Students tell Lincoln’s story with words, images, recipes

LINCOLN — A group of Middlebury College students is trying to help the folks in Lincoln learn a little bit more about their town.
Students in Professor John Elder’s Environmental Studies seminar spent the past three months in Lincoln interviewing residents, making maps, producing plays and collecting recipes for a recent presentation.
“We wanted to provide serious context for conversations about Lincoln going forward,” Elder said. “How can Lincoln’s defining stories be incorporated for new residents? How can forgotten stories be reclaimed? And how does a town that’s changed so substantially over the years maintain its sense of community?”
Five student teams considered these and many other questions during their Mountain Interval Project.
Invited by representatives of the Walter S. Burnham Trust to contribute to the organization’s centennial celebration, the students presented “A Mountain Interval: The Stories of Lincoln” in Burnham Hall on May 5 as the sun set on a beautiful spring day in this mountain hamlet.
The Mapping Team worked with Lincoln Community School third- and fourth-graders to make a topographical map of the hamlet with multiple layers of cardboard, which the students then painted with psychedelic colors.
LCS students also created their own individual maps, marking places they thought were important for the town.
“I labeled my sugarhouse because it’s mine,” explained Cole Shepard in the sidebar to his map. “I like going to the (Lincoln General Store) because I like talking to (owners) Lydia and Vaneasa,” he added.
“They developed real pride in their town through sharing it with interested older guides,” LCS teachers Anna Howell and Devon MacLeod said of their students. “Their perspective, artwork and strengths were seen and capitalized upon.”
Inspired by the work of local artists Rory Jackson, Kathleen Kolb and Reed Prescott, the Mapping Team also created a new map of Lincoln. Using Geographic Information System software and Photoshop they assembled 80 layers of graphic information into one image and had it made into a poster.
Focusing on four themes — natural roots, change, spirituality and kindness — a second team presented a selection of audio stories from the 60 interviews the students had conducted since February.
Gillian Comstock spoke of tolerance:
“You know, this town has Buddhists, Yogis, Christians, Jews, and this one, and that one. This makes me think of the Dalai Lama, who says his religion is kindness. I like this and it makes me realize that Lincoln is really a town based on kindness.”
Resident Murial Orvis remembered the days when students were responsible for lighting and maintaining the fires at their respective schools.
“Things are much easier than things were years ago,” she said.
Longtime resident Mark Benz recalled the inspiring words of “old-time farmer” Fletcher Brown.
“At least once a month he would tell me, ‘Mark, you don’t have to like everyone in this community but you gotta help everyone.’ That was his motto.”
PORTRAITS OF LINCOLN residents look on during a May 5 reception at Burnham Hall for “A Mountain Interval,” a celebration of Lincoln stories presented by Middlebury College environmental studies students.
Independent photo/Christopher Ross
When in Lincoln, do as the Lincolnites do: hang out in front of the Lincoln General Store.
This is just what a third Mountain Interval team did. Drawing on 16 hours of interviews, as well as the photographs they took of customers sitting on the bench out front, Middlebury students created four podcasts and a series of audiograms — audio portraits coupled with photographic portraits of the speakers.
They presented snippets from some of the audiograms at the May 5 event.
“I learned that a simple question can open up a big beautiful window into someone else’s life,” said Middlebury senior Hannah Habermann. “Lincoln has so much to teach us about building intentional connection, about caring for people around you.”
“Lincoln has a very big sweet tooth,” said Natalie Cheung, recalling the unusual concentration of dessert recipes her Cookbook Team had received early on in the project.
There have been plenty of Lincoln cookbooks in the past, Middlebury senior Mike Palozzi acknowledged, including “some big, hefty cookbooks made for firehouse fundraisers,” but the Mountain Interval Project was aiming for something a little different.
“We wanted to bring in more stories, to honor the land and its various uses for sugaring, dairy and other agriculture,” he said.
The final product, the “Lincoln Community Cookbook,” is “organized around the circle of the seasons” and provides not only a balance of savory and sweet, but also of recipes and associated lore.
Aylee Tudek’s mouth-watering recipe for wild chanterelles comes with a story about hunting mushrooms.
“And then as we approach a familiar bend I ask the girls ‘Do you see what I see?’ For a moment there is a pause as their eyes squint and their bodies tense, then just like that, the silence is shattered by their shrieks of joy as they rush to gather the chanterelles into their basket.”
Explaining that “Lowball” is an acronym for Lincoln Old-school Wiffelball, Lonny Edwards provides in his recipe for “Lowball Chili” both cooking and sporting instruction, weaving the rich details of a cook fire into the portrait of a summer ball field.
“Put in some cumin and some chili powder and get it sizzling,” he writes. “How much you ask? Dude, you’re cooking on a campfire, you don’t measure things.”
While “arguing is a good and healthy part of the process” of playing Wiffelball, he adds, it’s important to “remember to play like children, not act like children.”
The Middlebury team printed up enough copies of the Lincoln Community Cookbook for each household in town to have one and distributed them at the May 5 program.
At the end of the May 5 presentation, LCS third- and fourth-graders climbed onstage for the final presentations of the night — a series of songs and skits.
“Yo, my duders, do you wanna, like, spread some gnarl around here?” asked a surfer-dude character during a skit narrating a series of strange visitors to Lincoln. When townies suggest he try jack jumping, he shouts, “Whoa … Sounds tight!”
“This keeps getting weirder,” said one of the townie characters upon surfer-dude’s exit.
“Yeah,” agreed his companion. “What is this, Bristol?”
Burnham Hall erupted with laughter.
“I take issue with that line!” John Elder, himself a Bristol resident, later said with a smile.
The sweetest moment of the night came when the students joined together in song.
“I was really impressed with how interested and engaged these kids were, and their ability to pull everything together with very little rehearsal time,” said Tevan Goldberg, who accompanied them on the piano. “I hope they continue with performing arts in the future.”
“On a whim I happened to see John (Elder) walking briskly on the park back in January 2017,” said Burnham Committee member Greg Orvis in his introduction Saturday night. “I immediately got out of the car and tackled him and said, ‘Hey, John, we’ve got the hundredth-year celebration of the Walter S. Burnham charter coming up. Any chance you might be able to assist us with some ideas on what we might be able to do?’ Then the next thing we know he comes out of retirement to teach this class.”
In 1918, Lincoln native Walter S. Burnham established a trust for the support of his hometown’s community and facilities. The school, library and town hall have all benefited from Burnham’s generosity over the years.
The semester-long seminar took its title from a 1916 volume of Robert Frost’s poetry. In an overview for his class Elder explained that “A Mountain Interval” refers not only to the sense of Lincoln’s “dramatic landscape” but also to time spent there, whether by one resident, a multigenerational family, or by the students, themselves, as they conducted their interviews and research.
Materials and research produced by students will be donated to the town and much of it will eventually appear online, they said.
Donna Wood, in the “Lincoln Community Cookbook,” sums up nicely what sort of community the students discovered this past semester:
“There was a man that lived two houses down and he’d be out on his porch every day, all winter long. Waving at people as they went by, during their commute hours or whenever it was. And there’s some people who, even though he’s passed a couple, three years now, they still blow their horn at that house. I can hear it! I think that’s what the community tries to do is that connectedness.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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