Fire Season

By John Bernhardt & Robertson Ramos

“Beep, beep, beep!” The sound of the smoke alarm in the classroom yurt blares across Arcadia, sending the Canada jays scattering.

“RYANN!” Somebody hollers as smoke billows out of the chimney. “You have to open the flue.”

As the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, Arcadians try their best to stay warm. Some share warm fuzzy blankets while others boil lake water to prepare homey cups of tea, all in an effort to fend off Jack Frost. But there is only one surefire way to stay really warm: the wood stove. Barge into the timber frame kitchen with the green tin roof any evening and you’re bound to find a group of Arcadians sitting next to the wood stove crocheting and chatting.

Last Tuesday the echo of Lauren Gulbicki using an old rusty axe to split oak logs ran through the yurt village. As Lauren chopped, Cara Monteleone dragged freshly split logs across the frozen muddy trails to the scattered wood piles throughout the yurt village. During the week, these piles quickly dwindle as students pack stoves full of wood, transforming rustic spaces into heat cages that rival the sauna.

Like the wood stoves, weekly chores function as a glue holding the village together. Such tasks as turning the Clive (the Arcadians’ composting toilet) or packing out last week’s trash are integral to the community’s success. As the semester has progressed, chores have helped the community to run smoothly like neighborhood kids sliding down the slip-n-slide on the Fourth of July.

“Each week we work mindfully and intentionally to complete our chores in a way to not only get them done but also show gratitude for these people and this place, says Roisin Creedon-Carey.

Following chores, at last week’s community meeting the topic of space was addressed. This issue was well timed because the week prior in our Land Use Change in the Adirondacks course, Dr. Pete Pettingill, maple syrup and Thoreau enthusiast, had taught us about zoning in the Adirondack Park. Similar to the region’s private land use and development plan established by the Adirondack Park Agency in 1973, the 2021 Arcadians defined what activities would be allowed in which community spaces. Because only three of the structures in Arcadia have wood stoves, these spaces have increased in popularity as the temperatures have dipped, similar to the way that the High Peaks have seen more usage in the summer months. Arcadians decided that the classroom yurt would become a quiet work space, the community yurt a hang-out space, and the kitchen a flex space for cooking, eating, sleeping, schoolwork, board games, and so on. Such standards for usage help us to preserve these spaces as the heartbeat of our community while also fostering an environment where students can thrive both socially and academically.

This semester has taught us more than just the value of community and hard work. It has shown us how to build sustainable trails, the value of a well-cooked meal, and that things aren’t always as easy as they might seem. Building a fire is truly an art form. The three stoves and the recent cold weather have provided us with ample opportunities to practice this craft. One benefit of the Adirondack Semester is that it brings students from different backgrounds together. For instance, Robertson Ramos, who is from the Big Apple (NYC), had his first chance to build a fire this semester, whereas Kai Oakley, who hails from the middle of nowhere Vermont (i.e., Huntington), is a seasoned fire starter. Huddled around an old wood stove, one student passes on the gift of fire to another just like we pass warm bowls of soup around the dinner table. Starting a fire can also reinforce the important life lesson that things aren’t always as easy as they seem.

Even as frozen water bottles become a common site around the yurt village, if you ask any Arcadian to start a fire, they’ll jump into action, and with teary smoke-filled eyes, coughing lungs, a pile of crumpled homework, and a few beeps from the smoke alarm, they’ll have one ripping in a matter of moments. Not only do the wood stoves give off warmth, they also inspire joyous laughter and pearly smiles that warm our hearts more than any electric space heater ever could.