Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2017 - 74
Raising Children on a
Mallory McDuff, Ph.D. teaches
environmental education at Warren
Wilson College. She is the author of
"Natural Saints" (OUP, 2010), "Sacred
Acts" (New Society Publishers, 2012),
and co-author of "Conservation
Education and Outreach Techniques"
(OUP, 2015). Her essays have appeared
in BuzzFeed, Full Grown People, The
Rumpus, Sojourners, USA Today and more.
Mallory McDuff has raised her two daughters on the campus of Warren
Wilson College for the past 17 years.
by Mallory McDuff
One summer afternoon, I faced an impending deadline
at work and an energetic five-year old at home. As my
daughter pushed a baby-doll stroller across the living
room, I concocted a strategy to create a window of time
for writing at the kitchen table.
"Maya, why don't you stroll your baby to the library
and then come back home?" I asked. Now this is not
an advisable parenting tactic in many places, but I felt
comfortable sending her on a solo expedition on the
campus of Warren Wilson College outside Asheville,
It's an unusual place to raise a child, or in my case
two daughters, in a 900-square foot duplex, where we
share a laundry room with the associate director of
admissions. But my girls have grown up in this place,
with its herd of cattle, a donkey named Tallulah, and a
forest, farm, and garden that produces food for the cafeteria. The school is a work college, where students log
10-15 hours a week at jobs such as conducting research
in the genetics lab, renovating campus buildings, and
weaning pigs on the farm.
Soon after the start of my daughter's journey, a staff
member called on the phone: "Did you know that Maya's pushing a pink stroller by the library?"
Indeed, this is the place where I feel known and
A week later, Maya got her finger stuck in the cir74 BlueRidgeCountry.com
cular hole of a piece of wood from a toy construction
set in our garage. As her pudgy hand began to turn
pink from the pressure, we hurried to the carpentry
shop to find supervisor Norm Propst with his full head
of white hair and wide-open smile. With the precision
of a surgeon, Norm used a handsaw to cut the wood
off her finger. Two college students watched in awe as
Norm performed the operation, handing my daughter
a lollipop to put her at ease.
When Norm died this past year, grown men and
women told stories at his memorial of the transferable
skills he taught them about working hard, caring for
others, and respecting their community.
"Don't ever be in too much of a hurry that you can't
help someone," one of his former students recalled as
a lesson learned on the job. Of course, an educational
model where students practice real-world skills has the
potential for both innovation and failure, but so does
the actual real world.
My daughters are now 18 and 11 and have seen
hundreds of my students leave college and find meaningful work from growing organic vegetables at Beacon Village Farm to monitoring threatened species
with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. These summer
nights, my graduates bring their own young children
to my small house to share stories of work, place, and
people in the mountains.