The yurt inquisition

Roots grow deep and strong

Soil sticks to my running shoes

My skin darkens brown

Cherry Valley, NY – I’m kneeling next to my grandmother, planting tomatoes. Wind pushes across the lower fields and cools my skin. This is my homeland and the sirens sing me back every planting season.

Cherry Valley soil is different than Adirondack soil. It’s nutrient-rich, dense with clay and strewn with flint. After a hard rain, it clumps to your shoes. My grandmother removes a young plant from the tray and places it in my hand.

“So, tell me about the yurts. Yurts? Did I say that right?”

I nod and tuck the roots into the hole I’ve dug with a deer antler. My family has heard rumors of the Osgood Pond Semester and they have lots of questions. And they’re not the only ones…

Osgood Pond Semester Top 10 FAQs

What’s a yurt?

A yurt is a round dwelling traditionally used by nomadic people in the steppes of Central Asia.

What are they made of?

Yurts are made of furs, skins and canvas. Ours will be a combination of canvas and tarp.

Will there be running water?

Nope. Each yurt will have two 5-gallon jugs for drinking & cooking water. Hand wash water will be obtained from Osgood Pond. The yurts will be equipped with hand-washing stations and biodegradable camping soap.

Will there be electricity?

Nope. At night we’ll use headlamps and lanterns to find our way.

What will you do for heat?

Each yurt will have a small wood stove.

When are they built, and when do you move in?

The yurts will be raised around June 23 and (if all goes well!) Andy and I will move in June 30.

What will you do for showers and laundry?

We’ll have access to the facilities at Paul Smith’s College, although I have a feeling we’ll be using the beautiful Adirondack lakes and ponds for bathing during the summer months.

How many students in the program?

There are eight students in the program.

When do they arrive?

The students will arrive August 19, one week before regular classes begin.

Can you live in the yurts during the winter?

Yes. They stay nice and toasty, and handle large snow loads well.

The Biggest Question: Why?

After the logistical questions, I’m often asked, “Why do you want to live in a yurt?”

This question gives me pause because I have so many answers. Sometimes I comment about our changing global environment or the excellent opportunity for hands-on outdoor education. Sometimes I think about where I grew up, playing in fields and building forts along the riverside.

My grandmother hands me the last plant in the tray. “Well, I like the idea of it,” she says. “It will teach the students the meaning of hard work.” She grew up a scrapper surrounded by brothers. She’s a small woman, but she’ll grab a chicken and chop the head off without flinching. I think of the eight students in our inaugural program and of the typical student who chooses Paul Smith’s College — they know the meaning of hard work. They thirst for it.

That may be the leading reason why I want to live in a yurt. It’s going to be hard. And the hardest things we tackle in life are usually the most rewarding.

A beautiful day in the Adirondacks

It’s a beautiful day in the Adirondacks!

I woke up this morning to loons, calling back and forth across Osgood Pond. They sounded like wolves. The moon is waning and the earth is waking. Trillium and trout lilies are popping along the trails. Deer that hunkered down for the winter have pushed further into the woods—preparing for birthing season. The last few days have been sunny and dry. Earth beneath the evergreens smells like cotton candy. It’s a blessed and bug-free time of year in the Adirondack Park.

Last weekend, a few hundred students at Paul Smith’s College donned their caps and gowns, walked across the stage and entered a new chapter in their lives. Six years ago, I was one of them. It was a damp and cold day—wind streamed across Lower Saint Regis and pummeled the tent. Power went out during the President’s opening address. Nonetheless, it was remarkable. And quite fitting to the spirit of the Adirondacks—which can be harsh, yet rewarding.

What connects people to place?

There’s no denying, Paul Smith’s College is a special place. Conduct a random poll on campus asking why people come here and the majority will say something about the landscape or nod towards the lake and silhouette of Mount Saint Regis. Something pulled me here as a student and something pulled me back as a faculty member.

What connects people to place? What makes a place worth protecting? This blog aims to capture life on Osgood Pond through a mix of essays, reflections, recipes, poetry, images and video. Students in the program are exploring current environmental and social issues through unconventional college life and recreation inside the amazing Adirondack park. The purpose is to tell a story and record a history—not just of this generation, but the ones before and the ones to come.

I hope you enjoy!