The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 20, 2001


Sheep may safely graze?

Tuesday morning as I traveled down Westford Street heading to the Mosquito office, I glanced across the Towle Field conservation land on my left, and for a moment I conjured up a bucolic scene of grazing sheep spread out across the field. Such thoughts had been stimulated, I am sure, by conversations I had been privy to over the weekend. The talk had been about renting a flock of 200 sheep to tackle the persistent battle with buckthorn and poison ivy that cannot be eradicated or even controlled by an annual fall mowing.

As Seba Gaines reports in her article on page one, sheep not only eat unwanted invasive vegetation, but they eat it down to the roots and can get at growth in crevices of stone walls and around trees, something that mowing was never able to accomplish. This solution to a “gnawing” problem couldn’t be more ecologically sound — no brush fires or toxic chemicals, organic fertilization of the soil, and regrowth of preferred grasses.

An intensive sheep grazing project is being looked at in Concord, and the Carlisle Conservation Foundation is interested in the possibility of using sheep to clear portions of the Spencer Brook Reservation. Funding for the project is being investigated.

With all the concern for preserving Carlisle’s rural character, the thought of a flock of woolly sheep attended by a watchful sheep dog grazing the Towle Field for a few weeks each year brings a most appealing image to mind.



Required reading: the pursuit of happiness

A new book, Making the Most of College (Harvard University Press, 2001), should probably be required reading for every high school student matriculating at college in the fall. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but a full page article in the April 5 New York Times Education Supplement summarized its main points. The book is based on a ten-year study of Harvard graduates, in which the authors tried to determine what made for a happy undergraduate experience.

The article summarizes the study’s chief findings as follows:

• Get to know the faculty. Each semester, a student should try to get to know one faculty member.

• Take a mix of courses, even in freshman year. Avoid the temptation to get required courses over all at once.

• Study in groups. This is especially recommended for science courses where students tend to spend time alone working on complicated ideas.

• Prefer courses that require a number of short essays, rather than those with one or two long papers. When a long paper comes due at the end of a term, there is no chance to recover from a serious mistake.

• Speak a foreign language. The classes are small, students are encouraged to participate, and emphasis falls on frequent writing.

• Set aside longer periods of uninterrupted time — several hours — for concentrated study.

• Join an activity, an organization, a sport, or a volunteer group.

The dominant strand that runs through the study’s findings can be easily discerned: get to know others — professors, other classmates, other athletes, others in need at a local shelter or soup kitchen. A balance must be struck, in the best of approaches, between the library and extracurricular activities.

I suspect that if a similar study were done of high school students, the findings would be the same. High school students involved in the band, in sports, in the drama club, in the debating society tend to manage time more effectively, excel in some area, and attain some degree of happiness. The profiles of those involved in school shootings, to veer to the opposite extreme, reveal students who are socially and intellectually isolated.

The Harvard study’s findings also help to explain some of my own experiences. A roommate with whom I still keep in touch continues to muse over the difference between his high school and college careers. In high school he poured his soul into the school newspaper, ultimately becoming its editor. In college he tried out for the newspaper, but left it for the library. He graduated magna cum laude, but without that sense of joy and purpose which propelled his high school career. My wife’s most vivid college experiences occurred not at her alma mater, Smith, but with the UMass Outing Club.

I’d also be willing to bet that the Harvard study applies to our lives here in Carlisle. Members of our various town boards claim to enjoy their involvement, despite the long hours, the passions regularly evoked by regulatory issues, and the occasional lawsuits. From personal experience and observation I can report that there is great esprit de corps on the Mosquito, in the fire department, the zoning board of appeals, the Carlisle Minutemen, the Middlesex County Bee Keepers Association and just about every other organization and board in town.

So, whether you are luxuriating in your new mansion or shivering in your antique hovel, happiness seems to lie beyond the back door, down the street with neighbors, with town government, or with some organization of like-minded enthusiasts.

This feels right, but I’ve still got to read the book.