Category Archives: New York State

Buck Brook #27 – Unsuspecting Cow

The educational approach at Green Valley School, and our campus at Buck Brook Farm, was students having hands-on experience with the world we live in. One annual hands-on experience we practiced at Buck Brook was getting close to how we satisfy our appetite for meat. 

The campus had a small dairy operation that supplied our fresh milk. It was up the hill from were most of us lived and we didn’t spend time there. The guy who spent all his time there was about my age and he came visiting on occasion. To this day I can smell the combination of odors that seeped from  every pore of his body and from every fiber of his clothes. A very earthy aroma that professional dairymen call, “The smell of money.” 

Pungent as his aroma was it also manifested a cow’s warmth. I suppose I associate the smell from childhood times at my uncle’s farm when he milked his five cows and squirted streams of milk right from the teat into the mouths of the waiting cats. That manure-strewn shed was a young lad’s adventure.

One day the dairy guy at Buck Brook ran off with the headmaster’s wife—something that caused a stir! The fact they took one of the school’s credit cards to finance their escape got things even more riled up.

Before that particular ruckus the entire population of Buck Brook Farm trekked to the dairy where a cow was brought to the yard. We all gathered facing the submissive animal while one of our students volunteered to do the deed that had to be done. One blow of the sledgehammer between the eyes and the cow buckled to the dust.

None of us complained when our getting close to the price of how we come to eat meat was cut short. We did not hang around for the gutting and cutting. And now that I think of it, the dairy guy who knew about feeding and milking cows was probably not qualified to do the butchering. It’s likely a professional butchery was hired to pick up the carcass and finish the job in their certified facility. 

Buck Brook #26: Undies in a Bunch

The summer of 1969, while I was exploring the Catskill Mountains of New York State, Merle Haggard and his band The Strangers were touring the Midwest. Years later I heard a radio interview with a band member. He told of passing a doobie around the bus when he saw an exit sign for a town in Oklahoma. He casually remarked, “l bet they don”t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.”

The guys on the bus had a good time coming up with things folks don’t do in Muskogee—and things they do do!

In late September, 1969, Merle Haggard and the band released a new album called Okie from Muskogee. The title song, written by Haggard and drummer Roy Burris, was at the top of  Billboard’s Hot County Hits by November 15th. It stayed there for four weeks. Indeed, Okie from Muskogee is still recognized as a “redneck anthem.” (See Wikipedia)

The next summer, with the Vietnam War (and the protests against it) still in full swing, we staff and students from Buck Brook Farm headed out to enjoy a local Catskills fair. When we got out of the van our “beads and Roman sandals,” much less our “hair all long and shaggy like the hippies out in San Francisco,” left no doubt we were from “that alternate school” everyone had heard about.

Fortunately we were known for not causing neighbors trouble and we paid our bills on time, so we had a good reputation. The afternoon was spent checking out exhibits, rides and fair food, with no disrespect shown between anyone. 

Then came the evening dance—

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—the event where everyone gathered at the same place.

We Buck Brook bunch joined in dancing to the local band as it thumped away at well known standards from the forties and the fifties as well as many of the new songs folks were listening to on the radio that summer. After a half hour the band struck up, “I’m proud to be an Okie from Muskogee.” Everyone knew it was coming.

I glanced around the crowd and saw many adult spines straighten up, like seeing “Old Glory down at the Court House.” And many of those folks were staring at we bunch of hippies!

My reaction? I hate to admit it but I was raised knowing I was homosexual in the 1950s and my default response was to be challenged and afraid.

The students? Every one of them immediately gave out a joyous cheer, jumped to their feet and danced with abundant joy, their hair shagging wild in the air. All the other kids joined in. It is a great dance tune, after all.

We “adults” got over our bunched up undies, got a grin on our face, and enjoyed the rest of the evening.

I was so proud of those kids.

Buck Brook #25: Adirondack Posh

Having spent my summers in the peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, I was not sure what to expect of the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. 

I was aware of the Adirondack’s reputation. Native Americans knew the damp, cold hills as the Dismal Wilderness and early European explorers figured they were right. The Romantic Movement of the 1800s, however, found the remoteness to be nature’s haven from the evils of industrialization. Romantic art bathed the morning mists in glowing reds and yellows. Popular poets and essayists inspired adventurers back to our primitive selves. Summer camps sprang up. 

Me? In the summer of 1970? Well, I didn’t expect it to be the young Western mountains I knew from the Sawtooths, with a maximum altitude of 10,751 feet. And I knew the Adirondacks (maximum altitude 5,344 feet) were a more rugged area than the beautiful Catskill Mountains (4,180 feet) where I had spent the last year. 

Me? Between curiosity and new adventure, I was all in. 

The Romantics were right when they painted the Adirondacks. The scenery is stunning and the air is as bracing as any I have enjoyed on a mountain morning.

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Even with all the glory of nature, however, what has stuck with me over the years was discovering how two centuries of providing the wilderness experience has left the “campgrounds.”

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Heading into the upper Adirondacks where we knew there was a place to make a base camp, my thoughts were a site with a designate fire pit and a trampled down area to toss a sleeping bag. Just like every other wilderness campground I had ever encountered. To my surprise a house was waiting for us!

OK. In the Adirondacks it was called a “lean-to.” But to me it was a three-sided house. It had a wood floor. It faced a well constructed rock fire pit that included seating on rocks and logs. And the structure was thoughtfully placed with its back to the wind. 

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A flat spot to sleep with no rocks or roots poking through sleeping bags? Protection from wind and rain and morning dew provided with a solid roof? 

Now that’s Adirondack posh!

Buck Brook #24: Adirondacks Abuzz

In the summer of 1970 one of the Buck Brook staff planned a hiking trip in the Adirondack Mountains. The Adirondacks are fabled for their beauty and only 200 miles north of the Catskills where our campus was located so a half dozen of the students and I jumped at the chance to join him.

Catskills Location

Catskill location

I have no idea where we drove to in the Adirondacks or what trailhead we parked at or what mountains we went off to climb. But I well remember our plan — we’d arrive at the trailhead too late to make it to our permanent base camp so we planned to walk for an hour or so, set up an overnight camp, and the next day reach a high altitude camp where we could leave our eighty pound packs and adventure out to explore different peaks. 

It was a pleasant day when we parked at the trailhead and we all enjoyed a trek up a slight slope until we came to a wide meadow near water. We had walked for an hour and a half after a long ride in the van and were glad to roll out our sleeping bags. 

Then the slapping began. And the waving. And the dancing and cursing. The mosquitos had found us and had told all their friends a most tasty picnic had conveniently brought itself to them.

So many mosquitoes were an assault on the expectations I had from having been raised in the desert climate of southern Idaho. There was no way I was going to be in mosquito infested mountains for a week with no repellent so I volunteered to head back to the van, get to the nearest town, and stock up on spray. 

One of the students said he’d trot along and off we went. 

Beating the approaching dusk and traveling without heavy packs we covered that trail in record time, found five or six cans of repellent, and got back to camp before dark. Everyone was glad to help empty some of the spray, saving plenty for the rest of our journey. 

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The next morning we sprayed ourselves, broke camp, and started the four or five hour hike to find an appropriate base camp. Within twenty minutes we noticed there was not a mosquito to be heard. Day after day and night after night we never encountered another annoying high-pitched buzz. Only when walking back through the very spot we had camped the first night were we confronted by that annoying sound. It didn’t last long enough to bother unpacking the cans of repellent. 

Yes, we did have to add those cans of spray to the weight on our backs for the entire trip. But I was still glad the two of us had made that extended dash.

Buck Brook #23 – Gassed

Once a week at Buck Brook Farm we gathered together and committed GI. Don’t ask me what the term “GI” had to do with scrubbing the kitchen, but gather and scrub we did.

On one such gathering several students and I were assigned to the walk-in cooler and it came time to mop the concrete floor. 

I’ve always been dedicated to doing a good job while using as little time and effort as possible. I had also learned ammonia is great for cutting grease and bleach can’t be beat for sanitizing surfaces. Bleach also has the advantage of turning things white, a selling point when getting concrete to look clean. So, several good of glugs of both ammonia and bleach went splashing into the mop water.

I was rewarded with a medium boil immediately activating the mix and a noticeable mist rising from the bucket. 

Just then the the kitchen manager happened to need some help at the stove so I left my station and went to lend a hand. I was so proud of my cleaning concoction that I immediately told the manager about it, flourishing the story with how active the mop bucket was with the bubbles and mists.

And my reward for solving the war on grim and germ? — A kitchen manager dropping parts of the stove as she went screaming toward the walk-in. “Get out! Get out now,” she repeated as she ripped open the door and grabbed the mop bucket and scurried to the kitchen door. She dashed to the middle of the school’s driveway and threw the solution on the ground, all the while yelling, “stay away — stay away.”

Who would think my two favorite cleaning products would combine to produce chlorine gas? And that chlorine gas quickly damages lungs and can soon lead to death? 

Perhaps I should have paid more attention in eighth grade chemistry. 

In case you, dear reader, were distracted during those tender years, here’s a web site with helpful hints on what common products to avoid mixing. 

Personally the whole experience has me reluctant to mix chemicals the pharmaceutical industry tells me to toss down my gullet.

Buck Brook #22 – Spilt Milk

I am ashamed of two times during my year at Buck Brook Farm. 

One was when I was driving the pickup on the back roads of the Catsill Mountains. There were three students in the bed of the truck and they were insisting on standing up, looking over the cab of the truck with the wind on their faces. Were they enjoying their inner motorcycle Wild Ones? Their inner tail-wagging, tongue-flapping happy Black Labs? 

I had said they need to sit down and I got pissed. I stomped on the brakes (not at a speed that could toss them out, just make them feel how dangerous it is) and I came storming out of the cab in a hissy fit worthy of the Church Lady catching her teens playing doctor. It was just stupid. The kids did sit down but I still see the look of “what a jackass you are on” their faces.

The second ridiculous fit was one afternoon when it was my turn to do the cooking. 

Students were generally banned from the kitchen unless they were doing chores and none of us were to eat from the kitchen other than at meals. How else could we know the kitchen would have supplies when it came time to feed everyone? 

While I was pulling large pans of chicken and sauces and rice around our commercial range one of the older students came in and headed to the walk-in cooler after having grabbed a drinking glass. As he opened the door I asked what he was up to and he said he wanted some milk. I told him he could wait until dinner. He rather shrugged that off, opened the door and started pulling the lid off the big metal can that held our cow’s milk. 

milk can INT

As he reached for the ladle that hung next to the milk can I looked at a fellow staff member and commented that since he wants milk we should make sure he gets plenty. The other staff member got a twinkle in his eye and we picked up the milk can and poured the entire contents over the student’s head. And told him to clean it up.

Ya think we had one unhappy teenager on our hands?

He ran to the barn and started pulling on the cord that rang the fire engine’s brass bell, loud and clear for all to hear. That was the only time during my year at Buck Brook that a Community Meeting was called. Everyone came running to the library to settle a mutual crisis.

The student gave his case of my overreacting and I should clean up the mess. I stood my ground on being in charge of the kitchen. Students and staff voted and the student was not happy about walking back to the kitchen to clean up spilt milk.

When he finished and was walking back to the library I headed to the kitchen to finish dinner. We exchanged a smile in the hallway. I liked that guy and hoped my smile did not come off as a triumphant smirk. I also thought I could have just let him have a freaking glass of milk.

Several days later some of us were chatting and he said he had amazed himself as we passed in the hall that day. “All my life I’ve felt consumed with hate and anger when things like that don’t go my way. But I wasn’t upset with you at all. Not one bit. I think that’s cool.”

I have always been too impatient to be a good educator. But I guess my impatient jackassery did some good that day.

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Buck Brook #21 – Rusted

This story from my time at Buck Brook Farm in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York is for the amusement of my friends of the Western states. You folk from the east and midwest will fine it an excuse to ask, “What? Doesn’t everyone use their floormat to keep their feet off the highway?”

Actually, the answer is no. No, we do not.

I was twenty-two before I landed on winter roads in New York State. My driving skills had been honed in the traffic and on the mountain roads of Idaho. And in Idaho we used sand to give traction on our winter roads. Not salt.

Sure, sometimes a rock got through the sand sifters and rock chips were a part of windshields and paint jobs. But the undercarriage of our car lasted longer than the engine. 

Imagine my discomfort when I got in one of the small sedans of a Buck Brook staff member and felt lumps under the rubber-and-carpet floor mat beneith my feet.

It turns out the lumps were the frame of the car. Between the beams of the frame there was nothing but the highway zipping by at fifty miles an hour and only inches from my precious tootsies!

The car’s owner laughed it off with a shrug, sped up, and replied, “Oh, sure. This car is over seven years old and I never bothered washing off the salt.”

What? One has to wash the bottom of a car?!

They are funny folks, those Easterners.