McKibben: Ripton trails are ‘book of the outdoors’
RIPTON — Prominent author and environmentalist Bill McKibben gave a talk and short reading last Tuesday on the Bread Loaf campus just up the road from Ripton. Rather than the usual environmental rallying cry, no matter how evenly tempered McKibben’s rallying cries can be, the talk focused instead on what the forest land around the campus, Joseph Battell’s bequest, has to offer those interested.
As McKibben puts it, the trails around Ripton are there to teach students “the book of the outdoors.”
Introduced by novelist, poet and Bread Loaf standard-bearer David Huddle as “an extraordinary mind” who “makes us see our children’s future in a way that is rock solid, illuminating and utterly terrifying,” McKibben took to the podium beneath the rafters of the Barn with modesty and good humor. Alongside him was his own admittedly “crude” sketch of trails nearby, marker on dry-erase board: the Burnt Hill, the Skylight Pond and Goshen Road. Among the discoveries he detailed, there are “spectacular sets of beaver ponds” near the foot of the Skylight Pond trail, “a series of seven or eight” that, McKibben joked, the beavers put together “without the slightest bit of instruction from environmentalists.”
Calling the summer a “pretty glorious” time of year (winter is McKibben’s favorite season), he noted that others will have to make the most of “enjoying Ripton” for him, since in his capacity as an organizer, he plans to be away, “planning a lot of disobedience.”
As a part of his group 350.org, McKibben will be civilly besieging the White House in the near future to protest a planned pipeline from Alberta to Texas. Joining him will be as many citizens as feel the urgency of the cause, among whom will number the poet Wendell Berry and author of “The Shock Doctrine,” Naomi Klein.
While, in terms of raw dollars per capita, President Obama has done more for Ripton than he has for any other district in the country, with generous federal stimulus in the wake of the “global warming event in the summer of 2008,” McKibben quietly laments the administration’s failure, so far, to take a stand on what he sees as the most crucial issue of our time. So much so that the scholar expects to spend a healthy string of days this summer in jail.
Still, kindly observation and info-sharing far outweighed any overt political concerns of the evening, facts that exist beyond partisan dispute. It is a certainty that one recent winter, while cross-country skiing on Bread Loaf mountain’s bounty of trails, “booming around a corner head-down, fast as (he) could, (McKibben) looked up just in time to see two moose in the trail about as far apart as we are,” indicating the students in the audience. He added, with a bemused smile, “They looked at me with mild disgust and walked off.”
When the talk ended, audience members surrounded McKibben. During the informal Q&A, he spoke well of the Co-op in Middlebury, Claire’s Restaurant & Bar in Hardwick and American Flatbread at the Marble Works (“one of the best pizza places on earth”).
Bread Loaf director Emily Bartels brought McKibben a handful of cookies from the refreshments table. Someone mentioned Tim DeChristopher, an activist in Utah currently facing years in prison, and McKibben glanced downward, his expression clouding for a moment. The night outside was mild and damp.
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