Safely ensconced in my fortress of blankets from the penetrating cold, I hear my small watch alarm go off. After slowly rousing myself, I fumble around with my hand until I can hit the button and turn off the alarm. 6:05 a.m. Another day at Chewonki begins. Along with my cabin mates, I dress myself in long underwear and many other layers to prepare for morning farm chores. Having prepared ourselves to face the chilly 12 degree weather, we trudge out to the farm through the snow.
As I walk across the field towards the farm, I take a moment to look up from the path and catch a breath-taking view of the farm. An untouched snow-covered field stretches out before me, with what appear to be coniferous trees in the background, perhaps white pine. Once I arrive at the barn, my nostrils are filled with the smells of hay, sheep, chickens, cows, horses and dung. Strangely, it’s comforting. At the same time, I am serenaded by the song of dozens of English Sparrows, an introduced species that has unfortunately managed to beat out more native species for the barn niche. Mulling over the Natural History information, I make my way over to the cows. Along with Collin, I carefully rake away the old manure from the bedding. We shovel it all into a wheelbarrow and I make my way with it across the narrow board plank over the hulking pile of steaming, 130 degree compost. Being sure not to fall, I tip the used bedding into the pile and hunch my shoulders to get back through the small doorway into the barn. I make my way over to Lola, a large, horned yet very pregnant cow, giving Henry a friendly pat on my way over. I help Colin brush her and clean her udder. I smile to myself as we apply “Bag Balm” to the teats and then sit down on my bright red crate to begin milking. Reluctantly removing my leather work gloves, my fingers first feel the nippy air and quickly move to the warm teat. Squeezing firmly, Colin and I extract the milk, directing it into the pail we’ve set up under the udder. When Lola suddenly decides to move, I suddenly understand the origins of that quintessential American saying “to kick the bucket.” Although I quickly grab the pail before Lola knocks it over, I imagine what it would be like to lose all that work. Maine Coast Semester has a strange way of making everything so much more real to you… After putting away the milk and letting the cows out into the snowy pasture, Colin and I distribute the fresh bedding and make our way back up to the dining hall for a warm breakfast.
Walking into the warm Wallace Center makes me give a sigh of relief. I pull off my gloves and wash my hands, quickly stepping into line before the counter I know so well. The white top, freshly sprayed with A-Tack, the exclusive Chewonki cleaning solution, is being filled with cereals, granola, yogurt, eggs, pancakes and home fries. I give a smile and a nod to the kitchen crew, thankful for the community-distributed responsibility of keeping this place going. I gather my food for the morning and give a perfunctory glance out at the dining hall. As I consider a place to sit, I realize it doesn’t matter what table I pick. I know I’ll have great friends everywhere. I sit down at a random table and have a great debate about the morality of abortion and how much fun our last Saturday night activity of Sardines was.
After a wonderful breakfast, I gather up my farm clothes and go down to the bathroom in the Allen Center. After brushing my teeth and washing my face while dancing with a couple friends to the music playing from a pair of iPod speakers graciously donated by Danny, I go up to my first period class: Ethics. In our small class of about 10, we begin our discussion of moral theory with Consequentialism. The conversation leads me to all sorts of questions about the way moral theory is manifested in society and the differing information we are given. I conclude that I have absolutely no idea what moral theory is absolutely correct, but I am confused in a much more informed and intelligent way than before. Perhaps no single one of these theories is absolutely correct and a mixture is the most correct. Or maybe there’s a better theory out there that I haven’t heard of yet. With a smile on my face because of the warm, comfortable and friendly environment of my class despite the controversial material, I move on to my next class and throughout the school day. I am constantly posed questions that stretch me, that connect with each other.
By lunchtime, it feels like I milked Lola at least a day ago. Seated comfortably with a plate of hot, allergen-free food in front of me and a unique mixture of faculty and students around me, I tuck into yet another great Chewonki meal. I eat a full plate and a half to store up enough energy for the demanding science field trip coming up. At 1:45, about half of the student population of the entire school, that is to say about 18 people, make their way down to the vans dressed in heavy outside gear and armed with pencils, field journals and all sorts of field guides. In the 10 minute-ride to our field trip site, Eaton Farm, I discuss Into the Wild with Patrick.
Once we’ve arrived, Meg, Rhan and Lynne herd us out of the bus and into the cold parking lot. With our newly-acquired field journal skills, we all pull out our journals and begin describing our site. “About 20 degrees without a cloud in the sky and a few inches of snow cover over both open field and stands of mostly coniferous trees.” It astounds me once again how nonchalantly we go about this work. Just three weeks ago, on our first science field trip, we were all stressing about getting everything down and making sure our anatomical diagrams were correct. After quickly jotting down notes on the topography, hydrology, weather and influences on our immediate environment, we all grab a pair of bright red snowshoes and begin our science field trip. 5-6 hours every week, rain or shine. On this particular field trip, we learn about 6 new tree species and focus on identifying animal habitats and influence on the ecology of the forest. Although I can’t feel my fingers or my nose for a large portion of the trip, I enjoy myself. Surrounded by 20 of my close friends (which includes teachers), out in the wilderness, walking through the woods, I feel content and privileged to be here. I look around at my small group walking through the woods analyzing and mapping our progress as we go and I see people from New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. We come from such different backgrounds, at yet we have all joined together in Maine Coast Semester XL. With a discrete smile on my face and surrounded by friends, I make my way back to the buses at about 5:45.
We return to yet another delicious and nutritious meal, rejoining our friends that have spent the last several hours working on the farm, doing woodwork and wool-handling to refuel for the evening. After dinner, campus goes strangely quiet. The sun having set towards the beginning of the meal, I look up at the moon about to go through a full eclipse on my way down to the CEE, or Center for Environmental Education, for study hours. I make my way through the field and I remember the many games we’ve played there over the past few weeks, all of which were incredibly fun. And to think that those games were my “P.E.” just makes me laugh. When I cross the path through the little marsh, I notice the stomatal bands on the bottom of the balsam fir leaves on the trees and I am reminded of the utility of Natural History. I enter the CEE through the large door opening into Chapin Hall, more affectionately known as the Whale Room for the giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling. Glancing up at the strategically placed windows, I again realize the extent to which Chewonki lives up to its mission of environmental sustainability. This entire building is situated so as to gain the maximum amount of light possible, thereby reducing its energy needs. Facing dead south, the large windows absorb light and heat from sunup to sundown, losing little energy through the few windows on the north side. As I walk up the stairs, I see the little plaque telling me that the wood used on the stairs came from within just a few miles of here. When I reach the top and turn left to make my way down to my study space, I see the sun tubes that allow even more light into the building all day long, losing almost no heat. I sit down in my study space with my computer and start working on my history, Spanish, precalculus, Ethics and Natural History. I prepare a 5 minute presentation on a Spanish poem by Pablo Neruda and then small composition on women’s roles in WWII.
At about 9:30, I finish up my work and head out, the same types of things that I’d be doing back home, and I realize how much I’d done in one day. I did farm chores, went to classes, went on a science field trip and did my homework. And interspersed through all of that is socialization time. I realize that I’ve probably spent at least a few hours just hanging out with my friends after meals and during free periods. Time is so strange here… Chewonki Neck is almost a type of time warp. I’ve only been here for about three weeks, but it seems like an eternity ago that I didn’t know every single person on campus. And yet, at the same time, it seems like I just got here. The days are so long, but the weeks are so short. It’s truly incredible.
Once I’ve reached the Wallace Center, I say hello to the couple of faculty on duty and grab a cup of tea and enjoy it on the Flintstones, a large couch area, and chill with my new good friends for a few minutes before going down to my cabin. Trudging my way back down to South Hall, or SouthSide, whichever you prefer, I join my cabin mates in making a fire to warm up the toasty 30 degree interior of our home. We gather around the fire and discuss the day. Grady and Danny start playing basketball with the mini-ball and hoop we bought a few weeks ago at Shaw’s. Malcolm and I join in a game of P-I-G. We decide to bet. The loser has to go get wood. Grady loses and then I do. Realizing that our wood box was pack-full, we raise the stakes to making the loser wear a red cape and his underwear on the outside tomorrow. Grady and I bow out while Danny destroys Malcolm. Eventually, we all get into bed and turn off the lights. The conversation slowly dies down.
As I fall asleep, I reflect on the day. What an amazing place… Exhausted, I fall asleep.
-Douglas Gledhill, Charlotte, NC