Leland Culver '24 - Introduction

Me, myself, I in a car

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to my humble digital abode. My name is Leland Culver (he/they), and I have just finished my first year here at Amherst College! Despite the difficulties imposed upon us by the pandemic, I find I’ve already grown rather attached to this place — it’s pretty quickly come to be a second home to me. I’m originally from Gary, Indiana, and I’m a prospective Theater and Dance and Classics major (yes, Theater and Dance is one major).

Like many Amherst students, my interests range far and wide beyond my majors. On campus this year, I’ve acted in four shows with the Green Room, the student theater group (that one, at least, fits), I’ve written for both the Indicator, a student literary magazine, and the Amherst Student, the student newspaper, and I’m a part of club fencing. I’ve also gone on several trips out into the woods around Amherst with the Outing Club, including a couple of memorable camping trips on the farm (The Book and Plow, which is just south of campus and employs many student workers) in the fall.

I wouldn’t have made it through pandemic times without the friends I made, in these groups or from classes or from hanging out in my first-year dorm. It’s been an absolutely crazy time, and I’m glad things are starting to open up again. There are lots of things I hope to be able to show you this summer, on- and especially off-campus, because the Pioneer Valley summer really is quite beautiful.

If you have any questions, whether about campus life, academics, or any of the things I’ve talked about above, you can reach me at gculver24@amherst.edu. I look forward to hearing from you!

Chapter IV: A Shortcut to Blueberries

Good morning, dear readers.

Indeed, it is a morning to be good on, and a fine morning, and all that, because I have secured one of the greatest treasures known to man: fresh-picked blueberries!

One of my favorite family day trips at home (recall, I hail from Gary, Indiana) is the weekly trip we take in the summer up to Lehman’s Orchard in Michigan. There we pick whatever fruit is ready for harvest, and then have lunch. It’s only about an hour drive, and Michigan fruit is some of, if not the, best in the country (I will defend this to the death). I was a little sad to be missing out on those trips this summer, until I started looking around on Google Maps.

Turns out, there’s just as much good U-pick here as in Michigan, although on a bike it can be a bit of a distance to reach the best places. I chose Pie in the Sky Berry Farm, in Northampton, and asked my friends if anyone wanted to go to me.

It ended up that only two people—fellow Green Roomers Nick Govus and Petra Brulisoff—joined me on Saturday morning, but luckily Nick had a car, and therefore it was only about a fifteen minute drive to the farm. It was pretty, even muddy from the previous day’s rainfall and underneath an overcast sky. The blueberries, which were what was ripe that day, were also, conveniently, planted closest to the entrance.

We each picked up an empty quart carton and set to work. The dreary-looking weather actually made things a lot more comfortable, since it kept the day cool. We chatted about our summer projects, and Green Room business (we’re writing a parody of Lord of the Rings—it’s really cool you should check it out), and how the spring went. Nick put on sea shanties. An hour later, we were all done, and ready to head back to Amherst.

It was really a great way to spend a morning, and the berries we got were tart and delicious besides. And if it weren’t for both the semi-rural nature of the Pioneer Valley, and my friends’ willingness to just throw together a little trip, nothing would have happened.

Now, to find something to make with these blueberries...

Chapter III: Musings Around Town

Good Afternoon, Dear Readers.

We had a pretty sedate week, this week; chief among my exploits was that I discovered an excellent (if expensive) method of feeding my coffee addiction.

Ah! The coffee addiction—greatest of vices among college students, bearer of necessary energy and unwelcome jitters. I’m a particular fan of cappuccino (I know, I know, it sounds pretentious, but it’s really good—I promise), and there is a place called Amherst Coffee that sits at the very top of the Amherst hill, and they do excellent cappuccino there. It’s no fuss, nothing extra, just really good coffee with foamed milk.

The town of Amherst (and most of Amherst College) is centered on and around this large hill; it’s a regular feature of a day in the life of an Amherst student to climb up and down this hill two or three times. But, the actual top of the hill is in the downtown strip, and Amherst Coffee (along with a few other businesses) sits more or less on the top of it. As it should.

I first discovered the place when my advisor, Wendy Woodson, insisted that I meet her there for coffee in June. We had a very nice time, talking about how our semesters went—because of the past year’s Covid restrictions, that was actually the first time I had met her in person. I then went back there at the end of this past week.

It’s difficult to convey how impeccable the vibes are, looking out at the overcast weather, the picturesque New England architecture, nursing a cappuccino and reading the news on my phone.

One thing’s for certain, runs my train of thought. I’ll definitely be coming back here to study when the semester starts up. I’m always on the hunt for good places to settle down to read or write—the perennial activity of every college student, even Theater and Dance majors, and Amherst Coffee is for sure a good spot for me.

Over this week, I’ve also visited a few other places around town that are good go-to spots. There’s Antonio’s Pizza, tucked into the rows of restaurants that line Pleasant Street as it descends the side of the hill opposite Amherst College. It’s an excellent place to get slices, especially since they have a great variety of strange and fun toppings available. They’re also open quite late.

I have also now tried two of the three Bubble Tea shops in Amherst—Mogë Tee and LimeRed. Both are good, and have a wide array of selections. Similarly to Amherst Coffee, they make good end-of-day treats.

Finally, and I’ve been saving this one since our tour guide cohort went the week before last, there is a place, called “Flayvors of Cook Farm,” that is an ice cream shop on a working farm about a mile and a half out from downtown Amherst. They make their ice cream from their own cows, and it’s some of the best I’ve had. Flayvors was also an end-of-week excursion.

Until next time.

Chapter II: The Road to Northampton

Good evening, dear readers.

Probably the best decision I made when I came back to campus for the summer was to bring my bike with me. Since Covid restrictions on going into town have been lifted, I find myself riding around Amherst almost every day—whether just to get something from CVS or to explore the mazelike roads and sidewalks up by UMass. I’ll be sure to share records of that exploration in a future post, but today I want to talk about a trip I took down to Northampton after work one day.

There is a bike trail, called the Norwottuck Rail Trail, that runs from the south edge of Amherst College, in one direction south to the Mount Holyoke range (not the college - the range largely separates the town of Amherst from the town of South Hadley, where Mount Holyoke College is located), and in the other west all the way to Northampton, the town where Smith College resides.

It’s about seven miles to the center of Northampton from Amherst, mostly downhill as it heads toward the Connecticut River, which makes the trip out fast and easy. It feels like I’m flying along most of the way there, although I know in the back of my mind that I’ll have to make up every foot of downhill I traverse on the journey back.

Before coming on this journey, I’d never actually been into the town of Northampton, and I have to say, it’s very beautiful. Quaint little shops selling knick-knacks, books, and clothing line Bridge Street at the town’s center. Pride flags are everywhere: hanging inside shop windows, out on the street, printed on the clothes—there’s even the pride crosswalk, a permanent fixture in the most trafficked part of town.

If you ever come out to Amherst, or enroll at Amherst College, I would definitely recommend checking out Northampton. Whatever you might be looking for but not finding in Amherst town, you’ll probably find there. I myself pick up a book, a puzzle and a card in a small bookstore, gifts for father’s day and my parents’ anniversary, respectively, and start making my way back to Moore dormitory at Amherst College.

As expected, the ride back isn’t nearly as easy, but the slower pace I have to take going uphill gives me a chance once more to appreciate the beauty of the country in the Pioneer Valley. I’m at kind of a perfect time, this evening, as the sun is just beginning to set, and golden beams are filtering through the trees the whole ride back, casting patches of ground in a softly radiant glow. It’s hard to understate how pretty the effect is, especially with the birds chirping in the background and the occasional squirrel I see scurry past.

I am, however, grateful to finally arrive back on campus. Fourteen miles is a fair bit of biking, and I’m not nearly as used to long distance as I used to be. Time to head back to Moore and then to clean up and lie down.

Until next time, friends.

Chapter I: The Summit at Bare Mountain

Hello again, dear readers (or, perhaps, hello for the first time?).

I’d like to start our journey together with a little adventure I took last weekend: out into the woods, and up a mountain. Its name is Bare Mountain, and it’s a little peak, along with its neighbor, Mount Hitchcock, but the climb up was still quite a workout.

Coming down the mountain

So, Saturday morning, I joined four of my friends at the PVTA bus stop on the Amherst Town Common, and we got on the R29 southbound at 9:05, which took us south past Amherst College, past Hampshire College, and finally dropped us at the Mount Holyoke Range State Park, at the entrance to the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail. We’d be walking a small portion of it (just a mile and a half) to reach these peaks, but the entire trail stretches 110 miles and up into New Hampshire, for those aspiring long-distance hikers.

The trail immediately rises quite steeply from the road, forcing us to often climb up and over sections of rock that look like stairs for a giant. One of my friends, Rilla McKeagan, who just graduated Amherst with a major in Geology, tells us about how the entire mountain is mostly made of Basalt, a volcanic rock, and shaped by the glaciers that would have covered the Pioneer Valley in the last Ice Age. Rilla also picks up a few rocks as we go past and lines their pockets with them.

Despite the difficulty of the climb, the landscape here is beautiful. Trees shade over everything, dappling the sunlight across the piled and occasionally mossy rocks. Undergrowth, including some occasionally striking flowers, blankets the space not cut through by the trail. It’s quiet, but for the persistent birdsong and our own chatter, and every so often we pass by another hiker or small party, enjoying the morning, making their way up or back down the mountain.

Chilling on the summit

Once we reach the peak, there’s a long few minutes of rest, and we all look out at the view. It’s spectacular. Being from the Midwest, and not having traveled much that I can remember well, it’s the first time I can remember looking out from a mountain view. The whole countryside is laid out before us in a green patchwork, dotted here and there by signs of civilization — small housing developments or roads — which Ella Rose explains can actually break up the ranges of various plants and animals and cause ecological problems.

I can’t capture it on camera well, but with eyes I can see all the way back to Amherst College, which I suppose means that the peak I’m standing on now is one of the ones visible from Memorial Hill. It’s hard to capture the simultaneous feeling of smallness and largeness that view inspires in me.

The next leg of the journey, over to Mount Hitchcock, is rather less eventful. More of the same scenery, but far from unwelcome. The downhill and gentler climb here actually allows me to appreciate it more. The view from there isn’t quite as good — the summit is more overgrown on Hitchcock — but still great, and as the five of us make our way back, we talk about our summers, and the year we’ve had through Covid, and Rilla half-convinces me to sign up for Geology 111 right then and there. The climb down the mountain is surprisingly difficult, as it’s a matter of keeping balance against the pull of gravity, and in some cases, sliding down on your butt, but we make it down with no accidents, and another friend graciously comes to pick us up, as during summer weekends, the bus schedule is pretty light.

What an adventure!

The other mountain climbers