Lauren Brady (Semester 49) will soon be finishing a seven-week internship with Boat Shop and Waterfront Manager Scott Peterson (Semester 25). Lauren, a freshman at Bennington College, has returned to Chewonki before, working on the farm two times. She reflects on her experiences in the following essay.
Many mornings, I arrive at the boat shop just before Scott, and the first order of business is to make a fire. At 8:00 a.m. as I assemble kindling and logs, the shop is lit by the rising sun, and maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by wood, or maybe it’s the slant of the sunlight coming in through high windows and my exhaled wisps of breath, but there’s something about the stillness of the shop that feels like the early morning forest where all of this wood first grew.
Before this January, there was a disconnect in my mind between the trees that I walked or ran past on the north half of Chewonki Neck and the firewood I used to heat up South Hall at night. Working in the boat shop has helped me recognize the connection and understand the transition.
On my second morning in the shop, Scott Peterson and I pulled out several long boards of ash and assessed them for straightness and large knots that could cause problems. After many measurements, we cut them with the table saw into things that could conceivably be the legs and aprons of four rudimentary tables. The huge ash boards were fairly easy to imagine as trunks but were now carefully, if roughly, pieces of a table. That seemed like a huge transformation but it was really just the easy part. After gluing, cutting joints, tapering legs, and sanding, we fitted and glued all the pieces together and finally stained them. All of a sudden, after two weeks of attention and decision-making, we had four beautiful tables.
As we moved them from the shop to Paul Arthur’s classroom, I flinched every time they bumped against a doorjamb or didn’t land gently on the ground. I felt that I was moving trees around, carrying them to their second life. Perhaps I knew these ash trees when they stood in the woods. Perhaps I had walked by them on the way to my semester solo site and admired the deep grooves in the bark. Now they will support students’ reading and writing (and all the joy and frustration that involves). I had been one part of this transition.
Coming back to Chewonki has always allowed me to make connections between my daily life and the things that I value most. No matter when I come back, or why I come back, or for how long, the uniting factors are the beauty of the land, the compassion of the community, and the opportunity to learn from both.
I first arrived here in the fall of 2012 as part of Semester 49. That fall was a whirlwind of friendship, emotion, walks through the woods, learning, and growing that taught me to love this place. More than anything, my semester at Chewonki reminded me that I love learning, and that I have a lot to learn and a lot to do with my life.
As for many semester students, going back to “regular” life was difficult at first but applying to college helped me focus. I also applied to work on the Chewonki farm for two weeks in August. I wanted to dedicate myself to hard, meaningful work with my hands and my whole body. Those weeks are kind of a blur now but the takeaway was that I decided to apply to work on the farm for seven weeks the next summer.
Those weeks made farming a permanent part of my life. I began to see the patterns of farming, and I had enough time to understand how much more I had to learn. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, working on the farm was hugely challenging and rewarding.
Once I enrolled at Bennington College, I started thinking about my first “Field Work Term.” Every January and February, Bennington students leave campus to do work that puts their learning into practice. I’d had an interest in Chewonki’s boat shop for a long time, ever since I went sailing with Scott Peterson during a Chewonki Wilderness Trip. I was curious to learn more from him about working with wood and asked if I could spend my Field Work Term in the boat shop.
I came to the shop having worked with wood only a handful of times. Almost everything has been new to me and I am learning everything I can. Scott is a great teacher and has given me a lot to think about, including the role that education has played in my own life and how I can involve Semester 54 students in the boat shop.
My time on Chewonki Neck is once again almost up. I leave on February 20, just after working with Chewonki Winter Vacation Camp students to build toboggans. Scott and I have done a lot over the past few weeks. We’ve made four tables, refinished oars, and fitted a barrel for the Boys Camp to use as a knot-tying station. Several semester students have visited to carve sticks for “ringette” (similar to ice hockey but played in boots or shoes; very popular this winter on the Frog Pond), sharpen knives, or build shoe cubbies. I’ve been making a bowl out of birchwood. We’ve been slowly refinishing the outside of a gorgeous Hampton boat. When I leave, it will be with a sense of immense satisfaction. I know that in small ways I have played a role in making these things that many hands will touch.