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Coop Dreams

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

chickensI grew up a Southern city boy.

But when I had my own two boys, I began to feel that the city was no place for small children. What to do with them? There were museums, but three-year-old boys did not care too much for Southern vernacular art. It was hotter than hell in the summer. And then there was the Atlanta traffic, which, with a three-year-old and his nine-month-old brother in car seats, was truly my idea of hell on earth.

So we moved to Vermont, to New Haven, a few miles north of Middlebury—dairy country, rolling hills, dirt roads, mountains rising in the distance. Maybe it was the fact that an Atlanta neighbor had been held up at gunpoint around the block. Or maybe I held a buried ancestral memory, now rising up, of a mythic, rural childhood. Of farms and tree forts and catching monarch caterpillars, of seeing the stars at night and eating fried dough at country fairs.

As an eager stay-at-home dad, I moved into high gear. Nearly every day, we visited the Elgin Spring Farm to pet the newborn calves; we collected arrowheads in cornfields and tracked wild turkeys. We gardened and planted flowers. We built dams in creeks and collected balsam sprigs from the woods in winter.

On a summer evening, we drove to the Addison County Fair in a 1979 Ford truck I had purchased for $700. With the windows rolled down and the smell of summer silage blowing through, a dad and his sons followed the siren call of fried dough.

But the greatest adventure was to come: chicken farming. I started us on a dozen chicks, purchased for $1.29 apiece from Paris Farm Supply. Housed in a cardboard box in the kitchen, the chickens were given names, JoJo and Sam, Striper and Ajax. A neighbor brought us an old coop—gray clapboard with a cedar-shingled roof—with his tractor. We insulated it and hung up a sign: Quarry Road Chicken Operation.

We entered our two prize chickens in the Addison County Fair. Our fledgling enterprise was rewarded with a pink participant ribbon, which we proudly hung next to the hens’ laying box.

They ranged freely and had a high time under neighbors’ bird feeders cleaning up the spillage. Every few years, we got new spring chickens to replace those that had stopped laying or had fallen ill. We moved to Ripton, and the chickens moved with us. We built a palatial coop with a standing-seam metal roof, and we continued to collect our eggs.

But my boys were growing up. The miracle of a brown, still-warm egg no longer held mystery. They were off, playing soccer, playing guitar, playing hockey, going to school.

The chickens became my job, which I carried out as steadfastly as ever, talking to them in the morning, kicking the ice out of their water bowls in winter, occasionally losing one to a fox, repairing the coop in spring. I kept the chicken dream alive.

And then came the weasel. In the night, through the smallest of openings, a crack in the door or a tear in the fence. On a hot July morning, I found one of the hens, beheaded and eviscerated, flies flitting on her dirty wings.

My boys were no longer here to see me defend our birds, but it didn’t matter. After dark, under a full moon rising over the Green Mountains, I carried our last two chickens up to the pond and set them adrift in our little fishing boat, safe from the weasel. There in the dark, they sat in the bow, as still as herons. The boat was anchored and swung lightly on the line, the moonlight reflecting on the surface of the pond among the black shadows of trees, with the frogs croaking and a lone bat hissing at the edge of the woods.

In the morning, as the sun rose, I heard a splashing. Our chickens were hungry and now, apparently, they were swimming ashore.
I went to say morning salutations. There, before the chicken coop door, were the rested survivors pecking at the dewy grass, water dripping off their beaks, feathers soaked up to their plump breasts, waiting for the man.

Yes, my boys had flown the coop, but Sam and JoJo were still coming home to roost.

Archive: Blue Ribbon Days

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Pins-sizedAside from the Language Schools pins that students afix proudly to their shirts each summer, signifying their chosen language of study, the days of sporting school ribbons or buttons on one’s lapel are as long gone as the late 19th/early 20th century. Fortunately, the items on this page are “typical of the treasure trove of bits and pieces of Middlebury history” that get donated to the College, offering an intriguing glimpse into past students’ lives, explains Andrew Wentink ’70, curator of Middlebury’s Special Collections.

Charles Leffingwell Ross, Class of 1895, donated the smallest of the three, the blue-and-white enamel stickpin in the shape of a maple leaf, and he may have worn it on his jacket lapel.

“At conferences with other schools, at meetings involving other colleges, Middlebury students from that era would have been anxious to show their loyalty,” Wentink says. And with the word “MIDD” emblazoned diagonally and no class year on it, this was the type of item a Middlebury delegate would have worn to a significant off-campus event.

The Markolf-Wheatley button is a reunion keepsake. Formerly the property of Mary Emma Markolf, Class of 1908, of Rutland, who later married Ernest Wheatley, it may have been distributed to members of her class at their 25th reunion or possibly later. Originally beige in color, it reveals its age, but it also shows the clear hand that penned the names of class members returning to campus.

The 1866 pin (donor unknown) with its three silk ribbons is a fascinating bit of “realia” created for a class reunion. Long before the College had a centralized alumni office, members of each class would plan every detail pertaining to their reunions and “classmates were always looking for ways to revisit and reinforce the special identity of their class,” Wentink notes. The colored ribbons may have represented something distinctive about the class, or they could have been a flourish added to make the Class of 1866, which had only 16 members, stand out from others at a reunion.

Editor’s Note: Full Fare

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

skinny_pancakeTraveling through the Burlington airport just got a whole lot more pleasant. I discovered this in May after passing through security in the airport’s north terminal and, with 30 minutes to spare before boarding my flight, went to grab something quick to eat. Anticipating the purchase of a hopefully not-so-stale bagel, I turned the corner and stopped in my tracks at the sight of a line of customers 10 deep at a bustling counter, above which read a sign heralding the arrival of Skinny Pancake to BTV.

The story behind Skinny Pancake is one of those tales made possible by a couple of tireless young men with a bold, quirky idea and just enough naiveté not to question their venture’s long odds.

Just a few days after graduating from Middlebury in 2003, Benjy Adler and his brother, Jonny, served their first crepe to a hungry customer from the siblings’ cobbled-together food cart on Burlington’s Church Street. Their idea was simple: local ingredients, food prepared before your eyes, and a product that you wouldn’t find around the corner.

During the past decade, Skinny Pancake has evolved from a food cart with a cult following to a flagship eatery on the Burlington Waterfront, a café in Montpelier, a spin-off Burlington pastry shop (Chubby Muffin), a catering business, and now the airport restaurants (one in each terminal, as well as a Chubby Muffin kiosk near the check-in counters).

The brothers say that the airport deal is an attempt “to create the most local airport eatery in modern history.” To me, it is yet another example of Midd folk doing ambitious things in the food world. On that day in May, I found myself regretting just one thing—that I didn’t have more time to sit and stay a while.

Colophon: What Cicero Said

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

CastPhoto

Next fall the third-semester Latin class will read Cicero’s first speech against Catiline. After spending about half the semester putting the text under a microscope, making sure we can account for every word and construction, we’ll take a 50-minute class period and read the speech aloud, going in turns around the room (Yes, LATN 0201a-f13, I’m talking about you; consider yourselves warned!).

That will be our version of what this photograph captures: an all-out extravaganza of a production about famous moments in Cicero’s life, from his attack on Catiline, to the trial and execution of Catiline’s fellow conspirators, to Cicero’s banishment for the high-handed treatment of these Roman citizens, and on to his joyous recall from that exile. As the photo shows, in 1910 the cast included more than 100 students. Some 1,500 people saw the drama, which was in Latin and ran for three hours. The Latin class will have fewer than a dozen students, and we will be our own audience.

Those lower numbers might make one lament “O tempora! O mores!” (Oh the times! Oh the behavior!) as Cicero did. This may be his most famous phrase. It seems to have been a personal favorite, employed in at least four speeches between 70 BCE and 45 BCE. In other words, Cicero was pretty much always ready to see decline.

My own view is less alarmist. Of course I’d love to have the entire College community spend months working up and presenting in Latin a drama based on late-Roman republican history, but I will thoroughly enjoy poring over one speech with dedicated students and then performing it even in the confines of a classroom.

Cicero’s sarcasm, hyperbole, and elaborate personifications (at one point he pretends to be Italy, reproaching him for letting Catiline go unchecked) make the speech lively and fun. You know that you are reading a great work of literature when you laugh out loud at two-thousand-year-old jokes.

Download: Why I Love Breaking Bad

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

BreakingBadMy favorite television program takes me deep into the mind of a monster, allowing me to follow along as he transforms from what appears to be a decent man into a sociopath. Breaking Bad has many strengths as an example of innovative and artistic television, including its brilliant use of visual and audio style, exemplary performances, and a compelling plot that consistently creates a craving for the next episode. But more than anything else, I love it because of its psychological complexity, crafting the character of Walter White, who is always changing yet feels consistent; whose motives are never made explicit but feel tantalizingly real; and who does horrible things but still makes me want to watch his story.

The pleasures of Breaking Bad are in the character’s journey, where we find ourselves uncomfortably in situations we’d rather not be in, aligned with an immoral criminal whom we remember as having once been decent and sympathetic. Thus I find myself loving Walter White, not as a person (even though I do personify him and grant him a more robust interior life than nearly any other fictional character I can think of) but as a character—I find his behavior, his arc, and his enactment by Bryan Cranston and the program’s production team endlessly fascinating. And as I write this, I eagerly await his final act as the series concludes this fall, uncertain of how to balance my desire for moral retribution against his crimes and my deep emotional connection to him.

Looking for America

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Ryan Kim ’14 wanted to discover what it means to be an American.

So last summer, the California native hit the rails, traveling 15,348 miles during the course of seven weeks. Not surprisingly, this exploration of country also became an exploration of self.

LOOKING-FOR-AMERICA

New Orleans, Louisiana
My journey began in the Crescent City, where, two days into my trip, I began to feel as if I were in a foreign country. I was dazzled by the strangeness, the novelty of everything: brightly painted colonial French houses, jazz horns, dancing all night, bikini-clad greeters in the doorways of Bourbon Street cabarets, Mardi Gras beads and Spanish moss hanging from the trees, the steam of hot, powdered French beignets. On this second day, I took an eight-mile trek north of New Orleans into the city of Metairie in the thick midday humidity of the Southern summer. Seeking respite from the oppressive heat, I decided to stop at an unfamiliar supermarket called Dorignac’s.

Inside, I wandered around admiring some of the store’s unique features, like its aisles, which I learned were spaced 30 percent wider than the industry standard to accommodate elderly regulars. When I’d indulged my supermarket fascination and stopped sweating so profusely, I asked a passing employee for directions before leaving. I must not have enunciated clearly or spoken loudly enough, because he looked at me quizzically without response. But rather than recognize one of these obvious causes for his confused expression, I immediately leaned on my instinctual habit of noticing the exotic, and I asked him if he spoke English. Without waiting for his answer, I walked away quickly, cheeks still flushed, but now from embarrassment, leaving him both confused and affronted.

Yazoo City, Mississippi
In Yazoo City, Southern hospitality was in full effect. I met a local family, the Adamses, and they spent an entire Saturday touring me through their hometown.

We started at 9 am with a family breakfast of bacon, eggs, and buttery biscuits for a grand party of nine. Then we covered what seemed like every inch of town, including the federal prison, a catfish farm, lumberyards, neighborhoods of dingy and destitute government-built housing, and wide boulevards of fancy homes with well-kept lawns and gardens. They showed me devastation wrought by a recent tornado. And we concluded the tour by observing monster-truck mud races.

That night I had dinner with three of my guides, and I felt comfortable enough to bring up the subject of regional accents. “I consider you all to speak with a Southern accent,” I said. “What kind of accent would you say I speak with?”

D’Ann, one of my hosts, stunned me: “We speak with su-thern draw-ul, but you, you don’t have an accent. You speak like an educay-ted person.” D’Ann and her sister-in-law, Libby, are teachers, and the man who sat between them, Paul, is an accomplished businessman.
On the playground growing up, my friends and I used to ignorantly adopt Southern accents to caricaturize simplicity and stupidity. I’d never thought about how that was probably rooted in a stereotypical belief in the cultural superiority of the Northeast and the West.

Cadillac, Michigan
Hermann’s European Café and Hotel on the main street in downtown Cadillac is owned and operated by a world-renowned Austrian chef named Hermann Suhs. I’d walked into his establishment and proudly negotiated the nightly room fee down from $80 to $65 by taking Room 5, which had a broken air conditioner. I thought I’d simply open the window. Yet at 11:30 that evening, while I was brushing my teeth, I felt my room had become uncomfortably warm. I was dismayed to find a sign on the windowsill that read, “Do not open window.”

I disregarded the note and pulled up the shade, only to find another note taped to the glass, which read, “Seriously, do not open the window. The alarm will go off, and the police will have to come.”

Remembering that the hallway outside my room had been particularly cool, I decided to step out for a quick breather.  As I was standing there, in the upstairs hallway of the seven-room hotel, above the restaurant, I heard a quiet click behind me. I turned in horror to find myself locked out—wearing nothing but boxers, with my mouth full of toothpaste. I spit the foam out at the back door of the building, and then I began knocking on the doors of the other six rooms. Finally, I managed to rouse an elderly man, bleary-eyed and reasonably suspicious. He gave me a cup of water to rinse out my mouth and called Chef Hermann to come rescue me. I waited for 20 minutes, feeling hangdog in the hall, as Chef drove over from his house by the lake to come open my door. Grumpily, with his shoulders slumped by interrupted sleep, he let me into my room. “I told you not to take Room 5!”

Astoria, Oregon
While jogging along the tracks of the waterfront trolley in Astoria, Oregon, I came across a conveyer belt lifting thousands of small fish into an industrial building covered in grey sheet metal. I’d found Bornstein Seafood, one of the few fish canneries still operating in this historically maritime town. After I snapped a couple of photos and asked the workers lingering outside a few questions, the plant’s mechanical engineer, Rick, offered to give me a tour.

Inside this noisy metal box of a building, Rick steered me through a fantastically complicated maze of conveyer belts staffed by dozens and dozens of workers spread out along the assembly line. He explained every step of the process: sorting for deformities; removing the head, tail, and guts; packing in equally weighted boxes; conducting random inspections for waste efficiency and quality control; adding unique labeling dependent on destination; and following the procedures for refrigeration and shipping. Approximately 130 workers are paid about $10 an hour, working in 12-hour shifts to process 20­–25 tons of fish every hour.

In about 45 minutes, I received a crash course in the vertical structure of the cannery business, from the way fishermen use phosphorus or plane-spotting to locate schools of fish to the fact that most of the sardines they process (the world’s largest sardine) are shipped to Asia and Australia for consumption, since Americans don’t have an appetite for sardines this size. At the end of the tour, I asked to capture Rick with a photo—wire rimmed glasses, Steve Jobs turtleneck, long grey ponytail, and encyclopedic brain of all things fish and machinery.

Trinidad, Colorado
Though I’d taken the train into this attractive town with red brick-laid streets, I left Trinidad on a Greyhound bus to Denver, where I could switch to a train line that would take me to Iowa.

Interestingly, though perhaps more common than I’d realized, the bus met its passengers at a gas station that doubled as a bus stop, where the attendant inside printed tickets behind the counter. With nowhere else to be, I patiently stood outside, sweating, with my bags on an unshaded curb under a cloudless summer sky.

A few other passengers restlessly paced and grumbled, seeking reprieve from the afternoon’s dry, blazing heat. They made repeated inquiries as to the whereabouts of our ride, but their agitation did nothing to truncate the delay.

Amidst this simmering, the door to the station swung open, jingling with greeting bells. A teenager of maybe 17 strode out, wearing dark jeans and an overstuffed camping backpack, all as dirty as his blond hair. Unabashedly, although there was plenty of space around, he squatted just a few short feet away from me. I tried to mind my own business, watching cars pass on the interstate.

He looked up at me over his left shoulder and asked, almost rhetorically, “Waitin’ on the bus?”

“Yeah.”

“Awesome.” With little pause, “Hot dog?”  He eagerly offered one of the steaming, plastic-wrapped purchases he cradled in each hand.

Fort Madison, Iowa
During a casual ramble through town on my first day, I found Fort Madison’s historical society museum, housed in the former train depot, wedged between a busy road and two heavily used train tracks. There was an old man in front wearing a red cap and denim overalls stretched over his T-shirt and enormous belly, watering a small garden of shrubs and flowers. His name was Andy Andrews.

When he saw me, he dropped his hose and invited me inside to guide me through the small exhibit that documented his town’s history, all the while incessantly chewing an unlit cigar that wobbled precariously on his lower lip.

Over the next couple of days, I ran into Andy a number of times—and some of his fellow retirees, who also volunteer to keep the museum open. Andy made a conscientious effort to help me with my principal traveling objective, to familiarize myself with each town to the greatest extent possible, by introducing me to residents and inviting me to community events. I only had three days in Fort Madison, but friendships form fast in small towns and kind men are easy to like.

At the end of my stay, I went back to the museum to say goodbye and to return a bike I’d borrowed. Andy looked at me wistfully and said,

“Maybe if you ever come back, I’ll still be alive.”

Malvern, Arkansas
I walked into the Hot Spring County Building looking for someone who could tell me about Malvern’s economic history. I was in the right place. County Judge Bill Scrimshire (“Call me Judge Bill”) and his pals were seated around the foyer of his office shooting the breeze about times present and past. They had me take a seat, offered me some coffee, and continued meandering their way through the last half-century, letting me interject with intermittent questions. I had a wonderful time listening as they remembered, misremembered, recounted, clarified, and verified facts and anecdotes against each other’s memories. I stayed on until the workday ended and the men stood up to go home.

The next day was my last in town. I swung back by Judge Bill’s office for yet another “farewell forever.” After he and I posed for a photo, his honor reached into his pocket and pulled out a fistful of change, which he dropped into my hand.

“You must be hungry as a traveling student.  Get yourself some lunch!  Here, is that enough?”

He turned around and marched into his office. I followed him in and found him digging through unruly piles of paper. He located his wallet, pulled out a five-dollar bill, and pushed it into my hand.

Wells, Maine
A fleet of trolleys runs a continuous circuit through town, offering cheap rides to the tens of thousands of visitors who flood Wells every summer. After hopping off one of these trolleys to get some saltwater taffy at a beachside confectionary, I boarded another one on the other side of the parking lot. Not knowing that this wasn’t an official stop, I hopped up the stairs and was immediately berated by the driver. Though she shouted at me quite aggressively, she took no action to kick me off. I quickly sat down, but then found myself on the first bench directly behind her, in clear view of her rearview mirror in the otherwise empty car.

At this point, I felt pretty irritable myself, feeling unnecessarily reprimanded for a harmless and honest mistake. I stewed for a minute, wondering if I should make a retributive, sarcastic remark and return the negativity she’d given me. After all, I was 20, tired, and lonely after seven weeks on the train, and someone had to get it! I paused for a minute longer, just long enough to notice the warm breeze washing through the windowless cabin. I extended the pause and wordlessly acknowledged that most disagreements are rooted in misunderstanding.

I apologized. Perhaps the silence had cooled her down, as well. Unsolicited, she started to tell me about the town, and for several minutes we carried on a great conversation about Wells, about my travels, about her job.

When I disembarked, she didn’t punch my ride card, giving me the lift for free.

Somewhere in the middle of America
I was aboard Amtrak’s Empire Builder on a 46-hour journey from Chicago to Portland, Oregon, seated at a table in the lounge car to kill time watching cornfields.

A chubby preteen entered through the sliding doors ahead of me, clutching a deck of cards. I realized, as he did, that all the tables were full, so I invited him to join me at mine. We introduced ourselves, then I taught this 12-year-old Kentuckian named Cameron how to play War.

We flipped cards mindlessly, pushing them back and forth across the table, chitchatting. Cameron uncorked with little prompting, telling me a series of unconnected and delightfully earnest anecdotes.

I listened, amused and content, as he opined about anything that came to mind, from his disgust for Kentucky Fried Chicken to his distaste towards reading. “I’d rather eat a dog crap than read a . . . ” He couldn’t finish. But then, Cameron talked about his love for writing: “When we write at school, I just write . . . I just write paragraphs.”

It was peaceful; it was late afternoon, and we were chug-chugging our way across southern Wisconsin. Suddenly, Cameron stopped. He slowly cocked his head and stared at me with a suspicious squint.

For a moment, neither he nor I said anything. Then he asked, “So . . . do you wake up every day at six in the morning and go running or something?”

I laughed.

Though I’d felt relaxed throughout our conversation, Cameron had still seen me for who I was: a high-energy, intense person, the type who rose early each morning and “went running or something.” He revealed what I’d find all summer. I thought I was out studying strangers, when in fact I, too, was being dissected, inspected. I was meeting other Americans; they, too, were meeting me. And as they met me, I met me. It was easy to feel like a wallflower in unfamiliar moments, when I was watching the world operate as if I weren’t there.

But my presence was actually an intrinsic part of the novelty; I discovered myself as I discovered America. A foreign man in his native land.

Ryan Kim blogged extensively about his travels at ryankim.blog.com. This story arose from a spring-term independent writing course with Jay Parini.

Pursuits: On a Roll

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

logrollerIn the late 1800s, when the demand for lumber was at its peak, loggers used rivers to transport timber from the woods to sawmills. It was not uncommon for logs to jam, which forced workers to hop between logs to break the congestion. Staying dry and on the log the longest quickly grew into a game, and soon enough lumber companies sponsored their own logrollingcontests. Now, a century later, Wisconsin native and logroller extraordinaire Abby Hoeschler ’10 is on a mission to revitalize the northern-woods tradition and bring it to an international arena.

Abby was born into a logrolling dynasty. As soon as she learned how to swim, at age four, she learned to logroll from her mother, Judy, a seven-time world champion. Judy taught classes at a local YWCA and often toted Abby and her three siblings to the pool, so much so that Abby barely remembers a day without it. Starting in the six-and-under division, Abby flew up the competitive logrolling circuit, going elite by age 14. She worked hard to maintain her top-three logrolling spot and her three-time boom-running world title. (Boom running is a timed event in which competitors race across logs attached to one another in the water. )

Rather than attend summer soccer camp, Abby would logroll along with the rest of her family. (That’s what it took for the Hoeschler clan to win 16 world titles and counting.) “It’s always been something that defines us,” Abby says. “And we like to keep the wins in the family.”
When Abby’s older sister, Katie ’04, packed her bags for Middlebury, she didn’t think twice about bringing a log to college. It wasn’t just for training—Katie began to teach other students the sport in what became a J-term class staple, with teaching duties handed down from sister to sister. Over the next decade of Hoeschlers, logrolling became a physical education credit at Middlebury. The sport grew so popular, in fact, that Abby established a January logrolling tournament.

Upon her graduation, Abby’s parents proposed an idea they had been throwing around for years: to create a synthetic log. A ban on shipping untreated cedar wood out of the country was hindering the sport’s potential globalization, and as staunch promoters of this northern-woods tradition, the Hoeschlers felt it was their duty to find a way around this obstacle. As the strongest advocate (and natural teacher) in the family, Abby was the perfect person to take on the project.

While cross-country skiing with her father one winter afternoon, Abby serendipitously ran into two of the best tinkering engineers around, Mike Cichanowski, founder of Wenonah Canoes, and Jeff Van Fossen, cofounder of the synthetic violin-bow company CodaBow. One makes a recreational product that floats in the water and the other makes a synthetic product that imitates wood, thought Abby. All she needed was to combine the two skills and she would have her log! Jeff put her in touch with two student engineers at Winona State University, who helped create a prototype that imitates the cellular makeup of a tree. Using a combination of fiberglass, wood, and foam, the team created the first viable synthetic log, a 60-pound cylinder built of high-density polyethylene that fills up with water and floats, spins, and reacts just like a cedar log. Key Log Rolling, the Hoeschlers’ dream company, was born.

Now that Abby has an easily transportable synthetic log in production, she’s working on the other half of the equation: growing the sport. “When people asked if there’s a market for logrolling, I never knew how to respond,” says Abby. “Then I realized, we’re creating the market. That’s where we want to be.” So far, the summer camp industry has been highly receptive: Key Log will supply more than 40 camps across the U.S. with a log this season, along with the first international camp in Switzerland and a summer school in Mexico.

Already, five colleges and universities—a market Abby has yet to explore—have logrolling clubs, and every day she receives inquiries from schools as far away as Australia that want to start their own groups.

No other company is promoting the sport as much as Key Log is—not even the U.S. Log Rolling Association. “We didn’t set out to create this synthetic product just to sell it,” Abby says. “We want to grow the sport and make it more accessible to people because they love it as much as we do.”

Madison Kahn is the assistant managing editor at Boston magazine and a freelance writer.