The Perfectly Torrential Storm

What would the beginning of fall semester be without huddles of nervous freshmen, dorm meetings, writing assessments and, er, nine inches of rain? Although she had not pre-enrolled, let alone applied, Hurricane Irene arrived with a vengeance on Sunday in Marlboro, and Windham County in general. Flat Street in Brattleboro was under knee-deep water, a standing wave over the bridge in Wilmington destroyed Dot’s Diner and houses in South Newfane were washed down the Rock River. I mean, sections of Route 9 between Brattleboro and Marlboro (pictured, left) were devoured by the Whetstone Brook just as completely as the cookies in the cookie drawer during Town Meeting.

Marlboro College stayed amazingly high and dry through all this, I gotta say. There’s a chunk of South Road gone at the bridge by Cap’n Dan Mather House (pictured, right), formerly known as Mumford and currently the home of President Ellen. We lost power on the hill until Monday night, and the driveway to the dorm still affectionately known as “married student housing” is now affectionately known as “toast.” But the main challenge has been isolation, because most of the roads to access the college have been damaged by the storm. With Route 9 out of the picture for the foreseeable future, the Town of Marlboro has worked furiously to make Ames Hill Road somewhat passable, but it is still only one lane and with ruts that could swallow a Honda whole. If you are trying to reach the college, check the main website for updates on accessibility.

Wandering around on some of the roads (Ames Hill pictured, left) in Marlboro yesterday was a little spooky, in a Cormac McCarthy post-apocalyptic way, but it also felt kinda utopian to me. Everyone was out, walking around in family groups, chatting with neighbors they hadn’t seen all summer, bicycling along paved roads with no cars. It was all really peaceful and sociable and un-apocalyptic until you came to the place where the road dropped off to the now shrunken river. For me, it was a sobering reminder of how small we all are in this big ol’ universe, and how we are just a particularly shiny blip in the geologic time scale. The huge forces that carved these mountains and valleys, long before there were Route 9s or Dot’s Diners or Flat Streets, are still around. And on Sunday they appeared to be really pissed.


Vermont’s Underworld

What could possibly be more claustrophobic than sharing a tiny dorm room with two complete strangers who collect kinetic sculptures and LPs and Twilight posters and garden gnomes? I’d say squeezing through a 17-inch-wide passage with complete strangers into a dank, dark, subterranean chamber inhabited by bats and millipedes and gosh-knows what else…that would be a top contender. Well, that’s exactly what a few brave new students have chosen to do for their Bridges orientation trip, taking place this last week of summer before all the returning students come back to the hill.

I’m talking about participants on the trip called “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Okay, so they won’t go literally to the center of the earth or find prehistoric giant mushrooms and mastodons, like in the Jules Verne classic, but they will discover underground streams and waterfalls and lakes and caverns stretching 17 yards across. They’ll find sculpted rock forms that would make Mount Rushmore envious and acoustics that rival Carnegie Hall. They will boldly squeeze where no man (or woman) has squeezed before and sink to depths that few have dared to reach. I mean, they will invariably get dirtier than they ever imagined possible, and come to know each other better than best friends. All in all, sounds like great preparation for a liberal arts degree.

But wait, if discovering the darker side of Vermont and getting filthy is not your cup of chai latte, that’s just one of the Bridges trips available to new students. Other groups are kayaking on Lake Champlain, exploring Cape Cod and rock-climbing on, yes, rocks. Participants in “Rites and Rituals of Passage” disappear into the woods and endure life without showers and a two-day vision fast, and “Carrots, Compost and Community” tries to find the garden we planted in June now overgrown with weeds. There is a writing trip, a performance trip and a trip called “Riding the Wave: Journey into the Sublime” that somehow combines surfing, berry-picking, acrobatics and karaoke. All-in-all, there is something to make every new student feel welcome and engaged in something bigger, more thrilling, more sublime and, sometimes, filthier.



The Greener Side

Okay, I admit there was a time earlier this summer when I was a little dubious about the über-landscaping blitz seizing the center of campus. When the air was full of the dust and din of excavators and masonry saws, when I needed mountaineering boots just to get to the dining hall and I never new which door to Mather was accessible, like any warm-blooded, whiney existentialist I had to wonder if it was worth all this. It turns out that it was.

I knew this as soon as I saw lush, green grass growing all around the new paving-stone paths, all along the stone “sitting” wall in front of the dining hall and bordering the stone steps up to the admissions building. Grass has a way of softening things, of, you know, taking the hard edge off and making things look more pastoral and bucolic and all. It has a way of making you want to slow down and ponder the possibilities or sip tea on a blanket. I mean, the verdant grass growing around the little stone bench under the big ol’ elm tree looks like it’s right out of The Shire or something.

Of course you know that saying about the grass always being greener on the other side, right? Well I say you’d be hard-pressed to find greener grass than right here on Potash Hill at the moment. At the risk of sounding a little too Walden Pond transcendendalist, I’ll leave you with the words of our man Henry David Thoreau: “A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it.”

You can see more images of the landscaping as it was in progress on our very own flickr page.


Potash Hill Goes Viral

You know those terrible black holes of the digital universe like Farmville or eBay or Second Life or “how to shrink your tummy using these three silly tricks?” Well Potash Hill will never be like that, but the beloved alumni magazine has taken a small step and a giant leap into the digital world. Yup, in addition to the pdf version we have been known to eventually post for each issue since 2001, we have now promptly posted an html version of the latest issue for you people with ipads and smartphones and other fancy things I probably haven’t even heard of yet.

Now, don’t get the crazy idea that we are just looking for things like this to do up here on the hill, things besides pondering dialectical materialism and watching the ferns grow. This newfangled digital version of PH is in response to several admiring readers who have expressed a desire to save paper, and as a born-again-pagan tree-hugger myself I do admire this goal. It also stands to save us a few pennies of postage, especially when we’re talking about alumni overseas, and in this age of crashing economies and defaulting governments a few pennies is nothing to sneeze at.

But you know, I’ll always be the type who wants a hard copy of Potash Hill to recline with in the ol’ hammock or in the ol’ armchair or even on the ol’ potty. I like turning FSC-certified pages, and flipping back to the part I didn’t understand and falling asleep with the binding on my nose. I’m just an analog kind of guy. Honestly, I have trouble reading digital watches, even. I know there are others of you out there who, like yours truly, still don’t want to read magazines on devices that might be smarter than you but cannot get wet. We intend to keep printing out Potash Hill magazines for a long time, but if you would rather read it on your Android or your Blackberry or your newfangled 4G virtual reality networkabob, please let me know…