed in nature.
Like sentries they stand
Tall, silent, still,
Shielding us from outside malice;
No better guards to be found
Not even at Buckingham Palace.
As night crept in
They began to sing
Long lost lullabies
Ancient melodies of years gone bye;
By the twinkling night sky.
In our slumber it’s to those stars we wonder.
- Theo, Lissa, and James