Louis Burdick is appreciative and open, an example of sincere human kindness that’s not encountered in daily life.
“I don’t want people to feel isolated,” he said in regard to his habit of saying thank you after every interaction.“It is evidence that people are not forgotten. Even if someone is lonely and unsure at night alone, they know that Louis appreciates them.”
A utility worker in D-Hall, Burdick stands at the dish conveyor belt, where, before the pandemic, he received used plates, pans, and silverware, and return them, sparkling clean, to their places—all with patience and a smile appreciated especially by the students who have worked with him (myself included). Since Commons Dining Hall transitioned to single-use dishware and cutlery, Burdick’s workload has reduced by half, but he’s glad to be off of furlough. He is also pleased to see so many in-person students this semester, as he was afraid that everyone would want to “stay at home and take classes in their pajamas.”
Burdick has worked at Bennington College since 2009 and appreciates its larger communal feeling; at his old contracting job, he felt like more of a tool than a human. “I didn’t matter… it feels different here,” he said when comparing the two.
It is for this same reason that he has lived in the Bennington area his whole life, where people are more “laid-back” than in cities; “people help each other out here.” He shared an illuminating anecdote from a few years ago when he and his wife bought a new car and decided to replace the all-season tires with something more durable. Instead of storing or selling the unused set, they donated it to the local church for anyone who might need them. Helping people, or what he calls “paying it forward,” is crucial in Louis’ eyes—“We have to work together if we want to survive, [and more than that] thrive.”
This mentality has also had a lifelong significance to him as an outdoorsman. Burdick has always had an appreciation for indigenous people and their unique coexistence with their environment, incited by the time he first found an arrowhead while playing in the garden as a child. Young Burdick observed that many modern Western people depend on structural “networks” like grocery stores, malls, and the internet, and he was inspired by native peoples’ capacity to support each other and themselves with their immediate surroundings.
He now spends his free time in that same wilderness, hiking, hunting and fishing. However, Burdick was hesitant to tell me too much about his hunting practice due to an unpleasant experience with a student who angrily asked him if “hunting made him feel more like a man” and hoped that “he would burn in hell forever for killing an innocent animal.”
Hunting is an important way for Louis to be self-sufficient and engage fully with the wilderness that surrounds him. He made sure to clarify that he always works to respect the animal, ensuring that its death is an “ethical moment” by ending its life as quickly and painlessly as possible. Moreover, to ensure his practice is “neighbor-friendly” he has learned to hunt with bow and arrow, taking inspiration from ancient practices.. The arrowhead tattooed on his left forearm refers to the “archer’s tattoo”, a scar that forms when the string is misfired and hits the arm.
Burdick hunts on foot, and will do so for most of a day, preferably alone. The quiet and stillness are essential, he says; he tells me that when his wife once joined, she exclaimed at every noise, walking as if “a box of cereal had spilled on the floor.” Yes, better to go alone.
His favorite garnishes for the venison, after pan frying the meat with salt and pepper, are blueberries or raspberries. “They get mushy and their flavor seeps into the meat;” he claims it is delicious.
At the end of the interview, he said to me with a small bow, “Thank you for being a part of my day.” I could not help but return the sentiment.
If you ever need a kind word, a smile, even a friendly wave, look out for Louis in D-Hall.