Chore Day | St. Lawrence University Adirondack Semester

Chore Day

by: Tim Reed
&
Sophie Robie

If someone complains about chores in the forest, and no one is around, did they really complain?

A loud “crack” rings across the cove as splinters of wood launch from the maul, which has split a log clean in half. Sophie picks up the pieces, adding them to the growing pile next to her, while Tim fills the wheelbarrow with freshly split wood to carry to the classroom yurt. Another crack echoes as the wheelbarrow rumbles down the path.

This is one part of a typical Friday afternoon at Arcadia. Following our class on Modern Outdoor Recreation Ethics (M.O.R.E.) taught by Will and Kim, we all congregate in the kitchen to find out what our assigned chores are for the day. Our group of eight has split into pairs that rotate through the four main chores necessary to keep our community running effectively. None of these is particularly taxing but some are more desirable than others.

An unpleasant smell violates Tim’s nose. He stops pushing the wheelbarrow to allow Langley to pass with a full bucket in tow. “It’s not that bad,” Hope optimistically exclaims as she appears behind the Clive, her hands clad in green rubber gloves up to her elbows. Langley shoots a glance at Hope and trudges deeper into the woods.

The Clivus Multrum—more fondly referred to as the Clive—is Arcadia’s composting toilet. Clive uses human waste mixed with sawdust and darkness to produce soil that we can use. From the outside, the Clive is a two-stall, green wooden outhouse, elevated some ten feet above the surface of the ground, with a staircase leading up to the stalls. But inside is where the fun begins. The interior walls of the stalls are covered with messages from past Arcadians, including records of the first snowfall and snow stick, quotations from favorite authors, and advice to future students. Clive duties include restocking the sawdust and toilet paper, and cleaning out the waste that accumulates below each stall.

Stopping in front of the woodshed next to the classroom yurt, Tim is greeted by the hum of a vacuum and the playful singing of Elsa and Zach. Peeking inside the door, he watches as they clean up from a week’s worth of classes by tidying books, washing whiteboards, and vacuuming under chairs and tables.

The classroom yurt is one of five “community spaces” in Arcadia along with the community yurt, outdoor classroom, sauna, and kitchen (which also includes a loft). We use these spaces for classes, homework, playing games, and hanging out. Each is equipped with a woodstove that will come in handy as the temperatures drop. For now, Tim and Sophie prepare by splitting wood and stocking the kitchen and yurts with fuel.

Arriving at the kitchen with a load of wood, Tim and Sophie stop in for a snack but are shooed out by Caroline and Julia who are feverishly mopping the floors and cleaning out the fridge. Caroline holds up a moldy forgotten cucumber over the compost bucket and drops it in the compost bucket with disgust.

The kitchen is stocked full of fresh produce and dairy from local farms such as Kent Family Growers and North Country Creamery. The vegetables and yogurt are featured in every meal cooked by our fellow Arcadians, and we look forward to restocking the bounty every Thursday. This freshness, however, is time sensitive, so we must try to use our food supplies before they turn into unwelcome surprises at the back of the veggie cabinet.

As Caroline and Julia cover the last five compost buckets, all the students gather together to complete the final chore, the pack out. Each person grabs a crate, bucket, or garbage bag to load onto the barge and bring across the cove to the van. Once at the van, we pile in, crank on
“Truth Hurts” by Lizzo, and drive to the trash, recycling, and compost areas at Massawepie. This final stop concludes the chores for the week, and thereafter the van pulls out of Massawepie and cruises to Tupper Lake for a long-anticipated town run.

Although fairly simple, these chores are an essential part of developing a deeper sense of responsibility for our current home. Every task in Arcadia directly affects the comfort of the students and faculty, and when we remember this fact, it transforms dreaded chores into expressions of gratitude and community. As Elsa lovingly states, “It kinda sucks to handpick the dead ants out from the carpet, but it’s worth it when we can enjoy the warmth of an ant-free kitchen loft.” This sentiment rings true throughout our yurt village. Director Cathy Shrady puts it simply: “There’s a Buddhist saying, chop wood, carry water. At Arcadia, we are literally chopping wood and carrying water.”