Category Archives: Hitchhiking

Buck Brook #14 – Purified Water

Come February a health inspector stopped by Buck Brook Farm to check on the sanitary conditions of this hippy public housing. While most of our operation was up to snuff he did have trouble with our water supply.

We were using water from a spring that we piped through a pump for pressure. The water was crystal clear, cold and delicious. But we were running a commercial kitchen and public housing and the rules are the rules and we needed a chlorinator to be safe.

We looked into chlorination systems and found a unit that fit our needs. We bought a large holding tank to store enough water to guarantee an even supply through the chlorinator, a good sized barrel to hold the liquid chlorine and a special pump that squeezes tubing so precise amounts of chemical can be measured into however much water we used. And we ordered the chlorine.

The chlorine hadn’t arrived by the time we were ready to test the system so we put water in the chlorine barrel to lubricate the tubing, fired the system up, and it worked like a charm. We put the lid on the barrel and forgot about it.

A few weeks later the inspector returned, checked our equipment and the ratings for the pump and congratulated us on an excellent system. As he was leaving he remembered something and lifted up the lid on the chlorine barrel. After a quick glance he let go of the lid, nodded his approval, and informed us, “You’d be surprised how many folks forget to put in the chlorine.”

From then on the campus enjoyed 100% natural spring water purified with 100% natural spring water.

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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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 #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 #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.


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.


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.

Frost Valley #15: Color of the North

Fall was gathering ‘round us in Frost Valley and once again I found myself surrounded by natural wonders that were new to me.

Having been raised in the deserts and pine-covered mountains of Idaho I was not aware of tourist industries based on people looking at forests full of colorful trees. But now, as I fed the estate’s fish and mowed the fields and cleaned up the garden, I found myself increasingly scanning hills no longer green but pocked with reds and oranges and yellows. And then reds and oranges and yellows pocked with green. Eventually the green was gone.

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TrailOne of the estate’s grandkids and Bud and I decided to check out this splash of Autumn in Upstate New York. I drove the estate’s Suburban up Frost Valley to the trailhead at the ridge of the Catskill Mountains. From there we took off on the trail Bud and I had taken when we ended up freezing under the brand new invention of a space blanket. I believe it was the trail to Slide Mountain — at 4,180 feet the highest point in the Catskill Mountains.

Eventually rocky ledges began to appear. These were not above the treeline where no trees grow, like I knew from Idaho. Rather they were flat, solid rock ledges that jutted out from the forest before falling off at a cliff. These cliffs were higher than the trees below and offered views over the surrounding forest. Before these ledges all we had seen were tree trunks beside the trail with color between them. The old can’t see the forest for the trees …


Well, folks, there is a reason tourists check out the hardwood forests of the eastern United States in the fall. The rolling Catskill were resplendent.

That night we were laying in our sleeping bags telling stories and feeling a mild wind when we noticed something odd in the sky. We got up and checked out faint, huge balls of glowing light fading in and out in the far northern sky. They were silent. Their light was like the eerie, soft light of fireflies. Their light also slowly increased and decreased like the light of fireflies but much bigger and, perfectly proportionally, much slower.

While firefly light is definitely golden yellow this light was a muted aqua green.

We got up and sat on the rocky ledge of our camp, tucked into a crevice that blocked the breeze. There, wrapped in sleeping bags, we listened to the wind and watched the Northern Lights.