From the bright red of the Japanese Maple outside the Emma Willard House, the warm yellow Ginkgos in front of Mead Memorial Chapel, the hot pink Rhododendrons behind Forest Hall or the blazing orange Sugar Maples outside Battell, the campus boasts stunning sights year-round. For the most part, other than snapping daily nature photos to post or send to family members, you probably pay little attention to the other trees that surround you on campus. With all that has happened over the past year, it’s especially easy to lose the memories of foliage that fill out the edges of the most dramatic turning points and salient traumas. However, even though so much has changed since departing from campus last March, one thing has remained constant: our beloved campus itself. The Darkest Day Tuesday, March 10, 2020, 1:08 p.m. Campus horticulturist Tim Parsons was walking across campus, ready to prune trees, when he suddenly received the text. Ding. “Date Change: Middlebury College will begin spring break this Friday, March 13, after classes end, which is one week earlier than scheduled. This will be a two-week break with classes resuming — remotely — on Monday, March 30. Remain Home After Break: Following spring break, students who can will be expected to remain at home and not return to campus until further notice.” “I knew from the moment I read the screenshotted email, it was not going to be good,” Parsons said. “It just seemed off. Everything was so up in the air, and nobody knew what to do, or what to say. People get used to predictability, stability and it just felt off.” Parsons noted that although the reckless acts of vandalism across campus and in town during the last week were apparent, the damage did not seem to have targeted trees as student vandalism often has in the past. “I mostly saw signs being torn down, not trees that students are often keen to uproot,” he said. “It was yet another thing that felt odd.” Speaking for the Trees It is the deeply rooted love for the campus and Middlebury College community that makes Tim Parsons’ job both rewarding and a tall order. Middlebury’s campus horticulturist since 2006, Parsons’ knowledge of the college’s greenery borders on encyclopedic. A Vermont-certified horticulturist and a certified arborist by the International Society of Arboriculture, Parsons was in the green industry for more than 25 years, running his own landscape design company and a garden center for nearly 10 years. Additionally, Parsons is a past president of Greenworks, The Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association and was chosen in 2003 as the Young Nurseryman of the Year by the New England Nursery Association. Although he grew up in Connecticut, he has lived in Vermont for 22 years and now lives at the base of Snake Mountain in Weybridge, Vermont with his wife, three daughters and “too many gardens.” At Middlebury, Parsons’ responsibilities include the care and maintenance of the colleges’ robust urban forest, full landscape design and installation measures, and management of the sustainable turfgrass of the athletic fields. Along with caring for the abundance of trees on campus, Parsons has taught a “Trees and the Urban Forest” course several times, led field trips for other courses, and marshals a popular “Campus Tree Tour” each fall during Homecoming. He also writes a blog — appropriately titled “The Middlebury Landscape” — and is a member of multiple college committees such as the Master Plan Implementation Committee, the Emergency Response Team and Community Council. He has also served on the Environmental Council. “I love everything about my job, but seeing how the college landscape makes people happy is the most rewarding part,” Parsons said. Withering Life Phenology — which comes from the greek “phaino,” meaning to show or appear — is the study of recurring life cycles of the living things around us, the seasonal experiences of insects, plants, mammals and the relationship of time to weather and climate. Parsons compares this to the collective experience between the environment and people during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a landscaper, Parsons observed that the quiet looming over campus relates to the “natural ebb and flow of things.” “I don’t know the exact class schedules all that well, but people certainly know when classes are out,” he said. Parsons said after a majority of students left campus mid-March, he would walk to a certain part of campus where there are usually clusters of students studying or socializing, but there was no one there. “The first week or so it’s nice to ride on those silly Gators and not be in the way of folks, but after that, it just wasn’t the same,” he said. “It was just really sad.” “I remember the CFA parking lot is filled with crab apples. When those come to bloom they are absolutely spectacular,” Parsons said. “I was actually quite excited to see them this spring because I had never seen them bloom without any cars in the lot, so I made a specific point to walk to campus to see them.” But the crabapples did not bloom. “Horticulturally, trees and shrubs sort of had their own pandemic too,” Parsons said. “We had a severe drought and it didn't rain for weeks on end. Lawns turned brown, leaves started to fall early, and wherever I looked, plants looked lifeless, much like how I felt.” Parsons explained that like people and the pandemic, it can take years for the trees to fully recover from damage. “I spent the whole summer watering trees, and I don't remember a year it was this dry for a long time,” he said. “I had hoped that some of the high traffic locations would receive a much-needed break, but the drought was so bad, there wasn't much of a difference.” Throughout the summer, Parsons took solo walks around campus, checking in to make sure everything was still okay. He noted that the treasured hot pink Rhododendrons behind Forest Hall did, in fact, bloom as usual, a stark reminder of the loss of spring, and especially graduation. According to Parsons, the bright flowering bushes were planted there to serve as the original ceremony location, with chairs extending out across Battell Beach. After planning for the commencement ceremony all Winter, Memorial Day weekend eventually came that May, and with no students to graduate, Parsons had that weekend off for the first time in 15 years. “When the students are gone after commencement and before language schools, it’s peaceful and nice, but after a couple of weeks of that, everyone’s ready for the energy to come back,” he said. “The whole point to working at the school is to help the students out, and that’s why we’re here, so it just doesn’t really feel right when campus is empty.” Instagram Updates Known for sharing snapshots of the college’s picturesque landscape, his family, sleeping pets and even an occasional baked good or two, Parsons’ Instagram (@middland) also happens to be a favorite account for many Middlebury students. His captions shared are pure musings that bring Parsons’ love for the small joys in life to the public eye. On March 13, Parsons wrote, “Adopted a plant today, I named it Riley. Goodbye to all my student friends leaving today, hoping to see you again.” And on a photo of an empty campus, a sarcastic, “Day one at Middlebury College. 9:00, sidewalks filled as students walk to class.” Parsons continued these logs the rest of the month, updating his followers on the life they abruptly left behind on campus. “Day three at Middlebury College. Cross country trail, missing the runners on the blue sky day.” “Day four. One of my traditions after the students move out is looking for rocks geology students don't want to bring home and leave in parking lots. Here's this year's finds. Anybody want to ID?” “Day five, quiet.” As warmer weather arrived in Middlebury, Parsons continued to updated his small but mighty fanbase on the still life coming back to campus, highlighting the blossoming of White Siberian squill, serviceberry, daffodils, magnolias, the redbud trees in front of Axinn and the green grass beginning to show on the lawns. And on May 24, a picture of a flowering crabapple tree. “Today would have been the day I decorated the commencement stage at Middlebury College then waited to see my former students and friends march in. So to them, I say so long, good bye, come back soon. Wish you could be here. #middseniorcelebration.” One student commented, “I miss the campus trees,” to which Parsons replied, “and they miss you!” Parsons’ consistent updates continued throughout the summer, increasing as the date drew nearer for the August return to campus. He posted photos of the Adirondack chairs in storage, ready to be set outside again for use, renovated outdoor classroom spaces for the new norm of safe, socially distant learning and a shot of the Brobdingnagian tents outside of McCullough wittily captured, “Intense.” And in October, Parsons called to action his growing fan base to fundraise for financial aid at the college. “As the Middlebury College arborist I've learned that the strength and resilience of our urban forest is based upon its diversity,” he commented. “If you can, help the ‘MoveMidd’ effort to help keep Middlebury the inclusive space it is. Link in bio, I figured out how to do that.” Nearly half of all Middlebury students receive financial aid, and as the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues, disproportionately affecting students of color, that number grows and the need for student academic funding rises. “It’s important for everyone to have the opportunity to learn here, regardless of their background,” Parsons said. Parsons’ fall semester updates petered out in December, ending with a quintessential photo of Mead Memorial Chapel that read, “And, just like that, campus empties out again, and it's just the cold trees and I. Hopefully students are returning in a couple months, if everyone can get their act together. For everyone that left for the semester, here is today at Middlebury College. We'll try and keep the snow around for your return.” Staff Shifting The college’s organic garden, The Knoll, holds a founding mission to educate and nourish its community. This came into clear focus when the onset of the pandemic left many staff and community members without a steady source of income. As the pandemic continued throughout the year, staff concerns related to employment and compensation continued to loom large. A week after students left campus, the college committed to full wage continuity and no layoffs through June 30, a pledge administrators have since tentatively extended to next July in their new 2021 budget. Although the college set up the Covid-19 pay bank to support staff members throughout the pandemic, many staff who cannot work remotely still needed to use their own combined time off (CTO) to cover their days stuck at home. While many staff members have remained at home, others have begun to return to campus on staggered work schedules. In anticipation of the community’s emergency food needs over the summer and fall, combined with the issues regarding staff employment hours, the college gave The Knoll permission to grow produce to meet community emergency food needs, and granted approval to bring in dining employees for paid full-time work over the summer. Parsons’ wife Nancy, a chef in Atwater Dining, was one of the individuals relocated there. “I enjoyed getting to work with people I otherwise never would have,” Nancy said. “Bringing staff members from other departments to work here was necessary,” Megan Brakeley ‘06, The Knoll’s current manager, said. “Even though life on campus stopped, life at The Knoll did not.” “We missed the students this year because we connect with a lot of them in close quarters through dining, and you just grow to love them,” Nancy said. “With proper social distancing, safety measures and the change in schedules, that has drastically changed.” Spaces that once connected students and staff don’t exist in the same form these days, and dining staff have taken notice. “Students aren’t gathering in dining halls anymore, so we’ve completely lost all sense of community that happens in those spaces,” she continued. “It is one of the most drastic changes to campus life, and something not easily recreated in a pandemic-safe manner.” Returning Where We Left Off Just as Dining Services prepared for another round of individually packaged meals, the Grounds Department was also busy preparing for students to return to Middlebury for the spring semester, an ominous time that marked a year since the campus was abandoned. “I’m always amazed at how smart and resilient plants are, and that’s exactly like Middlebury now,” Parsons said. Before students returned, Parsons said, larger tents were installed across campus and the golf course was groomed for cross country skiing. The carpentry shop got busy building forty new adirondack chairs to add to the fleet to promote outside socializing, and the grounds crew assembled portable fire pits. “Pro tip for students? Bring marshmallows,” Parsons quipped. “I’m really looking forward to having campus come alive again,” Parsons said that winter. “It’s comforting to know that we’ll all be together once again, and hopefully not have to miss out on another spring here.” Symbol of Our Strength From the growth around the pond behind the Mahaney Center for the Arts to the comforting line of trees between Axinn and Davis Library, the ivy-covered walls of Battell Hall to the unexpected diversity of the woods around the Trail Around Middlebury, the greenery of Middlebury College holds an important place on campus and within the hearts of Panthers young and old. And after a long, cold winter away from campus, Middlebury now invites the arrival of warmer weather, the opening of forsythia and the return of lifeo to campus as the harbingers of spring. Author’s Note: Middlebury College sits on land belonging to the Abenaki Nation, and we have all contributed and been complicit in the brutal colonization of this Indigenous land. The Western Abenaki are the traditional caretakers of this Vermont area Ndakinna, or homeland. We give our gratitude to the Abenaki Elders and Indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island past and present, and are thankful for the opportunity to share in the bounty and protection of this environment.
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The Middlebury College Theatre Department Costume Shop is accustomed to last minute alterations, so when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Vermont, employees quickly changed course from sewing costumes to sewing face masks. Led by Associate Costume Director Robin Foster Cole and Costume Shop Director Carol Wood, the seamsters immediately set to work organizing materials and mask patterns the moment the college shut down in March. “We call it the Massive Midd Mask Making Movement,” Wood said. “It’s all about the silver linings to the pandemic,” Foster Cole added. “We weren’t going to sit idly. This is bigger than a show.” Foster Cole’s best friend from high school is an emergency room doctor in Rhode Island. After speaking with her on the phone, Foster Cole realized she had the opportunity to play a role in the fight against the virus too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cloth masks are not interchangeable with medical grade masks, but can help reserve medical masks for health service professionals and others who critically need them. Shortly after most students evacuated campus, Mark Peluso, Middlebury’s director of health services, contacted Alex Draper, chair of the Theatre Department. Peluso requested the department’s costume shop sew face masks for healthcare workers at Porter Hospital, where there was a limited supply of standard masks; by that time, Wood and Foster Cole were already on it. Not long after that, the college made another mask request: this time, could the students and staff remaining on campus also be supplied two masks each? “There was no doubt we could execute this,” Wood said. After seeing a Facebook post online of the costume shop’s progress, members from the college’s laundry services offered their sewing skills and joined in on the mask-making mission. For Foster Cole, this communal effort by all ends of the Middlebury community was not left unnoticed. “I grew up in Middlebury,” she said. “It’s amazing how many people here stepped up to take care of each other.” The masks are made with cotton fabric, a layer of fleece for extra comfort and protection, and elastic bands to wrap securely around ears. But even with the stockpile of supplies in the costume shop, Wood and Foster Cole needed more materials to continue manufacturing masks. President Laurie Patton stepped in, generously offering to financially support this endeavor with personal discretionary funds for more fabric and elastic. “I love that this simple skill of sewing we love to do is helping the community,” Foster Cole said. “We’re doing it for the college, but also for the greater community.” Wood explained sewing the masks is not difficult, especially with her 11 years experience as a draper and stitcher with the San Francisco Opera, and the aid of her mother, Nancy Wood. This professional experience allows her to cut about 100 pieces of fabric for masks every hour, plus the additional three-and-a-half minutes of sewing it takes Wood and her mother to make one mask. After the measuring, cutting and sewing takes place, the masks are washed twice, pleats pressed, size marked, and packaged up for distribution: 300 masks to add to the college’s augmenting stockpile, the rest to Round Robin, the local nonprofit overseeing mask collection and delivery to Porter Hospital and other local organizations. According to Wood, the costume shop churns out 400–600 masks per week. To date, the mask makers have produced 3,000 masks and counting. Wood and Foster Cole, along with their tenacious team of sewers, do not have a numerical goal for the number of masks they are manufacturing. “We’re going to do whatever is needed,” Wood said. “Whatever it takes, however many we make, no one is going to go without a mask.” Mai Thuong ’22 is one of the students who remained on campus. She was given a homemade mask a few weeks ago and wears it on a regular basis. “We use them when we go to the dining hall to make both the dining staff and the students less paranoid of transmitting something to each other,” Thuong said. “Psychologically, it just also appears safer.” “The fashionable nature of the mask is also a big plus,” Thuong added. “When I got my masks with bright sunflowers on them, it made me really happy.” After hearing of the costume shop’s production-efficient assembly line, senior Abbey Knight ’19.75 also joined in, offering their sewing skills to whip up additional masks while isolating off-campus in Middlebury. “I love hands-on projects, so making masks felt like a fun craft project with a purpose,” Knight said. Knight is new to sewing, having learned how to this year for a puppet show. “Making masks has been a good way to learn more about the ever-mysterious sewing machine and practice the basics.” Volunteer residents of the greater Addison County have also joined in the nationwide effort to provide health care workers and neighbors in the community with protective face masks. Faith Daya of Brandon, a retired community organizer and mentor at the sewing lab at the Makery – the collaborative maker space at the Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury – is one of those volunteers. A month ago, Daya pulled together an email list of “just a few people, maybe 45 women,” sending out the call for help in making masks. “It’s truly a labor of love,” she said. “This is like having a mission, a purpose to help others.” To date, Daya’s group, dubbed “Sew Vermont Safe,” has made and donated more than 2,500 face masks to area businesses, clinics, assisted living residencies, subsidized housing works, and hospice care employees across the Addison and Rutland counties. For those interested in joining the cause and obtaining mask sewing kits, contact Carol Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org, Faith Daya at email@example.com, or visit https://unitedwayaddisoncounty.org.
[caption id="attachment_46896" align="aligncenter" width="475"] COURTESY PHOTOLewis is the last remaining member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders of the 1960s, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young Jr. and James Farmer Jr.[/caption] “Hate is too heavy a burden to bear.” This is one of the sentiments that U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) expressed when he spoke at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington on Monday, Oct. 7. The talk was also live streamed in the Mahaney Center for the Arts for students and community members who wanted to attend without leaving campus. Lewis said his commitment to fight hate continues to drive his dedication to the civil rights movement. He visited Vermont to speak about his graphic novel trilogy, “March,” and how the stories relate to our current political and social climate. “March,” co-authored by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, is about Lewis and his life’s work as an activist. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s radio broadcasts, Lewis highlights the challenges he faced and his journey to where he is today. “March” is also the Vermont Reads selection for this year by the Vermont Humanities Council, one of the sponsors of the event. Lewis, who was introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), spoke to a sold-out audience about the book, his experiences in the civil rights movement and its continuation today, growing up in rural Alabama and what he sees as modern social justice issue priorities. Lewis is the last remaining member of the “Big Six” civil rights leaders of the 1960s, along with Martin Luther King Jr., Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young Jr. and James Farmer Jr. In the pursuit of social justice, Lewis has dedicated his life to nonviolent protests and activism. When Lewis was younger, he participated in the Freedom Rides to challenge public transportation segregation, and organized demonstrations to oppose segregation at lunch counters in Nashville, Tenn. Lewis said that every year, he travels back to Alabama to retrace the route from Selma to Montgomery that he marched for human rights for people of color. At the talk, Lewis recounted the dehumanization he felt as a child when he was denied a library card due to the color of his skin, and a memory of where he was beaten by police officers and woke up in the hospital with Martin Luther King, Jr. standing by his side. Lewis has experienced multiple arrests and injuries over the years from his involvement in nonviolent protests. He considers each of his 45 arrests worthwhile — 40 of which took place in the 1960s, and another five of which occured since he was elected to congress. At the event, Lewis emphasized the importance of nonviolent protesting, and the significance of using adversity as fuel for positive change. “Those of us who got involved in the sit-ins in 1960 — we embedded, hard, the essence of [“March”] in our very souls,” he said. “Every time we were beaten, arrested and jailed, we didn’t strike back,” Lewis continued. “We destroyed by sitting in.” Melanie Chow ’22 attended the talk in Burlington with members of her Race, Rhetoric, and Protest class. She was moved by hearing Lewis speak — immediately after returning from the event, she ordered a copy of the book herself. “A lot of people are activists when they’re younger and then they stop, but [Rep. Lewis] never did — he never stopped working, never stopped caring,” she said. Chow felt the event added nuance to some of the history lessons students typically learn in school. “We learn about the civil rights movement in history class in high school, but those lessons are his life,” she said. “He was there — he lived through those experiences, and it’s really inspiring.” Olivia Peterson ’21, who attended the talk with her African American Literature class, expressed a similar sentiment. “During Lewis’ talk I found myself repeatedly hit with the realization that the man on stage before me was actually there during the rise of the sit-ins, there for the Freedom Rides, for the March on Washington, for countless beatings and moments in between,” Peterson said, “This came as a vivid reminder of how recent the civil rights movement truly is.” Peterson left feeling inspired by Lewis’ call to action. “Hearing John Lewis advocate for making the ‘good and necessary’ kind of trouble is effectively a call to not get complacent in the comfort of being part of the dominant majority,” she said. Lewis closed his speech by bringing attention to the current state of the nation, and the unruly attitudes that spew hatred toward American minorities. “We’ve come a distance, but we still have a distance to go,” Lewis said. “Today in America, there are forces trying to take us back. We’ve come too far, and we’re not going back.” “You have to make a little noise. You have to get in the way, and you have to get in good trouble, necessary trouble,” Lewis said of his experiences as an organizer. “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something, to speak up, and speak out.”