Category Archives: hitch hiking

Buck Brook #3: Library

Nutritious food and active tasks that impacted the immediate lives of students were important parts of the educational approach at Buck Brook Farm. But they were not the entire picture.

There was also the library.

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Are you thinking of a solemn space with green desk lamps and studious scholars? Fahgettaboutit!

Other than the dining room, the library was the only common area on the campus. About half of the library was dedicated to couches and comfortable chairs and plenty of open space. Reading was done amid energetic youths wrestling all over the floor and furniture, arguments, necking, board games, cards, making plans and general whooping it up. Just like an old fashioned family room!

The other half of the library was dedicated to reading material. There were four or five tall racks of shelves. All the bottom shelves were stuffed with DC comic books — and only DC comic books — because they were riddled with four- and five- syllable words of dialog. The next shelf up was dedicated to pulp fiction, teen novels, magazines and similar light reading. Then the shelf with kid’s science books and illustrated how-tos, geography, technology and similar material. Next shelf up would be more complex and so on, until the classics of literature and reference works were available to any hand that wanted to reach the top shelf.

And that was as organized as the library got. No decimal system. No check-out or check-in. No rules about books having to stay in the library.

And no assignments. No “you should be reading this.” No Reading Hour or any other incentive. Just things to read.

To graduate the students did have to present a plan to study, examine, and write a thesis on a topic that interested them. The library often got used in their research, but not even that use of  the library was required.

The only rules were, 1) an early morning walk, 2) a half day doing chores, 3) unprocessed food, and 4) no televisions on the campus. This last rule kept the library full of readers.

The vast majority of our students, many of them having come from backgrounds of mental hospitals, jails, and behavioral problems, graduated above the 85 percentile on collage entrance tests.

Buck Brook #1: Introduction

Buck Brook was a campus of Green Valley School. Inspired by the principles of Summerhill School in England, Green Valley’s approach to educaiton was to feed our natural desire to learn.

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Summerhillian schools at the time catered to the wealty and talented, since public funding was not available and because their ciriculum appealed to parents pushing gifted kids. But the founders of Green Valley were convinced what is good for gifted kids is also good for every kid and, possilby, especially good for the “ungifted” — ie, the troubled and troubling students. By the time I joined the Buck Brook campus some of our students were from mental health establisments and some junvinile incarceration facilities.

With few exceptions we found most the troubled and troubling students had become bored and restless sitting in rows waiting for the teacher to again explain a simple principle to the same student. Labeled as a “trouble causer” in the teacher’s lounge, they were treated as such in the next grade. They then lived up to the expectation.

Also, with exceptions, we found kids from mental facilities had figured out the way to get lots of attention was to go for the fawning and special beds and bottles of pills that came with “commiting suicide.” If they had a pattern of suicide attempts in their history, they always tried “commiting suicide” once when they got to Green Valley.

Just once.

Rather than the fawning and drugs they expected, the reaction was scorn for not doing a good job of it. One was given a gun, shown it was loaded, and told it would do the trick. Another, having a second floor room, had a noose hung outside her window and was assured it would get the job done. They were then told if they want the attention and respect of the staff and students to come on down to the library and have some fun.

Now don’t worry, dear reader. They had just been programed for “committing suicide.” Every one of them were with the rest of the campus before the end of the day. The only successful suiside was a kid who had absolutely no history of attempts or speaking of it. And that is the pattern of most suisides.

Students got $2.50 a week allowance to spend as they wished and staff got $5 a week with all expenses paid except tobacco and alcohol. It was miles to a store or bar. It was one of the few times I’ve ever actually saved money.

Frost Valley #13: Two Fun Gals

When I hung up the phone in Pine HIll I was mostly thinking about returning to Bud and Stan and Lola and the estate I had left in Frost Valley.

When at the estate, Bud and I had often walked up the rutted road that ran between their house and the hillside. Just a few yards past their house the narrow road passed a big old barn before turning left, into a gully that led into the hills. The road became two ruts and the two ruts gave way to a visible but not-well-maintained path. Stan had said the path went all the way over the ridge and through Catskill Mountain back country. Several times Bud and I sat on a stump where the road turned to path, visiting and enjoying the day.

As I returned to the road from the pay phone at the Pine Hill gas & grub, I decided to take the long way back to Frost Valley and see if I could find that little path that came in behind Stan and Lola’s house. I knew I had to keep going north and east and eventually drop south through the forest, but my map showed no paths.

I wish I could remember the names of those two spunky gals who picked me up as soon as I crossed the gas & grub’s parking lot. I thoroughly enjoyed their company and they seemed to enjoy mine. I’m guessing they were in their late twenties or early thirties and only as I write this have I thought perhaps they were looking for something other than a little daring-do, picking up a lanky hitch hiker to chat with. I’m so gay I miss all kinds of signals from the ladies, I’m sure.

Oblivious to anything other than friendly folks who seemed chatty and interesting, I told them about returning to Frost Valley and my decision to return the long way, hopefully on the little path I had been told crossed the ridge and led to the estate.

The gals looked at one another and agreed it might be the path that takes off from Seager. “At least it heads in that direction.”

I encouraged them to let me out whenever their route took off from mine and just point me in the right direction, but they would not hear of it. Rather, they insisted they take me to Seager and point out the trail.

to Segar INTI became most thankful for their insistence. Seager, it turns out, is a once-active village that died with the tanning business. With just one home, I would probably have been carrying my heavy cotton sleeping bag some nine extra miles. And then I don’t know if I would have found the tiny path.

Frost Valley #12: Leaving Bud

When I stumbled into Frost Valley in the spring of 1969, I had been hunting out tiny roads generally heading north and east from where I had spent the winter outside of Princeton, New Jersey. When I left Frost Valley in May I kept my orientation, figuring Maine was as good a goal as any.

I suppose Stan gave me a ride to the end of the valley, where the road crossed the ridge of the Catskills and began its descent to Oliveria and Highway 28. With my heavy sleeping bag and box of paints and a little money saved while working on the estate with Stan, I was doing fine and back where I felt I should be — moving through the landscape. The unknown road to Maine was a shining promise glowing in the unseen horizon.

But my heart was a bungie cord. The further from Frost Valley I got the more I was drawn to Bud and Stan and the cluster of sheds that made up the estate’s main compound. The further I got the harder each step was. I wanted to fall into the glowing promise of the unknown road. But my heart was tied to Bud’s quiet tears.

to Pine Hill JPEG

I turned left when I got to Highway 28, headed north. My head looked forward to adventure but my feet felt no joy. Pride did not want me to go back, admitting some abstract concept of defeat, but my soul was aching. Walking on Highway 28, each step was torn by two desires.

After three miles I was passing the hamlet of Pine Hill. First thing, my eyes scanned a roadside gas & grub and found the outdoor pay phone. I did my best to pass it up.

From the moment I figured I’d call my feet were light and my heart joyful. Stan said, sure, he could keep me busy for the summer and to come on back if I wanted.

These forty-six years later I remember the joy I felt when I turned from the phone and walked across the gas & grub’s parking lot.

As soon as I got to the road, two gals stopped and asked if I wanted a ride. I took the long loop back to Frost Valley.

Frost Valley #10: Raining Dam Spikes

Well, folks, I missed having Hurricane Gerda blow me off Cape Cod, but I sure did not escape the rain.

As the caretaker’s helper on a private estate in the Catskill Mountains in the summer of 1964, I was staying in the loft of a combination barn and garage, right under the wooden shingles of a roof with no insulation or finished ceiling. The shingles spent the night dancing under the consistent pelting of pouring rain. The babbling brook of Clear Creek became a roar.

The next day Stan and I got in the Scout and headed out to see what rambunctious Clear Creek had been up to. We only had to go about 500 yards.

The structure had not been much more than a wide sluice box, more of a pass-through spillway than a structure of any height — just enough of a weir to divert some of the creek’s water under the road and through several small ponds meandering through the estate’s main compound of buildings. Even so, the dam had been substantially made, with heavy beams framing it and thick timbers for the creek to run over. The morning after Hurricane Gerda, it was largely a jumble of boards strewn down the stream.

Within the week Stan and I and a craftsman Stan knew were fixing what could be fixed, securing the beams that needed secured, and laying salvaged and new timbers across the raceway. Sturdy spikes, some eight to ten inches long, had been purchased to secure it all together. Stan and his craftsman were glad to have a hired hand to sledge the big nails through the boards.

When I was fourteen my Dad quit letting me drive nails in the cabin he was building because every nail I started was bent by half way in. To this day, be it a three-penny or a brad, if it is in my hand and I have a hammer, it is going to end up bent.

Yet, with these sturdy spikes and being all of twenty-four, I thought I had finally found nails substantial enough to withstand my influence.

Nope! After five or six spikes were beyond recognition, Stan mentioned those things cost 80 cents each. After a dozen he started commenting how far it was to the hardware store to get more. By the fifteenth, Stan and the handyman had taken over and I was left trying to look helpful.