Wild about Wangari

I suppose you’ve been wondering what people here at Marlboro did to celebrate Earth Day last Wednesday. Like, did we walk to class, recycle our newspapers, wander around in bare feet, eat vegan and skip bathing for the day? Did we think globally and act locally? Well, yeah, we did all those things, just as we do every other day. Yup, every day feels like Earth Day here, but last night was even earthier than most. That was when local filmmakers Alan Dater and Lisa Merton presented their award-winning film Taking Root, based on the life and vision of Kenyan activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai.

Wangari strikes me as the kind of person that could motivate the CEO of Exxon to plant trees in Greenland. Taking Root was life-altering for the audience because Wangari has such charisma, such a presence and such vision that she has led a growing army of mostly rural women to plant more than 35 million trees and fight for social and environmental justice. Okay, planting trees may be easy to take for granted in Vermont, where you can look through a window and see 35 million trees. But in Kenya, after a century of deforestation and land degradation, mostly affecting poor rural communities, Wangari’s Green Belt Movement has been no less than a revolution. In fact it did help bring down the 24-year dictatorship of Daniel arap Moi and encourage democratic reform.

So after last night I was thinking, what could we accomplish on Work Day if we had Wangari along, flashing her radiant smile and dropping combustible one-liners like “You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself, that values itself, that understands itself?” I was just picturing Marlboro planted cheek-to-jowl with tropical forest trees, when I remembered a comment filmmaker Alan Dater made to me during the memorable Wendell-Judd Cup cross-country ski race last February. I know this is mixing up seasons, but Alan and I were huffing up the long hill from South Pond to the Judd’s house when I exclaimed to him, between huffs, “We should get Wangari out here.” He retorted, between huffs, “Yeah, she could pull both of us up this hill.” He really said that, and I believe him.

Learn more about Alan and Lisa’s film, Taking Root, and Wangari’s amazing story. Wangari herself visited Brattleboro earlier in April and met with Bill Baue of Marlboro College Graduate Center for a short interview.




Work Daze

I hear that physicists define work as the “product of a force applied to a body and the displacement of that body in the direction of the applied force.” There was a whole lot of that going on during Work Day, last Wednesday, but it doesn’t begin to convey the general feeling of happiness and community that went along with it. In my case, I was applying all the force I could muster to displace huge rocks in the direction of an even huger pile of huge rocks, which will be used for the foundation of a new greenhouse. But, along with the applied forces and displacement and various helpful grunting and groaning, there was much banter and a feeling of solidarity, between me and my rock-displacing comrades, that physics can’t explain. The feeling was the same all over campus, and the bright sunny day didn’t hurt.

Of course the biggest job was cleaning up piles of limbs and branches left from the devastating ice storm last winter, and this was abetted by pre-workday blitz by a mysterious band of guys with ear protection. It turns out that this mysterious limb-toting posse was none other than Carl Christensen, Marlboro’s groundskeeper for 12 years, and his merry band of “lads” who were work-study assistants once upon a time. The lads included Ian Kozak ’97, Jon Tobiasz ’00, Peter Blair ’01, and Seth Winsor ’01, with special help from honorary lads Don Capponcelli, carpenter, and junior Gordon Jackson. Ian said it was a good opportunity to get together and tell “Carl stories” and do the kinds of things they used to like to do together, namely buck up branches, lug them around and feed them into a noisy chipper.

Carl and his nostalgic crew made a huge dent in the work on Tuesday, and other community members continued lugging and chipping on Wednesday. Meanwhile, flocks of students with trash bags gleefully scoured the grounds for bottles, cans, cups, butts and the assorted sneaker. One group listened to funky tunes on a boombox while they painted the railing of the dining hall steps. Everyone was in a groove, lugging, sweeping, raking, shoveling, painting and generally joining in the joyful “displacement of bodies,” aka branches, sand, leaves, paint, etc. The good vibe was palpable, or perhaps that was the chipper, and the result is that campus looks 500 percent better.

Check out the short video that’s new on the website, based on the Work Day last fall.



Soul Train

Aretha Franklin may be the First Lady of Soul, but Thomas Moore is the Secretary of the Interior. The author of the bestselling Care of the Soul, and umpteen other books with the word “soul” in the title, Tom spoke at Whittemore Theater on Monday night about putting soul back into higher education. His patient, fatherly delivery, impish smile and habit of using the word “soul” in every other sentence had this hypnotic effect that mesmerized the audience into remembering that we actually had souls. What’s more, we could do things, many things, to nurture this aspect of ourselves. My favorite thing he mentioned in this category was “food,” which would not surprise anyone who knows me.

Junior Sari Brown, who almost stole the show with her lively and profound introduction of Tom, asked what Marlboro students could do to put more soul into their studies. She was quick to point out that Marlboro had more going for it in this department than many colleges, but still, between the busy lives and relentless intellectual pursuits of students, she found there was a gap. Tom answered by offering an example of a school in Devon, England, where he teaches regularly, that focuses on food first. Everyone participates in preparing and cooking the main meal of the day, and classes and other activities are organized around this priority. I found this concept so attractive that it actually made me hungry, right down to my soul, so to speak. Let me be clear, I don’t mean that eating just anything, like Doritos for example, can feed your soul. In fact I think that Doritos might actually create a soul deficit, but what really matters is how you eat them. What kind of care goes into preparing your food, the time you take to eat your food and the intention you put into each bite. I thought about this the next time I ate at the dining hall, to the extent that I could hear myself think, and found that my grilled cheese and tomato soup tasted better than ever. Now that’s soul food!