Marlboro’s Got Compassion

_MG_0401Up here on the hill, where natural disasters usually take the form of icy roads or bad years for maple syrup, it can be hard to imagine a typhoon flattening communities, killing more than 5,000 people, and leaving another 3 million displaced. Well it hasn’t been hard for a collection of awesome students who have designated this Typhoon Haiyan Awareness Week to help alert their peers to the ongoing plight of Philippine communities. I mean, these students set up a bodacious booth in the dining hall, projecting images of the typhoon’s aftermath, and a silent auction selling donated arts and crafts and services to raise money for aid to the Philippines. But the highlight was last night’s “Benefit Show for the Philippines.”

_MG_0391Seriously, forget about America’s Got Talent, or Britain’s Got Talent, or Australia’s Got Talent, or the ever-popular Vanuatu’s Got Talent. In addition to attracting some of the most intellectually curious people you will find anywhere, Marlboro apparently has way more than its fair share of totally talented students. There was awesome finger-picking and folky crooning of original songs by the likes of Amber Claxton, Sophie Tulip (both pictured above), Sam Bass, and Aidan Keeva. Bella Ortiz-Wren (left) accompanied her songs with a wailing Fender Stratocaster and ankle bells, and Felix Jarrar thoroughly rocked Shubert and Schumann on the piano. Johnathan Banks gave a taste of one of his compositions for minimalistic piano plucking, in the dark, amidst a barrage of machines, voices, plumbing, and other gathered sounds.

_MG_0422The show finished up with Michael Schneeweis and Edward Suprenant (right) doing a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay,” Edward and Mia Bertelli making everyone melt with a duet of James Taylor’s “Close Your Eyes,” and a fabulous fiddle tune by Mia and two friends. I know my mind is easily boggled, but all through the concert I sat in awe of these accomplished poets, scholars, scientists, and existential philosophers, all putting their hearts into their music to raise money for bereaved and displaced people eight thousand miles away. It’s not something you find every day, but here it’s just another indication of how this apparently cozy little college on a hill is intimately connected to the big ol’ world beyond.

Takin’ the Plunge

_MG_0089croppedI know, I know. It’s that time of year when there’s so much going on it would take a blog of Tolstoy-esque proportions to capture it all. The thrills and chills and social drama worthy of the Russian aristocracy during a Napoleonic invasion is all here, with introductory classes, convocation, peer advisor meetings, dorm charters, the first town meeting, and community dinner with produce from our very own farm. It’s the week where lively new students take the big plunge into the ever-lovin’, communal-livin’, brain-boostin’ life at Marlboro, and the community gets an infusion of garden-fresh new students. There’s so much to talk about, but I still want to talk about biking.

_MG_0040croppedI mean, if you have every bicycled with seven Marlboro students you would know why. A few of us staff and faculty joined the Bridges orientation group called “Biking Towards Community” on the last day of their epic trip through Vermont, and it was like a breath of fresh Vermont air. These guys had been riding for four days, from Ascutney, Vermont, and we found them playing cards in the shade of a covered bridge in Townshend as if they had known each other their whole lives. Now, I’m used to seeing Marlboro students bonding over discussions of existentialist philosophy and post-apocalyptic literature, but this kind of bonding over achy muscles and saddle sores and sunburned necks was downright wholesome.

_MG_0037There is something awesome you get from riding with a group that is another world from riding alone. It’s like you become part of an ant colony, part of a hive of bees, part of a termite mound, all striving with your rhythmic pedaling toward some lofty goal, which in our case was dinner. An in my case it was not so much rhythmic pedaling as frantic pedaling, but you get the idea.

_MG_0090From Townsend, our merry band of pedalers followed Route 30 south and stopped in Newfane for gelato, water, shade, and costume adjustments (trip leader Lia Gips (they, them, their) decided that, despite the striking fashion statement, their snakeskin-pattern bodysuit was too hot). Then we stopped at the covered bridge in Dummerston (I tell you this state is covered with ‘em) for a dip in the West River, and rode on the new rail trail into Brattleboro. From there it was a hop, skip, and a pedal to the home of Max Foldeak, director of health services and leading cycle-therapist, where we enjoyed another refreshing and symbolic plunge (above) and a cookout. Riding with these guys gave me a burst of energy for the new year and a cluster of new bicycling buddies to ride with in the coming weeks.

Sweet Sixteen

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 1.39.25 PMDo you remember when Donald Rumsfeld infamously invoked “unknown unknowns,” the things we “do not know we don’t know,” to link the Iraqi government with weapons of mass destruction? Well, that always made about as much sense to me as a pile of kittens until it was quoted by Dr. John Ehrenfeld, commencement speaker at the Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies graduation last weekend. It was the sixteenth commencement for the graduate program and an auspicious venue for Dr. Ehrenfeld, renowned industrial ecologist, retired MIT professor, and beloved professor of sustainability at Marlboro for five years.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 1.37.36 PMAccording to Dr. E, author of the new book Flourish: A Frank Conversation about Sustainability, our man Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns are the difference between “complicated” systems and “complex” systems. He argued that conflating these two kinds of systems is one of the challenges facing global sustainability, and that the Marlboro graduates assembled that day were uniquely equipped to know the difference. I would argue that Dr. E’s probably right, because many of them had taken his Exploring Sustainability courses at Marlboro.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 1.47.48 PMNot only was this commencement notable because it was the 16th and because John Ehrenfeld is awesome and because it is the first year for graduates from the Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program. It was also the commencement of two students who had also received their bachelor’s degree from Marlboro. We call these students participants in the dual degree program, also known by me as “can’t get enough of a good thing.” Sarah Scheff ’11 (pictured right) received her Master of Science in Management: Mission Driven Organizations and Jonathan Wood ’12 received his Master of Arts in Teaching: Social Justice. Now that’s what I call a “knowing knowing.”

Rural Outfitters

MC Sweat 2What could possibly make you feel more warm and fuzzy than a warm and fuzzy hoodie sweatshirt with “Marlboro College” emblazoned right on it? If you ever stopped playing foosball in the campus center long enough to wander into the Marlboro College Bookstore, you know that there is much more than books in there. Bodacious Becky Bartlett ’79 keeps the bookstore stocked with art supplies and cards and stamps and Snickers bars and Post-its and breath mints and paper clips and temporary tattoos and pretty much everything a student in the wilds of Vermont would need on a whim. She also has a couple books, of course, but the real highlight, and this is why I mention it, is the stylish selection of clothing and accessories available.

HoodieI mean, what better way to keep Marlboro close to your heart than to have it physically printed on or near that vitally sentimental organ? These trendy garments look smart with plaid flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and either Sorel boots or bare feet, but are versatile enough to wear with your finest linen suit. You could even mix and match them so you could have Marlboro College emblazoned on nearly every part of your body, so there is no mistaking your abiding loyalty.

broomball 2011 jmb1330_001Thanks to the modern miracle of online shopping, these quasi-fashionable items are even available to alumni and other friends too far away to swing by for a game of foosball. Seriously, you could be wearing a voguishly classic wool ski hat (right) to your next executive staff meeting, or a Vermont-woods-chic T-shirt to your favorite urban block-party. You could really turn some heads at your next Yankees game with your Marlboro College officially ironic baseball jersey. Water bottles, travel mugs, decals, postcards, bumper stickers, you could have all this and more (did I mention water bottles?) faster than you can say “add to cart” (my middle name). Just don’t ask Becky to send you a Snickers bar, because I tried that already. You can visit the Marlboro Bookstore online or visit the modern miracle of facebook for the latest bookstore news.

I Was a Teenage Mountain Recluse

IMG_7661 LRHow many red-blooded American teenagers do you know who would take a week away from smart phones and in-your-facebook and other exercises in self-absorption in order to climb mountains and gain perspective through poetry? Zero, right? Well, I know 10 now, 10 fine young people from Vermont and Connecticut and Virginia and Texas and Kentucky and California who participated in one of Marlboro’s amazing (pre)college summer programs called “Poetry on the Peaks.” Led by fearless writing professor Kyhl Lyndgaard, I joined these intrepid youths for a hike up to the dizzy heights of Haystack Mountain.

IMG_7683 LROur man Kyhl chose Haystack because it reminded him of the work of ancient Chinese mountain recluse poet Hsieh Ling-Yün, who lived in exile in the fifth century and built himself a thatch hut to write poetry in. Get it—Haystack; thatch hut? I mean, Kyhl has a writer’s knack for metaphor. He pointed out that many poets and other writers have found their way to Vermont to follow in ol’ Hsieh Lin-Yün’s footsteps, metaphorically speaking, and get away from it all, get out of their own heads, get away from the notion that everything is revolving around them, and ignore their emails. I don’t know if any of them have built thatch huts, but you get the idea.

IMG_7689When we reached the top of the mountain, all hot and sweaty and flushed and panting and more sweaty (and that was just me), Kyhl didn’t waste a moment before reading poems by David Budbill, one of Vermont’s own mountain recluse poets. The teens took turns reading lines, then jumped right into writing some of their own poetry and journal entries—I have never seen a group of teenagers so quiet before. All you could hear was the heat rising off the rocks and a Swainson’s thrush fluting down the slope. I’m not kidding, a butterfly was making a colossal racket flitting around the group. I would not be surprised if some of these reflective young folks, many who had never seen a mountaintop before, might be next to follow the path of ol’ Hsieh Lin-Yün.

Keeping Bizzy

IMG_7632cropI know you’re probably thinking that Marlboro is basking in the hot, sultry, humid idleness of a Vermont summer, and you would be right about the hot, sultry, humid part. But things are still humming along here, with the summer programs going full tilt, the maintenance department fixing everything that sits still long enough, and Marlboro Music participants playing breves and semibreves and hemidemisemiquavers everywhere you turn. I mean, you can barely hear yourself think about whether existence precedes essence with all the humming going on. But there’s one particular humming that out-hums the rest, and that’s the humming coming from the greenhouse.

IMG_7628croppedAs part of her Plan of Concentration in visual arts and biology, Shyloh Favreau explored the hummy world of bees, including the installation of an exhibition hive in the greenhouse. Holy honey, Batman, you have never seen anyone so busy as a hive of honey bees on exhibition, doing their round dance and waggle dance and tremble dance and I swear I saw some of them doing “Gangnam Style.” If you ever think you are being wonderfully industrious, like, writing a whole paper on Virginia Woolf in a single night or something, come down to the greenhouse and check these little buzzers out for a dose of humility. While they are busy this summer building labyrinths of wax and pollen and honey and larvae, more labyrinths than I have managed in my whole life, they are also pollenating all the veggies in the garden in their spare time.

IMG_7625lcSpeaking of busy, Shyloh also did some awesome, beautifully buzzing  bee-motif tiles for the greenhouse ceiling, inspired by her class trip to Turkey last spring to study ceramic tiles in Seljuk and Ottoman mosques and mausoleums. We don’t expect any empires to follow or anything, but just one more amazing example of the impact one Marlboro student can have on life and times up here on th’ Hill.

Vocabulary Envy

8773866722_ec971d029bDid you know what an apotheosis is—some kind of reaction to medication or an arrangement of dividing chromosomes or a honeybee goddess or something, right? Neither did I, until one of those smarty-pants graduating Marlboro students used it in his commencement speech and I had to go look it up. Senior Speaker Evan Lamb said, “Right now, I’m standing at the top of my own personal mountain, and it feels like a tiny apotheosis.” Okay, by that point I had ruled out honeybee goddess, but I still had to look it up: a•poth•e•o•sis (noun): highest level of glory or power, transformation into deity. Pretty awesome, I know, and I had to hand it to Evan: I was a tiny bit jealous of his tiny apotheosis.

8773871324_6ee2ec2a83Commencement 2013 went off without a hitch, by the way—all the pomp and ritual you’d expect from a venerable institution of higher learning like Marlboro, with no missteps or costume malfunctions, unless you count Kalie Kamara’s New York Yankee’s cap. President Ellen was gracious as ever, and the commencement address from Governor Peter Shumlin encouraged Marlboro graduates to use their skills and imagination to define a carbon-free future. Outgoing Dean of Students Ken Schneck delivered a heart-felt valediction including a poem he wrote in seventh grade.

8773869924_cebd257592But our man Evan really stole the show, with his tiny apotheosis, his itty-bit of godly transformation. All his tales of wriggling through crushing caves, and biking over ice and snow, and crashing into the dining hall at full speed, and sweating through the Seminar on Religion, Literature, and Philosophy, and cooking apple pie during a power outage, and getting lost on Town Trail in the middle of the night without a flashlight or a shirt, this is the epic stuff of Marlboro legend. I mean, the Hindu Vedas and the Icelandic sagas and the Australian Dreamtime Stories have got nothing on Evan, and every student in the room was just as captivated as if he was telling tales of Thor laying waste to legions of evil jötnar. Okay, maybe not that captivated, but Evan’s point was well taken—every graduate had their own epic list of Marlboro adventures to take with them. We wish them all well in their future quests, and journeys, and jötnar encounters.

Orals Fixation

DSCN0801smallAh, spring. It’s that time of year when the hills and forests are ringing with the sound of “hoot-hoot-hoot!” and “ah-woooo-gah!” and “honk-ah-honk-ah-honk-ooooh!” and, well, you get the idea. The Annual Windham County Hog Calling Competition, you might guess? Nope, it’s the time for oral exams and the concomitant celebrations that happen after each graduating senior leaps this last hurdle. I mean, nothing warms the heart of this crusty old, world-weary, jaded, jaundiced—and, well, you get the idea—nothing brings out the daffodils and lilacs in my heart like Marlboro students cheering on their comrades after orals, celebrating and hugging like they just won The Next Food Network Star or something.

Orals are kinda mysterious for those of us who only get to hug the examinees and enjoy the food and libations assembled on the lawn in their honor. It’s like a clandestine rite of passage or something, a ritual to enter the secret society known as the Benevolent Order of Marlboro Graduates. According to Nikki Haug (somewhere in the middle of that group hug, above), who recently learned the secret handshake herself, there is no blood-letting or scarification or other ritualistic practices involved. She say’s it’s not only an opportunity to impress your outside examiner that you’ve thought deeply about the concepts in your Plan, but also to show them how much other stuff you’ve learned along the way.

DSCN0799small“Your orals are supposed to demonstrate both that you know your stuff and that you know other stuff,” said Nikki in a blog post called, “Most everything you will ever want to know about Plan.” This post has many helpful suggestions, ranging from “Get a Plan Buddy,” to “You will read things that won’t help you,” to “You will always feel like you could do more—and that’s probably true—but you need to know when to stop.” Nikki wrote a truly remarkable Plan about Victorian poets Robert Browning and Lord Alfred Tennyson and their critiques on materialism, especially in relation to the theory of evolution by natural selection, so her sound advice stands to help many future inductees to the secret society. “Ah-woooo-gah!”

Heaven on Earth Day

DSCF1059Did you know Earth Day is the largest secular holiday on, you guessed it, “earth,” celebrated by more than a billion people every year? Well the Marlboro microcosm is no exception, and our mighty population of 300 some-odd students, faculty and staff, some of them odder than others, have been out in droves for the last week to celebrate the ol’ earth in one way or another. I mean, it started with Work Day, when people got out and enjoyed what felt like the first warm, sunny day since last August. They were all building benches and making tile walkways and cleaning up and weeding gardens and doing trail work and splitting rails and doing all kinds of down and earthy things.

vernalpoolBut that was just the beginning, the Big Bang, so to speak, of this particular Earth Day genesis. On Thursday there was a Sustainability Fair in the dining hall, and on Friday there was a mini-symposium on environmental initiatives called Expeditious Earthworks. Then on Sunday there were nature walks with the earthy folks from Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center, who led hapless hikers down the garden path and into the woods in search of porcupines and woodfrogs. Sunday night was the first half of the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, six scintillating films about wildlife conservation. The second half continued on Monday, with seven films focused on environmental activism that got the audience totally up in arms and ready to storm the Bastille, or at least Monsanto.

DSCF1313Also, the Food Committee chose Earth Day to “release into the wild” a huge collection of colorful mugs that they have been ferreting away from tag sales, flea markets and consignment shops. Seriously, the hope was that this new population of mugs would interbreed with the struggling native population, leading to a heartier hybrid variety of mugs that would be easier to find when one wants want a cup of tea. But perhaps the one thing that got people most in touch with their inner earthiness was on Monday afternoon, when politics professor Meg Mott brought in a bevy of baby goats to snuggle with. Studies have shown that “therapy goats” can lower blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels, and reduce levels of aggression. Judging by the number of students peacefully crowding into the little pen with the goats, cooing and laughing, plotting peace on earth, I’d say it works.

Lights, Camera, Slither!

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 12.05.55 PMWith a foot and a half of snow still on the ground right now, it’s hard to believe that last March, I’m talking about a year ago, there was not enough snow to make a snow-cone and we were all basking in an epic heat wave. I was reminded of this last night at a screening of Joshua “Petey” Petersen’s documentary about the shooting of Northern Borders, the focus of the Movies from Marlboro program last spring. There was Willow O’Feral ’07 and other students and alumni from 15 colleges in the semester-long film intensive, dressed for summer and scraping little patches of snow into cardboard boxes to sprinkle around the scene, which was supposed to take place in the winter. It was just one of the many life-on-location lessons recorded in Petey’s fabulous documentary, along with slogging through mud, moving outhouses, scraping up chicken poop and, seriously, trying to get a cold, sluggish snake to respond to “lights, camera, action!”

northernBorderpixLast night’s screening at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center was just the first glimmer of the rolling out of Northern Borders, which has its world premiere at the Latchis Theater next Wednesday, April 10. Director and film professor Jay Craven was there to stir the citizens of Brattleboro into a frenzy of enthusiasm, talking about Movies from Marlboro as a transformative experience for students and the most satisfying production experience in his career. The Latchis showing will be the first of five Vermont premieres in as many days, which is just the kickoff for a 100-town tour of screenings and fundraisers across New England this summer. Really, what does Jay eat for breakfast, anyway?

MfM 12 Petey Behind the ScenesAlthough Petey couldn’t be there last night for his film screening, he sends his regards from New York—since graduating in December he has kept busy in music videos, narrative films and fashion photography, including being creative director at Universal Models for Peace. But Petey’s documentary is a totally awesome testament to the transformative power of, as Jay says, “watching films come alive,” not to mention the copious creative energy of Marlboro students like himself.