Category Archives: Buck Brook Farm

Buck Brook #10: Catamaran

The Saint Johns River runs to Jacksonville, on the very north east corner of Florida. It starts more than half way down the Florida peninsula. It is one of the few rivers that run north in the United States.

map INT.png

On the freeway the distance is 212 miles, yet the river is 310 miles long. The entire drop in elevation of the river is 30 feet — running downhill the height of a three story building in 310 miles! The drop is about one inch per mile, compared to one foot per mile that keeps our irrigation canals moving. The result is a full third of its length is made up of meandering.

river INT.jpg

The flow in the river is so lackadaisical the entire river is basically a long lake. Perfect for a lazy floating along on one of Green Valley School’s catamarans.

The breeze was warm and just enough to cause movement on that very responsive craft. The moonlight was twinkling on the still water.

A slice of Florida paradise, mid-winter, 1969.

corc INT.jpg

Buck Brook #9: Last Orange

One of the staff members at Green Valley School had a friend who lived near the Florida campus where we enjoyed our Christmas retreat. We were invited, so several of us decided to spend an afternoon visiting. After a short drive we found ourselves being shown around the friend’s orange orchard.

Our host pointed out Florida oranges have the advantage of exceptionally clean water coming from wells in the middle of a very long sandbar. We call this sandbar “Florida.”

Some researchers had become curious about where this wonderful water comes from. As I remember they introduced radio isotopes in several places throughout the midwest and waited to see which particular signatures of isotopes appeared in central Florida. It was discovered this magnificent water enters the ground up in Indiana or some such, one thousand miles away.

In other words, the water has more than a thousand miles of earth to filter through before being sucked out of the sand for Florida oranges.

Orange Tree INT.png

I wondered just how pure the water was now that it had isotopic tracers in it, but I sure enjoyed that right-off-the-tree orange! Succulent and sweet and oozing orange lusciousness!

As we were stuffing wedges of warm, juicy orange in our mouths our host looked around his little patch of orange-orchard paradise. He drew in the fresh aroma of the warm Florida air. And he commented that this would change soon. The Walt Disney company had been around talking about building a second amusement park, even bigger than Disneyland.

This was Christmas time, 1969. We were eating oranges twenty miles south west of a quiet little town called Orlando. Walt Disney World opened in October, 1971.

Buck Brook #8: A Timely Decision

The primary purpose of our annual winter retreat to Florida was to get the staff together to conduct the business of Green Valley School. So, soon after our arrival at the Florida campus, we were all sitting around discussing investments, purchases, and possible expansion.

There was little discussion. “Sure, that sounds good,” and we were on to the next item. Ping. Ping. Ping. Vote. Vote. Vote. We were easily on our way to having business done in an hour. I suppose tens of thousands of dollars were committed.

Then someone proposed one little $2.50 change. Suddenly it looked like we might not be out of the meeting until the end of the week.

It was proposed we raise the allowance for students from $2.50 to  $5 per week and we raise the weekly stipend for staff from $5 to $7.50.

Only $2.50 more per week. It made little difference to some, but tobacco and alcohol were the only things not provided by the school. For some of us that extra two and a half bucks were well worth fighting for. Skin was in the game.

The discussion went on. And on.

And on.

Decades later I mentioned that meeting to my brother-in-law. He had been hired to establish an electric utility outside of Portland, Oregon. He said he had been in many meetings where multimillion dollar transformers, reels of wire, and other equipment had been purchased without comment. But one day they were in need of a pickup truck. Just a pickup truck to toss some tools in the back and run off to a job. For the next several hours the discussion raged — Ford? Or Chevy?

In Florida, we took that extra two dollars and fifty cents and never looked back!

Buck Brook #7: Trip to Florida

The end of December came, the kids left for home, and the rest of us headed south for our annual meeting of the Green Valley School staff. Buck Brook was one of the campuses of Green Valley School, headquartered in Orange City, Florida.

I’d never been further south on the eastern seaboard than Trenton, New Jersey, so the trip was an anticipated adventure.

There were perhaps seven of us and, as I remember, we decided to drive to Florida in three cars. I ended up with Arthur and Ann Gunderson and their young son.

We were fairly close, the Gundersons and I. Arthur’s job was to oversee the construction projects at Buck Brook, make purchases, and coordinate with building codes and inspectors. Ann was in charge of coordinating the kitchen, ordering supplies and making sure we staff all got our turn at cooking and cleaning.Their son was a bright and engaged kid. So I was glad to share the ride with them.

MAP INT.png

As much as I enjoyed working with Arthur, he was a source of grousing among the students and staff at Buck Brook. I saw his fussing over minutia as necessary to coordinate materials and construction projects while many students and staff grumbled about his not getting the free-spirit let-it-flow nature of our environment. (Even I had to agree the gawd-awful little tin shower stalls he ordered from some catalogue were — well — gawd awful compared to the roomie and conversational three-head open shower they replaced. But Arthur explained an up-to-code tiled communal shower would cost a fortune compared to the tin stalls, and watching the budget was one of his challenges.)

That was our Arthur. And Arthur was my ride. And when we got to Florida there was more than one pair of rolling eyes accompanying inquiries as to how I stood the extra twelve hours it took us to finish the straight-through, all-freeway drive.

Well, OK. When we were finally at the Florida boarder and cruising along nicely, Arthur did just blurt out, “the car could use a wash.” Just out of the blue. Worse, he took the exit we were approaching and started looking for a car wash. Yea — that time I was ready to just jump out and walk.

But there was also the time we were passing Washington, DC. It was the middle of the night and Arthur and Ann started pointing out distant landmarks of a town they had spent some time in. When I said I had never been to our nation’s capitol they immediately agreed something must be done about that and pulled onto the surface streets and circled the Capitol Mall for me.

Yea, it took us another half a day to reach Florida. But I had learned you can wash your car any time and any place you want. And I had seen our Capitol for the first and, so far, my only time. And we had stopped for some nice sit-down eats instead of dealing with paper on our laps and a ceaselessly moving, cramped vehicle.

I told those rolling eyes that Arthur wasn’t that difficult a character to enjoy.

Buck Brook #6: Perfect Ski

I have to thank my friend Jim Knosp Housley for jogging my memory. He was shocked that our first time skiing at a resort was our last time skiing with the Buck Brook students. His reaction jogged yet another memory from that winter of 1969 – 70.

The memory is a short vision of an effortless ski run. It was a vision that changed skiing for the rest of my life.

Indeed, Jim, I must have taken the students and staff on at least one more ski trip to the Pocono Mountains that winter. And I do vaguely remember finding another ski hill to check out.

The proof of both another trip and a different hill is my watching a skier from the lift. This skier was passing on our left side, opposite from where the run was on our first trip to the Poconos. Otherwise I remember the resort being similar to the first, with one lift and one run in a clearing between the trees.

The chair I was riding had passed the first pole holding up the cable when my eye was caught by a female skier making the most graceful decent of a hill I had ever seen. No effort at all. She just held her poles straight out to her sides and she did not turn. Nor was she just going straight down the hill as fast as she could. Rather she was in complete control and merely leaning. Just leaning from side to side.

As she leaned her skis naturally following the effect of her weight and tracked to the left or right.

No effort.

Just leaning from side to side and letting her skis settle in beneath her.

It was beautiful. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

It was everything I had always wanted my skiing to be.

Not trying to control skis. Not worrying about form. Not launching into a turn.

Just leaning from side to side.

And because of that, in poetic form — legs together. Skis parallel. Perfect.

I got off the chair, pointed my skis down hill, stuck my arms out to my sides, poles dangling in the wind, forgot about turning — and have celebrated my association with motion and gravity ever since.

Buck Brook #5: Second Ski

After our successful adventures skiing a mighty five foot drop in front of the old farm house, I set to finding a local ski area so everyone could experience their first ride on a chair lift.

This was 1969, long before the internet, and I don’t really remember just how I went about finding a place to ski somewhere near the western part of the Catskill Mountains. I suppose I hunted for ads in a magazine. I know you are far too young to remember them, but magazines were kind of paper blogs.

Regardless how I found it, I did come across what sounded like a superb hill. It was across the Delaware River in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. It was not a particularly large ski area, just one side of a rather short mountain, but it did have a chair lift running up the side of what looked like a fairly gentle slope. A first-time skiers paradise.

We packed into the van and headed on winding roads through the forests.

A surprise was in store.

It was a nice sunny day and the “ski resort” looked good as we drove in, a cozy lodge looking through the bare hardwood trees surrounding the groomed run.

I knew from their brochure there was only one run. Yet I was immediately struck by how small this “ski mountain” was. Perhaps a 700 foot drop. And, yep, there was an actual chair lift packing people up the left side of the open run. On the other side of the run was something I had never seen — a line of snow making guns running the full length of the run.

Between the lift and the guns was an treeless hillside some 500 feet wide.

And that was it! The entire “ski mountain”!

But it was a ski area all the same and we were all glad to be adventuring. I parked. We opened the doors. And instantly my second shock at skiing the Poconos came rattling through my brain.

Take a hill full of folks skiing. Add two metal skis to everyone on the hill. And then make the hill a dome of ice.

Not snow, which dampens the sound of skis. Especially metal skis.

Ice.

The racket was astounding. Amazing. A thousand small caliber rapid fire machine guns would have been drowned out by the sputtering clanks of chattering skis echoing over the countryside.

During a break from skiing the good folks in the lodge explained the snow cannons were not run on the weekends so the skiers can enjoy the run. We were there on a weekday.

We all learned how hard it is to fall on ice. And what it is like to move through a fog of blasting ice crystals spewing from water cannon. And we never went skiing again.

Buck Brook #4: First Ski

I got to Buck Brook in the fall of 1969 and it wasn’t long before the snow was gathering. Having been raised at the base of a ski mountain in the West, the staff and students figured I’d make an excellent ski instructor.

“Just take the kids out to the hill in front of the farm house …” was the Head Master’s solution to finding a place to get ski legs under folks from ten to twenty-two.

Well. The “hill” in front of the farm house was about fifty feet long. The snow by this time was close to two feet of powder. Less than a third of the the “hill” in front of the house was steep enough to pull skies through that much fluff.

photo-post

But you ski what there is to ski. So we got together on a sunny afternoon after rounding up boots and skis and poles. Kids and staff figured out the double-laced leather boots of the time and got somewhat used to tromping through snow in stiff boots while carrying awkward equipment to the front of the farm house. They struggled with the cable bindings, the bane of “safety” requirements until step-in bindings were developed. And we lined up on top of the hill.

I don’t remember having much to say but am sure I explained some principles of the snowplow turn. Mostly I remember just pointing my skis downhill and letting ‘er rip.

I’ve never been much of a powder skier and don’t know why I didn’t think to have everyone sidestep down the hill to pack the snow. The run was perhaps fifteen seconds long but enough to have me thinking this just might be a lesson that turns everyone off to skiing.

I stopped and turned and watched as Chaney, another staff member, turned to the hill, held her poles out, and started to slide. Within two feet she was in trouble and within four she was making a spectacular display of flying snow covering her face and getting into every possible opening of her less-than-ski-worthy warm clothes.

A complete disaster. What was I doing? What to do now? Failure, failure, failure.

Then Chaney popped up out of her white lump in the snow and declared,

“THAT WAS FUN ! ! !”

Everyone immediately pointed their skis downhill, held out their poles, and let the snow fly.

By the end of the day I was looking for the closest ski hill for a soon-to-enjoy outing.