By Caeleigh Warburton and Klare Nevins
The small curved black beak of a gray jay ripped through the skin of Dr. Wilson’s hands as she delicately removed the squawking bird from a fine mesh net. Above our heads, a family of gray jays sounded their shrill defensive chorus, unsure of the fate of one of their own as they watched the twelve of us eagerly admire the caught bird’s puffy down feathers and intricately layered wings.
Our formal introduction to mist netting, a method of catching birds for observation and banding purposes, allowed us to handle a few of the species we see and hear around Arcadia. We were lucky enough to meet a few of the gray jays that sometimes sit in on our class and serenade us with their calls. Gray jays are partial to the boreal habitats of Canada, so it’s surprising that they have been making a regular appearance in our mixed hardwood forest.
Our encounter with the gray jays is one of the many ways in which we have continued to immerse ourselves in the wonders of Arcadia. With our major expeditions and field trips behind us, we have had more time to acquaint ourselves with our home away from home. Against the backdrop of peak foliage and crisp blue skies we have explored new territory with our canoes, experimented with sailing, and continued to navigate the maze of trails that wind throughout the Massawepie Boy Scout easement. Most importantly, we were able to give back to our home this weekend by assisting Ben Geiger, head ranger of the easement, in building and repairing boardwalks for the trails. After a few hours of pounding nails and hauling lumber, we returned to Arcadia aware of and grateful for all the work that keeps the land we live on maintained.
In addition to deepening our understanding of Arcadia and the surrounding area, we have also settled deeper into various projects. For the past few weeks we have been eagerly shaping our own canoe paddles, each one specially designed to meet our unique preferences. Under the guidance of Everett Smith, we whittle and shave down flat boards of rich cherry, creamy butternut, rosy red maple, and light ash. As we become more adept at using tools such as scrub planes, cabine and scrapers, and spoke shaves, the pile of shavings from our paddles grows, turning the floor of our makeshift woodshop into a frothy sea of curled wood scraps.
This week at Arcadia, we were fortunate enough to host a special guest. Acclaimed Adirondack storyteller, Bill Smith, entertained us with vivid images of the North Country life he knew growing up: one-room school houses, wood stoves, galvanized wash tubs, and the realities of the logging life. And if that was not enough to impress us, he made his handmade, wood-carved “limber-jacks” dance like a team of Irish step-dancers to the sound of his lively harmonica and recited lengthy poems from memory. Over the course of the semester we have met many Adirondack residents who each have their own stories about the region, but Bill’s stories were unique in that they stretched back for generations, creating a sense of tradition and place that made the Adirondacks feel even more like home.
We are twelve students, flocking to Arcadia from as far as California and Oregon. We all came from different habitats, different lives, but like the gray jays, we have decided to come here: the fringe of our known territory. While we know that this place, this lifestyle, is outside our norm, we are all adapting to our new habitat. We live as intentionally as we carve our paddles, taking comfort in tradition and inspiration from simplicity as we each whittle our notions of Arcadia down to the roots of its meaning and to the community it sustains.