Category Archives: Student Reflections

#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.”


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!

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

Sugaring Season (S’15)

“It makes a big difference to drink sap from a tree while you’re looking AT the tree.”

“My favorite part was at the end when we all sat in the sugar house and drank sap tea.”

“For me the best part was finding a bucket full to the brim, almost spilling, and taking a big drink. It was so rewarding to fill the barrel to the top.”

“The best part is hearing that in two hours, you collected 600 or 800 gallons.”

“It was 60 degrees so I wore a tank top for the first time and it was very refreshing.”

“At the end, they gave us maple tea, which is basically not quite syrup, and it was the best thing.”

“I put sap in my water bottle before break and left it… then I opened it after break and there was a very strong stench. I left it for another week before I got up the nerve to clean it.”

“Last week was the first week, and it was really hard work. I was worn out by gathering. This week, I was really amazed by how much sap there was. I was proud that it was the biggest gather in the last few years–every day at Morning Meeting Kit says, ‘Yesterday was the biggest gather of the year!’ It just keeps going.”

“Gathering was really great. I was surprised by how full the buckets were – they were really full if not overflowing. It was cool to do the process with buckets as opposed to just a vacuum system because it was so hands-on bringing buckets to the shack… It was authentic! That’s the word.”

“We gathered 600 odd buckets. We had a system going. At the sugar house, I got to taste it at every stage. Sam holds it up to the light to see how it drips so he can determine the grade – A, B, dark amber etc. It was cool because we were doing it by ourselves, but it felt like a group effort.”

“When Sam is boiling, you can see this added light and life in his eyes. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little.”

Find Your Way Back to Campus (or not) (S’15)

Each semester, students in Outdoor Program learn how to use a map and compass to orienteer. The final project is to be dropped off in a random spot a couple of miles from campus and to…Find Your Way Back to Campus. It’s an epic journey. There are even two different songs written about it. As always, the Spring 2015 students experienced to success to varying degrees… but everyone made it back eventually. Here are five different accounts of this semester’s FYWBTC extravaganza.

“Honestly, I was dreading it a little. I don’t have much faith in my orienteering skills… but I ended up having fun! We were the first group back. We got dropped off, and we immediately found where we were because we were on a road next to a field. Well, to be fair, I didn’t figure out where we were. I was distracted looking at the field. We aren’t allowed to walk on the roads, so we set off over some hills. I fell multiple times. J.C. and I nobly brought up the rear to watch for danger (that’s why we were in the back, not other reasons). We wandered in the woods and maybe on someone else’s property, but we didn’t really have a choice. And there was an American flag… that was weird. Then we made our way up several hills. We took a water break on top of a hill. We stumbled around for awhile, took a bearing, and then we realized we could see Liana’s sauna from the top of the hill. We got really excited. We sat down to eat some cookies. I was excited for chocolate chip cookies, but they were raisins. J.C. was excited – raisins are one of the few things he’ll eat, apparently. Everyone else was just quietly sad about it… I took out the raisins and buried them in the snow. Then we realized we had lost Robby and Lindsay because Robby’s snowshoe broke and we forgot to look back, so we kindly went back from them. Robby was kind of limping through the snow without snowshoes and got stuck. I stayed behind with him because I was loyal. We were not going to take the road, but then there were like 50 signs saying, “No trespassing,” and we were scared that someone would run out and yell at us. So we took the road for the last part of the walk. We saw the silo in the distance; it was like a lighthouse, except it was a silo. It was so exciting. We ran up the hill, so muddy and so happy. We were the first group back. Then we all went and had Sloppy Joe’s for lunch.”

5 word summary: Big damn hill. Raisins. Victory!


“My group brought back a dog by accident… The dog found us at the road. We thought throwing snowballs at it would make it go away, which did not work out, at all. It was funny because we were told explicitly not to bring back a dog. In his intro speech, Bruce was like, be safe, don’t walk on the roads, and DON’T BRING BACK A DOG. But it just followed us, and at first we were like, ‘Ha ha, we’re bringing a dog!’ When we found our way onto the Hemenway Tract and the dog was still there, we were like, ‘Oh…’ It followed us into Bruce’s office. We walked in and said, “Hey! We’re back!” and this little brown dog came in with us and we said, ‘We brought you a dog!’ Bruce was not that happy but not that mad either. It kind of led us home, though. Can’t really tell. Who rescued whom, man? That’s the question. The other highlight was that we stopped to eat cookies on a hill looking out over a field, and then we slid down the hill on our butts in the snow. There was a fence at the bottom and we all fell, but it was so fun.”


“My group thought we were in three different places, so we decided to walk down the road. If we hit a field, we’d know where we were. We walked down the road, and we hit a field, but we were still skeptical, so we kept walking until we saw a farm. It was Liana’s farm! Then we knew where we were. We took a bearing, but we didn’t really trust it, so we were walking through the woods like, ‘Let’s go a little to the right, now a little to the left.’ Then we found a path and followed it for awhile. We kind of followed our intuition, which sounds dumb, but it worked. We made it back by noon. Our motto was, ‘A little to the right!’ We got onto the Inner Loop across Brown Road, and we were so excited, we all kissed the ground. We almost thought we were in a totally different place and walked totally the wrong distance. That would have taken a lot longer…”


“It started out well. We cut through someone’s property – this cow field – and got to a point where we saw we would have to climb a mountain. Christina’s foot got stuck under a fallen log under the snow. Carmen had to dig her out. And this was when we had JUST started. On flat ground. So we were sitting there trying to figure out how to go over the mountain. There was this other group behind us, and then trudged pas and went straight up it. But we were thinking, there’s NO way we can do that. There were these two huge mountains. We were supposed to go up the one on the right, but we decided to go in the space between them instead, which was still steep but we could do it. We start climbing, we stop for a cookie break. Everything is going well, we’re following our bearing – until we hit Back Brook. When we hit Back Brook, we abandoned our bearing and ran to the stream. Then we realized we had no idea which way to go, so we followed it in one direction for awhile, then realized we were totally lost. We had absolutely no idea where we were. One person got really giddy, another really stressed, another angry. I started hyper-ventilating. It was kind of interesting to see all our different coping mechanisms.

I led everyone in a breathing exercise to calm us down – breathe in for four, hold for four, out for four. Then we started blowing our whistles. We thought maybe if we stayed in one place, they’d find us. We thought that for like ten seconds, then realized that was a terrible idea. We decided the best thing we could do was get to a road, so we decided to follow our tracks BACK over the mountain to the road. As we were doing that, we saw dog pee, and started screaming because dog pee means a dog which means a house which means civilization! So we followed the dog pee and dog prints along the river, and then we saw the abandoned trailer on the edge of the Mountain School property. In any other situation, that would have been SO creepy, but we recognized it, so we were really excited because at that point we knew where we were.

We followed Back Brook all the way to Hemlock Point, and then we had to walk up the slide below Hemlock Point, which was a big struggle. I mean, it’s basically vertical, so that was really difficult. But we had to do it. My asthma pump was not really working, and I thought I was going to faint. We got up to the top of the slide finally and all paused to collapse for awhile and breathe. By then, we knew exactly where we were on the Inner Loop, so we ate more cookies and then walked back. We were out for FOUR hours. When we got back, Pat made me drink three cups of orange juice in a row because I needed sugar. I wanted to vomit…”

Advice: NEVER leave your bearing ever, even if you see something. And breathe.


“I put my head down so I wouldn’t see where we were going. When we got to our spot, we were on a road going East to West with a pond and a turn, so we looked at the map, and I spotted it! I thought, ‘Wait, this can’t be right. I can’t have figured it out.’ But I showed it to the rest of the group, and everyone else agreed. I was really happy that I figured it out! Half the group wanted to go through the woods, on someone’s property, and the other half wanted to go on the roads until we reached woods that didn’t have no trespassing sign, but we decided to go through the woods. It was hard! We went up this hill to a clearing at the top. It was so nice. We stopped to take a break and take a new bearing. I was leading. The snow was up to my KNEES. I fell like ten times. Esme fell and said, ‘I need your help!’ and I said, ‘If I help you, I’m coming down with you!’ We reached an area that was posted, but we decided to go through it, and we ended up on Liana’s farm. Then we knew where we were. Everywhere we looked we saw no trespassing signs. We had never encountered that before on our practice rounds, and it made us nervous. We took a vote and decided to walk on the road. It was really nice because I got close to some people I hadn’t really talked to before. We all told stories and talked about spring break. We got back at 11:40. Bruce said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the first group back!’ I felt so accomplished.

Advice: I really enjoyed the group. Communication is key. Talk with your group and open up conversations. It makes the atmosphere more comfortable.


Thanks ZG, RM, EZM, JCP and SS for interviewing!

A Visit from Bill McKibben (F’14)

We were incredibly lucky to have Bill McKibben visit us last week at the Mountain School to talk about the climate change movement pre- and post- People’s Climate March. He showed us a number of pictures of climate protests from around the globe and shared his views on what type of action is necessary to make a real difference. A few words from his talk that stood out to me:

-2014 was the hottest year on record.

-Each degree that the temperature rises reduces global grain yield by 10%. This century we are predicted to raise the temperature 4 to 5 degrees. That’s a 40-50% reduction in grain yield. is currently engaged in a divestment campaign, particularly aimed at colleges and universities, as a way to politically bankrupt fossil fuel companies, similar to the strategy used against South Africa during the apartheid era. Bill McKibben urged all the students in the audience to ask about divestment as they tour and apply to colleges in the next year. College graduates can (should) also write to their alma maters urging divestment.

Divestment rally at UNH

-Our actions affect the poorest populations, but not the other way around, and they can’t do anything to stop climate change – but we might be able to.

Be an unbelievably engaged citizen. It’s one of the best things you can do.

Perhaps his most powerful words were those with which he closed: “Money tends to dominate in our political system, and if left unchecked, it almost always wins. But, every now and then, there’s a movement that is powerful enough to stand up to the money.” Climate change needs a movement that will stand up to the money.

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Part of a climate change demonstration in India


Here are some students’ responses to Bill McKibben’s talk:

“The pictures were valuable because they allowed us to visualize the global impact. At the same time, we were presented with a huge issue and isolated incidents where people came together. I’m not sure if there is a hopeful solution. One thing that stood out to me was when he talked about the Keystone Pipeline and how that wasn’t an issue at all until make it publicized. That made me want to know how I can find out about those things without an organization like making them famous. And it made me wonder, what else has been passed because no one knows about it?” -A

San Francisco protest against the Keystone XL pipeline

“It was cool to see pictures of non-white people demonstrating for climate change. For example, there was a picture of these kids standing in a street in Haiti holding signs that said, ‘climate change affects me.’ It was a good reminder that even the people not causing climate change need it to change.” -I

“I loved him. It was so great to see all the pictures, but he was also a little defeatist in the sense that he kept repeating it will be a miracle if we can slow things down. On the one hand, that was pressing the importance of acting now, but it also almost felt like why bother trying? So that was one thing that I wondered about.” -O

Pacific Climate Warriors

“I was surprised that he wasn’t more into individual actions – like driving hybrid cars or eating different food – because I figured he would be, but I love the work he’s done involving non-typical environmentalists.” -M

“I left with such a great feeling of respect. He didn’t promote himself, he didn’t lecture us on climate change, he just explained what he did. It also reflects a lot about Mountain School to get him here, to have him connected to the school. In many ways, I felt like he embodied the Mountain School – he was so poised, well-spoken, sincere, and inspiring.” -B

Pacific Climate Warriors and allies block coal ships from entering Newcastle harbor, the world’s largest coal port

“I appreciated that the optimistic side of his presentation was about education, valuing us and our ability to make change. He was essentially saying, you are valid citizens even though you are 16.” -E

“He just knew the facts; they were completely internalized.  He knows what he’s talking about, so I trusted him a lot. Remember when I asked him for recommendations about how to stay informed, and he suggested this website called Grist? I went and looked at it last night, and it’s really cool: it has a lot of good information and the layout is really engaging. He riled me up in a positive way, especially with his talk about the divestment movement and that focus because it’s so applicable at this point in my life as I’m about to enter the college process. It was inspiring to see someone who cares and is taking action, and the images of all the people who are inspired. It shows that something is potentially being done.” -A

Fighting, not drowning


We were very fortunate to have such an opportunity. Thank you, Bill McKibben!


(Photos from, Huff Post and Green Peace).


Pigtales (F’14)

Greta F’14 describes her experiences on the pig chore for the first two weeks of the semester:

The piglets in May. They’re not this cute anymore, sadly.


Tell me about your favorite pig memory.

People sometimes would volunteer to come feed them with me and that was a good bonding experience. One time Ella went with me, and she was so excited to see the pigs. It was super cute, and she got to feed them. The mornings were not that fun: I had to get up really early, so it was mainly me on autopilot in a huge coat, freezing, and there was dew everywhere and I had to walk through this really tall grass to get to them. But when I fed them before dinner, it was nice walking past all the barns as the sun was setting, with the higher contrast of colors and longer shadows.


What was your most memorable pig experience?

It was the second or third day, so I was not super acquainted with the job or with Gwynne, who is the person to talk to not just if there’s a problem but if they need more food or whatever else. So I was really new at it. It was morning, and I got up early to feed them so I could shower afterwards (because they always get your legs really dirty), and when I got there, one was just outside of electric fence enclosure, digging up dirt, doing its thing. I didn’t know what to do, and I was alone, kind of internally freaking out. So I turned off electric fence and decided to try to wrangle the pig. I tried to get it to go back in for about 5 minutes, but it turns out that pig wrangling is difficult and actually not achievable alone. Then I did perimeter check, looking at the fence to see what the problem was, but nothing was wrong. There was no hole, nothing.


After I spent an hour trying to wrangle the pig back into its enclosure, I finally closed it into a cow pasture because that seemed like the best available option. Then I ran to the top of Garden Hill where the chickens were to see if maybe Gwynne was up there walking around. She wasn’t, but Ben was there, so I said, “Ben, a pig got out and I don’t know what to do,” and Ben said, “I don’t know what to do either,” and we stood there for a few minutes and tried to figure out a plan. Then I ran around campus for 15 minutes on a search for Gwynne, and couldn’t find her, so I went and had breakfast. (I fed all the other pigs first, by the way – I didn’t just abandon my job). Gwynne was nowhere to be found, but Marisa got a hold of Gwynne somehow, and she used her magical animal skills to wrangle the pig. Later I found out what happened: the water got too low in their tub, and if it’s too low, they get aggressive with it and they’ll tip it over. That’s what shorted the fence and allowed the pig to get out. You can’t let the water get below the halfway point.

So that was a very stressful situation and kind of my intro to the Mountain School. But it could have been much worse. For example, Lucy, who has the chore now, has been peed on by the pigs. See, the pigs are kind of stupid because if one does something, all the rest will do it. If one pig falls asleep, they all will; if one starts eating, the rest will start eating. If one pees, they all will, and they projectile-pee. Lucy got stuck in the crossfire today. She told me, “It was like a laser maze of swine urine!” The entire time I was feeding them my biggest fear was being peed-on.


How would you describe your connection with the pigs?

One the one hand, I like them a lot. They’re a lot like dogs: they want to be near you, they’re social, they don’t mind if you pet them… On the other hand, if you take a picture of them, their eyes look dead. I pretty sure that’s a sign that they’re vampires or something, isn’t it? I named all the pigs that I hate, and my favorite one too. My favorite is the brown runt; I named her Meredith. I appreciate her for being so chill and unique. I named the one that got out Wilbur, and coincidentally he’s Ella’s favorite, so I try not to hate him too much. Also these genders are completely arbitrary – I didn’t bother to check. There’s another one that looks a lot like Wilbur – they’re both intimidating and large with spots – so I named her Wilma, in case I get them confused. Then there’s Willa. She’s the one that bites.

I’ve been bitten twice, both times by Willa. The pigs are really into rubber and feet. When you go in, they try to nibble at your feet, which mostly turns into your getting really dirty because they’re rubbing their snouts on your legs. But sometimes they get really adventurous, and they bite you. I don’t really know what their end game is because I don’t think they’re carnivorous. I prefer to think of it as a love bite. It doesn’t hurt. I think they’re just curious

When “Meredith” was really young, the other piglets used to pick on her because she was so tiny. It was tragic. Apparently pigs and humans have very similar bullying tendencies.


What advice do you have for future pig-caretakers?

Mainly don’t let the water get too low. And don’t get peed on. You have to give yourself half an hour to feed the pigs because invariably it takes longer than you think and it takes a full ten minutes to get there and back, although of course right after I finished my rotation Gwynne decided to move them closer to central campus. I think she had a vendetta against me.


Describe your pig-experience as a haiku.

Constantly afraid:

They are faster than I am,

But we are still friends.



Thanks GZ for the interview. Photo credit to CM & DA.

Journal entry: Chores (F’14)

Mountain School students keep journals as part of their English class. Every week they write a minimum of three pages about whatever they want and hand in the journal to their teacher. At the end of each week, the teacher reads aloud a selection of anonymous passages from the journals in class. Many students say that “journal reading days” are one of their favorite memories of the academic program.

The following is a journal entry from a Fall ’14 student.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

11:01 am @ my desk

I just took a break from history homework to complete my bathroom-cleaning chore. As I crouched on the floor, sweeping my hand across it with the blackening sponge, I realized that my chore is instilling in me the Mountain School mission statement: to “learn to know a place and take care of it” (Student & Parent Handbook, 3). The place I’m referring to specifically is the bathroom. I’ve had the opportunity to explore all corners of the bathroom – so I know its physical make-up. I’ve also had to restock numerous rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, so I know the behaviors of the bathroom. In addition to developing the knowledge of what it is and how it works, I’ve begun to take pride in its upkeep. As the vase of flowers wilted (the flowers that had welcomed us on our first day here), I developed a minor amount of shame because I had not found the time to pick fresh ones. But now, thank goodness, the yellowed water has been dumped, new flowers snipped from their stalks, and all is well in my dear bathroom!


#tmsprobs (F’14)

We are so excited that Fall ’14 is underway! It’s been a busy first week: working on the farm (over 530 lbs of broccoli harvested on Monday, for example), starting classes, getting to know dormmates, trying to avoid signing up for a first humble, learning how to work the Hobart dishwasher, and of course trying to remember everyone’s name. As the Fall ’14 students settle into their new home and routine, they’ve already identified some classic Mountain School struggles, or what we’re calling #tmsprobs. Graduates, can you think of a few of your own?


When I’m harvesting with my Spanish teacher and wonder whether to speak to her in Spanish or English… #tmsprobs

When I forget my flashlight and have to walk back to the dorm at 9:25 pm in the dark and it’s too cloudy to see the stars… #tmsprobs

When the notes written in my desk drawer from 8 years ago are too faded to read… #tmsprobs

When I somehow lose my cloth napkin and have to wait a week to get a new one… #tmsprobs

When I’m trying to split wood and my safety glasses keep sliding off… #tmsprobs

When I get woken up by cows mooing outside my dorm at 5 am… #tmsprobs

When I don’t get woken up by cows in the morning because they’ve been slaughtered… #tmsprobs

When I’m in my dorm and I can hear literally everything the people in the next room are saying because the walls are so thin… #tmsprobs

When I try to shake out some Boraxo and end up with a giant mound in my hands… #tmsprobs

(Update: problem solved. Shout out to Annie for drilling a hole in the top of each Boraxo bottle so that not too much soap comes out at once).

When I have dinner dish crew and all five classes the next day… #tmsprobs

When I can’t fit all the food that I want to eat onto my plate… #tmsprobs

When I want to listen music in the Harvest Kitchen and there are only three stations to choose from, and two play country music… #tmsprobs

When all I want is to go for a run, but I’m still not allowed to go on the Inner Loop alone… #tmsprobs

When I forget my gloves for work period and have to run all the way back to the dorm… #tmsprobs


When I get hay in all of my clothes during work period and wonder if it will ever come out…#tmsprobs

When there are crickets chirping in the library and/or your bedroom at night… #tmsprobs

When I can’t sit down in class because my legs are too sore from wood-splitting squats… #tmsprobs

When I try to dump the mop water in the trough and end up spilling it all over my pants and feet… #tmsprobs

When I spend 30 seconds trying to find the flush lever on a composting toilet… #tmsprobs

When I don’t know whether to wear pants or shorts in the morning because I don’t know what my work period will be… #tmsprobs

When my English class meets outside and I can’t hear the poem over the cows… #tmsprobs


(Inspired by Tobold F’14)

Solo Spring ’14

Spring ’14 students have been griping recently that they were mislead – the season we have lived through for the last three months fits no one’s definition of spring. It’s been all George R. R. Martin style winter all the time.

We have finally, in the last week, progressed into spring. It is warm enough that the lettuce we’ve been sheltering in polyhouses all winter can now grow outside. We no longer have to wear more than one layer of pants. The fields are slowly turning green. All very exciting.

But none of that mitigates the fact that when we left for our three day solo camping trip on April 23, it was very cold and many of us camped on or right next to snow. Two of our three nights in the woods had below-freezing temperatures. Some of us even got snowed on the last morning. (Thanks, Mother Nature). The good news is that the second full day had beautiful weather, so everyone was able to enjoy at least one day of sunshine and warmth.

Liam's beaver pond (just another reason to be jealous)
The beaver pond at Liam’s solo site

Every semester, students go into solo expecting to be enlightened by nature and return fuller, better humans with profound new understandings of the world. As Grant said, “Before solo, I had this expectation that I was going to have deeper thoughts than usual. That’s something I’m never going to be able to do. I’m never going to be a meditator. I just pushed down trees and talked to myself.”

Here are some other students’ reflections on their solo experiences:

“There were these moose tracks all around my site. I was clearly staying as a guest in someone else’s home.”

“I tried to look closer at what was in the woods.”

photo 2

“A lot of what I did on solo was sit in places and just look.”

“I found flagging from a previous solo. It was cool because I realized, I’m not the only one who lived here.”

“I thought a lot about the happiness you get from yourself vs. the happiness you get from other people.”

“I was scared that I would be bored, but then I walked around and realized it was OK to be alone.”

“On solo, I would think of something, and laugh out loud. I kept cracking myself up and it was so wonderful.”

“I felt at peace with myself in a way that I haven’t been before.”

“I was always trying to drive myself to be more productive – to read, sketch, draw a map. Then, the last night, I decided I didn’t want to do that.”

“I worried that once I was alone, I wouldn’t have anything inside of me to be interesting. But I sat and watched bugs for awhile and realized they have really complicated lives.”


“I usually have something I have to do. On solo, I was able to sit in a hammock and do whatever popped into my head.”

“Every train of thought I had on solo led back to the same place of feeling lucky.”

“I felt grateful to see the beauty of nature.”

“I thought solo would be refreshing, that I would not have to focus on what other people want me to think. I would finally be able to concentrate on one thing. But instead, I let my mind go and got pulled in all different directions.”

“I was really surprised by how self-sufficient I was able to be. I got really into problem solving. Usually I’m so focused on efficiency and moving on instead of focused on finding a solution.”

Congratulations, Spring ’14! We’re proud of you!