When I arrived at Northland and met my new basketball coach and teammates, it didn’t take long before I acquired the nickname “4-H’er—half hugger, half hooper.” I was the weirdo who didn’t eat meat and read books by the naturalist Edward Abbey, but I also loved shooting free throws, doing box-out drills, and practicing baseline inbound plays as much as anyone. As a city girl, I had never heard of 4-H and later realized it was my teammates’ way of lovingly including me in their circle while accepting me for who I was (even though they still tried to get me to eat meat).
I didn’t choose Northland because of its sports program, however. I was there to explore outside my comfort zone—beyond the full court press and into the big north woods. I wanted to learn how to ski and sail and go camping in the Apostle Islands. I loved the wide variety of liberal arts courses Northland had to offer, eagerly registering for World Religions and Native American Cultures, Environmental Economics and Ethics, Sea Kayaking, and Ornithology. (Okay, I dropped out of ornithology not one, but two spring semesters because I couldn’t handle the 4:30 a.m. wake-up call—one of my biggest regrets!)
My freshman Outdoor Orientation trip gave me the confidence—and the friends—to plan all kinds of adventures (not to mention the skills to poop in the woods and build a fire). My poetry class with Cynthia Belmont pushed me out of my nonfiction writing happy place to explore this hard but beautiful craft.
My summer job at a Bayfield blueberry farm taught me, among many other things, the importance of a well-sharpened pruner and knowing how to drive a stick shift. Ultimate frisbee on the mall taught me the basic skills for this universally social game, giving me a way to connect with an entire community of fun, smart, wacky friends once I moved to Portland, Oregon. My experience on the Environmental Council gave me the community organizing and political skills to eventually run for office in my now hometown of Hood River, Oregon.
More than twenty years later, I’m still a “4-H’er,” and I remain grateful to the Northland community for all it instilled in me—which goes far beyond a nickname.