Full Circle Winter Semester 2024 Blog #1

Finally, we are here! Many months of preparation have all led up to this moment. After introductions and a potluck, we say goodbyes (some tearful, some cheerful) and are “knighted” by semester alumni with many wishes of warm socks and the gifts of axes that we will use throughout the next months and treasure for long afterwards. One by one, we pass through a human tunnel created by the outstretched arms of the community and silently walk through the snowy woods to a nearby pond. 

The sun is just beginning to fall upon a bright blue sky, and the air is perfectly still. Here, we form the first of what will be hundreds of circles and together begin this life-changing journey. And without further ado…


First up and first born we have 19 year old Maxwell Julius Mcrory (aka Max), from Montclair, NJ! Well versed in horrible jokes and obscure knowledge, he can carry on a conversation about anything and harbors a burning loathing for fire cider (“IT TASTES LIKE BOTTLED HATE.”).


Next we have Cole Harris McNaughton, 17, from Wolcott, VT! You’ll hear him singing from miles away before he greets you with a dramatic entrance. Lover of sea shanties and old Irish ballads. Master polar-plunger.


Coming all the way from Mill Valley, CA is 19 year old Thomas Morgan Boyle! He is an aspiring engineer and voracious reader. Coming here having never held a snow shovel before in his life, he is adapting to New England winters quite easily. 


The youngest of the bunch is Una Margaret Osborne Lieberman (15), from East Montpelier, Vermont! With the brightest smile of the group, you’ll find her laughing about anything and everything. Fervent dish washer and contra dancer. 


Addison Lane Grissett (Addie), 16, from nearby Peterborough, NH. Mistress of handwork- from knitting to book binding. Lover of poems. Avid nap taker. Her handwriting (“The Grissett Font”) is impeccably neat. 


Next up we have Miriam Joy Patton, 16! Coming from Putney, Vermont, she speaks almost entirely in song and her bedazzled sunglasses just scream diva. She’ll laugh hysterically at even the least funny jokes (and at things that weren’t even jokes at all). Don’t even bother trying to beat her at a wall sit competition. 


From Ellicott City, Maryland is 17 year old Lilian Katherine McAlpine (Lily). Lily is a walking, talking encyclopedia, field guide, and Knower of All Things. She can be credited with preventing us all from drinking homemade turpentine after we incorrectly made spruce needle tea…


William Aaron Benjamin Holcomb (or just Ben), 17 from Exeter, NH, is the group’s resident comedian, singer-songwriter, and Seinfeld reference manual. Playing guitar at every chance, his original song is sung all over campus and his prowess in the Flavor Lab (aka the yurt kitchen) is appreciated by all. He plans to complete this semester through “spite and inertia”.

Ben H

Benjamin Kjell Saunders (Saunders), 17, from Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Proud snowboarder and surfer, learning to love skiing. Receives multiple letters every day. Group provider of mixed nuts and gin-gins. 

Ben S

Arnett Julius Piffner, 17, from Beecher, IL. Stoic (but not in a cringey way), history buff, and absolute beast at sit-ups. Multi-instrumental, Arnett did not bring his coronet with him, but did bring his hand drum prowess and masterful storytelling skills. 

Arnett (on the left)

Russell Owen Clar, 16, from Montpelier, Vermont: Leader of singalongs. Shredder of gnar. Prolific sloucher. Beef jerky fiend. 


Lastly, 15 (soon to be 16) year old Aria Lovejoy Haupt, from Amherst, MA. Cross country skier extraordinaire. Always freezing cold (but rarely complaining). Nitpicky crafter of knives. She is “very bendy”.



Our daily routine at basecamp keeps us grounded and calm as we adjust to a new place, community and lifestyle. Our dear instructors, Alex, Rebecca, and Sam wake us up around 5:45, and lead us in a short session of “Yoga in the Yurt” before we head out to various parts of the campus for chores. The students and staff work as the sun rises to serve each other, our communal spaces, and animals. This ranges from splitting and stacking rounds in the log yard, to dehydrating meals for expedition, cooking breakfast for the group, cleaning the farmhouse, feeding the chickens and cows, and hauling trees out of the forest. Afterwards, students make their way back to the yurt for sit spots and breakfast. Each of us chose a spot immersed in nature–in the sunlit forest or the bank of the rushing, icy brook. We return to these “sit spots” daily to breathe, listen to our thoughts, and observe the day to day differences of our surroundings. We don’t have much alone time, so although the temperature often requires us to dress in all of our layers, I think we all appreciate this moment in the day to be alone, present, and reflective. We re-gather to eat breakfast before heading up to the farmhouse for class. 

Ben and Russell with some loaded oatmeal

Each week, a different staff member teaches us, and typically we each create a final product of what we took away from the class, referred to as a “Book of Wisdom page”. These pages will comprise (as the name implies) a Book of Wisdom, a collection of our knowledge to take home and cherish after semester. So far we have enjoyed poetry class with Liz, energy and sustainability with Emily, and navigation and geography with Nathan. 

After class, we have a fitness block. We ski, run, and do calisthenic circuits- sometimes followed by ice plunges in the pond. 

Ski drills with the Big Yurt in the background

Jennifer (Kroka’s food manager) makes delicious lunches that are always devoured after fitness. Then, we eat lunch and take showers in the farmhouse before beginning our afternoon block. Afternoons vary, and can consist of sewing and crafting, splitting wood, forestry, nutrition class, and more. 

Forestry class with Audrey, Suza, and Ezra

As the sun begins to set, we complete our “little jobs” (feeding animals, laundry, sweeping the farmhouse, etc.) and return to the big yurt for the evening. As dinner is boiling (occasionally burning) on the wood stove, we work on homework from class, our daily journal entries, and read and write letters. Before eating the heavily anticipated “glop, slop, or soup”, we circle and sing to bless our meal – our song bank is rapidly growing! To end the day, after dishes are washed and games are played, we settle into an evening meeting. 


Evening meeting is opened with an “art”- a poem, article, chapter of a book, or a breathing/ body awareness session. We then talk about the plan and logistics of the next day, before entering into the sharing portion of evening meeting. We are given a prompt (ex: “What do you appreciate about the person sitting to your left?”) that each person thinks and shares about. Following this, we finally brush our teeth and head to the earth dwellings, aka “hobbit huts,” for a (hopefully) warm night of sleep. 


Despite our strong everyday routine, we still find time to go on plenty of bigger adventures. These range pretty broadly – we might spend the day skiing at a nearby mountain (hiking up instead of taking the chairlift – earn your turns!!), or visiting various religious gatherings – a Quaker Meeting and Buddhist and Christian services, or contra dancing. Here are some highlights…

Aikido lesson and Badger Balm HQ tour with “Badger” Bill Whyte

Less than a week into the semester we were greeted with our first adventure: An Aikido lesson at a dojo run by Bill Whyte. Bill has been practicing Aikido for several decades, is a good friend of Kroka (his daughter was an instructor) and — just so happens to be the founder of Badger (the balm company). But we’ll get to that in a minute… 

We loaded into the van and drove the short trip to Bill’s dojo, located a couple towns away. He greeted us and we got right into some stretching and limbering up. Personally, I (Russell) was feeling pretty solid at this point – maybe I was just a natural at Aikido! But my confidence dissipated when Bill moved onto showing us some actual Aikido techniques…

Aikido is a martial art in which the intent is not to land punches or kicks on your opponent, but instead to redirect their own force against them – a peaceful form of combat. Bill showed us some of the most basic principles of Aikido first: freeing ourselves from various holds, gracefully (in theory) dodging people running at us, and more. It looked so easy when Bill showed us – and yet we were all so clumsy! 

After a couple hours of this, we wrapped up by bowing to each other, Bill, and the shrine in the dojo before loading back into the van and driving a few minutes to the headquarters of Bill’s company, Badger. He founded it as a carpenter whose hands were always ripped up, and he’s grown the company from a one-man kitchen operation to a huge building with almost 100 employees. We were all super impressed with the “soul” that Bill has managed to retain in Badger, even while growing it into a big company. Somehow the office cubicles and storage cubicles felt home-y — Bill actually designed the beautifully timber framed building himself, and helped with a lot of the construction. After the tour, we returned to Kroka, our pockets laden heavy with various balms, creams, and some secret products still in testing.

Chase’s Mill

One bright morning, we set out on our first adventure on skis – a several mile trip to a historic sawmill in East Alstead. Loosely following a winding snowmobile trail and occasionally cutting through people’s backyards, we finally crossed frozen Lake Warren and arrived at Chase’s Mill.

Una and Max skiing on trial

Built in the early 1700s and upkept/restored throughout the centuries, it was even used to cut some of the boards for the Kroka farmhouse renovation a few years back! Today, Bob Brown is in charge of the mill, and he gave us a talk about the history of humans’ energy consumption from the dawn of agriculture to today, before showing us the actual workings of the mill. He also gave birth to a now often-uttered and riffed-upon phrase among the students when, noticing how cold we were in the unheated and uninsulated mill, he proclaimed: “There is no such thing as cold, just an absence of warmth.” This statement was definitely met with some unconvinced looks. 

Chase’s Mill is powered via a turbine, the water flow to which is provided by a sluice that is in turn fed by the waters of Lake Warren. Bob showed us all the gear linkages that power a number of machines – a planer, bandsaw, table saw, and more, which seemed like some miraculous engineering given the time in which it was built! As the sun began to set, we began the trek back to Kroka, stopping at Orchard Hill Breadworks for some much needed cookies along the way. 

Nelson Contra Dance

We had just finished dinner and the evening in the yurt, tired from a long day of wilderness first aid class (WFA). However, we were not about to curl into our warm sleeping bags. Instead, we ventured out to the town of Nelson for the Nelson Contra Dance. It was late and cold, and for the cherry on top, we got very lost on the way there, down some extraordinarily bumpy, nausea-inducing backroads. Stomachs were churning as we finally pulled into the parking lot and piled out of the van, but as soon as we entered the dance hall, we were pulled into the fast-paced, spinning, swinging dance. Many of us broke out of our comfort zones and partnered up with other community members from all over the area. Some of us got the hang of it more easily than others – despite the directions of the dance literally being called out over the music, there are some pretty tricky moves. The community was thankfully very gracious, and didn’t get too mad no matter how much we derailed the flow of the dance! We left sweaty and smiling, no longer ready for bed. 

Making the hockey rink

Russell and Max and music


In order to tackle the huge amount of work that comes with such a long, intense expedition, we have divided into small teams that manage “big jobs.” Each team is in charge of a small aspect of planning and expedition work:

Miriam and Cole are our Gear Managers. They’re in charge of our tents, skis, packs, and all of the other huge pieces of gear that need packing, maintenance, and repairs. 

Una and Max are the Energy Managers. They’re in charge of the axes, saws, firewood, and the small wood stoves that will be set up in our expedition tents.

Una, Lily, Cole during forestry class

Addie, Ben S, and Ben H are the Food/Kitchen Managers. They create our meal plan, distribute day food on trail, and organize food resupplies during layovers. 

Arnett and Lily are our Navigators. They map out our daily routes and camp destinations, and will be our directional leaders on trail–in charge of our foldable, paper maps.

Thomas is our Medic, in charge of our first aid and hygiene kits: poop shovels, water filters, medical supplies, and of course, Badger balm.

Aria and Ben S and music

And lastly, we (Russell and Aria) are your Scribes. We’re in charge of writing the blogs, calculating the semester’s carbon emissions and various other data, and organizing academic materials for trail. 

Cole and Addie (and a chicken)

Forestry note taking

Pizza night at Orchard Hill Breadworks

The Bens and Colton

Ben H reading and skiing?


For the past week, we have left behind our “normal” schedule and have been structuring our days around preparing for our expedition. A big chunk of the day is devoted to big job work, where we pack, plan, map, and write with our partners. For the other part of the day, we have been making knives in the workshop! We each drew someone’s name from a hat, and for that person that we designed, rasped, drilled, and sanded a knife, which we also sewed leather sheaths for. We will present our creations to each other in the upcoming knife ceremony. 

From the first steps of knife-making…

To a beautiful final product

Sam and Arnett

These knives, and the axes we received on arrival day from semester alumni, will be used everyday to keep us warm and safe on expedition. They are valuable and meaningful to us as they symbolize using the bare essentials to grow and live simply on this challenge.  

Until next time,

Your scribes, 

Russell and Aria