College of the Atlantic’s mantra of “life changing, world changing” continues to hold true for alumni of the small, Maine college. Whether deciding to stick around and make a name for themselves in the Northeast or going off to the West Coast to continue the COA tradition of non-traditional education, news outlets took notice as the college’s alumni made their voices heard in 2016.
Three-year-old Desi Sorrelgreen’s favorite thing about his preschool is “running up hills.” His classmate Stelyn Carter, 5, likes to “be quiet and listen to birds — crows, owls and chickadees,” as she put it. And for Joshua Doctorow, 4, the best part of preschool just may be the hat he loves to wear to class (black and fuzzy, with flaps that come down over his ears).
All three children are students at Fiddleheads Forest School here, where they spend four hours a day, rain or shine, in adjacent cedar grove “classrooms” nestled among the towering trees of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.
The program, in its third year, is less than seven miles from Microsoft, which means some parents sit in front of computers all day inventing the digital future, while Fiddleheads children make letters out of sticks or cart rocks around in wheelbarrows.
Founded in 2012 by Kit Harrington, a certified preschool teacher, and Sarah (Short) Heller ’09, a naturalist and science educator, Fiddleheads is part of a larger national trend that goes beyond Waldorf education, which has long emphasized outdoor play, even in inclement weather.
Tara Jensen ’07 hosts a monthly pizza night, and every time she’s sure that no one will come, and every time, nearly 100 people show up, finding their way to the town of Marshall, North Carolina, then heading six miles northwest on Route 70 along the French Broad River, winding around the knoll called Walnut, and stopping at the dirt driveway leading to her compound, which consists of an algae-covered pond, a shack in the woods, a brick oven, and two pitched-roof houses, one of which is a bakery that goes by the name of Smoke Signals.
Unlike at most other bakeries, gallery-worthy sweets are not Jensen’s goal; they’re the medium. Her aspirations are deeper and, well, a little more abstract. The bakery is a way for her to grow as a person. To share stories. To connect. Through breadmaking, she believes, people can learn to trust their intuition, to accept themselves for who they are. Baking is not the essential truth about Jensen. She’s just here, having an experience.
When three friends from College of the Atlantic - Jon Carver, Matt McInnis, and Eliah Thanhauser, all ’09 graduates - decided to start a mushroom cultivation business in 2014, they wanted to be as close as possible to Portland, where they all live, and needed an affordable rent. They, too, ended up on County Road.
In a year and a half, North Spore mushroom company outgrew the 1,000-square-foot space, but it didn’t have to leave town to find a new one. The company moved to the Dana Warp Mill less than two months ago, into an area that’s more than five times the size of the former facility, where there wasn’t room to produce more than 200 pounds of mushrooms per week.
“It’s more about how many mushrooms we can produce than about finding the market for them,” Matt McInnis, one of the three partners, said about the high demand.
The company, which supplies mushrooms to more than two dozen restaurants in the Portland area, as well as specialty food stores and farmers markets, plans to double production in the next six months, but doesn’t expect to be going anywhere soon.
On a Saturday night in April Scott Kraus ’77 is getting ready to take out his boat from Sandwich, Mass., to spend the evening on Cape Cod Bay’s calm waters. Kraus, vice president of research at the New England Aquarium, and his two-member crew are not out for a leisure sunset cruise but are on a mission—they want to find out what North Atlantic right whales are doing at night. “It is like pulling an all-nighter in college, without the beer,” says Kraus, who has loaded an arsenal of military-like night vision tools on the boat, including a high-resolution infrared camera, a light intensifying scope and a mirrorless, low-light digital camera. Kraus has been studying right whales for more than 35 years.
In Cape Cod Bay Kraus’s efforts are paying off. The infrared camera revealed temperature differences between healing and surrounding tissues in some of the right whales. The hot spots, located on the mammals’ heads, possibly indicated an infection, but those lesions were not visible to the eye in daylight. “That might mean that infrared cameras could be used as a health assessment diagnostic tool,” Kraus says.
The turquoise waters became darker and darker, and squiggly glow-in-dark marine creatures began to glide past in the inky depths like ghosts.
The three-man submarine went down, down, down into the abyss and drew within sight of something no human had ever laid eyes on: Cook seamount, a 13,000-foot extinct volcano at the bottom of the sea.
“We don’t know what we’re going to find,” said Conservation International’s Greg Stone ’82, a marine biologist on board. “There will always be the unexpected when you go into the deep ocean.”