Tag Archives: School

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.

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.

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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.

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 #16: Final Days

Frost Valley #16 – Final Days

Bud was back in school, summer work was wrapping up on the Frost Valley estate, and I knew it was time to move on before winter made hitchhiking miserable. But there wasn’t a rush, so one day when there were no chores to do I decided to visit the Autumn-colored trail to Slide Mountain one more time. I went alone, so Bud was probably in school.

This time I encountered other climbers on the ledges overlooking the Catskills. They were young guys, mid- to late-teens. Long haired and dressed in jeans and t-shirts, they presented the perfect youthful hippie look of 1969. And they were interesting—talking of things from the planet to the stars, from books to road trips.

It was the middle of the week and well into September so I was curious about their not being in school. AHA! they assured me, but they WERE in school!.

It was a school based on Summerhillian principles named Buck Brook Farm. The school taught by doing, not lecturing. And camping in the Catskill forest was certainly something being done!

The more we talked the more they encouraged me to come and join the staff at Buck Brook Farm. The more I listened the more I came to think the Travel Gods were lining me up with a place to spend the coming winter.

One comes to trust the Travel Gods. I made sure to get directions.

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Within a week Stan and Bud drove me the fifty miles from Frost Valley to Roscoe, New York, and seemed to know the maze of backroads to Buck Brook Road and the unmarked drive at Buck Brook Farm. After fond fare-wells to Stan and Bud I hopped out with my pack and walked up to the old farmhouse across a small brook.

The headmaster happened to be in. Yes, the boys had told him about me. We chatted a bit. I was assured we were not there to be friends with the kids but to be the adults in the circus. And with that I was shown back across the small brook to the largest building in the compound. There I was casually introduced to staff and kids on my way to the second floor and a room overlooking the front drive.

I would stay for a winter and a summer.