Make Like a Tree and Leave Your Mark

Here’s one of the things I love about Marlboro. It has been around long enough (65 years) that a tree that was just a spindly sapling when the college was founded is now old enough to start rotting and dropping branches on innocent squirrels, necessitating its removal. That’s right, the stately red maple that grew on the north side of the admissions building has finally graduated and gone where all the most highly regarded trees go: to the OP wood pile. Seen here being practically held up by renowned ecologist Robert MacArthur ’51 and his renowned brother, retired physics professor John MacArthur, (the two of them had probably just finished documenting niche division by wood warblers in its branches) the red maple barely cast enough shadow for an egg salad sandwich. In recent years, it has provided broad shade and leafy atmosphere for picnic tables, blankets, sprawling pastoral feasts, early morning bucolic kaffeeklatsches and, of course, the previously mentioned innocent squirrels. That’s 65 years of leafy atmosphere, folks.

Here is another thing that I love about Marlboro: students who give a damn about anything so intangible as leafy atmosphere that they will do something to honor it. I’m talking about Clare Riley, a senior studying urban ecology and sculpture who made a beautiful wire “cast” of the red maple before it became firewood. I guess it could be called conceptual art, but for once it’s a concept I think I understand. Clare actually spent a good deal of the fall out there twisting wires like a wire-twisting maniac, I mean so much time that I wondered how she was getting the rest of her work done, or if she was eating anything other than peanut butter sandwiches.

The completed sculpture then spent most of the winter next to the tree, and it is now placed prominently around the stump. It stands as a twisty testament to one student’s labor of love, but also to the same kind of labor I see all around as other students sink their teeth into their own chosen subjects, twist their own wires around an idea and leave their marks on Marlboro’s intellectual landscape. Maybe I’m waxing kind of poetic, but you know what I mean. Everyone will miss the tree, of course, but there are plans to plant another spindly one in its place, to cast leafy shadows for the next 65 years of picnics and kaffeeklatsches and conceptual art.

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Sweet Smell of Sucrose

You probably think that Spring Break at Marlboro is a time for a little peace and quiet to contemplate the melting snow and muddy roads and Dostoevsky, but you are wrong. I mean, there is so much going on here it is hard to focus on the melting snow, and anyway there’s hardly any left. The maintenance folks are working like mad gnomes beefing up the insulation of Halfway dorm, installing new interior doors in Dalrymple and putting new lighting in the dining hall. The Movies from Marlboro crew is working straight through the break to be ready for shooting their first scenes of Northern Borders next week. Randy and his crew keep banging away at the OP barn to make it comfy enough for their fleet of kayaks and canoes and other gear. But the rite of spring that waits for no one, even Dostoevsky, is “sugaring.”

I’m referring of course to the ancient ritual of drilling holes into stately maple trees when they are not looking, and collecting their lifeblood to boil down into yummy syrup. The early Neolithic Marlboroite culture is thought to have originated this spring sacrament as a way to commune with nature and celebrate the end of winter, and because they did not have smart phones to fiddle with. In the 1950s, students and faculty tapped as many as 1,750 trees and worked around the clock to collect and boil hundreds of gallons of sap in the sugarhouse. I picture them discussing Dante’s Inferno over the steaming pan of sap, between taste testing.

Times have changed, of course. Students no longer use stone tools to drill holes in trees and the sugarhouse is now the pottery shed. Our neighbors Alan Dater and Lisa Merton, producers of an awesome film about Wangari Maathai called Taking Root, collect the sap from a mere hundred or so trees on campus and boil it in their sugarhouse down Moss Hollow Road. But dedicated students who evidently don’t have smart phones, such as Evan Sachs (left), continue to pitch in with the collecting and boiling and learning about the ancient ways. I don’t know whether they discuss Dante over the boiling pan. I do know that Alan and Lisa donate sweet, scrumptious syrup to a special pancake lunch each spring, so I can feel that third ring of hell (gluttony) already calling my name.

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Helpful Hints

I know the Campus Center is usually a place for “social work,” meaning socializing and working while consuming massive quantities of coffee and quesadillas, but yesterday “social work” took on a whole new meaning. That’s because there was a panel of distinguished folks talking about their experience doing social work, mental health work, counseling, therapy and other helping professions. A good-sized gaggle of students turned out for the discussion, which was sponsored by the health center and the career center, and they weren’t there just for the vegan chocolate cookies because I think I ate most of them.

The illustrious panel included Max Foldeak, director of health services, Judy Katz, counselor, Jenny Karsted ’97, counselor at the Brattleboro Retreat, and Nels Kloster ’97, medical director for the Retreat’s co-occurring disorders program. I know—’97 must have been a very helpful graduating class, right? That’s not to mention cameo appearances by psychology professor Tom Toleno and Tony Parmenter, the coolest counseling intern since our man Carl Gustav Jung. These helpful folks all shared their experiences working in the mental health fields and with people with addictions.

They answered lots of questions from the students, many of whom said they were planning on going into this kind of work, either right out of college or after a graduate degree. One thing that really struck me is the importance of having good supervision and support, because you have to take care of your own mental health along with your clients, you know? Max even referred to it as a kind of pyramid scheme, how every mental health practitioner needs the services of several others to keep doing what they are doing. I mean, it got me thinking what a wonderful world it would be if we each gave ten people a little helpful hypnotherapy or transactional analysis or behavior modification or even a good neck rub: I’m talking world peace.

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