The golden hour

Today, I start class with a journal prompt: In the past week, please list something you’ve struggled with, enjoyed, and beautiful you’ve seen…
Fingers scribble and thunderheads rise in the south. We share our struggles and they include: Finding routine and balance between yurt life and full course loads at the college, spiders, and muggy humid weather. Our enjoyments are the yurts, biking, community potlucks and games of capture the flag. The list of beauty is long. Prayer flags in the wind, kayaks on water and loons calling back and forth, a bald eagle, mist rising over the meadow after a 93 degree day, the sound of crickets, apples plucked from a nearby tree and enjoyed as a midday snack.
Prayer Flags

Prayer flags in the wind.

Reflection, feedback and problem solving are critical links to Osgood Pond Semester. I believe them to be critical links in relationships and community development as well. We must talk about what’s working and what’s not. We must talk about what we’re struggling and thriving with.
After journaling, it’s time to make a fire pit. The thunderheads rise and release a few fat drops of water. Dominic and Hanna grab shovels while Hyla and I collect rocks. I believe the fire place to be the heart of our community. Fire has power. Cooking, dancing, survival and destruction. Therefore, it’s important to learn basic fire skills.

Osgood’s first fires come to life.

The fire pit comes together nicely. Dominic slides stones into place and I set a large one in the center. The students gather birch bark and hemlock and balsam sticks. The objective today is to start a fire with one flick of a lighter. Nests are pieced together, birch bark interlaced with dry wood and one by one they’re ignited. We watch the flames rise and fall — four fires are in different phases of burning.
Hours later, during the golden hour, I set off with the camera and wander. It has been a full day. I think about the beauty around me. Red maple leaves, soft pine needles, prayer flags and loons. It could be argued that all hours are golden out here. There is a calm, a comfort, even in times of stress and frustration that ebbs and flows forward. And with it, I find my next photograph.

A student kayak rests alongside the shore of Osgood Pond.



Tranquil water as clouds gather.

Good food, good company

Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend brought with it clear skies and warm air, continuing a stretch that felt more like mid-July than the early days of September.

After a two-week stretch that saw the raising of the final two yurts and even a High Peak climb, it seemed a perfect time to take a break from the physical work for a welcoming potluck right on Osgood Pond.

Faculty and friends made the trip out, sharing fresh cantaloupe, apples, rice and beans, and a pixie berry pie with its fruit ingredients sourced just a dozen feet away.

With supper coming to an end and dusk fast approaching, the evening turned from a relaxing dinner to something of a quicker pace: a game of capture the flag. A handful of students from campus joined in, and before long, an eight-on-eight backcountry battle carried on for well over an hour until the “campus” team, its prison crowded with all but two from the “Osgood” squad, took the final flag.

Off to the High Peaks

5:45 a.m. The alarm sounds. Coffee. Banana. Packs and gear are strewn across the floor. Food is pulled from the cabinets. I check the weather app. High 80, Cloudy, 0% chance rain. Looks like a perfect day to go for a High Peak slide climb.
Our destination: The summit of Grace Peak via the slide. Formerly known as East Dix, Grace is one in a range of five High Peaks and comes in at 4,012 feet. The mountain was renamed last summer in honor of Grace Hudowalski, the ninth person and first woman to climb all 46 High Peaks of the Adirondacks.
Looking off toward Dix from the summit of Grace.

Looking off toward Dix from the summit of Grace.

Andy and I meet Dominic, Hanna and Mitch at the Post Office at 7 a.m. Dominic and Hanna are Osgood students and Mitch is a PSC friend along for the adventure. Expedition is a key aspect of the Osgood Pond Semester. It’s important that we explore and have the proper knowledge to navigate our big back yard. In Lake Placid, we pick up one more hiker — Henrike, a German friend living in the states and wishing to climb a High Peak. In two cars, the six of us journey along Rte. 73, pass through Keene Valley and pulled over next to the Bouquet River.
Midway along the Grace approach is this pristine pool high along the Bouquet.

Midway along the Grace approach is this pristine pool high along the Bouquet.

The morning chill is quickly burned away and fleeces are removed and stashed in packs. Our first break is along the shores of a stunning back country river pool. It has been a dry summer and the water levels are low. Three miles in, the incline steepens. We follow a river bed, rock hopping and trying to keep our shoes as dry as possible.
The Group

Dominic, in the yellow shirt, spent this past summer working trail crew in Colorado, while Hanna, second from left, has a great appreciation for nature and animals.

About a mile from the summit, the birch forest opens up and we see the start of the slide. We leave the trail and opt for thick slabs of Adirondack rock. This is a good place to test out shoes and grip. Fifteen minutes later, the slide opens up and we can see the Bouquet River valley. White limbs of birch stretch upwards and the late morning sky is hazy. Giant Mountain rises in the east and we’re able to make out the ridge line of Dix Mountain.
Mitch, Dominic, Hanna, Bethany and Henrike look off toward the southeast.

Mitch, Dominic, Hanna, Bethany and Henrike look off toward the southeast.

After a refuel and stretching session, Dominic, Hanna, Mitch and I start our slide climb. While Andy and Henrike address the limitations of their worn soles and bush wack over to the trail. We’ll all reconvene at the summit. The slide is steep and burns your calves in places you were never aware of. It feels great. After each section of steep upgrade, we pause and stretch. The end of the slide is a fun meander of small rock climbing problems. We enjoy the pursuit of personal routes, rest on rocky perches and sit quietly—looking out and around.
Lunch and conversation on Grace.

Lunch and conversation on Grace.

On the summit, we join Andy and Henrike and a crowd of weekend hikers. As a group we find a quite, sunny spot to enjoy lunch. Clif bars are unwrapped, bananas unpeeled and G2 powder sprinkled into water bottles. Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont lie before us. Birds swoop up and down, riding the thermals. We try to determine if they’re hawks or vultures. Stomach side, I lie down and take a deep breath. The body at rest feels amazing.
Mitch, Hanna, Henrike and Dominic atop Grace Peak.

Mitch, Hanna, Henrike and Dominic atop Grace Peak.

The descent and hike out passes quickly. Henrike and I talk about environmental issues in the United States and Germany. She comments on the amount of individual cars in the United States and how we use a lot of plastic. It boils down to lifestyle, habits and behavior change. At times, the environmental and social problems of the world overwhelm me. I take a deep breath and remember: One step at a time. Just like climbing a mountain or living in a yurt. Life is truly an exciting journey and we can choose how to honor it.

Photo gallery: Yurt-stravaganza

After three consecutive, hard-working days, the Osgood Pond Semester crew banded together for the two final platforms and yurts — capped off with a pizza-and-cake birthday celebration for Brady Butler.

By Sunday night, we were sun-tanned (or burned), blistered and, most of all, ecstatic to have brought the yurt site to life.