A Gnome’s Diary

pouch_no-wordsIn the institute, gnomes are those “behind the scenes” helpers who put on the experiences others enjoy.  They play a vital role in all institute programs, and they often hone their skills at Cedar Cove. Those who are already familiar with the institute’s work, and want to help support its home base, can find a niche in the Cove. Here’s what Maarten van Hardenbroek, a Dutch volunteer, did during his stay…

hand-p131January 13  I was very excited today when the train stopped at the Hinton railroad station.   And after my seven-hour ride from Washington through the beautiful tree covered slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, I was happy to get out and breathe the air!  It was Steve who picked me up from the station and brought me to the cozy spot of Cedar Cove. How strange, it wasn’t much more than a year before that I met Steve at an Introductory Workshop and heard about “the Cove” and doing internships over there, and now I actually arrived.  So here I am, alone in the little Gardenhaus, not really knowing what everything will be like, but happy to be out, out, OUT of my usual rhythm of studying, working, being busy, and city life…

January 19  Snow today!  At once the whole area is white and covered by this soft, cold layer and everything looks so different now.  The remains of last year’s sunflowers in the garden and the wooden stands of the “bean tipi” now look really weird.  And more new things today: Cristiano arrived from Italy, which was difficult because the snow made the access to Cedar Cove very slippery and difficult.  It is nice to share the Gardenhaus with Cristiano and not live there alone anymore.  We both like to cut wood for the little woodstove and walk around in the Lost Kingdom.  I also look forward to seeing other people coming later this year.

February 1  Let’s say something about the ways of living lightly at Cedar Cove.  A lot of natural materials have been used for construction and on the interior of the buildings.  Complete trees are standing in the Great Hall now and the fireplaces are also made of big stones.  In the daily routine it’s quite easy: there is a compost pile, energy efficient bulbs and so on.  And when the temperature falls (and belive me, it does!) the only way to keep warm is to use the wood-burning stove.  It is my and Cristiano’s task to keep all the fires burning when there are no others around.  The wood all comes from the property itself.

earthkeepers-logoFebruary 12  I just got back from the McKeever Center. I went there to see the Earthkeepers program, which they run many times during the year.  It was arranged to give me the opportunity to actually see what is in the earth education books!  Kids were having so much fun even though it was very cold and we had snow for most of the time.  And I do think they took some important ideas home with them.  I will come back to this place later in the year for another program.

February 30  It’s so beautiful here!  At night the sky is extremely clear and one can see right through the Milkyway.  It’s not even possible to try to write down everything.  Maybe most important for me is to experience a life without all the temptations and pressures of the city: the quiet, the ease, the silence.
March 1  Funny that I just wrote that.  It isn’t only serenity I’m dealing with here! There is a lot to do: helping with the construction and maintenance of the buildings, painting, planning a garden and ordering seeds, keeping the fires burning.  Usually, I’m really tired at the end of the day.  But often I finish the day making the bread for the next days.  I really like doing that myself and it is not so difficult to learn, using the special bread book.

sunship-earth-logoMay 2  I really had a great time in New Orleans where I visited Sue Brown and spent three weeks at their place, T.R.E.E., where they run the Sunship Earth program.  This has been a very special experience for me! Sue and her staff put so much energy into the program to run it perfectly.  And the kids give so much back!  I think the kids really learned a lot of things. They learned about the earth, but also about themselves and each other.
May 15  It’s wonderful to be back at Cedar Cove.  Everything is growing.  Most of the plants that I have sown came up.  I’m spending more time in the garden now, as it requires a lot of preparation and care.  There may be a late frost still…May 27  I’m dividing my time now between gardening, mowing the paths on the land and caving with Makoto. Makoto is a Japanese nature photographer.  He makes great pictures.  He showed me the slideshow about Cedar Cove that he made during previous visits.  It is truly amazing. Going in the caves under the Lost Kingdom is really wonderful!  We have spent so much time there in the wonderful dark world where no light ever comes.  Still there is quite some life in there!  Bats have been hibernating there, many places are inhabited by crickets and we have also seen salamanders!  And then there are some truly amazing formations in the caves. Makoto made a lot of pictures and I helped him with the lighting.  We have also improved the existing map of the caves, so there is one now showing all these wonderful places correctly.

June 6  I do a lot of small jobs inside the Great Hall.  Stuff has to be moved so we can paint everywhere in the Hall and put the tiles of the floor in place.  And I do a lot of painting!  I also helped Roger with some carpentry work.  I don’t have a lot of experience with that, but I try to learn some things by watching and helping Roger.  He’s quite a funny guy and it was really kind of him to take me to an open air theatre nearby some days ago.  I like all the work here fine, but I also enjoy sitting back and relaxing and having some time to read books from the library!


July 9  I will go to the McKeever center again.  This time I will not go to see a program but to help lead one.  I really look forward to putting some of the things that I learned into practice.  Happily, I have been paying a lot of attention during my stay in New Orleans at T.R.E.E. and I have been preparing well, so I hope things will be fine!  I leave the garden in the hands of Mieko, a Japanese intern who arrived recently.   I’m sure she will be OK here, but it can be tough from time to time to be here completely alone if there is no one else on the weekends working or living here.

head-p105July 14  McKeever was great! I love to actually do the program that I’ve been reading about, but it’s really hard to do a good job.  Leading the activities really requires some skill and practise. Now that I’m back I really have to start mowing the paths again.  The grass really grows a lot now, so it has to be done, but working those noisy machines isn’t my favorite work here. And add to that the burning sun and the ticks swarming the place.  Yesterday I almost killed a little turtle that was hiding between the grass when I became a bit bored by the monotone mowing.  Anyway, it’s part of the job and if this is the worst, I should not complain.
July 17  In the garden everything is growing now.  I’ve been eating lettuce and radishes and carrots already.  I hope there will be some beans as well, soon.  The garden requires a strict watering schedule.  The plants really need watering every day in the hot weather that we have now.  If I don’t do it, all the labour will be fruitless.  I also check the plants for insects that like the plants even better than I do.  Overall, There are no big problems with pests.  Fingers crossed.
August 2  I’ve met some more folks at the Executive Staff Meeting here, which gave me the opportunity to find out some more about the organizational structure of the Institute.   A lot of talking, but it is especially nice to see some of the faces of the people that one may otherwise only be in contact with by e-mail.

heart-p120August 8  I’m leaving this wonderful place now.  I will really miss it and I hope to be able to come back some day to see what the Great Hall looks like when it is finished and to go and look at all those places that I have been to, exploring the Lost Kingdom and other parts of this peaceful spot!

Looking back at my internship here, I think I enjoyed it so much because I had plenty of time to find my way and I knew a bit about earth education and the programs already.  I think that is necessary to really feel you are at the right place when doing an internship at Cedar Cove.  If one has less time and experience, I guess it may be better to go to a program site first to get an idea of what earth education really is about. After that one could visit Cedar Cove to get to know the Institute’s ‘hub’ and see what is going on over here. Coming here it is very nice to meet the office Coordinator, and Steve when he is at home.  I’m really glad that I took so much time for this wonderful experience, and I will never forget the most beautiful moment, sitting on a hill surrounded by thousands of fireflies.

Maarten van Hardenbroek