Friday, 16 Jul 1999

Craftsbury Common, Vt.

The Sterling van will depart at 8:00 this morning for an all-day rock climbing trip to New Hampshire. Today provides an opportunity for me to display the skills I have acquired in a “Bounder” course — a semester-long class designed to promote group dynamics, outdoor recreation, and personal challenge through adventuring in the out-of-doors. The course began with a “ground school” and soon led to top-rope climbs on nearby ledges. I have learned the proper way to tie knots in climbing rope, the proper use of climbing harnesses and ropes, and a string of commands exchanged between climber and belayer, all designed to ensure the safety of the climber.

The trip will be led by our dean, Ned Houston, who is teaching this summer’s “Bounder” course. Ned is an avid climber who joined the Sterling faculty in 1978. He teaches a variety of classes including literature of the rural experience, human ecology, and canoeing skills. Ned looks at the world through the eyes of a climber; he uses the metaphor of climbing to address the everyday challenges of life.

A few afternoons ago, I sat in his office and we discussed ideas for my senior project. This will be an opportunity for me to specialize in my field of interest, carry out research, collect and analyze data, and take a step toward the implementation of a concrete plan. The senior project is a requirement for the 17 fourth-year students in the upcoming school year. My fellow students and I are at various stages of planning. We are also looking ahead at the impact this project may have on the personal and professional decisions we will confront when our time at Sterling is finished.

I looked around Ned’s office as we chatted, taking in pictures of him climbing when he was about my age, some colorful wall hangings from other countries, a picture of one of his 30-plus llamas, and finally a computer screen that bore a web page advertisement for climbing shoes. He explained that he’d worn out his shoes recently while on a trip out west. His undergraduate degree from Middlebury College hung over the door, and I asked him why he had not hung his Harvard master’s degree alongside it. “No room,” he replied.

Ned and his office epitomize the versatility of the people at Sterling College. Although I have yet to find a passion for the rock-climbing approach to group dynamics and personal challenge, I love the fact that each Friday I am led up rock facings and granite outcroppings by the dean of our school. I love that our president, an author of books on mountain rescue and a recognized authority in the field, helped me move in on my first day here. I love that my peers are botanists, writers, canoeists, farmers, and fly-fishers. And I love that I am a part of this college community.