Connecting with Community: MAlt



The MAlt participants assisted in a wide variety of tasks. (Courtesy/Adrian Leong)

By Guest Contributor

A few weeks ago, I sat in front of my laptop and filled out the application form for the mini-MAlt trip in a somewhat careless fashion.  I never even looked over my responses to any of the questions, which is something that I rarely do. What this reveals about my mindset at that time is that I wasn’t at all desperate to go.

Well, I really should have known better.

Over the recent fall break weekend, I stayed at the Merck Farmland and Forest Center in Rupert, Vt. with a group of about a dozen people. At first, sure, I was excited about going on a trip and taking a break from the rather hectic lifestyle at Middlebury, but, to be plain, I wasn’t as thrilled as I could have been.

On the afternoon of our arrival, we had a tour of the animal farm. We met the various members of the farm — the lamb, the two work-horses, a few piglets and a lot of chickens. I learned about the importance of foresight in organic farming from a worker on the farm who told us that they fenced their sheep off at the boundary of the forest. If they didn’t, the sheep would graze on the grass and deposit their natural “fertilizer” in the forests where they spend time resting and hiding away from the sunshine. In that way, the pastures wouldn’t receive this natural fertilization from the sheep, and the farm would have to spend extra money to fertilize the land. This is just one example that demonstrated the importance of modern farm ingenuity.

The following day, we got up bright and early to assist the trail maintenance manager. He introduced us to the various kinds of tools, and reminded us that he valued quality over total distance covered. With that in mind, we set off to clear a section (about two miles) of the 38 mile trail in the area. The section that we worked on that morning and afternoon had not been maintained for more than three years, so we all had a lot of work to do.

My favorite tool was the multi-purpose pull-saw, which was used to saw through relatively thick tree trunks and snap off thin branches that were sticking out into the trail. Since it was my first time clearing a trail for hikers, I felt very accomplished at the end of the day. It was great to know that my actions would benefit someone who enjoys nature as much as I do.

After a whole day of work and a great group photo, we set off on a long hike back to our cabin. We made pasta for the night, and we even cooked all the carrots that I picked from Middlebury’s Organic Farm. After some s’mores, a cup of hot chocolate and a cup of lemonade, I sat beside the fire with some newly-made friends and listened to their weird dreams and ghost stories.

Isn’t telling ghost stories the most appropriate thing to do when one is sitting around a fire and can see nothing else other than what is illuminated by the fire?

As I sat beside the bonfire, I reflected on how much I cherished this “personal time” with nature. After all, shouldn’t time off from school be a break from schoolwork? From the usual lifestyle that underlies our daily lives?

As I sat around the fire with the rest of my group making s’mores, I admired the starry night sky and appreciated the sound of the running stream 10 meters away. I closed my eyes, and took in all the flavors in nature: the slightly choking smell of smoke, the sweetness of the damp air and the comforting taste of the surrounding woods and the fallen leaves on the ground. At that moment, I knew what I had been craving since the last time I enjoyed a relaxing time in what some would call the “wilderness.”

I slept soundly that night beside the fireplace. The next morning, we left  the cabin after enjoying some pancakes cooked by our leader from Bhutan. On the farm, we worked for three hours tidying up the electric wires that were not in use anymore.

Soon enough, I realized how great an impact a volunteer can have on the operation of a farm. It was clear to me that the farm was understaffed, and they seemed grateful to receive external help.

While helping out on the farm is important, a positive attitude about the environment and the desire to transmit this passion to future generations is even more important. I see this as a mutually beneficial process — I learn about the techniques that are useful on a farm, and the farm gets extra help from outside which reduces their workload.

Unlike many city-dwellers, I have always had a strong yearning to be in touch with nature. During those two days on the mini-MAlt trip, I didn’t feel uncomfortable at any moment, even though there were no taps around from which drinkable water could flow, or clean toilet seats that I could sit on.

Today, technology is said to be able to breach the distance between people. On many levels, that is true. What many people don’t realize, however, is that nature is the most peaceful and joyous environment.

When I fail to venture out of my comfortable and convenient modern lifestyle, I feel a certain unfulfillment that I associate with lack of control over my modern, materialistic lifestyle.

As my trail maintenance guide told me, recognizing that everything a person needs to survive can fit in a backpack is the best way to understand that a materialistic life is limited.

When was the last time that you packed everything you need in life into your backpack?

Written by ADRIAN LEONG ’16

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