by Sherrie LaRose

Margaret MacDonald
Caeleigh Warburton

April 8, 2014

With April upon us, the weather remains disjointed - indecisive. Scheduled outdoor activities like timber framing our greenhouse, planting seeds, or trekking to the river come with guarantees neither of warmth nor comfort. However, schedules and calendars aside, these days are fresh and alive. The earth slowly reemerges. It shivers, sloughing off winter attire; tentative, perhaps, at the outset, but nonetheless quite intent on this change of clothes. Roadside gullies chatter  – busily channeling the refuse of another season – the debris gracefully takes new shape. The hill in front of our farmhouse has bequeathed something akin to grass; the roads run with mire. But it’s a detoxification that speaks languages both of rebirth and promise. Though the tulips haven’t peeked through yet, the seasonal shifts are beautiful in their own right. There is much to appreciate as we continue to attain knowledge, foster relationships, and utilize the resources of place manifest all around.

As the days have grown warmer, the sap in the sugar bush has begun to gush in earnest.  While the flow of sap from our sugar bush runs strong, it is only the first step in a long and energy intensive process.  Each day a few of us walk up the hill to the sugar bush to empty gallons of sap into troughs which are then taken across town to a small sugaring structure.  This timber-framed structure provides cover for the small wood-fired evaporator that boils our sap down to rich, dark maple syrup.  Turning sap into syrup in this manner requires an amount of physical labor that is not insignificant.  Hundreds of gallons of heavy sap need to be hauled, filtered, and poured into the various pans of the evaporator as it is warmed.  In addition to moving the sap through these various stages of production, the wood that fuels the evaporator needs to be collected and chopped.  All of the labor that goes into turning a few hundred gallons of sap into just a couple dozen gallons of syrup engenders a strong sense of gratitude for the resources - both from nature and our own hard work – that we have here on the Sustainability Semester.

The onset of spring has also marked the beginning of greenhouse construction.  With the help of our Homesteader-In-Residence, Ben, we are timber-framing a greenhouse that will house seedlings for future semesters.  This past Saturday, Ben hosted a timber-framing workshop during which we learned about and practiced traditional joinery.  With plans, saws, and chisels in hand we busied ourselves shaping timbers harvested from the Sustainability Semester site.  Like sugaring, timber-framing involves a close relationship to the land and a thorough understanding of how to shape and utilize the resources it offers.  We are thankful for the opportunity to participate in this tradition of building from the land on which our structure will sit and value the skills that Ben is passing down to us as we endeavor to know the land that sustains us.

Bill Vitek, a Clarkson professor, teaches our philosophy course, Sustainable Theory and Practice.  We are all taken with his gentle demeanor and credible intellect, but last Saturday we got to see the Bill who plays the piano with an expressive gusto in a three man jazz band!  That night the band featured, for the first time, a professor from SUNY Canton on vocals.  The show was vibrant, entertaining, and well attended. We dispersed; a few in back, a few in front. Bill waved and smiled, congenial, as if to old friends. His pleasure at our appearance was genuine and unabashedly warm.  In becoming members of Bill’s audience we continued our attempts to make connections within the broader community – to learn from and support each other. He is not merely our teacher, but a figure we respect and appreciate in all pursuits. One of the semester’s most unique attributes is this opportunity to forge close relationships with teachers and local people, to effectively deface the film of separateness between us. Bill’s gifts have not gone unnoticed, and so we gladly give them in return.

Every week we have a community meeting during which we share announcements, discuss house issues, and review the coming week.  We close each meeting with “appreciations” which entails members of the community expressing gratitude for the various acts of others.  However, these appreciations extend beyond our weekly community meetings.  We also give thanks for the land that sustains us – the sugar bush, the sturdy pines, the firewood – and the relationships we have forged.  These resources and relationships are central to our striving for sustainability and comprise the foundation of our collective well-being.  We continue to value these integral components of the semester as this long winter melts away and we embark on our final weeks before Boston, where we will learn about how resources and relationships give rise to sustainability in a very different setting.

pic 1 - A sunny day in the sugar bush!
pic 2 - Boiling sap
pic 3 - Plans for our timber-framed greenhouse
pic 4 - Chiseling timbers for our timber-framed greenhouse
pic 5 - A night at the Parkview with Professor Bill Vitek