More Than Just a Run

The past three years have proven to be a period of massive intellectual, social and personal transformation. That being said, there are still things left to accomplish as I launch into my final year at Middlebury. Finish the infamous Ben and Jerry’s Vermonster. Meet one student from each of the 50 states. Finally ask out that girl I’ve had a crush on since freshman year. My Middlebury bucket list is just about at the point of saturation. While most aspirations have and will likely to continue to collect dust, the opportunity presented itself last week to realize one of the most daunting line items – Run the Trail Around Middlebury, more commonly known as the TAM, in its entirety.

For 16 miles, the TAM weaves through forests, roads, and farmland in its circumnavigation around the village of Middlebury. And depending on whose using them, the paths can take on manifold identities. It becomes an outdoor classroom in the eyes of local naturalists, who inform residents and students alike of the natural ecology. Likewise, Middlebury College identifies the TAM as a symbol of environmental stewardship, and as such, is committed to trail design and maintenance. What can be appreciated for its academic applications can also be more recreationally enjoyed by runners, hikers, bikers, snowshoes, and cross-country skiers. The rolling and vibrant Vermont landscape provides a breathtaking backdrop for trail-goers. At the very least – as I learned the hard way – it offers some solace for those braving the full 16-mile challenge.

Posters for the 24th annual TAM Trek, a fundraising initiative to support maintenance expenses, began appearing around campus about a week before the race. I consider myself a pretty athletic individual, but registering for the event without any  long-distance running experience whatsoever seemed more than a bit ill advised. Making matters even more intimidating, the peers who I recruited to join me just happened to be either accomplished marathon runners or collegiate track athletes.

Race day quickly arrived, and at 7:00 AM, all full-TAM participants congregated at the college’s golf course. There was little fanfare accompanying our start. In typical Vermont style, curious livestock, groaning agricultural machinery, and a nascent sunrise constituted the spectators, the wild applause and the television broadcast, respectively. And instead of a dramatic horn signaling the start of the race, the event coordinator simply encouraged us to start “whenever we wanted.” The runners, albeit thrown by the somewhat anticlimactic exposition, heeded these instructions and took off onto the course.

The subsequent miles and miles…and miles formed a narrative colored with moments of introspection, community and comraderie:

Mile 3 // Scanning my “competition” as we settle into our respective positions, I notice quite the hodgepodge of demographics. Interspersed with us students were professors, faculty members, Middlebury residents and even a couple canines (one of whom I was convinced was Air Bud). Running really is the great equalizer. Our common objective gave way to a profound sense of community. Whatever obligations or identities were cast aside in pursuit of crossing that finish line together. As I was conceptualizing this in my head, I found myself flanked by my former chemistry professor and a local running enthusiast. Introductions were briefly exchanged, and aside from a brief “What do you do?” conversation, there was suddenly nothing separating a renowned synthetic organic chemist from a small-town storeowner. It was truly a meaningful moment to have witnessed such tangible community, despite me first having to cope with the fact that my middle-aged, nerdy, lanky professor was matching my pace. In my defense, he is far more decorated as a long-distance runner and even even authors his own trailrunning blog, called “The Middlebury Trailrunner.”

Mile 6 // A tight wooded path feeds into an expansive tract of farmland. Set against the Green Mountains and littered with grazing cows, the picturesque scene before us led us to break out in a chorus of “The Hills Are Alive”, only with fewer aprons and prancing. Unfortunately, the elation ended rather abruptly, when I managed to sink my feet into two feet of cow dung.

Mile 12 // The initial adrenaline surge has worn off. I have poop caked all the way up my leg. Out of some perverse version of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” we misread a trailhead and had to re-trace our steps for about a mile and a half. Why am I doing this again? I was just about at the point of resignation until something amazing happened. Suddenly, a profound sense of awareness overtook me. The leaves crackling beneath my feet, my cadenced breathing, the colors of autumn – All these sensory stimuli became heightened and magnified. Nature and I, as it seemed, were in perfect synchrony. What I was experiencing was the elusive “Runner’s high.” Being a hard sciences major, I know this phenomenon from a strictly physiological standpoint – It represents the upregulation of endorphin secretion when glycogen stores are depleted, thus staving off pain sensations with temporary feelings of euphoria and exhilaration. In this moment, however, I was absorbed in an experience far more intangible, far more beautiful than a simple endocrinal pathway.

 Mile 16 // Two and half hours have elapsed, and the finish is finally in view. A crowd of community members, students and faculty cheered us through our final steps, after which I collapsed under my own weight. Physically drained yet personally fulfilled, I accept a hand and a cider doughnut from my middle-aged, nerdy, lanky chemistry professor. Yes, in a shot to my perceived fitness level, he did beat me…

It is befitting that the TAM encircles the whole of Middlebury. The trails delineate the heart of our community, where the college and the town share a mutual awareness and investment in each other. To say that “town-gown” relations are good suggests that members of the academic and non-academic population happily co-exist, but still retain their own identities. Running the trails alongside community members, alongside faculty reminded me not of these differences, but of the common thread between us – We proudly call this place home.

Otter Pup

I have a new baby sister. Well, not biologically a baby sister, but the closest I will probably ever get. This non-biological family I have found here at Middlebury goes by the name of the Otter Nonsense Players. Since getting into the group freshman year spring, it has become my familial unit far away from home. With its ups and down, the group has been there for me in times of pure joy, absolute silliness, and days of sadness. However, the sadness never lasts long with this gang of characters. And the gang is now one more strong. Last week we had auditions and I am so very excited that we welcomed in one new member, the incredibly funny and charismatic sophomore girl who already meshes with our dynamic effortlessly.

Improv has been an amazing outlet of creativity and fun throughout these past years. These last auditions were very bitter sweet, marking the second to last that I will ever take part in. When going through deliberations of the many talented and deserving candidates, I wanted to take everyone, bring as many people into the family as possible for departing. It is just too fun to not let everyone come play make believe for two hours twice a week and the occasional show when we step out of safe confines of rehearsal and make fools out of ourselves in front of hundreds.

This week’s family activity – trust falls.

This weekend’s family outing – apple picking.

 

Autumn’s Creed.

          October is always a particularly interesting time at Middlebury. The month brings a luscious autumn landscape in which the leaves display a spectrum of colors from deep gold to bright red. These seasonal changes are not limited to the trees however, as October brings a shift of mindset to the students as well. Perhaps the most readily apparent change can be summed up into one crucial word: midterms. Yes, the beautiful fall foliage also brings with it exams that will challenge your understanding of your courses and certainly heighten your stress levels. Not to worry though, as I will graciously provide my personal 7 steps to a productive midterm season:

1. Organize, Organize, And Organize. Plan out every day of midterm season down to when you anticipate procrastination or bathroom breaks

2. Ditch the coffee. Tea is a great alternative that won’t make you hit a crash in your library carousel.

3. APPLE CIDER. It’s October, enough said.

4. Print and then print some more.  Reading on a computer screen will dull your eye vision quicker than that coffee will make you crash.

5. Study groups make it easy for me and you. Like driving in a car, pool your knowledge. It’ll make the test much easier to observe what you know.

6. Don’t stop ’till you write enough. Papers won’t write themselves. Write until you can’t write anymore. Better to get your ideas out even if it’s nothing more than a stream of askjksj ajkjkjs.  

7. Breathe. Then breathe again. Plus drink some more cider.

              These tips are a culmination of my personal exam experiences as well as ways in which I have learned to deal with stress over my four years. October is more than simply mid-term season however, as it allows brings two important events: Fall family weekend and Homecoming weekend.  Each are significant times for you to share your Middlebury perspective with both parents and alumni. For me this is one of my favorite times of the year as you can stop outside of the somewhat monotonous bubble of school, dinner, homework, repeat. When the families visit each year not only are you provided with a sudden sense of homeliness and familiarity, but also a chance to gain perspective into the important people in your friend’s lives. Similarly, homecoming weekend brings a slew of alumni, all eager to reflect upon their time at Middlebury. I often use homecoming weekend to ask alumni “what would they have done differently” Along with networking, seeing how an alumnus would reevaluate their experiences provides an important moment of introspection for you as a current student. These are all crucial events that makes the month of October a time of seasonal and personal change. So remember, whenever you’re feeling stressed at the height of exam week, drink some cider.

Falling Into Things

Swallowing a deep breath of air, I emerged from the lake still tangled in a messy dance with the capsized kayak. The water was still surging into new pockets and crevices against my skin as a gentle reminder of my plummeting into Dunmore mere seconds ago…

Arriving on Middlebury’s campus on a humid day in September, I felt overcome with joy, anxiety, and general excitement. That day being the start of my senior year, I certainly wasn’t new to feeling the range of emotions that accompanies the onset of a new year. Yet still, the thrill of the first day routine never ceases to conjure the dormant enthusiasm that lay dominant in those three long summer months. This thrill was suddenly removed when I was faced with the task of moving my two carloads of stuff (not all quite necessary) up the two flights of stairs to my new dormitory. Seven trips to the car later and my unpacking were complete. After saying a hurried goodbye to my parents, I laid on my new bed and took a quick glance around my room. The stuff that occupied the surfaces of the polished wood furniture seemed to almost reflect my journey here at Middlebury. On my bookshelf was my favorite textbook from Animal Behavior, its spine worn with damage from crinkling papers and frantic highlighting. The emblem of my organization, Distinguished Men of Color, was posted just above the bookshelf. Its gold and blue colors gleamed with the words activism, community, and unity. Just under the poster stood my black refrigerator, covered in stickers that ranged from Wonnacott Commons to Noonie’s Deli. Even the cleats from my old Quidditch days were inconspicuously placed against my blue shag carpet, as if at any second they would animate themselves to go seek out the newest ‘snitch’. For me these things were not simply reminders of events and moments of mine at Middlebury, but rather physical markers of my journey to adulthood over the past four years. All the emotions, stress, happiness, and struggles were folded within the lines of my animal behavior textbook or snuggled within the words of the DMC poster.  Moving in wasn’t just coming back, but instead continuing the thrilling journey that started on this campus four years ago.

Beyond moving in, first week jitters can seem abundant, greeting old friends and making new ones, reestablishing that intimate bond with your homework, and even remembering which building hosts which class are all endeavors that come with the process of returning to Middlebury’s campus. As I enter my senior year however, all of these tasks felt a little more comfortable. A sense of belonging to this campus certainly accompanies all students at Middlebury. Even as a senior, new experiences still await you. For me this included my first time kayaking on the beautiful lake Dunmore—a site only 15 minutes away from campus and a favorite retreat for seniors.  On that day, as I entered the kayak, I couldn’t help but feel nervous and excited even after experiencing my first capsizing. Even so, after a few strokes in the water it actually became pleasant—just like the sense of anxiety that comes with arriving back on campus.

Fall Frenzy and a Trip Down Memory Lane

On the 16th of September, 2013 at about 4:30pm, I thought I had stepped right into a time machine right back to 2010. It was Fall Frenzy, the first large barbecue of the year accompanied by the Activities Fair, one of my favorite events of the year! The hosts, Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) and Student Activities, invite all of the 150+ student organizations to set up a booth/stand on Hepburn Road and invite the student body to snack and join some new clubs. As I walked down Hepburn Road I took a trip down memory lane…

Last year (2012-2013), I remember getting dressed into my MCAB Fall Frenzy tank and walking over with four of my friends to set up the MCAB table and boy was I nervous! I was the Vice President of the Activities Board and I was one of the members who was going to hang out by the table for the entire two hours! Would people want to join? What if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? My nerves didn’t have much time to escalate because before I knew it, I was talking to first years, telling them about how much fun it is to pick a spring concert headliner or plan winter carnival. Explaining how exciting it was to hear student proposals for a symposium or be the hosts for trivia nights on Thursdays! I got to spend some time working the MCAB inflatable obstacle course (and by work I mean see how quickly I could get through it!) and talking to other folks about what they were signing up for. When it approached 6:30, we packed up our sign, gave away the last of our free koozies and $2 tanks, and I remember feeling good about the number of people who wanted to join MCAB, waiting for the year to begin.

My sophomore year was the first year I was working a booth, well actually it was two booths! It was a frenzy of excited jitters, I couldn’t wait to tell people about Ross Commons and our events like Viva Ross Vegas and Fireplace Cafe every week and I couldn’t wait to be at the International Students Organization (ISO) table and tell everyone about our cultural show and frequent coffeehouses! It was a buzz of new energy: meeting new people, learning about what people are interested in, encouraging people to join! I was in the center of the chaotic energy running from one table to another but absolutely loved it! It was my first year working a booth and I remember thinking I definitely want to do this again…

And now we’re back both to 2013 and 2010. The first and last years of my college career, both times out to explore without working a booth, deciding instead to walk around and learn about new clubs I hadn’t heard of (yes as a senior I still didn’t know what it meant to be in Akido) and groove to some new tunes blasting from the Riddim dance troupes speakers while eating some delicious snacks I’ve picked up on the way. As I signed up for far too many clubs, I enjoyed my trip down memory lane and I looked around at all the clubs that I would have been involved in ifI had 300 other lives and smiled and went to go see what the MCAB and ISO booths were up to…

Retroactive Fomo

On tours, in information sessions, and in life I have often received the question, “What is your least favorite thing about Middlebury?”. I sometimes coyly respond that the walk to the gym is a little too tiresome for my liking. An ironic quip, nothing more. But when I give my honest response, I usually say something much more astute- Fomo, or, more precisely, retroactive fomo.

Fomo stands for “fear of missing out”. That’s my least favorite thing about Midd. There is so much going on, so much to take advantage of, so many moving pieces that, when you start staring graduation in the face and recognizing that you are already ¼ finished with fall semester of senior year, you start to feel like there are opportunities that passed you by. Retroactive fomo.

I remember the end of my sophomore year of high school and the internal debate I had about whether or not I should take AP English Lit with Mrs. Roeser. Mrs. Roeser’s name is enough to awaken fear in the hearts of Spartan warriors. The work load is tremendous. You are lucky if your essay doesn’t come back to you with red pen stabbed right through your cover page and onto her cluttered desk. Maybe I won’t take it, I thought to myself. I deserve a break.

No one deserves a break. I took Roeser’s course and it was one of my favorite high school courses ever. That is the attitude you need to have if you want to truly take advantage of all that Midd has to offer. Maybe I shouldn’t join Solar Decathlon… It’s too much commitment. Wrong. Join Solar Decathlon. Maybe I shouldn’t add math as a double major. I love math but it’s just so difficult sometimes. Wrong. Double major in Math. Push yourself to the limit. Set goals for yourself. Fulfill them and surpass them and then shock yourself with how much you were able to accomplish.

Four years will pass you by in exactly 1460 days no matter how you spend them. Do everything. It’s ok to spread yourself a little thin sometimes. It’s worth it, in a place like Middlebury, where opportunities are ample and experiences rich. You will never remember the course you didn’t take. You will never form connections with the people you didn’t interact with. You will never fall in love with the place you didn’t visit.

I have packed my Middlebury career nearly to the brim, but I know I could have added just a few more drops to the surface of the penny before it all spilled over. 1460 days. Spend them well!

Movin’ and Groovin’

This Saturday, the Middlebury athletic fields buzzed with activity. Starting in the middle of campus, the men’s tennis team kicked off the weekend with rounds of singles and doubles matches all day. Winding past the athletic center, women’s field hockey picked up their first win of the weekend and cheers of victory sounded from both the men’s and women’s soccer fields. The  cross country team hosted their only home meet of the season and swept the top finishing spots. Even the men’s golf team played and won on home turf.

A little farther off campus, I was competing in my own sporting event – of sorts. To kick off senior year with a flourish, a group of my friends and I signed up for the Vermont Color Vibe  run in Vergennes. The purpose of this 5k is twofold. One, it benefits a Vermont charity Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, a camp  catered to children who have, or have had, cancer. Second (and I have to admit this was the driving factor in our signup), you get to throw paint all over your best friends while getting a little exercise. What better excuse to wake up early on a Saturday morning and support a local charity?

Despite my initial excitement at the idea, my sleepy self was skeptical when we pulled up to the race to the tune of “Gangum Style” at 8:30 in the morning. But once we got out of the car, the spirit of the event and all the brightly costumed Vermonters was absolutely infectious. We picked up our powdered paint packets and set to work tie-dying our white t-shirts. Parents, children, fluffy white dogs, and a large representation of the Middlebury swim team, laughed, danced, and painted their way to the finish line in waves of colorful enthusiasm.

All in all, it was a winning day for the Panthers and a vibrant start to a year of senior bucket lists. I’m already looking forward to the next Vermont adventure!

Film Lab Number 1!

Getting involved in film production has been one of the best things I’ve done at Middlebury. Having always been intrigued, and then encouraged by friends and advisers, last spring I took Sight & Sound I, the Film and Media Culture Department’s introductory production course. It was demanding, hands-on, collaborative, creative, and exhausting. In other words, it was wonderful.

This semester I’m continuing the challenge and taking Sight & Sound II. This course expands on the foundations laid in Sight & Sound I, both expanding our technical skill set, and delving into all facets of the question “what makes a film ‘successful’ ?” Over the course of the semester we will make three individual short films and collaborate on one as a class. This collaborative film is written and directed by a current Middlebury senior and stars students and local residents. Our class will shoot this film over the course of ten Tuesday nights, swapping on-set roles every week.

This week, I was on the boom operator. I’ve done some work with audio recording, but never in a way that was such an arm-toning experience.

Check out some of these stills from this week’s shoot and stay tuned to see the final product in early December.

- Joanie

1Scene CameraSetup Direction IMG_1432 IMG_1589

Play Ball

Last first day of classes. First day of last year of school. But beyond that cliché Facebook status everyone seemingly fell victim too, making us realize that no matter how individual we are we really are walking this cobble stones path together, this is about yesterday.

 

Yesterday was Convocation and seeing the first years line the path to Mead Chapel, dressed in a familiar dress or button down, a pair of slacks, and a familiar sense of unfamiliarity that has begun to feel comfortable. I remember that day vividly. Our orientation week had been a hot one, confusing for an incoming student believing that, “wait, isn’t Vermont supposed to be cold all the time?” Caught off guard by the beautiful heat, we lined the path to Mead Chapel, following behind our Common’s banner, almost marching behind a flag, a team, a country, a new family tartan. What does Wonnocott mean? And why is our mascot a squirrel?

 

We were the incoming class of 2014 and were beginning, finally. After years of preparation, even deliberate or not, we had made it to the place we would call home for the next four years. We were united in a common nervousness if nothing else.

 

The nervousness culminated into a group mind of action, and that action was the wave. Yes, while not quite a Fenway Park all the way around the stadium wave, it was a top of the hill to the bottom of the hill wave. Smiles a mass and arms in the air, immediately more than nervousness bounded us. Perhaps it was more of a reaction than an action, but none the less, a memory was formed.

 

That same flutter of energy was felt yesterday. As I returned from a run I saw the first years lining up. Sweaty and tired, I climbed the stairs in my dorm that lines the quad and commented to a roommate, “Did you see all the first years lining up for convocation?” With a yes of agreement and an “We are old,” we began to hear singing. The communal nervousness of 2017 had manifested itself into a roaring revel of “Star-Spangled Banner.”

 

First Years, it is time to play ball. With the national anthem and the wave in place, it is going to be a great game.

The Sting of Seniorhood

I walk outside and am greeted with a blast of cool air and a flash of warm sunlight. I feel in my bones the minor chill and fluttery excitement of a new year. People rush around, hugging each other quickly, smiling uncertainly, swaggering down Mead Chapel Hill. It’s fall at Middlebury, and it’s my last. What happened?

I spent most of last night with two people who I am extremely close to on this campus, people I met on my freshman hall. One of them was unpacking and little notes, jokes, and pick-me-ups I had written over the years surfaced in the papers he had saved. They created a patchwork of memories: hilarious, bittersweet, intense, difficult, silly. We played guessing games as to when exactly they were written; we reminisced and remarked on how much we all had changed. I felt something tug at me somewhere deep and inaccessible, and I let it hurt. I think I will be doing a lot of this, and I think it will be a very good thing.

Middlebury hurts a lot of the time; you appreciate what you have, and you ache to retain it. The idyllic setting, the small classes, the engaged professors, the wide and easily accessible network of strong and supportive friends. These are things that are great, and inevitably there is pain when you are reminded that it doesn’t last forever. I have often felt guilty for feeling this pain because I feel like it makes it more difficult to appreciate the present moment. But now I realize that it is part and parcel of the present moment: it is a fluid sting, a natural accompaniment to love. Whereas in past years I have fought it, now I welcome it.

My wistfulness was also – pleasantly, in some sense – accompanied by nerves. It’s invigorating to feel some first-day jitters even as a senior. The campus feels new again, as it does every fall. I am changed, but I enter every year as a new iteration of myself; I get the chance to put a new kind of “Rachel” into action. I wait for results, I hope for the best, I get butterflies – I feel a part of the living, highly active organ that is this campus. I feel ready, and in that readiness, I feel a healthy level of expectation and even insecurity. I know I have attained a certain level of ownership of this place, but I also like to acquiesce that grip and let myself flow in the sometimes chaotic rhythm of it all. I’m a senior, but I only feel like one as often as not.

I have a lot to learn this year. I feel it in every step I take on the concrete, every breeze that unsettles my hair. In some ways I’m just a kid. But for the adult I am becoming, I have Midd to thank for making it painful.