Off-Campus Adventure: The Adirondack Semester

Celeste Holland
Class of: 

The soft calls of the Common Loon echo across the lake. Synthetic sleeping bags rustle on the dock as well as in the hammocks stringed between the trees as the lake water gently laps against the side of the dock. The sun peers out from behind the tall pine trees that line the bank of the lake and the mist swirls upwards slowly dissipating from the waters surface. The meal bell rings out, awakening students from their slumbers. Figures emerge from hammocks, sleeping bags, and the yurts as they make their way over the soft bed of pine needles that spring the forest floor, over the roots and across the boardwalks that lead to the kitchen cabin. Inside, sleepy hellos are said as mugs are filled with coffee or tea. Once all 12 students and the faculty member are seated, the quote is read by the cooks and the meal begins.

Sound like a dream? The Adirondack Semester is an off-campus program offered by St. Lawrence University during the fall semester and has been offered for the past 16 years. The program is based at Lake Massawepie, which is an hour away from campus in the Adirondack State Park. During the summer months, Massawepie is home to a Boy Scout camp. The yurt village, fondly referred to as Arcadia, is composed of eight yurts, a sauna, a CLIVUS, and a kitchen cabin. A yurt is a round-structured tent that is covered with canvas (see photos). Four of the yurts are used for student dorms, two are for the directors, and the others are community spaces.

The academic courses cover a wide range of disciplines and all count towards a minor in outdoor studies. Each of the courses integrates the natural world into the curriculum, and while we have a designated classroom yurt, most of our class time is spent in our outdoor classroom area or on a fieldtrip to a place in the Adirondacks. Along with the four-and-a-half course credits, we also work with two local wood workers for the whole semester. The first half is spent cutting and shaping our own personal canoe paddle, and the second half is spent constructing something of our choice. This ranged from cutting boards, bird houses, to an Adirondack chair!

There was no Dana Dining hall or Pub to go to and grab a meal. Instead, we did all of the cooking ourselves, with local ingredients when possible. Our produce mainly came from a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) share in Canton, as well as the Sustainability Semester program. Our yogurt is from the North Country Creamery, located in Keeseville, New York. Everyone cooked once a week along with their partner. Homemade bread, applesauce, granola, cookies, as well as creative meals were a daily appearance. By the end of the week it was especially innovative, as the pair of students had dwindling produce to use, although we always made it work. Meals were a time to come together as a community, and the meal bell would ring for both breakfast and dinner.

The Adirondack Semester was an amazing opportunity and one that not every college student is able (or wants) to participate in. For me, it was a chance to explore and connect with a place that is now close to my heart. It was wonderful to have an experience off campus, as well as to be welcomed back to campus as the end of the semester. To the next group of Arcadians: enjoy your time out there!