Sunday, December 14, 2008

Half-time break!

With some time off coming to me now the semester is over, I have in mind to do some long-postponed sustainability projects.

The first is catching up on my sleep! This last two weeks, with the lowering of our NRG wind assessment tower, a four-day conference trip, repeated Introduction to CLE map-reading finals, numerous other final projects, I've been feeling a little "wore down" as Huck Finn might say.

And that is definitely not sustainable. Teaching is a stressful occupation, and the long breaks are needed to recharge your batteries.

Then I have some farming and homesteading to do. Regular readers will know that I keep a second blog at where my partner Aimee (also a UC professor) and I post pictures and stories from our adventures on a 15 acre homestead in the deep greenwood of Jackson, ME. My main project is building a greenhouse for Aimee for a Christmas gift, but we also have seven bred (that would be "pregnant" to you city folk) ewes to care for, and a borrowed ram to return to his own farm 60 miles away.

Lambs will arrive soon enough, so we have to pay close attention to the ewe's welfare at this time of year. They get extra feed, and we make sure their water doesn't freeze and so on. Daily chores get harder to do as the snow and cold creep on. We still have to move snow, pipe or carry water, deliver feed, and move manure and bedding, even when the thermometer reads below zero in a white-out.

But when the spring finally comes, we won't miss it. We'll be right there. We live lives that are very close to nature, and thoroughly enjoy the changing seasons on our small farm.

The next is mastering the wind assessment software world. This is an indoor job. With a year's data from two separate sites, the Mt View High School site and the Kinney Farm site, I have the opportunity to create a good wind resource report for the Knox Ridge area. Problem there is, NRG only makes software that works in IBM-clone computers, and I use a Mac. No worries, the new Macs allow the evil Windows to be loaded on a segregated hard drive. For the first time, I can dink around with NRG's products in the few hours a day when I actually have time, early in the morning in my own den. Finally, I can begin to learn how to use the software. I also will be looking to find a new community wind site for my students to put up the tower and read the wind for another year. The logistics of wind assessment are formidable, and this coming year our new site might be on a Maine island, which will be beautiful, but three times as difficult to plan out.

Not sure how I feel about having Windows on my Mac, though. I'm deliberately not connecting the Microsoft partition of the hard drive to the Internet, except via the Mac partition, so as to avoid viruses. Let's hope it works.

There are lots of smaller things I want to do, like catching up on my reading. Right now I'm reading The American Future by Simon Schama. Schama, a British jew, is an interesting combination of social liberal and political libertarian, with an eye for the intricacies of the "special relationship" that I've lived out loud the 22 years I've been in this country. The book traces the recent Obama victory (how did he get it out so fast?) back through American memory to look at the peculiar mental pathways that define the roots of American freedoms. Shades of David Hackett Fisher. whose Albion's Seed is positively my favorite work of American history.

And then there's family Christmas. Most regular readers will know that Aimee comes from a German-American Church of the Brethren backgound, and her family are located in the western PA and Shenandoah Valley homelands of the Brethren, Amish and Mennonite communities. We'll travel to the Shenandoah, where we'll go to the Christmas Eve service with her immediate family, visit the Amish and Mennonite farmer's markets, loading up on "plain" food, kitchen goods, seeds, and other products not routinely available in Maine, but useful to homesteading, and visit with her extended family in the retirement community at Bridgewater College, the Brethren-run school in the town of the same name. I always enjoy touching back in with the history of the Peace Church societies in the Shenandoah. Unity itself is an old Quaker town, founded by Quakers, who helped choose it's name. The old meeting house belongs to the college now, and I use it for storage. The new meeting house is where Aimee and I were married, the first Quaker wedding in Unity since at least 1927, with a silent meeting in the old Quaker tradition.

And now the Amish are moving to Unity, Thorndike, and surrounding parts. I met their school teacher the other day. He has the same last name as the Amish family I was friends with in western Maryland. I'm glad to see them, because they feel like home. Funny how the Peace Churches always run through my life. Even when I lived in Missoula, MT, I discovered some Amish history, specifically of their involvement in WWII firefighting for the USFS. There some Amish boys even became smokejumpers during the war, as alternative service, and I made friends with one of these characters though my work with the senior center's Friday forest outings, which I ran as part of my work for Wilderness Institute, but which were paid for through a Forest Service grant.

Peace Church history weaves itself like a thread though my life. I'am also looking forward this break to reading Peter Brown and Geoff Garver's new book on economy and environment from a Quaker perspective, which I helped organize. I think it will be an important new book, and I'm excited to see how well it sells. There will also be a number of educational meetings held to discuss the book with Peace Church communities, and I may be involved. Peter gives an interview on the book at this video site here. Plain speech.

Soon enough all this relative freedom of time will come to an end, and we'll be back at college, on the starting blocks for the race to graduation in early May. The academic year, like the fall semester, always comes to an crashing, grinding end with a big last minute rush. It's never pretty. But it does always end, for which I am always grateful, just as I am now for this upcoming month of freedom.

And a new crop of UC graduates will go out into the world, hopefully to make as much of a difference, or more, than previous generations. If you want to know how successful this college is, well, you might not know, until you go to a National Park, or National Forest, or perhaps a small rural school, or an environmental summer camp, and ask around. Pretty soon you'll find one of ours. Or two, or three.

Unity graduates are everywhere and anywhere the environment needs to be protected.

No comments: