This summer I am a participant of the arete project, an experiment in community formation for female or gender queer identifying individuals. It is based in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina on the Arthur Morgan School campus in Celo. The program is based on the three pillars of a Nunnian education, labor, rigorous academics, and self governance. The mission statement is as follows: “The mission of the Arete Project is education towards its highest ends: the cultivation of wisdom, the living of a good life in thought and action, and selfless devotion to world and humanity.” (https://areteproject.org/)
Overall I am struck by the beauty of this place. Last Saturday I hiked to strawberry field, a huge meadow atop the ridge. This time of year it is full of wildflowers and the slightly brown grass against the blue sky was breathtaking. I felt like I could lay in the sun and look at the mountains for the entire day. I find this feeling a lot, the feeling of being caught in a moment. I’ve found it in playing with the baby goats, night swims in the pond, sitting with the rest of my cohort and crafting or reading, or watching the sunset over the Black Mountain range. I struggle to find these moments elsewhere.
There are also many moments that I do not find this. It can be exhausting to be here. Each week is filled with roughly 20 hours of physical labor, 17 hours of class and an extremely varied amount of time in self governance (this past week we spent as a group around 25 hours planning our end of program trip, talking about class ideals, learning about post-arete involvement and committees, and working on connecting as a group—the number of 25 hours also doesn’t account for small group work or the individual’s time invested in governance). On top of this, we are rather isolated in our location. The 16 of us eat together, work together, and sleep together.
As the program draws to a close there’s a lot of reflecting that I have been doing. I have already noticed changes in my mindsets, ideas about how I participate in community, my body, and how I am wanted to grow and change in the future. I have also been reflecting on the structures of arete, how they are beneficial, where they can be changed, ways I’ve felt fulfilled and where I feel is lacking. I wonder about the impacts this program will have on me after I leave and how I will engage with this space once I’ve left. There are so many possibilities for what this program can become due to the flexibility of a program constructed by its participants, and that feels just as beautiful as the fields of wildflowers.
This Fall, I am co-oping at Antioch College. My intention when I set out on this co-op was to organize and strengthen the outdoor-focused community here at Antioch College. So far, I have restarted a student-run outdoor club, made connections with other colleges in the area, strengthened connections already existing within Antioch College, begun work on organizing an outdoor experience orientation for the incoming students next year, begun applying for grants, and also begun to examine my own connection to the outdoors and how this connection affects my day-to-day life.
Something I always strive for in my co-ops is self-growth. How can I better myself through doing this? What will I learn? Should I be looking at this differently?
I think there are a few big things I have learned so far this co-op. One of my biggest struggles is finding a balance between what I expected my co-op to be and what it has been. While I feel like I have followed my intention on this co-op in working on the outdoors stuff, I find that my time is primarily spent working at part-time jobs. I work as a lifeguard, an assistant swim lesson teacher, a kitchen assistant in our school dining hall, a tutor, an RA, and on the Antioch farm. Six jobs sounds like a lot, but what I work adds up to around 35 hours a week, 30 hours being the requirement for co-op.
For this co-op I imagined myself outside with a goofy smile and lots of contentment. I imagined devoting myself to the project of outdoors club. I could see how I would shift the campus culture and get people not just outside more, but more excited to learn about nature more and be ready to incorporate the outdoors into their day to day lives. I think what I imagined for my co-op was a big feeling of fulfillment.
So in the first few weeks I thought the answer was to work more. So, I picked up more shifts and I scheduled everything and I felt like I was on track with out having a real goal in mind. I kept thinking I would get to where I wanted to be so I kept trying.
And I just felt drained.
Week five of working is when I realized it needed to change. I gave myself some rest that week. I used my free time as free time and rested or hiked. I talked to friends. I hatched a new plan. I thought to myself “The issue isn’t in that I am working too much, its that I’m not working the right jobs.” I was partly right. Lifeguarding is the most boring and draining part of my day. I understand that it could be meditative to sit in a hot room and stare at others for two and a half hours for some people but for me it just feels prosaic. That is when I applied to the Antioch Farm and for a position at the Glen Helen, a nature preserve associated with the college.
I got the job at the farm, and it has been nice to be outside. I also stopped requesting more hours at the Wellness Center, where I lifeguard.
I think a bigger shift in my daily life came from how I think about working than taking the new job.
Imagine the cold wind on your face as you fly down the mountain, waist deep in snow with a beautiful blue sky over head. Everywhere you look is covered in white and skiing in these conditions feels more like floating than exercise. It would be nice if the east coast ever saw anything near to these conditions on a good year, let alone this one.
My co-op this year has been at Montage Mountain Ski Resort in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s a small resort, servicing mostly local skiiers. The attractions here include skiing (of course), tubing, air boarding, the food court and bar within the lodge, and various events held here, such as the cardboard box derby, the downhill dummy race, the torch light parade, and more. If you wanna check out their website it’s pretty cool: https://www.montagemountainresorts.com/. I find my work and my joy here as a full time ski instructor.
As an instructor I have a few responsibilities. At the beginning of the season I elected to come in early to set up the teaching areas, and that is where my day begins. I get to the mountain just before 8 am, usually enjoying the sunrise from my car on the way there. Once there I set up the fences and flags around the teaching area, an area of about 30 yards by 15 yards, and I make sure the magic carpet lift is working properly. As I’m doing this the other 4-5 full timers filter in to the locker room, where I meet them once I’m done. Usually, I’ll have a few minutes to chat before I have to go upstairs to tech rentals for our customers. I’ll tech skis until 10 am which is our first line-up for lessons. If there’s a lesson, I’ll teach, if not, I’ll tech. At 11 am, I am done teching for the day and I can spend my time how I will until the next lesson line up at 1 pm. In my free time, I’ll either ski, to brush up on my own skiing and teaching ideas, clean up the locker room, help file rental forms, perform maintenance on rental skis, or do other small helpful tasks that keep ski school running smoothly. My shift ends at 3:30 pm, at which point I’ll head home or to get a hot chocolate which another instructor. By far my favorite part of the day is teaching.
I end up teaching both children and adult lessons, but I have to say that I enjoy teaching children more. They tend to have a lot more energy and are very transparent about what they want and need. What I enjoy about teaching is the mindset that accompanies it. The ability to connect with someone to gauge how to teach them, and to gauge what they want to be taught. Honestly a lot of people don’t want to learn to ski to learn to ski, but to have fun. The trick in these cases is how to make people have fun, but then also pick up skiing tips. Although, what I enjoy the most about teaching isn’t the mindset, but seeing how people feel during their accomplishments, or at the end of a lesson.
The biggest trial I’ve faced professionally over this co-op has been an injury. Around two and a half weeks ago, I was skiing at the bottom of a trail when I found that the bottom of my right pant leg was caught on my left ski brake. I found this out in probably about a millisecond, and in the next millisecond I was sliding on the ground. I sprained my knee pretty bad, leaving me unable to ski, and to teach, and to fulfill the primary purpose of my job.
I still find it strange that this happened. I use the same pair of skis and snow pants everyday.
Thankfully, the director of ski school was very understanding, and after two days off kept me on the full time schedule to work rentals and assist with other small office tasks, with the hope that I will be able to return to skiing before the end of the season. Yesterday would have been my first day back on skis, if not for this past weekend.
This whole season the weather has been crazy. From the beginning we would have 5 or 6 days of good, cold, normal winter temps, and then we’d have a few 40 degree weather days. That coupled with barely any snowfall (our big storm this year was 6 inches), has made a disaster for snowmaking. The mountain would be covered for a few days, and then it would all melt. This past week the whole of the east coast had record breaking heat temps, the area I’m in reaching 70 degrees. And then there was the storm.
This past Saturday our area was hit with a massive thunderstorm and tornado. No one was injured as far as I know but there was quite a bit of damage done in select areas, including Montage Mountain Resort. The resort has been shut down for this whole week while they repair the damage done. Here is a news article with some photographs: https://thetimes-tribune.com/news/national-weather-service-confirms-tornado-touched-down-in-pittston-twp-saturday-1.2160313.
Its pretty strange for this to happen. This is the first tornado ever recorded for our area in February.
Sometimes some pretty crazy things happen, and the only thing we can do is handle them as they come. We can always hope for the best conditions possible, and we should always strive to find them, but sometimes you have to ski a little crud.
Currently, I am working for the company White Water Challengers as a river guide. White Water Challengers is a white water rafting company servicing the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania. As a river guide I have lots of tasks, the primary one being guiding our guests down the river, ensuring an enjoyable and safe day. The not so primary ones include such absurdities as hiking and searching for the elusive guide gnome with my coworkers, which is continually hidden anywhere in the 6,107 acres of the Lehigh Gorge State Park, playing laser tag around the guide house property, or sharing a dinner after a long day on the river with all the various characters that I work with.
The company is set up in a way that is truly about the people, with the supervisors working and eating with us, and making an effort to get to know everyone personally.
Every day I learn more about the river, how to read the water, and the natural (and unnatural) flora and fauna here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and every day my skill as a white water kayaker and guide increases. I’m glad for my opportunity to work here doing something I truly enjoy.