bio photo.jpg My name’s Brian and I’m from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I’m currently stuck in the purgatory between sophomore and junior year, that time when every Amherst student stops and thinks, Dang, I’m halfway done. It’s a good feeling for some of us, but for others it’s like a mid-life crisis. There’s so much we should’ve done but still haven’t. To be fair I’ve kept myself quite busy these last two years. I’ve led hiking trips through our Outing Club. I’ve lived with a bunch of beatniks in an arts theme house. I play Ultimate Frisbee with the Amherst College Army of Darkness (awesome name, right?). I’ve organized protests, teach-ins, and walk-outs with the Green Amherst Project. And as a geology major I spend an unhealthy amount of time dissolving rocks with acid in my professor’s lab.

My goals for this blog are twofold: to give you a taste of what my life is like as a student at Amherst, and to avoid writing posts I’ll find cringe-worthy five years from now. If you have questions about Amherst, or just want to talk rocks, email me at bbeaty17@amherst.edu.

Enjoy!

Brian's Blog Entries

Emily's Neighbors

marsh seasons.jpg This next post is going to be a counterpart to Lola’s about the housing situation at Amherst. Two years ago I decided not to be a sucker to the whims of Room Draw and Opt Out and instead applied to live in one of the theme houses on campus, the Marsh Arts House. Theme houses each have their own application processes and internal room draws at the end of the school year, so I applied during the spring semester of my first year to live there as a sophomore. I enjoyed living in Marsh so much that I chose to do it again my junior year.

Why live in a theme house? Simple: community. As a first year I was lucky enough to live in a dorm called Williston that gained a cult-like status on campus for being so tightly knit. Despite not having any choice in the matter as incoming students, on day one of college we all somehow seemed to click. (Fun fact: Lola was my next-door neighbor!) I  wanted to replicate that experience by living in Marsh, which, despite attracting a different crew of people, seemed to have a similar sense of unification.

Marsh is a quirky place. It’s a former fraternity house perched on a hill above Emily Dickinson’s homestead, reachable by a forested trail called the “bear path,” and (falsely) rumored to be the dorm where Calvin Coolidge lived when he was a student at Amherst. Our main claim to fame is Coffee Haus, a bi-weekly Friday evening event our members organize that provides student artists a space to perform in front of their peers. It functions as an alternative to the Amherst party scene, although most audience members tend to migrate off to parties after it ends. Last year I was a Coffee Haus advertiser, designing nightmarish posters like this:

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Last year’s MCs of Coffee Haus schmoosing with the ghosts of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost

At any given Coffee Haus, the energy in the room can range from chill to manic. People have recited poetry, played guitars, performed standup comedy, and even made sandwiches in front of a packed audience. My favorite moments are those when the whole room goes silent save for the performer, the faces of the audience illuminated by the dull yellow glow of the lampshades. It’s one of those rare occasions in my Amherst experience where everything feels so in the moment.

Theme housing can still be stressful. A few days ago the future house president informed us that he would be taking a gap year, leaving us leaderless. A few more members announced that they would not be living in the dorm next year, leaving several rooms vacant. Since Res Life abhors a vacuum, we need to take in new members and conduct a second room draw. Lately I’ve been obsessing about the room I’ll have in the fall, and now I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t lose it because of the fiasco. But no matter what happens, I’ll still be super excited for Round 2 in the Haus.

The Dragon's Tooth

Last weekend I went whitewater rafting. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but since I didn’t take any pictures, I guess I’ll have to write a thousand words (which may be difficult because at the moment there’s a wedding afterparty being held at the Lord Jeff Inn right outside my dorm-room window with what sounds like several hundred people screaming to the lyrics of Stayin’ Alive).

First, a little context: summer at Amherst isn’t quite as exciting as the school year at Amherst. Beautiful weather and no classes are nice, but I spend most of my time working in a lab. Moreover, most of my friends aren’t on campus and are instead doing crazy stuff like bungee jumping off bridges in New Zealand as part of their “study” abroad (that’s pointed at you, Lucas). Fortunately, all of us here at Amherst – researchers, farmers, interns, volunteers, squatters – still find ways to have fun. Hence whitewater rafting, which I first heard about through my friend Nate, who heard about it through his physics professor, who happens to be an avid whitewater kayaker. Nate put me in touch with a guy named Al, who runs rafting trips through the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Al’s a cool guy. The man’s enthusiasm is infectious, even over the phone when I first called him. In person he’s even more exuberant, jumping up and down and waving his arms whenever the subject of rafting comes up.

Five other Amherst students signed up, too, none of whom I knew particularly well before the trip. I’ve been going on trips with our school’s Outing Club since my first month at Amherst and have led a few myself, and the great thing about all of them is that a new group of faces seems to show up each time. They’re one of my main ways of meeting new people here at Amherst and connecting with them on a level I normally wouldn’t back on campus.

To get to the rafting site – a section of the Deerfield River called the Dryway, about 20 miles north of Amherst – we rented one of the vans owned by our student government group, the Association of Amherst Students or AAS. AAS vans are clubs’ primary means of transportation and are also available to students without cars who want to do things on their own volition like drive to the grocery store or the airport.

The rapids along the Deerfield River aren’t your typical rapids. The river is too low in the summer for them to form naturally, but a nearby hydroelectric facility holds back enough water in a reservoir to turn the rapids “on” once it’s released through a dam. That gave us a narrow window of time – 10 am to 2 pm – to get out on the river. If we were out too long, we’d be stuck out on a dry creek bed, forced to drag the raft all the way back to the spot where we put in. Certain sections of the rapids are Class IV, which, according to Wikipedia, are “intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water… [and] may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure.” And that’s pretty much how the day went.

Al had three rafts, one he captained himself and two he delegated to other AMC guides. The Amherst crew piled into a raft helmed by a guy who was the exact opposite of Al – calm, serious, and quiet. The first rule of rafting: do as he says. If he says paddle forward, we paddle forward. If he says paddle backward, we paddle backward. If he says stop, we stop.

Our first rapids come up. They’re only Class III. Tim and I do everything correctly because we’re near the back of the raft, right in front of the guide. Poor Felix and Joon are in the front row and can’t hear the guide’s voice over the roar of the river. As if straight out of a Michael Bay film, Joon stops paddling and yells, “Brace yourselves!” before he and only he gets hit by the spray and flies backward onto the laps of Iris and Vickie behind him. Tim and I see it all from the back. The six of us burst into laughter while our guide yells at us to keep paddling forward. “Did I say stop?” he asks. Oops.

I managed to stay relatively dry, but not for long; we ended up spinning 180 degrees through the second set of rapids, which positioned my body right in the trough of an upcoming wave. Sploosh!

The final rapids, Class IV this time, are called the Dragon’s Tooth. The trick with the Dragon’s Tooth is to avoid the Dragon’s Tooth, a boulder jutting out of the foam (Dragon’s Saliva?) at the base of the rapids. Felix paddles like a madman. Joon braces correctly this time. We all survive, drag our raft back to the cars, take a selfie with our guide, say goodbye to Al, and head back home in the AAS van.

Addendum: Turns out this post was under 1,000 words, so here’s a picture that's worth the extra 150:

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Basin and Range

Midway through finals week I woke up to a text message. Good morning Brian! it said. This is Dave. Im here in the marsh driveway. Marsh is the name of my dorm. It was 4 am. Two hours earlier I had just finished moving most of my belongings into student storage, which meant I was laying on a bare mattress in my empty room. I got up, shouldered my massive hiking backpack, threw myself out the door, and entered the car waiting outside. “Good morning Brian!” Dave smiled from the driver’s seat.

For the next three weeks I would be in the Great Basin of Nevada and California as part of something Amherst calls the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) program. Along with my friend and fellow geology major Cara, I collected rocks and sediment samples for my geology professor, Dave Jones.

Dave “Davey Jones” Jones literally studies dead things at the bottom of the sea. Now to be entirely honest, the sea he studies hasn't been around for the past 450 million years. Entire coral reefs are preserved in Nevada’s ancient dolomite rock, and one of our goals was to hammer out baseball-sized chunks of it that we could mail back to Amherst and study in the lab. I’m currently back in the lab studying the chemistry of these rocks to determine what Earth’s climate was like at the time they formed, which is important because they preserve a record of the first mass extinction in the history of life, the end-Ordovician extinction. Sea level fell dramatically at the end of the Ordovician, so if you were a coral, you were screwed.

The second goal of our trip was to collect sediment from a place called Deep Springs Lake in California to better understand how dolomite forms in modern-day environments. Deep Springs Lake isn’t much of a lake; situated in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it’s little more than a glorified mud puddle. Our work involved wading out into the middle of the lake to get some of that mud, the results of which are shown in the photo below.

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Experiential learning at its best. Left to right: me, Dave, and Cara.

Several miles up the road from the lake was Deep Springs College, a place where cattle outnumber students (similar to Williams). The students there learn how to raise livestock, ride horses, and grow their own food, while also taking classes. Deep Springs has a strict isolation policy, but we were lucky enough to visit because its faculty invited Dave to give a talk about the lake.

After the talk we all gathered in the backyard of the dean’s house for refreshments. One of the students told me he had a friend from high school who goes to Amherst and asked me if I knew him. I laughed because yes, the name was familiar, but only because this kid and I went on the same hiking trip during first-year orientation, and after that I never ran into him again. I never considered Amherst a “big” school, but visiting Deep Springs changed my perspective. I guess even here it’s easy to get lost in the crowd.