by: Maggie Jensen
This week, the Arcadians have had more than our share of other worldly adventures. It all started on Monday, in Director Cathy Shrady’s Knowing Nature Class.
We all lay tetris-ed on our sleeping pads in the warm classroom yurt. The steady beat of Cathy’s drum sounded in our ears as she guided us on a journey to the underworld to meet our power animals.
“Picture a special place that will lead you to the underworld.” Cathy said. Some of us imagined a cavern entrance; others dove into water or crawled down tree roots.
“10, 9, 8, 7, 6….” We each descended into our own vision of the underworld to the pace of Cathy’s counting. Some of us found ourselves in swamps or savannahs, while other fell through the sky or wandered dark tunnels. Cathy instructed us to explore the underworld and many of us met our power animals. Experiences varied: a lioness led Erin Lescinsky into a grand kingdom, while Maggie Jensen was just blinked at by a frog. Drew Felter became friends with a large tortoise with a shell made out of lava. Melanie Bogdanovich encountered a sloth, while Erin Waters greeted a sheep. Oscar Wilkerson, falling through the sky, was recused by a golden eagle.
Two days later, we all had the chance to meet a golden eagle. We visited the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington, on a fieldtrip with ecology professor Sue Willson. We saw tiny “puff-ball-of-death Kestrel hawks, a very saucy raven named Rickie and two Hedwig-look-alike snowy owls. Erin Lescinsky was startled into laughter by the tiny yellow eyes of a great grey owl. Birds may have been the majority, but they were not the only animals at the refuge. Other denizens included a friendly fisher in a harness, a hyperactive opossum, a porcupine named Schmendrake (fool in Yiddish) and several foxes and coyotes.
For many of us, however, the highlight of the trip was meeting the wolves. Kiska, Zeebie, and Cree, three grey wolves were majestic creatures. They stared at us from between the trees like spirits of the wild. Yet they set aside some of their dignity when refuge founder Steve Hall entered their enclosure bearing treats. As the three cozied up to Steve, he shared his great knowledge of wolves with us. We learned about their pack dynamics, ecology and physiology. We also learned that Kiska, Zeebie and Cree were born in captivity; they will never be released into the wild.
Like the wolves, all the animals we saw can never be released into the wild for one reason or another, instead, they live safe, full lives at the refuge while helping to educate the public about their importance and beauty and the issues that threaten them. The refuge also acts as a temporary home for sick and injured animals. We did not get to meet these animals, as their interactions with humans must be kept to a minimum to ensure their successful reintroduction to the wild.
On Friday, we celebrated a different form of non-human existence. It was the birthday of Rocky, Arcadia’s resident rock friend. Rocky entered our community two months ago when Assistant Director Kim Covill’s dog, Scooter, emerged from the lake with his jaws locked around out stone friend.
After Rocky’s birthday dinner-complete with a cake and the signing of Happy Birthday - we all flocked to the community yurt for a didgeridoo and drum workshop led by cultural expert Len Mackey. We all tried our hand at playing the didgeridoo, resulting in some truly absurd noises. In the fire-lit yurt, we played two complex African drum rhythms and expressed ourselves through dance. As the night wound to a close, we sang the West African son Namu Namu. As Len explained, ‘Namu’ means one who is kind, one who is loved, one who is deserving! We went around the circle, inserting each person’s name into the song, even Rocky’s.
The Arcadians last adventure for the week was a sweat lodge with Len Mackey. After breakfast on Saturday, we made our way along the White Trail, to an exposed deposit of glacial sand. Len and two friends were already there, using hand-and-bow-drills to start the fire that would heat the stones for our lodge. Some of us attempted to create fire using the same ancient methods, with little success. Nevertheless, we certainly got our fill of fire-we built it up in a huge dome around the stones. In the process the flames singed eyelashes and beards and Ali Kostick’s hair.
Meanwhile, we worked to build the lodge. It was constructed of bent saplings covered with layers of wool blankets and plastic tarps to keep in the steam. Once the stones had heated nearly red-hot in the fire, we piled them in a pit in the center of the lodge and climbed in after. As we sat in the steaming darkness, Len’s voice led us in story and song. When we finally emerged into the light. Steam rose from our bodies in fractal swirls.
Madison, one of Len’s friends, observed, “You guys look like you’re from another world.”