Otters, Stories, Loggers, and Rocks | St. Lawrence University Adirondack Semester

Otters, Stories, Loggers, and Rocks

by: Maggie Jensen
Alyssa LaCoy

The Arcadians have survived another busy week. In just four days, we emerged from our corner of the woods on four separate occasions. This required a greater degree of planning than we were accustomed to. Dinner, therefore, proved an interesting affair; highly animated discussions of logistics bounced off the kitchen walls.

The logistics started off easy. On Wednesday, our first task was to meet Sue Willson, our Conservation Biology professor, across the lake at 9:15 a.m. Sue greeted us with a bagful of tomatoes and a thigh-sized zucchini. We drove to the Wild Center, an Adirondack natural history museum where otters torpedoed underwater, beetles consumed decaying bird carcasses, and various species of Adirondack fish and amphibians looked back at us through glass cases. We learned about climate change, the importance of water in the Adirondacks, and the odd secrets of fungi.

One exhibit that stood out was the iForest soundscape. This art installation was comprised of twenty-four separate speakers set around a forested path. As we walked along the wooded trail, each speaker played a different part in an original composition sung in the Mohawk language. The music seemed to be coming from the trees themselves. Ali Kostick (star of every web feature to date) took a particular liking to the exhibit and improvised an interpretive dance as she wove through the trees.

On Thursday the logistics really got crazy. We had class in the morning, as usual, and then chores—which we banged out in record time. After lunch, we headed around the lake to Gannett Lodge. After five weeks of work on our canoe paddles with Adirondack woodworker Everett Smith, it was time to start cleanup. Veritable snowdrifts of sawdust covered the old carpet. The shopvacs came out—all four of them—and we set out to conquer the mess. But the mess conquered the shopvacs instead. Brooms proved a more effective solution.

With Gannett Lodge tidy and sawdust-free (more or less), we moved on the next stage of our odyssey. Half of us returned to Arcadia to snatch some relaxation, while the other half went to town. Visits to Stewie’s, the thrift shop, and the library were in order.

Later, the whole group reconvened outside the library. We piled into the van and drove to Elizabethtown for the Howl Story Slam. Hosted by North Country Public Radio, the Howl is a casual, oral storytelling competition in which audience members volunteer to tell five-minute, true stories centered on a designated theme (no scripts allowed). The theme of the night was “fear.” Emma Brandt, Erin Waters, and Oscar Wilkerson fearlessly put their names on the list and told captivating stories.

After that, all that remained was a long drive and a beautiful midnight paddle back to Arcadia. With our headlamps off, the surface of the lake was full of moonlight and the quiet splash of our paddles. It was a restful conclusion to a very full day.

On Friday morning, we headed back across the lake to meet Glenn Harris, our Environmental Studies professor. As usual, the destination of our field trip was a mystery. It was threatening to rain, so we were relieved to arrive at the Adirondack Experience: The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake. We spread out, notebooks in hand, and raided the exhibits for every scrap of information. We definitely took too many notes. Among other things, we learned about the fascinating stories of early Adirondack inhabitants, including the many good ways to die while logging or mining.

Confronting our own mortality, we embarked on a rock climbing expedition on Saturday morning. Outdoor Program Assistant Director Devin Farkas and guide Tim Jones brought us to the Beer Walls in Keene Valley. We reached, pulled, and toe-jammed our ways to the top of the forty-odd-foot walls. The views from the top were breathtaking: fiery red-orange sugar maples and yellow beeches festooned the mountainsides. Wisps of cloud feathered the mountaintops, and halfway through the day, they saw fit to rain on us.

“It’s not rain, it’s liquid sunshine!” said Devin in response to our complaints about slippery rock. A final few climbs were accomplished, with much slipping, sliding, and cursing in various languages.

When it came time to pack up for the day, there was an unexplained sandwich. It had been rescued from Devin’s dog Woody earlier and remained unclaimed even as we assembled to leave. Each group member was challenged to account for the mysterious artifact. Drew had eaten his already, Maggie didn’t even make a sandwich, and Erin Waters’s most definitely had lettuce on it. We became convinced that there was a mischief maker—or a supernatural sandwich—in our midst.

“By the end of the semester, the truth must come out!” Will declared.

In fact, the truth came out much sooner: in the van, among the scattered contents of Erin Waters’s backpack. Apparently, Woody had dragged the sandwich out of her bag and eaten only the lettuce. Woody was our mischief maker, and our fears of supernatural sandwiches were laid to rest. Mystery solved, we came to the end of our four crazy days.