Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I went to the memorial service on Saturday afternoon for the former co-director and co-founder of my Alma Mater, The Mountain School, in Vershire, Vermont. Doris Conard was also my sophomore English teacher. She died last week (Times Argus obit), aged 83 years, technically of Alzheimer's, but she really just stopped eating. Her husband, Mac, and her three sons, Nat, David and Peter, along with several alumnae and former and current teachers, current TMS students and Vershire residents, were at the service. David told us that, unlike the stereotypical Alzheimer's patient, his mother always recognised her husband and children, kept her sense of humour, and that her disgust of George W. Bush never faltered!

The service was very simple, some music interspersed with Quaker meeting-like silence and opportunities for reflection and expressions of remembrance. Strangely, it's always been Doris and Mac. You could not have one without the other. Mac opened my eyes to environmental writing (Walden by Henry David Thoreau and Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold ended up being the sacred texts of the school). Doris instilled a love of language and words. The great advantage of going to TMS was that learning happened outside of the class room as well as inside. Doris encouraged her students to keep a journal and "commonplace book," where they could jot down pithy sayings. She also introduced me to I.F. Stone's Weekly, a rabidly leftist newsletter, and his commentaries influenced my activist politics at university in the late 1960's.

I recalled towards the end of one meal at TMS - meals were served "family style" and students & faculty sat together - Doris exclaimed, "I have had a sufficiency; anything else would be a superfluity." She wasn't being pretentious or haughty at all. Just and unabashed exuberance and joy showing. I was a young 15 year old at the time and laughed nervously when she said it; but I wanted to know what the words meant, and after doing my dining room chores, I went scurrying to the library bookshelves to look up them up in the Thesaurus and dictionary.

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