All posts by themountainschool

Beans, glorious beans!

One of the more labor intensive crops grown at the Mountain School are dry beans. These are the kinds of beans you might buy in bulk at the grocery store and soak or simmer for hours before eating.


In the fall semester, students harvest these bean plants and string them up so that they can be hung in the cow barn. During the rest of the semester and through the winter, the water in the plants slowly evaporates. Once the plants are dry, spring semester students complete the final step: removing the beans from their pods and sorting them by bean type. There are many ways to go about it: stomping on bags full of plants and using a vacuum cleaner on reverse to blow away the plant matter and keep the beans, or just breaking the pods by hand and collecting the beans. Either way, the end result is a mix of beans that must be sorted by hand according to variety.

Click below to listen to a chat between Pam (chef) and Luke (student) about Mountain School beans.


Sweet Stuff

Our sugaring season had an early start due to unseasonably warm weather in February. Sam Kelman, our sugarmaker pictured below, has reported that we made a record-breaking amount of syrup in February alone. Now that the weather has cooled off and the sap has stopped running we are no longer producing syrup, but we’re looking forward to the remainder of the sugaring season once temperatures start rising again.

Sap gathering is a two-step process. Each student has two 5-gallon buckets. First, we collect the sap in those buckets. Then, we pour the sap into barrels at dumping stations scattered throughout the sugarbush.

After we gather enough sap, Sam boils it down to maple syrup in the Sugarhouse.

tuesday afternoon in the woods922-2

tuesday afternoon in the woods924-2



Click below for some conversation out at the sugarbush with Sam, Luke, and Chloe.


#Solo: best solo-related hashtags

Alumni responded with alacrity to a recent challenge to post their best solo-related hashtag (and win an original poem written during F’16 solo). Here are some of the best:










#MyBootsAreFrozen #MyKnotsAreFrozen #MyNalgeneIsFrozen






















New additions from F16 solo tales:














S’16 Solo Reading List

Spring 16 students can now join the proud ranks of Mountain School alums who have successfully completed their solo camping trips, this year with the added bonus of half a foot of snow that fell on the last full day. In addition to eating Ramen, working hard to stay warm, and repeatedly hitting their tarps to knock the snow off, the students read some great books. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas: “It’s a classic, but totally engaging and written in a conversational way. It’s an awesome story about violence, but kind of honorable violence. I’ve always wanted to read it–I’ve read the abridged version. And it’s historical fiction, so I learned so much about the French Revolution, but I didn’t feel like I was learning because it was so compelling.” -KV
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: “I loved reading it because it read like a long, in-depth article in The New Yorker. Even though some of Truman Capote’s journalistic ethics were questionable, he really explored all sides of the story, and made the person reading feel very connected. If you like Serial, you’ll love In Cold Blood.” -EP
  • Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik: “It was enlightening and funny. RBG is my queen. One of my favorite things I learned was that her husband gave up his job for her. She and her husband were really cute, actually. She became a pop culture icon only in the last two years; before that, just was kind of there. Now there’s all these memes and everything. Anyone with a soul will like this book.” -MB
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson: “It’s a personal account of the peak and failure of 1960’s counter cultures. It’s a seminal work for anyone who is an aspiring journalist. It’s a wild ride, a very twisted book that will give you very twisted dreams…” -CK
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss: “It’s about a man who writes a book about his ultimate love and a girl named after the character in that book and their convoluted quest to find each other. I could not fathom how any of the stories were interconnected. At the end it all came together, and I was starting to figure it out on my own, but the reveal was very satisfying.” -PM
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “The story of a Nigerian woman who coms to the United States and her journey in the US, especially her encounters with people and their perceptions on race. It was a really interesting viewpoint on American race because it was an outside perspective. I especially liked the blog that the main character keeps about race, which is interspersed throughout the novel. Adichie’s writing is awesome, and that’s part of what makes the book so good.” -AL
    • Editor’s note: Americanah is the best book I have ever read, and I honestly believe that everyone should read it.
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson: “It’s about one man’s experience navigating the criminal justice system and the death penalty in the south. It was really good because it balanced non fiction and narrative well. It explained systems in America while also telling a compelling story. I found the combo very enlightening.” -LKB
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed: “It was a good read for solo because I was enduring the same hardships as the main character, Cheryl, to some extent. Like she talked about her hip bones hurting after carrying her pack all day, and I felt that too. It made me look at my experience in a different light.” -EKo
    • “It was a great book to read on solo because I’m alone, she’s alone, she’s working really hard while I’m sitting in my hammock… We were going through vaguely similar struggles.” -TM
  • Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee: “It was cool how McPhee gives an objective view of the conversations and the people with such conflicting views (an environmentalist facing people who don’t agree with him ideologically). I liked how he kind of forced you to take a side, but also makes you consider both sides of the argument. Also it was written in the 1970s, but it still completely relevant to issues we’re talking about today.” -MW
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: “It’s a family favorite book, and I had never read it. I was really engaged with the narrator. I was told that it used to be taught in schools and now it isn’t as much because it’s unrelatable in the present era, but I disagreed. I felt a connection to the world at home even though it was written in 1951.” -RM
    • “Holden Caulfield is a supremely frustrated, loving, passionate 17 year old boy who tries to navigate his life after being kicked out of high school in New York City. He struggles to find where he belongs in a world where seemingly no people are like him or understand him. Behind Holden’s angst and frustration is a deeply caring and observant person. Holden stays by my side on the days when I feel like nobody is on my side. A must read for parents and teens trying to understand the thought process of unnecessarily angsty/hateful teens.” -PR
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: “It’s a father’s attempt to explain an unjust world to his son and people like his son. It was great to read on solo, especially the part where the author talked about being in Paris and being identified as an American, not a black man. He wasn’t defined by his race there, and I felt the same way in the woods. Mother Nature doesn’t care about my race or gender; she’ll unleash her fury equally on everyone.” -WB
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe: “It’s like watching “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but in book form, and takes place 20 years earlier. Super interesting.” -JL
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: “What makes it so amazing is that it’s about WWII – so it’s serious and political – but it’s also so funny. It’s really entertaining to read because you’re constantly surprised by what the author does and you never know what to expect.” -IBC
  • Blind Woman, Sleeping Willow by Haruki Murakami: “The short stories themselves are fairly simple, but they are told in really interesting way. It definitely made me think a lot.” -ZH

Spring happenings

We’re just over a week away from solo! So much has been happening in the last few months, but a few highlights include lambing, sugaring, and a visit from the legendary Tom Wessels!



“How was watching a lamb being born?”

“It’s disgusting. And slimy.”


“I saw a lamb birth and I wasn’t expecting to be moved by it, but it was honestly one of the most amazing things I’ve seen here. I was so emotional and it was so beautiful. And then the sheep had twins and it was great!”


“One of the sheep thought I was her lamb and tried to lick me.”


“When I was helping, one of the lambs try to nurse and it took an hour. Lambs are dumb. But they’re so cute.”

A True Wessels Walk


“Tell me about your hike with Tom Wessels.”

“He just literally knew all of the answers to every single one of our questions about the forest. I don’t know how you can know so much from just looking at trees. I mean I should probably know that because I’m in esci but…”


^The man himself

“He looks like Santa Claus if Santa Claus went on Lean Cuisine. The man knows his stuff!”


“He brought many things to the woods, like a beard and amazing knowledge about how to analyze. The way he broke down everything was incredible.”


We had a legendary season – over 200 gallons of syrup! When asked what they enjoyed about sugaring, students responded…

sugaring spring 2016-7-XL

“You get cool treats, you get to hang out with Sam the Sugarman, and you get upper body strength from dumping so many buckets.”


“It was cool listening to the sound of the sap dripping into the buckets. You could hear all of it at once.”


First Week of Spring 2016

Spring 2016 has arrived and students have hit the ground running! The first week of the semester was full of learning many skills for the first time. Students learned how to fell a tree, prepare for the sugaring season, shell beans, and more intimate skills like learning how to live with each other and engage each other in conversation over meals. Here is a peek at a few of the things we did this week.

First Week Quotes

“I can walk out with just a sweater in 20 degree weather now, but that first week was just so cold. Vermonters are cut from a different cloth.” – Wassa

“I’ve never eaten this many beets in my life…” – overheard

“The food warmed me.” – Darrell

“Embrace the raisin.” – Adam


Alden teaching his wood crew how to fell trees for the first time!


Thea cutting a notch into her first tree, a balsam fir.


Kai and Ellie, triumphant.


Alden and Kemi’s Monday wood crew.


Shelling beans during work period! Clockwise from the bottom: red kidney, cranberry, calypso, black, white kidney


Busy hands in the harvest kitchen.


The first Saturday night activity: interpretations of the first week in the dorm in the form of skits and songs.


Derby singing a High School Musical cover.


First sugar crew work period – turning maple syrup into maple sugar!

Camel’s Hump Hike

On Sunday, October 18th, a group of intrepid students woke up early, piled into vans and drove to Camel’s Hump, Vermont’s third largest mountain, for an autumn hike. Here’s what some of the participants had to say afterwards:

Francesca: It was amazing. It was really beautiful hiking in the snow, and then getting  to the summit and seeing snow and in the background, the colors of all. It was a lot of fun.


Polly: It was definitely one of the highlights of the semester. I thought it would be harder than it was. There were so many people and we talked the whole time. It was cool experiencing fall and winter at the same time–like going from September to January. My favorite part was the peanut butter and jelly at lunch or watching Matt trying to eat the Vermonster at the Ben & Jerry’s factory. …It destroyed him. And it was so crazy when we got to the top: I looked at my watch and everyone else was just getting to brunch.

Hannah: I was the slowest person on the hike. I’d like to blame it on the altitude, but someone stayed back with me the whole time to make sure I was taken care of and that was really sweet.

Young Dan: It was the highlight of the semester–definitely the best day so far. It was really nice to see different scenery in Vermont because we’re so secluded here, and to get to see that with people from my semester.

Bev: It was so beautiful because when we were at the top it was snowing and looked like winter all around us, but if you looked out you could see all the colors of fall.


Sarah: My favorite parts were that as the elevation increased, you could see how the forest changed. Once we got to a certain elevation, it was mostly coniferous, and it was cool to see that change. When we were hiking up, we passed a bunch of hikers coming down, and they were really disappointed because they had gotten to the top and there was no view, so we were kind of worried. But when we got to the top, it was clear and we could see all the way to Lake Champlain and the Appalachians.

Jesse: I liked waking up early in the morning to go hiking, weirdly enough. I don’t think I’ve ever shed as many layers as I did-I would shed a layer, put on a layer, shed a layer again. It was cool because it was fall but snowing higher up–all out snow, like January. We couldn’t see–it was pouring snow, and then suddenly the clouds would disappear and it would be completely sunny. At the top, the sun was coming down through the snow in beams and you could watch the transition down the mountain. It was so icy going down: we just slid on our butts. The whole time, we sang songs that we only knew the chorus of and then we hummed the rest or made up lyrics. We all fell asleep on each other in the van on the way back. It was very fun, even though I had to do work after we got back, it was worth it. I thought it would be total Type 2 fun, but it wasn’t. It was just FUN.

Noah: Getting to the top was the best part. It was really cool how snowy it was at the top–it’s mid October but there was already a foot of snow in some places. In three adjectives, I would say it was slippery, anticipatory and tiring.


Ella: It was slippery. The walk up was interesting. It was cool to go from different forest to forest on one mountain–conifer, then maple, then conifer, then beech. It was cool to see that transition, and the transitions were strangely abrupt. The top was amazing and seeing all the white snow and then the color drop off of orange and green. I had never hiked in a snow environment before. It was funny because as we hiked up, I kept putting on more layers, and walking down, I wore all my layers and we threw snowballs at each other. It was really fun.

Zane: A huge highlight was the view from the top, and we could see Lake Champlain, which was cool. It was cold, but the process of putting on and taking off layers was entertaining. In three adjectives, I would say cold, fun, and pretty.

Miranda: It was really fun. It looked like a winter wonderland. We decided to call it Narnia. When we got to the top, there was a 360 degree view, and that was so cool. I always feel so accomplished after a long hike. At Ben & Jerry’s I had banana peanut butter, but I regretted that decision because I tried someone’s Americone Dream and it was really good…


Yesterday might have been one of the best days of my life. That hike was just out of this world. I didn’t mind waking up at 6 or the chilly air. Being able to go out in the fresh snow with a fantastic group of people was the best way to mark the half-way weekend. Walking through fresh, crispy snow sprinkled with fresh dry leaves was a magical experience and then continuing through a spotless Narnia-esque tunnel of branches. I brought candy for lunch. There was always great conversation and not a single complaint, even on the slippery ice near the top. Speaking of which, the view was stupendous, with dark clouds closing in on a baby blue sky on the other side of the peak. It was just a happy bunch of relaxed kids enjoying every part of our joined once-in-a-lifetime experience. Conquering the (mini) Vermonster at the Ben & Jerry’s factory wasn’t awful either. When I’m home, I think this is one of the days I’ll look back on to understand why this school is the unforgettable place that it is. –journal excerpt from OL


Shout out to Jesse for proposing the idea for a hike!

State of the Campus

As the harvest season wraps up, we have more time to pursue other activities on campus. Francisco and Dan, for example chose to spend their time learning how to cook.



The Fall 2015 semester has an affinity for playing the ukelele. These instruments can be heard before (and sometimes during) study hours, during dorm check-in meetings, and in between classes. This is Annie playing for Kareen, our French teacher.


Students also have opportunities to interact with local residents. Venecia (left) and Kyung Mi (right) often have long dinner conversations with Ruth (center), who is the mother-in-law of one of our math teachers, Kathy Hooke.



A few weeks ago, a group of students took advantage of the trails in Vermont and participated in the Foliage Five 5K run in Thetford, Vermont.



Mountain School Reads Over Solo

This semester, several students opted to bring books with them on Solo, a four day solo camping trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Here’s what some of them had to say about the books they read:

“Everyone needs to read The Fault in Our stars. It’s straight baller.” – Matt on The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

“It was an extremely well-written book. The author expertly intertwined history and sports in an epic tale about the 1936 Berlin Olypics.” – Annie on Boys In the Boat by Daniel James Brown

“This incredible true story encompasses resilience, bravery, athleticism, and the tumult of World War II. This book is a must read for anyone who knows how to read.” – Andrew on Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand

“The Things They Carried puts war and the effects of it into perspective. Its unpredictability kept me on my toes and wanting to read more.” – Hannah on The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

“An amazing representation of Black family life in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s a well done examination of the religious aspect of the culture that is still accessible to everyone.” – Sam O. on Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

“Emotional insight into the internal struggles of a complicated teenager in 1980s New York City. It was eye-opening and entertaining. It taught me about surface impressions.” – Annabella on Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont

Graduates, do you have any recommendations for great books you’ve read recently?

Reflections on the Mountain School: 2 Years and Counting


It is striking how often my time at The Mountain School comes to mind. The most salient of my memories from Vershire have yet to fade or fracture even the slightest. But, more importantly, neither have my friendships. In fact, they seem to have deepened since our semester’s end in the December of 2013 even though my particular circumstances were anything but traditional. I was unable, until recently, to reunite with my comrades regularly because an ocean and a continent stood in my way. My residence at the time, you see, was that mildly famous port city of Shanghai.

I often wonder why it is that unlike so many of my other relations, which dissipated rather swiftly when challenged by the Atlantic, my Mountain School friendships emerged from the confrontation stronger. The answer is intimately linked with the type of culture incubated at The Mountain School: one that extinguishes restraint and guardedness from the process of relationship building. The impermanence and transience of the experience forces a raw connection. If one hopes to have a meaningful “Mountain School experience,” one cannot simply passively await an intimacy with peers, teachers, ideas, or the Green Mountains. That sort of intimacy must be earned. Effort, of course, is necessary, but more important is risk. Vulnerability.

At the Mountain School, I tried to always present myself as exactly who I was because I didn’t have time to be anybody else. I sense that my fellow Mountain Schoolers did the same. Unparalleled mutually assured authenticity — that’s why my Mountain School friendships, even though they were developed in only four months, are stronger than any other friendships I formed in high school.


The Mountain School, more than anything, was the perfect opportunity to escape the grip of traditional dogmatic education. I wanted something more from school. I wanted to struggle with the complexity of systems, the reconciliation of contradictory identities, and with “my place in the family of things,” to borrow from Mary Oliver.

The Mountain School taught me to delineate various forms of learning: the acquisition and application of practical skills, the quest for abstract truth, the search for personal truth, and the development of a cross-disciplinary factual foundation. The objective-oriented, percentage-worshipping environment that I had spent two years immersed in ignored the first three forms of learning and focused obsessively on the last. Important as a factual foundation is, an unhealthy fixation with it can silently and subconsciously kill off any “passion for learning.” It was a love that I did not even know I had lost until I began to regain it at the Mountain School, delivering Wordsworth from Library Hill, listening to Back Brook tell her story, and spending long hours discussing the nature of legacy only to arrive at no particular conclusion.

The Mountain School stresses personal truth as an individual lens through which to interpret abstract truth. A factual foundation merely informed these truths. Nothing more. Practical skills — work ethic, trust, task completion, dependability — are developed through the labor program and supplemented our intellectual growth with simultaneous character and community building.

This pedagogy has impacted me so much so that I’ve based my gap year upon it, building a school in San Francisco influenced, in part, by Mountain School values.

The learning, I should add, was the most difficult part of my transition home. I never did readjust to the teaching philosophies my home school engaged in. It’s ok though; I never wanted to.


A friend from the Mountain School asked me an interesting question the other day: “How do you think living in a world where it is increasingly difficult to see the stars changes us?”

I said: “Historically, stargazing has been intimately linked with developing man’s capacity for wonder, dream and imagination. So maybe the decreased visibility of stars correlates with a decrease in wonder and imagination.”

Here was my friend’s answer: “Some people say that the stars are phenomena that make us feel smaller. So, I suppose we are slowly losing perspective on our mortality. But I don’t always feel unimportant and perishable when I look at the stars. Instead I feel in love with nothing in particular. When a sky is covered with stars, I fall in love a million times over by looking up.”

It’s hard to quite explain in exact terms the feeling one has in rural Vermont while looking out across an endless expanse of rolling hills, treetops tinted by sunset, or stars in the night sky. Staring into the face of a mountain that was born from continental collision is not only humbling but also intensely unsettling. It’s odd, though, because simultaneously, one “falls in love with nothing in particular a million times over.” Somehow, the human habit of curiosity begins to take hold. How vast is this universe really? How far does my affection travel? The true infinity of possibility sets in.

Now that I think of it, there does exist a term for this feeling: inspiration.

Nature is inspiring. The Mountain School reminded me of this.

Final Thoughts:

As far as I can tell, for the intrepid few who dare journey to Vershire, The Mountain School orients us towards a life of authenticity rather than superficiality, self-fulfillment rather than external validation, and inspiration rather than egotism and apathy.

In retrospect, I keep being drawn to the same conclusion: The Mountain School was, is, and always will be, a necessary part of my life.

-P.R. F’13

Reflections on the Mountain School: 1 year out

All of the leaves have turned a translucent gold, as magical as something right out of Moonrise Kingdom. We had hiked to the top of Pine Top, a mountain close to the Mountain School, with the sun high and clouds speckled across the otherwise unobstructed blue. Pine trees spilled onto the hills that lay ahead, dark green up close, but from a distance taking on the color of a soft bruise. We sat around an old fire pit discussing tactics for setting up tents in the rain and debating the importance of long underwear in preparation for our upcoming camping trip. At this time, we were still learning everyone’s names. One night in the winter, we went back to the same spot, calling out each other’s nicknames as unobstructed blue turned to deep orange and then faded to black. During the new moon in Vershire, Vermont, the Milky Way is visible clear up ahead and makes you wonder about only the deepest questions in life, such as how to unstick an abundance of hay from leggings tucked into wool socks and whether or not the grain given to the sheep tastes like dried pasta. After we fed the sheep while singing our own renditions of Christmas carols, Maggie and I trudged up the icy main road to the lodge for dinner. Stars from the Milky Way hung in a stripe across the sky and looked tangible. Maggie and I spent hours over the course of the semester just being in awe of the expansiveness of the sky. But there was food to be eaten and conversations to be had, and the stars would be there afterwards, always constant and worth seeing even if it meant lying outside in sub-zero temperatures. This was place defined by authenticity. Vershire provided each of us forty-five students at the Mountain School with space and time to be our true selves, which sometimes meant writing haikus inviting friends to tea breaks, reenacting the entirety of the Lord of the Rings series, and writing out the questions to our existential crises on blackboards in the humanities room. I like to believe that this genuineness was due in part to being in such a beautiful place. Emotion is like a gas in that it has no physical boundaries; the happiness we experienced by learning about each other, taking care of each other, listening to everyone’s individual stories, and finally being able to recognize each other’s silhouettes in the dark seemed to roll off over the mountains. We knew the trails well enough to navigate back to our dorms in pitch darkness with ease. We know that our minds lie connected under the constellations of this uninterrupted world we called home. We felt that place by opening ourselves up there together, by not being rejected for anything, by sipping tea under the firmament of memories and looking back only to make sure we hadn’t left anyone behind along the way.

-A. Ze. F’13

Lambing season begins!

“So I just want to confirm that last night, one of the sheep DID have triplets, which means we are up to four ram-lambs.”

“Wow! And they’re all rams?”

“Yeah. It’s pretty unusual.”


“Right. The RAM-ifications are unclear.”

The Mountain School is the punniest place around.


For more photos of these cuties, visit the Mountain School SmugMug page