“What ARE you?” 

I was young, maybe 20, hanging out at The Treasure Chest, a vile bar on South Beach in Miami. I was taking a break from ignoring assignments handed out in the course in English Literature at the University of Miami. I’m not sure how it happened that I was in Miami making up the credits I had vaporized in my junior year at Kenyon, but I think I was also “house sitting” and “caring” for the garden while my father and step-mother were in Finland. 

I’ll get back to the “what are you” in a bit, but I pause in reflecting on yet another shabby chapter in a portion of my life that is swampy and indistinct. Some of the artifacts from those years remain, and I can fill in some of the blanks, but sometime after leaving 4th grade in the tiny public school in New Preston, I wonder where I went.

So, some claque squatting at this wretched bar began guessing. Greek? Italian? Filipino? Turkish? Asian? Persian? 

My genetic soup is actually characterized as Anglo-Iberian, pretty much 50/50, although the Anglo features must be recessive as I have what my mother called an “olive” complexion. The olive, I have discovered, is a “drupe” or stone fruit, information that is of no use in characterizing my hue. I’ve researched the pigmentation, however, and find this description –

”Olive skin is a human skin color spectrum. It is often associated with pigmentation in the Type III to Type IV and Type V ranges of the Fitzpatrick scale.It generally refers to light or moderate tan skin, and it is often described as having yellow, green, or golden undertones … Type III pigmentation is frequent among populations from the Mediterranean (i.e. Southern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa) as well as some parts of Latin America and Asia. It ranges from cream to darker olive skin tones. This skin type sometimes burns and tans gradually, but always tans.”

I was concerned at the outset, wondering if this Fitzpatrick had been one of the quasi-scientists the Nazis so admired, but it turn out he was a well meaning dermatologist trying to determine the ratio of burn-to-tan for people of various skin colors in his research on melanoma and UV exposure. Type I and II tan minimally and burn like crazy. I burn  but brown up quite nicely in the course of a sunny summer, so I’m squarely in the Type III cohort.

In an unlikely turn of events, I was born in Bogota, Colombia, a city racked with gunfire and explosion in the two years I spent there as an infant. Violent conflict in Colombia is apparently not uncommon as I have to specify which unrest raged around my crib. Mine was known as “La Violencia”, a battle between liberals and conservatives which resulted in the death of 300,000 Colombians and led to the military dictatorship of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, a dictatorship still in place when I was sent back to Colombia as a boy of 10. I remember nothing, of course, of the first years in Colombia, but the unaccompanied trip to Bogota and various Colombian attractions looms large in the series of “Who thought this was a good idea? ” events that shaped what passed as a childhood.

There are so many questions I did not think to ask my mother as I was put on a plane to Miami and from there to Jamaica and Barranquilla before landing in Bogota. In fact, this month-long excursion to a country in which I knew no one was just one in a series of off loadings appearing without warning or room for discussion. We took off, landed, took off, landed, took off, and landed in Baranquilla. I was to transfer then to a flight to Bogota, but unaccompanied as I was, and not speaking Spanish, I had some difficulty in negotiating the connection. I must have worked it out somehow as I did eventually end up in Bogota where I was greeted by someone. I spent some weeks in the home of an uncle and aunt, neither of whom spoke English, and with cousins (I think) who came and went wherever. The details of the home stay are blurred; I read anything I could find in English, a collection of Open Road for Boys magazines published during WWII and Mickey Mouse comic books. After dark, guard dogs were turned loose on the grounds of the very large house, virtually an entire city block in a section of the city known as Chapinero, today the hipster quadrant, but in the 1950’s very sleepy. This family had obligations of their own, of course, so during the week I walked some distance  from the mansion to a movie theater where I watched a western, Chief Crazy Horse, in Spanish. After the fourth of fifth visit to the theater I pretty much had the plot down and learned the word for traitor -“triador”.

Since my father had a profusion of brothers and sisters, the burden of entertaining me could be spread among the various unidentified branches of the family. I was taken to swim at the Country Club my father had designed, Los Lagartos, the alligators. Bogota is a cloud city, over 8000 feet over sea level, and July is a winter month. I was alone and chilled in the pool until my hosts moved me on to the next adventure. Those outings are muddled in my memory, but I know I walked in a salt mine 600 feet below the city and visited a country retreat, a finca, in the department known as Antiochia, the region from which grandparents I never knew had traveled before settling in Bogota. It was an unremarkable visit until they put me on a horse that bolted. I remember two elements of that disaster. The horse’s name was Caramello, and I was terrified. 

Two outings remain vivid in memory. 

One of the clan owned a tannery, where the hides of cows and horses were dehaired, degreased, desalted, then soaked in tannin. I will never get the smell of that tannery out of my nose. I tried to escape by running to the barns where living animals were kept. Barns also have a strong odor but I quite liked a genuine farm smell. I was safe until a child of about my age appeared with a bag of kittens. He spun them, one-by-one, and threw them at the barn’s roof. Before I ran away, I’d seen one slide down only to be spun and tossed again. 

No trip to Colombia was complete, I found, without at least one visit to the Santamaria Bullring. I had seen bullfighting before, of course, in cartoons, but had no idea how terrible the death of the bulls would be in reality. Terrible and often slow. I do not read Hemmingway’s celebration of bullfighting and bull fighters without revisiting the long afternoon hiding from the action taking place in the sand below the cheering crowd. 

Ok, we’ve settled the “What are you?” question; Anglo-Iberian is as close as I can come. The same query is often more delicately delivered as “Where are you from?”, presented with nothing like the same intention as “Where did you grow up?” I can count on one hand the number of people who have asked where I grew up, a question I often ask people I meet. I don’t grill new acquaintances, but I ask about their lives and remember their stories. I don’t remember ever delivering the “what are you?” conversation stopper, and I suspect fewer people do; in these combative times skins are thin and sensitivity to political affiliation is always the subtext of any early encounter.

As to the legitimate “where” question, I spent my school days in Connecticut and have returned to Connecticut in this later chapter, but my attachment to Kenyon is deep, I remain devoted to Michigan football, I long to return to Tuolumne Meadows and the trails in the Upper Yosemite, I treasure the years we spent in Carpinteria and at Cate, and I miss the pear trees and green mountains of Oregon.

Oh, if the question becomes, “What season are you?”, I’m a Winter; wrap me in anything pink, yellow, or orange and I look near death. Anything pastel is off limits. Black, blue, green, that’s me.

A grateful climate migrant’s confession

A grateful climate migrant’s confession

The frost is on the pumpkin, leaves are on the ground, and our flower beds remind me that beauty is ephemeral; the loveliest blooms droop in brown defeat. I’ve never been a lovely bloom, but gravity continues to have its way with me, and drooping seems to be the watchword this month. I could wallow in morbid reflection … or, I could look up to see the festival of colors romping through the woods that surround us. It’s almost too much; a less sensitive author suggested that the array of leaves in a New England autumn is garish. Well, you can never get enough of too much, this glutton suggests. After years in the sere landscape of southern Oregon, we’re gratefully soaking up these paintbrush days.

Feelings are mixed, however, when we remember the friends we left behind, and more jarringly when we recall climate devastation already changing the landscape in the Rogue Valley. We bought our small farm in 2005 and retired there in 2015. Anticipating our retirement, I kept pictures of the house and the pastures on my desktop from the start, looking forward to settling among orchards thick with pears and amid green hillsides of pine. Our part of the valley produced then the fat pears arriving in gift baskets during the holidays. The local Pear Blossom Festival in April celebrated the blanket of flowering trees at our doorstep. Roses decorated our yard throughout the year. In late July, an acre of blackberries ripened; our dogs learned to snag the ripest without injury. By the middle of August in our first years in Oregon, I had to collect fallen pears and plums on a daily basis before the dogs ate much, much more over-ripe fruit than they could successfully process. 

We knew there would be a scalding few weeks in mid-summer, but weeks turned into months in our final years. The pasture stayed green for a while. We pumped in water and sprayed twice a week, but as Oregon’s drought continued, there was little water for irrigation, and we let the field turn to cracked earth. The commercial pear trees survived as the orchards brought lumbering trucks of water in week after week. The local lakes slowly became bare dirt. Wells went dry. 

To live in the West is to live with fire. We had been aware of terrible devastation in California, largely confined to wild areas adjacent to forests when we first arrived  but increasingly impinging on populated areas by the time we left. The Thomas fire destroyed almost 300,000 acres of the county we had lived in, killing twenty-three people in the blaze and ensuing mudslide. What had seemed regular but isolated incidents of fire became increasingly dangerous. All but one of the ten most destructive fires took place after the year 2000; six of those ten took place in a single year, 2020. Two years earlier California’s deadliest fire, the Camp Fire, killed eighty-six people, fifty-eight of whom were unable to escape the town of Paradise in Butte County. Pictures of the skeletal remnants of the 18,000 buildings lost in the fire were horrifying. The President visited the ruins, wishing the people of “Pleasure” a speedy recovery. 

We had moved to Phoenix, Oregon, half-way between Ashland and Medford by that time, roughly two hundred and fifty miles north of Paradise. As yet in no danger from fire in 2018, the air we breathed brought its own hazards. There had been smoky summers in the past, annoying but generally swept away after a few weeks of negotiating air quality at the hazardous level. My guess is that people living outside the West do not check air quality daily, probably don’t even have a sense of how air quality is measured. The index runs from 0 to 500, divided into bands, each given a separate color. Green indicates ambient air from 0 to 50, – satisfactory, no risk. Yellow from 51 to a 100 is moderate, not great for folks unusually sensitive to air pollution. Orange runs up to 150 and is dangerous for people whose breathing might be compromised. The scale intensifies a bit with red, AQ from 151 to 200, is unhealthy, purple from 201 to 300 very unhealthy, and Maroon at 301 and higher is hazardous.

In the summer of 2018, our air quality was routinely above 150; in the summer of 2020 we lived in the purple zone, recording an AQ high above 350. That summer the Almeida Fire reached us. The town of Phoenix and neighboring town of Talent were destroyed, more than 3,000 buildings lost in a matter of hours. Only those who have seen the distinctive color of smoke from a fire tornado can understand how quickly the fire ate its way north. We saw the smoke, and when we heard propane gas tanks exploding to the south, we grabbed our “To Go Bag”, pushed the dogs into the car and drove to what we thought was safety some miles to the north. As is the case throughout the mountainous West, major roads run from south to north. There are two major roads heading north from Phoenix, one of which was closed as the fire roared. We’d planned for evacuation but hadn’t thought about the number of cars all heading in the same direction. We also had not yet learned that cars caught in a fire tornado are stalled death traps as the oxygen necessary to combustion is sucked from the air. We were able to find an open road, but when we landed at the home in which we would spend the evacuation, word reached us that another fire was heading our way from the north. 

We escaped. Our house was untouched. Ravaged properties within ¼ mile lay smoking. 

The Alameda fire was terrifying, but in addition to pandemic arriving at the same time, two continuing problems remained: Pears and tourists aren’t keen on heat and drought.

Even when not in fire’s path, smoke from fires throughout the region continue to make ordinary enterprises untenable. The highly regarded Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to move from the lovely open-aired Elizabethan Theater to the local high school’s auditorium; the hordes of tourists visiting southern Oregon stayed home. Pears were affected by the smoke; the holiday baskets that season contained a note apologizing for smaller pears of an unfamiliar color. A region depending on agriculture and tourism began to wither. Pear orchards were razed, replaced by fields of hemp.

Medford cooked at 115 degrees in June, and the region’s water source, Emigrant Lake, held roughly 2% of its full capacity. Our neighbors’ wells ran dry; Jackson County has wells exceeding 800 feet that do not yield water. Lakes in the west have so emptied that land is visible that has not been seen for 2000 years. Salmon are in danger of extinction in the Klamath basin; they are now on the Endangered Species List. 

We are climate migrants, abashed at having left behind people about whom we care, but surprised on a daily basis by the confused response we now get when we explain our flight to the Northeast. The New York Times had reporters and photographers on the ground when our small town burned; images of melted buildings were sent around the world. How had fire and drought not communcated crisis? We can’t forget walking in the southern end of our pasture seeing what remained of the Umpqua Bank, the steel vault standing alone in a landscape of ashes. 

I’m sitting in our dining room, facing more trees than I can count or identify. It rained this morning, and a mist lingers, softening the tangle of color we walked through yesterday. We are grateful; our views are lovely. Our days are sweet, and yet I no longer believe my grandchild will see the forest that stands before us today. The future was right before our eyes.

Be Bold, Be Bold …

Be Bold, Be Bold …

All Hallows’ Eve? Allhallowtide, beginning with All Saints’ Day and culminating in All Souls’ Day?  Inflatable Tigger Vampire? Animatronic skeleton at Home Depot? 

If you think the spirit of Christmas got lost somewhere after the world premiere of Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, the celebration of the evening before All Hallows/All Saints Day, the recognition of all saints known and unknown who have made it to heaven, is as muddled as the conflation of the observation of the Roman sun God (Sol Invictus) and the Nativity.  All Hallows’ Eve had a significant history before the church folded it into its calendar. I suspect that had I not been teaching in California, my annual salute to the pagan holiday, Samhain, might have been cause for alarm. Guilty of conflation myself, I reminded my 9th grade class in Humanities that on the evening of October 31st, the fragile boundary between this world and the Otherworld was flimsy enough that all sorts of hijinx were likely to ensue. Did we dance? Yes we did, to Lord Intruder’s version of “Zombie Jamboree ”. Stories? Only the most chilling, usually an enactment of the folk story, “Mr. Fox”, itself a variant of “The Robber Bridegroom” and “Bluebeard”. Its refrain, “Be bold. Be bold. But not too bold. Lest your heart’s blood run cold” travels with every iteration as does the clarification of the murderous suitor’s lies. Shakespeare quoted them directly in Much Ado About Nothing when the confirmed bachelor, Benedict, suggests that, “…like the old tale, “It is not so, and t’was not so.”

My zombies and threatened brides are now people of substance in the adult world, probably not planning to celebrate Samhain, but likely outfitting their own children in the classic witch/ghost/skeleton/ outfit or the costume du jour this season. Those dishing out the treats have to stay au courant to appreciate the spectacles brought to their doors. In the first year of the pandemic, when Tiger King:Murder, Mayhem and Madness ruled Netflix, we saw Joe Exotic costumes, to be sure, but the overwhelming favorite referenced Carol Baskin, proprietor of Big Cat Rescue, featuring blonde wig, flower headdress, and flowing cat print patterned tunic. “Trick or Treat, all you cats and kittens!”. This year, the hot costumes include the bride and groom from a Valyrian wedding, the red off-the-shoulder dress and huge sunglasses worn by scamming Anna Delvey as portrayed in Inventing Anna, t-shirt and blue apron worn by Carmy Berzatto in The Bear, a Doctor Strange Multitudes of Madness cosplay costume and the orange faux fur worn by Mabel in Only Murders In The Building. Want to trick and treat as a couple? Almost too easy. Go to any Party Store and pluck the Soap and Loofah costumes right off the rack. Or, go as M & Ms, or Trolls, or Minions, or guys with 80’s hair ala Stranger Things

My inflatable Tigger Vampire finally expired just before we moved across the country; its replacement is too pricey, even on eBay, so I’m downsizing this year, adjusting to life at the end of an untraveled road, without juice for inflatables of any sort. I’ve put out some pumpkins, but expect our neighborhood bears will haul them away as autumnal snacks. I just bought a pathetic Halloween garden flag which I can stick in the piles of leaves near the mailbox. A dachshund wearing a witch’s pointed hat cavorts across the flag shouting, “Happy Halloweenie!” 

At least the bears won’t eat it.

Candy-fueled hoopla and goofy costumes aside, Halloween stands alone in the calendar of communally celebrated events, mostly fun, but just a shriek away from unsettling. The uncostumed, everyday world has monsters by the truckload, and life sucking demons, and creatures who are not what they appear to be. Halloween is like bowling with bumper lanes; yes, honey that is a ghoul, but it’s all make believe. We get a slight thrill of terror, unwrap another Snickers bar, and troop up to the next door, facing the unknown with a pillowcase full of Kit Kats, peanutbutter cups, and the occasional indigestible and unlabeled bargain Tootsie Roll knockoff. 

Our house will offer top-of-the-line chocolate confections, hand selected and taste-tested. Bags sit on a stool by the door awaiting the first ringing of the doorbell. I’m willing to bet we get fewer than two trick and treaters, but we’ll honor them with our largesse, admire their getups, wish them a Happy Halloweenie, and retreat to the TV cave to watch Muppets Haunted Mansion or SCTV’s Count Floyd’s House of Stewardesses – very scary!

Fat Bear Week in Alaska

Fat Bear Week in Alaska

OK, voters! 

It’s Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week again, and their gallery of fat bears is teeming with … fat bears. There’s also a junior bear competition, but, come on, let cubs be cubs! I’m still recovering from Toddlers and Tiaras and Dance Moms. You too?

Now, to be completely transparent, I’ve followed “professional” wrestling and personally measured Arnold Schwarzenegger’s neck. I spent a week as the replacement advisor to a cheerleading team attending Spirit Camp at Auburn University. If you have never seen teen-aged girls compete for the “Spirit Stick”, you have never seen the bare face of human desperation. I’ve been in the belly of the beast, people. 

Loyal readers already know that my wife and I encounter bears on a regular basis. We live among black bears in a manicured suburban town just north of Hartford, Connecticut. Our local facebook pages include one dedicated to bear antics in swimming pools, at birthday parties, and in garbage bins. The most recent estimate of bears in town numbered almost 100, including the cubs we first saw last spring. Close encounters of the bear kind? I’ve had two, mano a pata, close enough to understand that there is something more than I can understand behind those deep brown eyes. 

Is this just another beauty pageant for bears? There’s nothing remotely regrettable about this contest.

There may be pageant winners out there, aching to correct my superficial dismissal of beauty contests. I know. It’s all about the scholarships. And yet, I still recall the solemnity with which Miss Arizona 2009 responded to a question about universal health care:

“I hear your question and refuse to answer it or express an opinion because everyone has a right to an opinion…”

I’d rather interview a black bear rooting through a garbage bin.

Back to Fat Bear Week. 

The opportunity to endorse the bear of your choice is sponsored by the Katmai National Park, Brooks River, Alaska. There is a wonderland of bear related information and photographs on their competition website:, including several bear cams and a lot of information about the habits of bears in that park. For those of us not able to visit Katmai, the park offers this description of its treasures:

“Katmai’s brown bears are at their fattest in late summer and early fall. It is the end-product of their summer-long effort to satisfy their profound hunger and prepare for winter hibernation. During hibernation, bears do not eat or drink and can lose one-third of their body weight. Their winter survival depends on accumulating ample fat reserves before entering the den. 

To get fat, bears gorge on the richest and most easily obtainable foods they can find. In Katmai National Park, that most often means salmon. Dozens of bears gather at Brooks River to feast on salmon from late June until mid October. Perhaps no other river on Earth offers bears the chance to feed on salmon for so long.

Fat bears exemplify the richness of Katmai National Park and Bristol Bay, Alaska, a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people and the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon left on the planet.”

Fat bears are not mocked; winter is coming. As the park puts it –

In the bear world, fat exemplifies success. It is the fuel that powers their ability to endure winter hibernation as well as the key to their reproductive success … Their road to greatness began months ago. After a summer-long effort, brown bears at Brooks River in Katmai National Park have reached peak fat. How did they do it and what challenges did they face along the way? Those are a couple of the questions we’ll answer as we reveal the contenders and the bracket for the 2022 Fat Bear Week tournament. Watch Fat Bear Week Contestants and Bracket Reveal: October 3 at 7 p.m. Eastern / 4 p.m. Pacific.”

I did check back to see what the brackets look like and found that only four hours ago, an avid voter added this poetic tribute to the bear of her choice:

I like the light brown Bear Holly

Although she doesn’t look jolly.

She’s feeling the stress

of being chosen the best.

She is looking somewhat melancholy.

A visit to Holly’s profile explains the poet’s ardor. Holly is described as resembling a lightly toasted marshmallow; she has blonde ears and tan-colored claws. I exhort you to make your own determination of bear girth, pick a favorite, and write an ode in appreciation of the massive ursine beauty you favor. Mine is a bear known only as 856. You’ll find his resume at the web address provided below:

It’s immeasurably easier to wax rhapsodic about a bear with an actual name, Holly, let’s say, than it is to promote my pal, 856, but here goes-

856, dark vision of plumpitude

Is a marvel of belly and rumpitude

His prowess in pre-winter feeding

Assures him of snoozing and breeding

While others must wander in chumpitude

Your bear is waiting to meet you. Feel the love, and as Al Capone is reputed to have said, “Vote early and vote often.”

NO * NECESSARY! The Judge – All Rise

NO * NECESSARY! The Judge – All Rise

Televised Yankee games are blacked out in this part of Connecticut. Aaron Judge may hit a 61st home run at any moment. The stakes are very high. Desperation takes me back to radio – WFAN-AMFM, radio with John Sterling’s play-by-play and color commentary by Suzyn Waldman. 

Have no fear. I’ll wax rabid about Judge and about the significance of this season’s milestones, but my first tip of the cap goes to Sterling and Waldman, an elegantly balanced broadcasting duo who remind me of the power of the spoken word. I grew up in an oddly televised baseball mixed marriage as I was stuck in the Northwest corner of Connecticut. Until the Giants left for San Francisco, New York’s WPIX, channel 11, broadcast Yankee and Giant home games. A slightly less predictable signal carried Brooklyn Dodger games, and an occasional shift in the weather allowed the Boston Red Sox to flicker in and out. I became a Yankee fan early on as Joe DiMaggio gave way in center field to Mickey Mantle. Simply remembering the pantheon of Yankee demi-gods brings back the excitement I felt in watching the Yankees at work: Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin, Gil McDougald, Bobby Richardson, Gerry Coleman, Andy Carey, Bill Skowron, Elston Howard, Tony Kubek, Enos “Country” Slaughter, Whitey Ford, Don Larsen, Sal “The Barber” Maglie, Ralph Terry, Bob Turley, Bob Grim.

As William Wordsworth put it, “Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.” For Wordsworth it was The French Revolution, for me Yankee baseball in the 1950’s, and I couldn’t stand to miss a game. Home games were locked in, but when the Yankees went on the road, I had to depend on Mel Allen or Red Barber to take me to the ball game. I built a ham radio and listened with headphones until I received a Sony transistor radio and the world grew larger. I suppose every baseball market has a string of beloved voices, but Allen and Barber were, to me, how baseball was meant to sound. Both announcers had been raised in the south; their voices were as smooth as Tupelo honey. Allen was the more excitable; if he didn’t coin the phrase,”Going – Going – Goooonnnnn!!”, he made it part of the baseball lexicon. Later, as an announcer, retired shortstop Phil Rizzuto would rely on “Holy Cow” to describe all manner of events. Allen’s “Well, how a-bout that?” was only attached to moments of Yankee heroics. I have to restrain myself in writing about Red Barber (“Red Bahbah, Heyah”) because his use of metaphor in the heat of a game was broadcasting at its best. I will pass on a cautionary note that Barber included in his memoir, Rhubarb, his word for a scuffle on the diamond: Barber NEVER swore in any circumstance or setting. It was his conviction that were he to allow a single curse to leave his lips, it might leap out in a moment of excitement in the booth. Excellent advice. Never taken.

OK, so back to AAron Judge.

He is the first contender for baseball’s Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera played for the Tigers in 2012. Before Cabrera, the most recent crown belonged to Carl Yastrzemski who earned it in 1967. Since 1940, the only other winners were Ted Williams (1942 and 1947), Mickey Mantle (1956), and Frank Robinson (1966). As I write, he has a commanding lead in home runs (60), RBIs (128) and is tied for the leading batting average (.317). Winning a Triple Crown is good stuff but not epochal.

Those 60 home runs, on the other hand, have already put Judge in a conversation about how baseball, a game imbued with precise statistical measurements since Henry Chadwick’s reporting in the 1850s, can compare milestones, such as the home run record, as conditions of play change over the decades. 

The most widely shared concern has to do with the explosion of home run power in the decade following the baseball strike and the cancellation of the World Series. In 1998, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa battled to the wire, Sosa pounding out 66 home runs, Mark McGuire rocketing 70 into the bleachers. In 2001, Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, retiring in 2007 as the all-time home run leader with 762 home runs.

None of these three have been chosen for the Baseball Hall of Fame; all three have been linked with the use of performance enhancing drugs during the height of their careers.

For all of recorded history (my first baseball game), the gold standard had belonged to Babe Ruth. He hit 60 home runs in 1927 after hitting 59 in 1926. He ended his career with a total of 714 home runs, what seemed an unassailable lifetime record. Henry Aaron hit 24 or more home runs from 1955 to 1973, amassing 755 home runs when he retired. Home run 715 was celebrated widely as Aaron had been an All-Star and model of consistency throughout his career. Aaron’s stats are unvarnished.

No whiff of impropriety accompanied Roger Maris’ benchmark season of 1961, in which he passed Ruth’s seasonal record by hitting 61 home runs. But … the great scorekeeper in the sky affixed an asterisk to the total in the record book because Ruth had hit his home runs in a 154 game season and Maris hit number 61 in game 162. 

The gods give and the gods take away.

The asterisk virtually nullified Maris’ record, but baseball purists have since taken another look at the Ruth years. The ball might have not been as lively, but neither was the pitching Ruth faced. Today’s batters regularly see fastballs exceeding a hundred miles an hour. Estimates vary, but the only pitchers of Ruth’s era who came close to contemporary flamethrowers were Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Bob Feller. Of course another daunting pitcher was Leroy “Satchel” Paige who pitched in the Negro Leagues from 1926 until 1947. He was still formidable when he joined the Cleveland Indians in 1948, but we can only guess at what his skill and the skills of the many who never got a chance to play Major League baseball. Ruth was occasionally called The White Josh Gibson for example, as Gibson may have hit as many as 800 home runs.

When Aaron Judge comes to bat tonight, he will already have hit 60 home runs in 148 games. At the same point in the 1927 season, Ruth had hit 58, Maris 56. Bonds and McGuire have higher totals, but … there is no asterisk big enough to put next to their haul. Judge is not only facing pitchers Ruth and Maris never saw, but facing three or four different pitchers in the course of a game. Fresh arms. 

So, I’m blacked out. My laptop acting as my transistor radio, I’ll have John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman in my ear. I’ll be waiting for the crack of the bat each time Judge steps up, that distinctive sound of solid contact, and in my mind I’ll be saying, “Going – Going – GONNNNNNNNN”!

Calvin Coolidge’s Presidential Pets

Calvin Coolidge’s Presidential Pets

It all started when I discovered that Donald J. Trump, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson were the only presidents whose time in the White House was spent without the comfort of a pet of any sort. “Yow”, I said, suddenly aware of the lack of attention I had given pet ownership in reviewing the history in the United States. Interesting to note in passing that two of the three were impeached twice.

 “Who doesn’t have a pet?” quickly gave way to a superficial swan dive into the meticulous records of pets in the White House, wherein I was stunned to find that one of the most pet-centered presidents was the otherwise infrequently mentioned Calvin Coolidge. This is not the forum in which to debate his legacy, but it does seem appropriate to make reference to his public persona. Widely known as “Silent Cal”, Coolidge was said to be “…silent in five languages.” Jokes about his lack of animation and taciturn delivery when forced to speak probably arose from Coolidge’s discomfort with the trappings of celebrity inevitably attached to the office of the presidency. When asked why he attended state dinners, Coolidge responded, “Got to eat somewhere.”

Alice Longworth Roosevelt described Coolidge as having been, “weaned on a pickle.” When Coolidge died in 1933, the acerbic wit, Dorothy Parker, replied, “How can they tell?” 

That’s the Coolidge I expected to find, but the first mention of a Coolidge pet describes the President walking a racoon on a leash every morning during his term in office. That alone would put Silent Cal in the Pet Owner Hall of Fame, but the racoon was but one of the menagerie that accompanied Coolidge during his presidency and in his four years of retirement. 

We’re not going to get into the fine points of pet ownership, but the Founding Fathers had horses, of course, horses being the mode of transportation and most had dogs. Horses may have been necessary, but Washington named one of his his horses “Sweetlips” indicating fondness that went beyond utility. Of course, we named our Dodge station wagon “Harley” so …

Jefferson is but one of the presidents to have owned bears, two grizzly cubs, but the most lethal of his pets was a ram which purportedly killed a child. John Quincy Adams is reputed to have had the highest IQ of any president, spoke eight languages, and was socially awkward. He barely qualifies as a pet owner as his wife kept silkworms, and his short stewardship of an alligator could well be apocryphal. It was no surprise to find that Andrew Jackson rased fighting cocks, but deliciously unexpected was the account of his parrot’s flood of obscenities during Jackson’s funeral. 


Coming soon, but, and I was about to say, “the elephant in the room”, is the nation’s larger than life naturalist, cowboy, historian, Rough Rider, pugilist, and president, Theodore Roosevelt. Among the 5,013 mammals, 4,453 birds, and 2,322 reptiles that Roosevelt brought back from his Smithsonian Expedition of 1909 was an elephant, one of eight elephants currently on display in the American Museum of Natural History. We’ve all seen the photograph of Roosevelt riding a moose, I assume. A blinking moose! Living creatures sharing his home included the usual panoply of dogs and cats, a badger, hens, an owl, pigs, a laughing hyena, and a bear named Jonathan Edwards, after one of Mrs. Roosevelt’s ancestors.  

That’s a tough collection to match, and one would assume that its counterparts would be found in the roughest and toughest of presidencies. 

Nope. Let’s take a look at Cal’s household:

Ten dogs, several cats, two racoons (one walked daily), a donkey, a bobcat, lion cubs, a wallaby, Pekin ducks, a duiker, and Bruno, a black bear. Oh, and a pygmy hippopotamus. Reserved, silent in five languages, Calvin Coolidge, professional New England stoic, walked a racoon and bathed a hippopotamus.

Adages abound – “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, “Don’t judge a person by the chapter you walk in on,” “All that is gold does not glitter,” and so on. Cal and I would have disagreed on almost every aspect of government, but anybody who walks a racoon? 

America’s Best Kept College Equestrian Secrets

America’s Best Kept College Equestrian Secrets

In revising the descriptions of the colleges that make up America’s Best Kept College Secrets 2022, I paused in updating Albion College in Michigan. Albion is among the under-appreciated small liberal arts colleges in the Midwest (Albion, Kalamazoo, College of Wooster, Ripon, Lake Forest, DePauw, Beloit, Lawrence, Earlham and many more!) and is one of the small colleges offering a significant equestrian program and excellent equestrian facilities.

Hmmmm, I thought. What are America’s Best Kept Equestrian College Secrets? Time to do a quick survey before returning to the compiling of the next edition of …  well, the name of the next edition is to be determined, as  America’s Best Kept College Secrets seems to have confused people who are looking for scandal and outrageous tales of college life.

My wife and daughter, who have more than a passing acquaintance with horses, barns, turn-out facilities, tack, forage, and many, many more horse-related subjects, advise me that “equestrian” is a broad descriptor ranging from international competition in dressage, jumping, and eventing to barrel racing in a rodeo program. 

Keeping the barrel racing dive somewhat shallow, allow me to simply identify the top colleges offering intercollegiate rodeo competition. The top six men’s programs are: College of Southern Idaho, Missouri Valley College, Feather River College (CA), University of Tennessee-Martin, Panhandle State University(OK), and McNeese State(LA). The top six programs for women are: College of Southern Idaho, Montana State University, Dickinson State University (ND), McNeese State (LA), Northwestern Oklahoma State University, and Gillette College-Sheridan  College (WY).

Now, the exercise gets tricky. The U.S. Equestrian Federation is the national governing body for most of the competitions, keeping track of: dressage, driving endurance riding, hunt seat equitation, hunter-jumper, para-equestrian, reigning, roadster, saddle seat equitation, vaulting, and western riding (which consists of equitation, western pleasure, reigning, trail, western dressage, and other unnamed events).

Before identifying intercollegiate competition, however, it’s prudent to present a brief description of academic courses of study that might intrigue those whose noses twitch when the term “equine” is bandied about. An AA or BA degree in Equine Science unsurprisingly considers the science of all aspects of the horse in a scientific manner, Biology, Anatomy, Reproduction, and other equine issues. There are programs that offer certification in Equine Therapy, Equine Business Management, Equine Production (daily management of an equestrian facility), and Equestrian Science (sports science in equestrian events).

Most of the colleges offering rodeo competition offer a program in equine studies. Similarly, most of the schools competing in the National Equestrian Competition also offer a major or minor in equine studies. 

Here goes:

NOT in the NCEA

William Woods University

Fulton, Missouri

Stephens College

Columbia, Missouri

Albion College

Albion, Michigan

(Profiled in the Third Edition)

Centenary University

Hackettstown, New Jersey

Earlham College

Earlham, Indiana

(Profiled in the Third Edition)

Alfred University

Alfred, New York

St. Andrews University

Laurinburg, North Carolina

University of Findlay

Findlay, Ohio

Emory & Henry College

Emory, Virginia

(Profiled in Third Edition)

Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah, Georgia

Berry College

Berry, Georgia

(Profiled in the Third Edition)

Cazenovia College

Cazenovia, New York

University of Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky

Murray State University

Murray, Kentucky

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, Kentucky


Auburn University

Auburn, Alabama

Auburn will be profiled and will include a description of the six time national championship equestrian team and the equine center. Auburn offers up to 15 equestrian scholarships.

Baylor University

Waco, Texas

Baylor will also be profiled with particular attention directed toward the size of its equestrian team (more than 80 riders) and its hosting of the NCEA’s National Championship. Baylor offers up to 15 Scholarships.

Bridgewater College

Bridgewater, Virginia

Bridgewater competes in Division III of the NCAA, and so, cannot offer athletic scholarships. The admission office, on the other hand, can offer “Merit” scholarships, some of which may assist in the recruitment of riders.

Brown University

Providence, Rhode Island

Brown is one of three “Ivy League” colleges competing in the NCEA. None of the colleges in the Ivy League offer athletic scholarships, but do offer need-based scholarships.

College of Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina

The College of Charleston is located in Charleston, but it is a university with an undergraduate student population of more than 10,000 students. A state supported university, COC offers equestrian scholarships.

(Profiled in the third edition)

Cornell University

 Ithaca, New York

Both public and private, the Cornell Equine Park is the location of Cornell’s outstanding Equine Hospital.

Dartmouth College

Hanover, New Hampshire

The newest addition to the NCEA, Dartmouth’s equestrian team competes nationally.

Delaware State University

Dover, Delaware

DSU offers majors in Animal Science and Equine Business Management and offers scholarships.

Fresno State University

Fresno, California

Fresno State’s Equine Program includes the Horse Unit, raising American Quarter Horses.

University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia

Georgia, established in 1785, is among the oldest universities in the United States and cometes n Division I.

(Profiled in the Third Edition)

Long Island University

Brookville, New York

The C.W. Post campus of the university is located in Brookville offering a BS in Equine Studies.

University of Lynchburg

Lynchburg, Virginia

University of Lynchburg was formerly Lynchburg College and now enrolls about 3000 students

(Profiled in the Third Edition)

University of Minnesota Crookston

U Minnesota Crookston is located in Minnesota’s Red River Valley, where the forested area to the east meets the Great Plains of the Dakotas.

Oklahoma State University

Stillwater, Oklahoma

OSU (not Ohio State or Oregon State) offers a degree in Animal Science and a certificate in Equine Enterprise Management. The program’s website also offers horses for sale.

Sacred Heart University

Fairfield, Connecticut

Sacred Heart is the second largest Catholic university in New England with extension campuses in Dingle, Ireland and Luxembourg. Women’s wrestling became a varsity sport this year.

Seton Hill University

Greensburg, Pennsylvania

Seton Hill is a private Catholic university enrolling about 3000 students on a campus near Pittsburg.

Southern Methodist University 

Dallas, Texas

SMU is a university enrolling almost 7000 undergraduates on a campus in the heart of Dallas.

University of South Carolina

Columbia, South Carolina

USC (not Southern California) has a campus of almost 400 acres near the state capital of Columbia.

South Dakota State University

Brookings, South Dakota

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits study in Brookings, the fourth largest city in South Dakota (population 23,000),

Stonehill College

North Easton, Massachusetts

Stonehill is a private Catholic university located in the greater Boston area. Stonehill has recently moved up to Division I in most sports.

Sweet Briar College

Sweet Briar, Virginia

(Profiled in the Third Edition)

Although Sweet Briar competes in Division III, its program is among the most highly regarded in the nation. The Vixens ride in a newly renovated equestrian facility and on the 2400 acres of Virginia countryside.

Texas Christian University

Fort Worth, Texas

TCU’s Division I program is located about three miles from downtown Fort Worth.

Texas A&M

College Station, Texas

Texas A&M has the largest undergraduate student enrollment in the U.S. – almost 60,000 students.

University of California – Davis

Davis, California

UC Davis, located in California’s Sacramento Valley, competes in Division I and is the home of an outstanding program in veterinary medicine.

University of the South

Sewanee, Tennessee

Most frequently known as Sewanee, the University of the South looks and feels like a New England college. The campus is located on 13,000 acres of the Cumberland Plateau and is often mentioned as one of the most beautiful colleges in the U.S.

(Profiled in the Third Edition)

University of Tennessee – Martin

Martin, Tennessee

One of the five campuses of the University of Tennessee, Martin’s equestrian program, the Skyhawks, compete in Division I.

University of Vermont

University of Vermont

Unversity of Vermont – Burlington, Vermont

The University of Vermont is located in the heart of Burlington, a picture-perfect college town, packed with great eateries, cafes, and clubs. A quick glance over the shoulder reveals Lake Champlain, the sixth largest lake in the United States, Green Mountains, the great outdoors, winter sports, and the best skiing in the East. One recent visitor described Burlington as, “a good college town for young hippies looking to escape their conservative families,” and it is. A recent article in the New York Times, however, offered a revisionist view of the city, due in part to the influx of urban folk as the pandemic devastated city life in New York and Boston.

Burlington, home of the University of Vermont and the birthplace of Phish, Ben and Jerry’s and Seventh Generation, has long embodied the earthy progressivism and can-do independence that define the state’s spirit. Lately that ethos has taken on a sophisticated sheen, as chefs apply Vermont’s longtime obsession with local ingredients in exciting new directions. There are still plenty of Birkenstocks about; they’re just parked under tables spread with confit duck poutine, braised leek crepes and crisp, complex Vermont craft brews like Alchemist’s Heady Topper, a beer of near-mythic reputation among hops aficionados.”

Confit duck poutine and Lake Champlain? Pretty much says it all.

Students at the university are mostly white and mostly Christian, but the diversity of backgrounds and interests is kind of impressive in this relatively small university. The work is tough enough and the reputation sound enough that the general tone of the place is both industrious and cheerful. Hippies and hipsters, jocks, skaters, boarders and skiers, aggies pre-meds, pre-vets all seem to enjoy each other’s company and their privileged location.

The University of Vermont itself has a few quirky characteristics. It is popularly known as UVM rather than UVT because its Latin title is Universitas Viridis Montis or University of Green Mountains (that makes sense). Then UVM is a public/private or private/public university. UVM was founded as a private college in 1791, just as the foundling state abandoned its status as an independent republic to join the newly established United States of America. In the Nineteenth Century, the Morrill Acts established the Land Grant universities, of which UVM was one, thus taking on the role of the state’s public university. Today, the university operates with funds from the state and with tuition paid by students, a good number of whom are from other states. 

The university is an excellent small research university, generally included in the small group of public (ish) universities that offer highly regarded academic instruction. Known as the Public Ivies, the original group includes Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, Miami University (Ohio), UC Berkeley, UCLA, Texas, William and Mary, and Vermont. UVM continues to enjoy a solid reputation, due in part to its success in placing its graduates in competitive graduate programs and in part to its many innovations in developing a sustainable campus. In addition, development of specialized programs continues; Healthy Brains, Healthy Bodies, taught by pediatric neuroscientist Dr. James Hudziak from the university’s School of Medicine led to the establishment of a new residence hall program to be instituted in the coming academic year.

For many who apply to UVM, however, the appeal of the place is in its location (already described as spectacular), its size (under ten thousand), its diversity of majors organized in eight undergraduate divisions, and its lively, active, generally happy student body. UVM is a rarity as a public institution in which only 2 percent of classes are NOT taught by full-time faculty.

The totemic creature once prowling the northern tier of New England, the Catamount (also known as mountain lion or puma), is the school’s mascot and a reasonable gesture toward the environmental concerns the Green Mountain State has championed and a gesture toward the elegant power of the university’s Division One teams. Lots of schools have adopted cats of one kind or another (Tigers, Lions, Bobcats, Wildcats), but Vermont’s Catamount prowls alone as a purely regional beast. Well, Maine suggests that their Black Bears are Maine Black Bears, but they look exactly like anyone else’s Black Bears. In any case, while UVM is not generally seen as a sports-mad campus, two winters sports, basketball and ice hockey, draw crowds to some spectacular play.

Residential life is healthy, as is indicated by the high percentage that chose to live on campus throughout the four years. It is rare to see more than 50% remaining in dormitories at a university of this size, but the advantages of living on-campus are many. In describing the social scene at UVM, students quickly disclose that there are three thriving sorts of social activities, outside of clubs, organizations, team and intramural sports, etc. The Catamounts can prowl the Burlington nightlife, which gets high marks – the number of recommended clubs is overwhelming. Many will take to the outdoors; all the usual wilderness activities are within a short drive. Hiking, rock climbing, camping, rafting, sailing – all in a glorious setting. The skiing is excellent and there are a number of types of venues. There are some pretty stylish resorts, such as Stowe, Stratton Mountain, and the aforementioned Trapp Family Lodge, and lots of MUCH less expensive skiing as well. Some offer Nordic and some Downhill and some both.  After a healthy snowfall, numbers of students slap on a pair of skis and cross-country wherever they want.  Lots happens on campus, including an active calendar of student organized coffee houses at which budding singers/songwriters/stand-up comedians take the stage. The university brings in the usual array of big-name entertainment twice a year and provides a number of entertainment choices throughout the year. There are fraternities and sororities at UVM, but they hold no more sway in the social life of students than do a number of other organizations and associations.

OK, the setting is fabulous and social goodies abound. What about academics?

UVM is a relatively small university, and students report exceptional access to professors; many describe themselves as having found a mentor during their undergraduate careers. A fair number choose to stay to complete graduate work and reports on their preparation indicate that they have had a solid undergraduate training. 

The university presents seven colleges, an Honors College, a medical school, and a variety of graduate programs. They are: The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and Social Services, the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, the Rubenstein School of Environmental and Natural Resources, and the Grossman School of Business..

All of the divisions have distinctive programs or majors; perhaps among the most uncommon are the Green Forest Initiative sponsored in the Jericho Research Forest  by the Forestry Program of the Rubenstein School (and the internship at the Alaska Field Station), the programs in Rehabilitation and Movement Science in the College of Nursing (including Athletic Training and Movement and Exercise Science), and the program in Early Childhood Special Education, sponsored by the College of Education and Social Services.

Most applicants from outside the region will probably apply to the College of Arts and Sciences. One of the distinctive differences between UVM and many other public universities is that a significant number apply without a major. More than 30% arrive without having stated a major choice, and that does not include those in the Honors College. UVM offers the usual comprehensive smorgasbord from anthropology to zoology with some pretty interesting options. There are some good interdisciplinary programs (Neuroscience and Eastern European/Russian Studies), thirty-seven majors including Film and Television and Classical Civilization. 

The Honors College gets very high marks from students who, in many cases, chose it over some hefty “name-brand” liberal arts options. Separate housing is provided in a stunning residence hall, replete with conference rooms, libraries, study centers, and handsome suite and single rooms. In addition, a residential faculty is available for discussion and formal lecture opportunities. About two hundred and sixty students join the Honors College each year, and in addition to getting first choice in registering for classes (a major advantage!), they also meet in council to advise the university on the development of new courses and new programs. 

Students from outside the region may have the misconception that UVM is a snow-bound school for crunchy New Englanders, and in an attempt to correct that opinion, here are a few relatively current initiatives straight from Burlington. 

The first comes from the Business School and the Engineering College, where enterprising students decided to invent a better golf club. “The Bomb”, a high-end driver, was created at UVM and marketed by BombTech, a UVM start-up. From all accounts, it is one heck of a driver.

Dance students from Vermont take their salsa and meringue from alpine New England to … Mongolia? Yes, UVM has an exchange program with Mongolia University Arts College, promoting cultural exchange through dance, and an opportunity to study Traditional Mongolian Medicine and Cultural Immersions.

If you have ever asked the question, “Are we happy?” You’ll be pleased to find that the  UVM Business School students are at work on the “hedonometer”, a device that graphs the emotional state of people by measuring activity on Twitter.  Imagine a ticker such as used on the Stock Exchange, graphing emotional booms and busts as Twitterscapes provide immediate data.

When UVM invites students to “Walk on the Wild Side”, the invitation comes from horticulturalists teaching herbivores to find edible plants.

UVM has sent numbers of graduates into volunteer and service programs following graduation; alumni have flocked to the Peace Corps, and one recent graduate founded a program called Connecting Cultures, a service provided to Refugees from more than twenty countries who find themselves in Vermont. One outgrowth of that initiative was the establishment of New England Survivors of Torture and Trauma (NEST). 

So, what else do Catamounts think about? 

Her Campus based at the University of Vermont is the largest online global community for college women, identifying such issues as The 8 Things You Do That Make You Not Seem Like Girlfriend Material, and 11 Swimsuits We’re Obsessed with for Summer. As a fairly neutral visitor to the blog, I was most impressed with a really sensible and helpful article on how to spend a happy and healthy spring break on campus, directed toward the many students who can’t afford or manage to make the traditional “College Gone Wild” Spring Break. I also found some comfort in understanding, “What House Placements mean in Astrology and What Yours Says About You!”

Or, you might contact Adrian Ivakhiv, Professor of Environmental Studies, who maintains a blog entitled, Immanence, directed toward creating a space for environmental cultural theory. How many people follow Ivakhiv? A recent survey of the “top humanities theorists of the last century” was flooded with nominations. The winners, should you wish to pass them on in casual conversation, were: Michel Foucault, Pierre Bordieu, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, and John Dewey. Umberto Eco finished a disappointing twenty-eighth. 

As might be expected, there are blogs dedicated to Pasture Management and Orchard Maintenance; for example, the UVM Fruit Blog characterizes the thinning and codling moth population in the state. But there are also rabidly followed blogs attending to issues surrounding UVM’s nationally regarded hockey and basketball teams.

Speaking of sports, UVM fields eighteen Division One teams, including national championship teams in Skiing and basketball teams (both men’s and women’s) that have played a part in the NCAA tournament. Vermont’s ice hockey team is a perpetual powerhouse, often appearing in the Frozen Four. Catamount teams are fairly well supported, but it is the hockey team that gets the most love. Gutterson Field House ROCKS during the hockey season, especially when playing traditional rival Dartmouth. Anyone watching the NHL will recognize the names of goalie, Tim Thomas, and sharpshooter Martin St. Louis, winner of the Hart Trophy, both former Catamounts.

Outdoor Magazine rates UVM among the Top Ten Collegiate Outdoor Programs, and the call of the wild is heard and obeyed. Club sports also abound, including all of the usual options plus Equestrian, Fencing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Figure Skating, Bollywood Dance, and Olympic Weightlifting. 


The University of Vermont  received approximately 25,560 applicants, from which approximately 16,350 were admitted in order to enroll a first year class of approximately 3,000. The acceptance rate in recent years has ranged from 58% to 64%

Scores reported for the 25th-75th percentile ranged from 630-710 on the Evidence Based Reading and Writing subtest of the SAT and from 610-700 on the Math. ACT scores for the same group have ranged from 29-33. College of the Atlantic’s enrolled student population is approximately 62% female and 38% male. Approximately 83% are White/Non-Hispanic.

The University of Maine

The University of Maine

The University of Maine – Orono, Maine

I’m going out on a limb here. U Maine may be the only public university I know in which students are boisterous in expressing their  gratitude for the opportunity their state has afforded them. They are also open in recognizing that U. Maine is not an Ivy League sure ticket to Wall Street, but they appreciate the care with which their professors teach them, for a campus they consider lovely, and for a variety of programs that entirely meet their needs. One real measure of a university’s ability to deliver on its promises is in the attrition rate; good schools keep their kids and few leave the University of Maine. Dollar for dollar, Maine may be among the best “buys’ ‘ in the Northeast.The university is a bargain for in-state residents and not a bad deal for out-of-staters as well. Facilities are considered excellent; a remarkable number of students describe their dormitories as very comfortable, and a truly remarkable number rave about the food, although many advise shopping carefully for the meal plan that suits a student best.

Those who love Maine cite four distinctive qualities that make Maine a great choice: Supportive faculty eager to help in every way, great variety of activities, pride in Black Bear sports, and a friendly and active college town

Located about sixty miles inland and about a hundred miles from the Canadian border, Maine is the northernmost of the universities and colleges reviewed in this edition. The University is set in Orono, a city of about ten thousand, and is the largest in Maine’s system of universities (about 8,600 undergraduate students/11,500 undergraduate and graduate) and the state’s flagship university. Maine was founded in 1862 by the same act of Congress that established most of what were called “land-grant” colleges (only Cornell and MIT are non-public land-grant institutions). Maine’s campus is actually on an island between the Penobscot and Stillwater rivers. The campus was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect who framed Central Park in New York, the grounds of the White House, and the elegantly crafted landscapes in which the nation’s grandest estates have been placed. The most striking aspect of the campus, other than its lovely setting, is the University of Maine Mall (not a shopping center!), which extends from the library to the field house.  

Although the temperature in Orono at mid-winter is only about three degrees lower than that in Worcester or Springfield, Massachusetts, Maine has a “north country” feel that has something to do with its extensive programs in forestry and sustainability, and an awful lot to do with the success of Maine’s “Black Bear” championship ice hockey team. The Black Bears are strong in a number of sports and are the state’s only Division I athletic program, but the fever pitch in the Alfond Arena when Maine takes the ice against archrival New Hampshire warms even the coldest of Maine winters. The Bears have twice won the national championship in hockey and regularly send players on to the NHL.

Maybe it’s the beauty of the campus, or the quality of food provided by the dining service, or the relatively small size of classes and the variety of excellent programs of study, or the excitement of big-time sports, or the quiet comfort of the town, or well maintained dormitories, or distance from the rattle of big cities – for whatever reason or reasons, students at the University of Maine are HAPPY.  

Students use words such as “welcoming”, “friendly”, “accepting”, “generous” in describing their community, and it’s clear that there is a strong sense of community in this not-very-large state university. Athletes, actors, dancers, scientists, environmentalists, fraternity/sorority, physically disabled, people of color – all seem to have a place on a campus that students call, “open to diversity”. An uncommon number of student-written accounts describe their university as responsive, supportive, and working hard to meet the needs of its students. Most instruction is provided by professors who are well liked by students who find them informative and helpful. The curriculum is wide and deep; specialized programs in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture are distinctive, as are the several strong programs in psychology and neuroscience, but highly regarded programs are also offered throughout the academic divisions (Maine Business School, the Honors College, the College of Education and Human Development, the College of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the aforementioned College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture), 

Engineering and the Natural Sciences/Forestry/Agriculture get a lot of attention, but there are several other programs that are noteworthy and highly regarded. Among them is a new program called New Media, which, as its title suggests, offers extensive exposure to the quickly changing media landscape.  Courses in digital narrative and documentary are accompanied by courses in what is called, ” Time-based sequence” in digital arts. The program is interdisciplinary and at the cutting edge of digital arts and journalism. I hear equally good things about the Music program, which includes performance majors and is under the umbrella of a growing School of Performing Arts, part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Other programs of note include an Athletic Training program in the College of Education and Human Development, Civil and Chemical Engineering, (actually ALL of the Engineering programs), and a rigorous Honors College, which depends upon core programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Natural Sciences. Honors students meet the General Education requirements in courses that are offered in small groups made up of Honors students. One of the requirements of the Honors College is the completion of an Honors thesis.

The university carries out a formal program training those who offer support in residential life, indicating that the Residence Advisors have been taken seriously and that quality of residential life is a priority.  Aside from the warm welcome in the first year for new or transferring students, new students also find that they have free admission to all of Maine’s Division One athletic events (Go, Bears!) and are given two free tickets each semester to concerts and performances on campus.

Outside of the classroom, Maine offers significant opportunities for recreation and activity, the most notable of which, given the university’s location, is the program known as Maine Bound.  Women Rock – rock climbing for women, Biking and Bouldering, Katahdin Knife Edge Traverse, Surf Southern Maine, Sea Kayaking – all bring students into the wilderness, but a lot of activity can be found on campus in the Indoor Rock Climbing facility and the Ropes Challenge Course.  Fitness programs are offered in the New Balance Student Recreation Center and Intramural sports abound, including indoor softball, floor hockey, and the Black Bear Attack Adventure race, which almost certainly does not involve fleeing from a black bear.

Student clubs and organizations are equally well subscribed and include all of the expected options in music, drama, journalism, political activity, and celebration of culture.  At last count, Maine hosted more than two hundred different clubs, so I am forced to highlight only a small portion of the array.

Sports?  Fencing, crew, cricket, rugby, triathlon, Alpine skiing, wrestling, ultimate frisbee.], capoeira, equestrian, figure skating, trap and skeet, yoga.

Cultural and Service?  Best Buddies, South Asian Association of Maine, Helping Honduras, Iranian Social Hub, Hillel,  Muslin Students Association, Deaf Culture Club,  Autism Training Student Organization.

Other?  Gamers, Black Bear Robotics, Home Brewing Club, Hip Hop and Swing Dance clubs. Strap on your apiary gear – Black Bear Beekeepers are looking for you!

My favorites, however, are found in the Animal and Veterinary Sciences division:  UMADCOWS – caring for the dairy herd, the Maine Animal Club, several equestrian clubs and competitive teams, and the Standardbred Drill Team.

Fraternities and sororities have their place at Maine, and Greek life seems healthy and positive.  A strong Residential Life staff organizes a variety of living options, including theme based housing for new students, should they feel more comfortable in one of eight residential communities organized around Great Books, Technology, or Global Crossroads among others.  The seventeen residential halls on campus are described by students as comfortable and welcoming.

There are two distinctive traditions at Maine that deserve at least a cursory description.  In the first place, the crowd at any athletic event might cheer, “Go, Blue” in order to root the team to victory, but the true mascot is a black bear.  Originally, Maine’s mascot was an elephant (Go Figure!), but the arrival of a black bear cub on the sidelines of a football game apparently made the crowd go “bananas”, so today, “Bananas the Bear” is the university’s totemic animal.  Once a famous song across the country, the “Maine Stein Song” is now sung at most events and often when the Bears score.

Most varsity teams at Maine play in Division I in three separate conferences.  The football team is a member of the America East Conference, which includes U. Massachusetts, U. New Hampshire, U. Vermont, SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton, Bryant University, U. of Maryland Baltimore County, U Mass Lowell, and New Jersey Institute of Technology. The very successful hockey team plays in the Hockey East Association.  The association currently includes the universities of Notre Dame, Vermont, New Hampshire, Boston College, and Boston University.


The University of Maine received approximately 15,000 applicants, from which 14400 were admitted in order to enroll a first year class of 2025. The acceptance rate in recent years has ranged from 85% to 96%.

Scores reported for the 25th-75th percentile ranged from 540-650 on the Evidence Based Reading and Writing subtest of the SAT and from 520-630 on the Math. ACT scores for the same group have ranged from 22-30. College of the Atlantic’s enrolled student population is approximately 50% female and 50% male. 

The majority of applicants are from New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Approximately 82% are White/Non-Hispanic.

College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic – Bar Harbor, Maine

Maine is celebrated for its rocky coastline, fisheries and lobster traps, and ruggedly stunning islands, one of which, Mount Desert Island, has famously welcomed families of enormous wealth and power. Much of Acadia National Park on the island was donated by John D. Rockefeller whose elaborate summer home is among those built by J.P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the Astors. The town of Bar Harbor and communities of Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor, located on Mount Desert, have long been a refuge for the most prominent families from the steamy confines of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. In what might have seemed a curious impulse, Mount Desert is also the home of College of the Atlantic, a remarkable educational innovation, unique in its mission and uncommon in its ambition.

COA was founded in 1969, one of the last of the wave of experimental colleges that swept the end of the decade and one that has remained true to the vision of its founders. Today, almost four hundred students live and study on a thirty-seven acre campus overlooking Frenchman’s Bay; they are all engaged in the study of Human Ecology, the college’s only major. Well, that’s not entirely true, or at least not completely true. COA describes itself as a liberal arts college in which all students design their own major examining a range of areas of study, from Molecular Biology, Climate Change and Energy, Farming and Food Sytems to Literature and Writing, Mind, Meaning, and Consciousness, Gender and Identity Studies and a dozen other areas. The college identifies the 100 or so entering students, prospective majors in Human Ecology – “Currently seeking 100 points of view”. 

This is one instance in which you might actually get the best of both worlds.

Imagine a college that takes ecology seriously – I mean REALLY seriously. 

“Maine has between 4,000 and 6,200 islands depending on who’s doing the counting.” Students get their feet wet (hah) through the college’s Islands Program

The extraordinary setting and natural resources make the college a living laboratory and a superior learning environment for those who think it is great to work in Acadia or take an hour-and-a-half boat ride to Duck Island, one of the college’s research stations, a twelve acre preserve protecting the largest breeding ground of Leach’s Storm Petrels and Black Guillemots. If marine mammals are your preference, you can scoot twenty-five miles to Mount Desert Rock which offers a window into the world of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. If you don’t know the difference between dolphins and porpoises, you probably need to enroll right away. Any description of resources available to students at COA has to include the world-class biological research facility, the Jackson Laboratory, one of the leading areas of research in Geonomics, Mammalian Genetics, Cancer Research, and Neurological and Sensory Research. Recently, the college added a wilderness outpost in Northern Maine. North Woods Ways is a traditional skills wilderness winter academic base camp. Other less academic adventures include the Bar Island Swim.

So, to make the picture a bit more complex, COA is a small (350 students) college located in a fabled Maine holiday destination next to one of the nation’s most powerful research facilities. My own impression of the COA experience leads me to describe the college as an intensive professional school with considerable interest in the liberal arts. 

All students take the core course in human ecology and must also take at least one course in history, a writing course, a quantitative reasoning course,and meet distribution requirements.. The requirements for a degree from COA also include community service, a writing portfolio, an internship, a final human ecology essay, and a final project.

Without majors, the distribution requirements in the college are separated into three areas of inquiry: Art and Design, Environmental Science, and Human Studies. Thus, even in this environmentally super-charged college, a student can develop concentration in Arts and Design, Field Ecology and Conservation Biology, Ecological Policy and Planning, International Studies, Literature and Writing, Sustainable Business, and Sustainable Food Systems. 

The courses generally included in the Environmental Sciences are as one might expect, both comprehensive and marine sensitive: Organic Chemistry raises its formidable head, but so does Edible Botany; Introduction to Statistics and Research Design is offered in the same quadrant as the Art and Science of Fermented Foods.

Concentration in Arts and Design might introduce a student to a Visual Seminar in Photographic Syntax as well as a course in The History of Rock. Some courses are clearly conceptually based (The Reality Effect: Art and Truth in the 19th century) while others have a hands-on approach (Four Dimensional Studio Art). 

Human Studies is concerned with the social sciences, of course, but the range of courses proceeds from Gender, Politics, and Science in Fairy Tales from the World to Philosophy at the Movies.

Chances are that students interested in the College of the Atlantic have self-identified as ecologically active; few arrive without having sustained interested in marine environments. The school is small and somewhat remote; Mount Desert is stunningly beautiful but about an hour from Bangor and about four hours from Boston … if you have a car. As a result, the description of student life is probably more significant than it might be in examining other, more conventional, opportunities.

It goes without saying that environmental activism is an important part of the experience at COA. The regular trips to field stations like the frequent monitoring of projects begun as part of the curriculum or as part of internships takes planning and considerable time. 

The payoff? Night skies at the Duck Island station are spectacular, and apparently, the view of the sunrise from the station’s lighthouse is pretty remarkable as well. A Lunch break at Mount Desert Island includes a parade of whales breaching nearby. Yes, the environmental stuff is a huge part of life at COA, but so is recreation in the outdoors. The college’s outdoor program offers a fleet of canoes and kayaks as well as Rhodes 19 and Sonic 23 sailboats. Camping equipment is checked out daily, with lots of COA trips into the mountains and rivers of Maine. Wintertime? Still time for exploration and camping. 

The college maintains several distinctive programs and facilities that are animated and directed by students throughout the year. In addition to classrooms, labs, and library, COA operates The Osprey, a research vessel and floating classroom. The George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, once the headquarters of the Acadia National Park is now curated by students who design and prepare every exhibit. Beech Hill Farm is a working, sustainable, organic farm, also operated students, faculty, and farm managers. The college also operates the Peggy Rockefeller Farm, more than one hundred acres of pasture on Mount Desert Island. All electricity used on the farm is generated by solar panels, and the entire property is in the Northeast Creek watershed. On campus, the college maintains a garden, a greenhouse, a herbarium, and an arboretum. 

Regular college fun? OK, slightly modified but definitely present. The residences (NOT dorms) are wonderfully diverse and rich in character. Collaborative living is at the heart of the COA residential experience, and, while there are Residential Advisors in each facility, the expectation is that all residents will be mindful of the needs of others. The closest thing to conventional dormitory is Blair/Tyson, essentially a group of connected townhouses with group kitchens and cedar sided ski-lodge exterior. About twenty students live in Seafox, an authentic and authentically quirky New England seaside farmhouse. This is the largest of the residences with a porch that looks out on the sea; Seafox is also designated as a substance-free dorm. Six students live in Cottage, a converted gatehouse, which, in addition to comfy intimacy offers the residence closest to the Bus Stop. The first building constructed as part of the college, Peach House, holds eight students and is also designated as a substance-free residence. Also substance-free is David House, a small carriage house welcoming five students. The newest housing on campus is the Davis “Village”, a complex of biomass pellet heated, solar powered, toilet composting small houses, separate from but adjacent to Seafox and the Deering Commons. The village is also designated as substance-free.

Students edit two publications throughout the year – Off the Wall, a student newspaper, and Edge of Eden, a literary journal. Open Mic nights take place in the great hall of the Turrets mansion, and a major cultural/social/musical/theatrical event of the year is “Fandango”, a talent show that raises money for charity while allowing students to perform a surprising variety of talents, from the choral presentation of Finnish folk songs to an authentic Maori dance. Fandango also allows international students to carry some aspect of their culture into the program. Roughly twenty percent of the student body comes from outside the United States.

Unconventional in its focus, serious in its commitment to changing the world as well as its students, the College of the Atlantic is unique. It is not for everyone, but if a star-spangled night sky, breaching whales, organic food, and cozy collaboration appeal to you, there is nothing more invigorating than the experience COA promises and delivers.


College of the Atlantic received approximately 525 applicants, from which 337 were admitted in order to enroll a first year class of 100. The acceptance rate in frecent years has ranged from 58% to 61%.

Scores reported for 25th-75th percentile ranged from 630-740 on the Evidence Based Reading and Writing subtest of the SAT and from 580-660 on the Math. ACT scores for the same group have ranged from 27-32. College of the Atlantic’s enrolled student population is approximately 70% female and 30% male. 

The majority of applicants are from New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pensylvania. Approximately 64% are White/Non-Hispanic.