Friday, April 25, 2008

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The Annual Work Weekend is creeping up on us, and my mind wanders to my memory of Jim Underwood. The picture is him in front of the house I currently live in. It is the lightweight concrete building now known as the Caretaker's Cottage. Dave Martin describes Jim's influence so well...

"As we look around the Spruce Knob Mountain Center it seems that there is hardly an item or a place that doesn’t bear his fingerprints, either literally or figuratively. In so many ways this place remains the manifestation of Jim’s work. Some of us worked directly with him, building yurts, patching things together, doing more with less. But while we think of Jim building things with his hands (and he was constantly building beautiful things with his hands) his real art was in inspiring others. That may have been by the loan of some tool, but it was as likely through the loan of a book, or some piece of advice or wisdom he had picked up along the way. Above all he was a thinker, a believer in the dignity of work, and the ability of a small group of people to accomplish the impossible; to quite literally transform the world."

Jim passed away 2 winters ago. His spirit still radiates through all parts of the landscape at the Spruce Knob Mountain Center, and his memory is a constant inspiration and guide.

~Nathan Hayes,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Spruce Work Weekend

Greetings once again from Spruce Knob! I am writing to let you know about this year’s Volunteer Work Weekend. The dates are June 6-8th. We would love to have you on that Saturday or for the whole weekend if you’re able. There will be all manner of unique tasks lined up and it will be a good time all the way around. The original thought was that this would be the best time to perform the Ulan Bator Re-roofing. That was before we were fortunate enough to secure a crew from the National Civilian Community Corps to do the work! With luck the finished product will be the first thing you see coming over the hill, and we’ll be left with the time to tackle a few other very necessary items. Among them are a bridge to Dave and Ruth Ann’s, a new chimney for Almati, flower boxes out front, and possibly even a new yurt.

You can come as early as you’d like on Friday. Meals will be provided beginning Friday night through Sunday lunch. If you are coming Friday we’ll have a potluck that night, so feel free to contribute something to that, and also any snacks to help carry us through the weekend. There will be plenty of room in the dorms, and of course camping is always an option if you like to have more space or privacy. So come up, enjoy the satisfaction of a job (possibly more than one) well done. If possible, call or write let me know you’re coming. This will help us plan for food. I can supply directions if you need them. Finally, bring your tools, creative energy, new jokes, old jokes, stories and musical instruments. I’m putting my intentions out there for good weather and hope you will do the same. I look forward to hear from you soon.
All the best,

Chris Royer, Caretaker
The Mountain Institute, Spruce Knob

Friday, April 4, 2008

Chris the Caretaker's Cross-Country Quest & Work Weekend

Greetings all! Chris Royer here, recently returned from my winter travels for another year at Spruce. I ran a retreat up at the Yurts in January which went well – we got a great deal of rest, enjoyed the challenges of simple living in the cold and found what we came for in the way of meditation, exercise, and good company. At the end however, there was still a long time before spring and the road was calling. I hit New Jersey for a Tracker School class, stopped by Ohio to visit family, and continued swiftly out to Oregon for a gathering there, seeing the oceans on both coasts in a week, which was something. From there I ran up the coast seeing some old friends and TMI co-workers, ending with a week camping on Vancouver Island. After that it was back east and down to see the folks wintering in Driggs, Idaho, back to the Midwest via Colorado, and up into Canada again before heading home to WV. I’d never had an adventure quite like it, the cross-country drive, and enjoyed a lot of other firsts along the way.

It’s been busy here since I got back, getting everything ready for our first visitors of the season, and other staff are starting to arrive. I’ll be trying on the Caretaker hat this year, fixing things and generally looking to improve the place and how we work with it. This will involve such satisfying things as getting the freezer to close properly, installing stairs to the Waterfront yurt, and discovering our true storage capacity with a deep clean of some long-neglected corners of the Library and Shower Shack. There are also bigger projects in the works, like re-roofing the big yurt, Ulan Bator. A new Bubble is part of the deal as well, in case you were worried. This seems like the appropriate place to add a plug for our Volunteer Work Weekend - June 6-8, if you’re at all interested. Email me at for all the details!

In short, the year is off to a good start. I’m looking forward to seeing new and old faces and making it out to Dolly Sods for a good long hike at some point. With luck we’ll see you up here. Till then,

Go in balance,

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Augusta Heritage Center

We at the Appalachia Program are excited about offering a new program for the kids of participants in the Augusta Heritage Center programs in Elkins, WV. The students will have the opportunity to explore Randolph County's rich cultural and environmental resources during the day, and spend the evening with their parents listening to and playing music at the many jams and concerts.

More info on the Augusta Heritage Center...

Augusta was the historic name of West Virginia in its period of earliest settlement. In 1973, "Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops" was the name given to a summer program that was set up to help preserve the Appalachian heritage and traditions. In 1981, Davis & Elkins College became the sponsor of the program, renamed Augusta Heritage Center. In the 26 years since then, it has flourished and grown. Augusta Heritage Center is a non-profit organization known nationally and internationally for its activities relating to traditional folklife and folk arts of many regions and cultures.

Augusta Heritage Center is best known for intensive week-long workshops that attract several hundred participants annually. Thousands more attend our public concerts, dances, and festivals. Augusta’s full-time staff, plus volunteers, seasonal staff, and work-study students, produce a great variety of quality workshops. These world-renowned workshops and festivals have brought together master artists, musicians, dancers, craftspeople, and enthusiasts of all ages.

Please check out their program offerings at