Metamorphosis Gap Semester – Spring 2025

The Metamorphosis Gap Semester

Viroqua, Wisconsin — January 23 – May 30, 2025

The Metamorphosis Gap Semester is a full time program incorporating intellectual work, fine arts and traditional crafts, homesteading skills, participatory self-governance, wilderness expeditions, and engaged community life.  Each semester we explore a unique set of ideas and texts while engaging in activities set by the rhythms of natural and agricultural year and by the Five Pillars of the Thoreau College Curriculum.

Together with an intimate cohort of up to 12 fellow students, Metamorphosis Gap Semester participants embark on an immersive journey of discovery and growth through the changing seasons.   Students interested in completing the full yearly cycle at Thoreau College are encouraged to also apply for the fall semester before or afterwards

Butterfly Metamorphosis


The Metamorphosis Gap Semester spring program immerses students into the dramatic natural and agricultural cycles of the spring season here in the Driftless Region of southwestern Wisconsin.  Starting with a weeklong camping expedition in the depths of winter, participants  have an opportunity to closely observe the emergence of new life with their own senses, using the tools of nature journaling and drawing and the inspiration of great nature writers, poets, and traditional wisdom.  Along the way, as winter melts into summer, they also learn and practice a variety of practical agricultural and manual skills, including pruning, sheep shearing, seed starting, gardening, permaculture design, biodynamic farming, foraging for wild foods and medicines, cooking and food preservation, basic carpentry and building maintenance, and more. 

The details of each semester, including texts, themes, artistic activities, and field trips differ from year to year, but the the cycles of nature determine the core of the program and set the tone for each season.  The texts, arts activities, and labor projects below are examples drawn from past years. 

Please visit the semester program curriculum page for more information about the philosophy of our programs.

In addition, syllabi from past courses here:


Sample Texts from Past Semesters:

    • Henry David Thoreau, Walden
    • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass
    • Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
    • Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
    • Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red
    • Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America
    • bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place
    • Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances
    • Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
    • The Popol Vuh 
    • The Book of Genesis
    • The Prose Edda 
Tom in Chicago
Sample Arts & Crafts:
    • Wooden spoon carving
    • Basket making
    • Figure Drawing
    • Botanical Drawing
    • Community Singing
    • Theater Arts
    • Pottery
    • Bookbinding
    • Puppet Making
    • Storytelling

Sample Spring Labor Activities:

    • Pruing fruit trees and grape vines
    • Maple sugaring
    • Firewood splitting and piling
    • Shepherding, including lambing, shearing, and pasturing
    • Garden planning, mulching, and composting
    • Seed starting and transplanting
    • Foraging for edible wild plants and mushrooms
    • Meal planning, cooking, and baking
    • Basic carpentry and building maintenance
    • Chicken butchering (optional)
Sheep Shearing
Tom Basket
Morel Foraging

Solos and Expeditions

The Metamorphosis Gap Semester spring program is incorporates several group expeditions and solo experiences in nature.  The semester begins with a five day group winter camping trip, in which participants quickly learn to work together to stay warm, work together, and care for the well being of the group.  The midpoint of the semester is marked by a five day experience of solitude in a cabin or tent shelter inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s time at Walden Pond.  Later in the semester we take a very different kind of expedition to an urban center, such as Milwaukee or Chicago, to learn and work in urban community gardens and experience the kind of high culture only a great city can provide.

Winter Cooking
Grape Pruning
Nanami Cabin

Program Schedule

Thoreau College strives to cultivate a harmonious balance of activities that engage head, heart, and hands across all programs and all periods of time.  In practice, this means an integration of open discussions of ideas and perspectives with the arts and hands-on physical activities in all courses.  A typical day at Thoreau College begins with a Morning Circle with students and faculty incorporating singing, movement activities, and announcements.  The rest of the day is devoted to 2- or 3-hr long blocks of academic discussion, arts/crafts workshops, or hands-on labor.  Each weekday includes a shared community lunch using seasonal ingredients and on Friday afternoons there is a community-wide meeting where important questions of shared governance are discussed and decided upon.  Evenings and weekends are generally unscheduled, although students will have opportunities to participate in elective courses offered through the Driftless Folk School or the Thoreau College Community Seminar or Community Arts offerings.

The semester is punctuated with expeditions and solos and there is a weeklong spring break in mid April.  Throughout the program, we will mark and celebrate the changes of the seasons, the cycles of the sun, moon, and stars, and the festivals of several different cultures and traditions.

Please note that the schedules below are drafts and will likely evolve before and during the semester in response to opportunities and community shared governance decision making.

Typical Week - Spring 2025
Spring Semester Calendar

 Program Details


The program will begin with orientation activities on Thursday, January 23 and end on Friday, May 30, 2025.  Students should plan to arrive no later than Wednesday, January 20.  The semester formally begins with a weeklong winter camping trip on Monday,  January 27.


Private or shared rooms will be available in Thoreau College facilities for up to 12 program participants.  Some participants will live at the Thoreau College campus, which is located on six acres of open land on the edge of Viroqua where we will be preparing garden beds and doing other activities, while others will be living a short walk away in town at one of our residential houses with up to 5 others.  Weekday lunches will be provided during the program, but participants are responsible for their other meals. Students will have access to full kitchen facilities and some early season food from our farm and garden operations. 




Admission to the Metamorphosis Gap Semester is need-blind, meaning that what a student is able to pay has no bearing on admissions decisions and, once a student is admitted, there is no set tuition for attendance.  Instead, after completing the admission process, our staff will meet with you to determine a financial pledge that is appropriate to your situation, while also supporting the work of the college.   

Some numbers to consider:

  • We estimate that the actual cost per student for us to stage this semester program is about $10,500. 
  • The cost of housing, lunches, and instructional supplies alone is about $3,500 for the semester.
  • With fundraising and other sources of income, we estimate that we will be able to meet our expenses if the average student contributes $8,500 for the semester.

These numbers and policies make the Thoreau College Metamorphosis Gap Semester once of the most financially affordable and flexible gap year programs in the country.

This pledge covers tuition, as well as housing, weekday lunches, local transportation, and instructional supplies and tools.  All books, art supplies, tools, and camping equipment are provided for all students participating in the program.  Some students pay their pledge up front, others make monthly contributions, and still others pledge contributions in coming years.  



At this time, Thoreau College does not confer any credit, diploma, credential, or qualification.  If you are currently enrolled in an accredited college or university, we would be happy to work with your institution to secure independent study, internship, or study abroad credits if that is a possibility.

“No method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on the alert. What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity.”