Category Archives: Buck Brook Farm

Buck Brook #13 – Warm in January

I was raised in Boise, Idaho, which has four distinct seasons. So I was raised knowing about the frozen tundras of January. Heck, it sometimes even gets below zero for two or three nights! Sometimes. But usually the middle teens is about as cold as we have to survive.

In the mountain country of upstate New York I learned that what we consider winter in Boise is a far cry from what much of our country considers a normal winter.

In the Catskill Mountains during the January of 1970 we spent several weeks with the daytime temperature never getting warmer than 20 degrees BELOW ZERO!

I know. That’s crazy talk. But it’s true!

And we got used to it. We still took our early morning walks. We still worked outside on the buildings, even getting a foundation under the library. And those of us who smoked still went outside to do it.

We smokers did find a little nook at the front of the men’s dorm that was blocked from the wind on two sides. It faced the south, so if the sun were getting through the clouds at all there was some radiant heat. We’d bundle up and run to the nook and get some good puffs in, maybe even almost finish half a cigarette, before being driven back in to the warmth of the buildings.

By late January it was starting to warm up. One day the sun was all but shining through a light haze and the bare trees of the forest. The light and warming air found us in our t-shirts lighting up in the light of the sun. We weren’t exactly lingering between puffs but each of us did finish our entire cigarette before heading in. It was warm and we talked about it!

On the way back to the heat of the dorm I gave in to my curiosity and walked over to the barn with the fire engine, where a long metal advertising thermometer hung. I wanted to confirm my suspicion that it was about 32. Freezing! And here we had been out in undershirts smoking an entire cigarette!

Imagine my surprise to find the temperature had not gotten to 32. It was, instead, all the way up to zero.

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ZERO!

You spend a month colder that 20 degrees below zero, folks, and you’ll be surprised how much heat there is at zero!

Joining everyone in the dorm I told them I would be telling stories of being warm at zero. I assure you, dear reader, you are not the first to hear about it.

Buck Brook #12 – Early Morning Pond

Our Florida retreat wrapped up and students would soon be returning to Buck Brook. By New Years, 1970, we were back in the Catskill Mountains dealing with the cold and snow.

The entire campus began every morning with Paul, the Headmaster, ringing the fire engine bell at 6am. We pulled on whatever pants and parkas we could find, and headed out for a brisk walk.

Yes — every morning. Even when the Catskill temperatures were well below MINUS twenty degrees!

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One of Paul’s favorite walks was up the little creek that ran between the girl’s dorm and the rest of the buildings. I don’t remember it being a terribly long walk but I do remember the winter cold and tramping down the ever increasing snow.

Our destination was a flat spot in the snow surrounded by trees. It was quite serine in a Robert Frost way, even with the noise of some fifteen students and staff shuffling about. As the seasons changed we came to enjoy this flat spot as the small mountain lake it was.

One cold January afternoon some of us actually returned to the pond voluntarily. One of the staff had an ice auger, hooks, and line and was determined to let us in on the fun of ice fishing. I have never had the patience to catch fish in a crowded barrel and I found waiting for a nibble through the ice did nothing to calm my impatience.

Buck Brook #11: Oystering

One tradition of the Green Valley School’s annual staff retreat in Florida was an oyster bake. So it was I found myself in a canoe on the waters of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The Intracoastal Waterway is a series of channels protected from open water by islands and sand bars. It runs from Boston, Massachusetts, for 3,000 miles down the Atlantic Seaboard, around Florida, and then along the Gulf of Mexico to Brownsville, Texas. It offers calm waters for boats and ships.

I’ve always found canoes rather tipsy but along the edges of the Intracoastal Waterway I had no trouble reaching over the side of the narrow craft to start oystering. No wonder shippers and pleasure yachts enjoy these calm waters!

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The oystering was easy as picking litter from city streets. Although it was winter solstice, it was also Florida. The water was warm, some two feet deep, and clear as mountain air after a good rain. The oysters were thick as the pile on a carpet.

We had three canoes out collecting for our feast and the staff member guiding the expedition was well versed in oystering these waters. One thing he made a point of was to eat as many of the mollusks as we wanted right as we pulled them from the sea.

So we did. Popped those puppies open and tasted the squirts of water they use as a defense ploy as our knives separated them from their shell and into our gullets. They were delicious, albeit tasting mostly of the sea.

I’ve tried to like oysters that have been preserved on ice and served, dead or dying, on silver trays. But after dragging them straight from the sea I’ve always had trouble enjoying them. The taste of salty water is there but not much else.

On the half shell? Baked? Fried?

Nope. I’ve come to realize I really don’t like oysters and I’m not going to pretend I do. But those fresh and fighting from the ocean waters? I’ll give those another go.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.