Spring 2014 /California/

Letterbox — Spring 2014


I had the good fortune of traveling to Borneo last summer and seeing orangutans and gibbons in their natural habitat. I also saw the absolutely devastating effects of palm oil plantations that are destroying one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. I want to express my support and enthusiasm for Madison Vorva’s work!

—Rebeca Plank ’92
Boston, Mass.

 Agricultural Adventurer

The cover story “Back to the Farm” in the fall issue caught my interest. During my last trip to Alumni Weekend five years ago, Pete Stephens ’68, Mark Sweeney ’69 and I stopped by the Wash to find hippie-style concrete domes with a garden of tomatoes and other vegetables, along with chickens in the area. Finding a young co-ed puttering around there, I inquired whether she thought such activity was worth the sizable tuition her parents were paying, particularly at a college with no courses in agriculture practice.

 The back story was that I graduated from Pomona a published author with Clifton Trafton in brain research, went on to UCSB and NYU grad schools to publish more brain research with M. S. Gazzaniga, only to run screaming to the horizon and the middle of nowhere (east of Garberville, Calif.) on 60 acres (with Jacob Smith ’69) to pursue a career in art, for which I was basically untrained and arguably unaccomplished.

 There, off the grid for the next 30 years, I hunted or raised, prepared and preserved my meat and foraged, or grew and preserved my fruit and vegetables in a 100-by-100-foot garden. Eventually, I returned to civilization, to the small village of Blue Lake, Calif., 100 miles north of my rural property. Along with doing some art, I’ve been propagating rare and endangered succulents and selling them along with fruits and vegetables my family grows at local farmers markets. In this sense, my entire adult life has been occupied with activities Pomona College did nothing to prepare me for, although I’m grateful for the wide worldview I obtained there. I wonder what percentage of other graduates have strayed so far from their training.

—Bob Filbey ’68
Blue Lake, Calif.

 Rooftop Memories

Every Christmas season, I think about how much I would enjoy having a CD of the “tower music” that we played from the roof of Big Bridges each December when I was at Pomona. For those who aren’t familiar with this bit of campus history, Professor William F. Russell was the director, and the group was meant to be similar to the musicians, apparently common in Renaissance villages, who would play for the townspeople from the tower of the village church on important occasions. At Pomona, the group was maybe 10 musicians, with prominent brass, and the tunes simple songs of that era such as “Il est ne le divin enfant” and “In dulce jubilo.”

 One thing that made the process memorable was getting to the roof of Big Bridges. We had to work our way through the labyrinth of the backstage passageways, following each other through a succession of narrow hallways and stairs until we finally emerged into the cool night air. We couldn’t actually see our audience, so we played to the night sky and hoped the people on the ground could hear well enough. It was a special privilege to be permitted to play up there.

 It wasn’t a spectacular event or a showing of musical virtuosity; it was just a comfortable holiday tradition. But for me it was a special part of the Christmas season. I expect many alumni have pleasant memories of playing in the group or listening from the quad. It may not be practical to produce a CD, but maybe a download would be economical. I hope there is a way to make the music available.

—Don Wolfe ’73
Portland, Ore.

[Alumni and friends are invited to email letters to pcm@pomona.edu or to send them by mail to Pomona College Magazine, 550 North College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Letters are selected for publication based on relevance and interest to our readers and may be edited for length, style and clarity.]