Hoping for Spring

by Sherrie LaRose

Elizabeth Gendell & Kaitlyn Lawrence

Finding a sense of place may be more challenging when the ground is packed with snow and the signs of spring are unrecognizable.  All of us awoke Sunday morning in hopes that we might see more dirt and grass due to the rain and warmer temperatures, but instead we were caved in by one foot of snow.  Despite this disappointing emergence into spring, we have still found a way to become more rooted in this place, the North Country. 

As a part of our core Sustainability Studies course with Professor Shrady, we were each assigned a CBL (Community Based Learning) placement in which we work with local organizations in order to gain a deeper understanding of local topics and issues.  Each student devotes several hours each week to work with his or her assigned community partner.  Some of the organizations we are partnered with include: Garden Share, Cornell Cooperative Extension, LittleGrasse Farm, Golden Bear Packs, North Country 350 Alliance, and on site projects of the Sustainability Semester.  Each of these places works as puzzle pieces that make up the culture and interconnectedness of the North Country.  Working with these organizations gives us an entryway into learning more about issues in St. Lawrence County as they relate to food, climate change activism, agriculture, local government, and farm education.

We continue to search for our own sense of place, but also look to other examples of how people have found their voice in the North Country.  This weekend we had the honor of hosting Dan Berggren at the Sustainability Semester house.  Dan Berggren is a local folk musician who grew up in the Adirondacks http://www.berggrenfolk.com/albums.cfm.  Through his wise voice and inspiring instrumentals, he tells a story of his journey of finding his strong sense of place in the Adirondacks.

Friday evening we indulged in hearty food and marvelous tunes.  Each of us invited one friend over to the house for a potluck, appetizer-themed dinner before Dan’s concert.  Although we did not dress in formal attire and did not have magical decorations as Sean Morrissey requested, the night was still a great success.  We had an array of dishes ranging from a comforting squash pie to a tangy pulled pork dish.  After hours of conversation and tasty food, everyone slid across the wet and icy driveway over to the classroom where Dan performed some songs for us.  The classroom suddenly transformed into an intimate concert setting with a modest stage set of an acoustic guitar and a banjo.  He shared stories of his childhood as he remembers his parents painted black with smudge that they used for bug repellent as they worked in the garden all day. Some songs he sang were to the tune of childhood melodies such as Skip to my Lou and This Land is Your Land with the lyrics changed creatively.  It was an intimate small concert that we had the opportunity to experience with our friends in our multi-functioning building that was once a pig barn. With a little change in the ambience, our classroom transformed into a concert “hall”. All of us can take notes of his ability to be so mindful and aware of his surroundings as we continue to find our place in the North Country.

The next day we had a songwriting workshop with Dan where he taught us some basic steps to create our own song. We spent the morning in the living room joined in a circle as we embraced the quiet and calm ambiance of a Saturday morning.  The first exercise he had us partake in was simply sitting in each of our spots in the living room and looking out the same window in order to write down observations. Everyone had a different observation due to our varied perspectives based on where each of us was sitting.  Our next task was to create a web of words branching off into different ideas.  He told us to write down the first job we had and then branch off into different sections that elicited many memories.  Dan suggested these exercises as a way to get our creative juices flowing. 

Song writing consists of getting the attention of the listener; explaining the conflict and resolution, and suggesting what actions the listener can take after. Dan stressed the importance of making a song relatable and even making a catchy chorus that the listener cannot help but sing along. We all combined our creative and passionate perspectives to make a song about the Keystone XL Pipeline that followed the melody of Skip to My Lou. The controversy over the creation of the Keystone Pipeline has become a prominent topic on the Sustainability Semester.  The house is hoping to go down to Washington D.C. on April 26th to protest the Keystone XL. The song begins by describing the conflict of the First Nation’s lands being exploited and the economic greed behind the pipeline. Each stanza is followed with the chorus that asks Obama what he is going to do and concludes with “we want change so follow through.”  Here we are performing the song in our classroom: https://www.facebook.com/photo.phpv=773429946001031&set=vb.589601144383913&type=3&theater.  The house hopes that fellow protesters later this month will join in as we sing through the streets of Washington, D.C. and protest this pressing issue. 

Until our time comes to take a stand at the protest, we focus our energy on where we are now as it relates to our literal place as well as the experiences we share. We invite others to sing along in protest with us!

Sung to the tune of “Skip to My Lou”

Stand up for your nation, take a stand
protect your people, protect your land
Take your thoughts off all that greed
focus on our country’s needs

Families, Families, oil spews
not like water thick like glue
Rainbows, rainbows give us a clue
Earth for many not for few

Hey Obama what cha gonna do
Hey Obama what cha gonna do
Hey Obama what cha gonna do
We want change so follow through

Without the blue there is no green
Forests can’t grow from dried up streams
Without the green there is no blue
Just one planet for me and you

Have respect for native lands
The red on the flag shouldn’t be on our hands
We the people do demand
Stop extracting oil sands

Hey Obama what cha gonna do
Hey Obama what cha gonna do
Hey Obama what cha gonna do
We want change so follow through

Oil, oil stay in the ground
to a dirty future we are bound
Oil, oil stay in the ground
Make our planet safe and sound.

Think of all your daughters and sons
Their whole lives have just begun
Think of all your daughters and sons
They’ll have to live with what you’ve done.

Hey Obama what cha gonna do
Hey Obama what cha gonna do
Hey Obama what cha gonna do
Remember why we chose you


pic 1 - Sunrise when getting up early to do chores
pic 2 - A big rutabaga we used to make rutabaga fries
pic 3 - Dan Berggren concert
pic 4 - Colorful leaf amidst the gray skies and endless snow