For my final project, I want to reflect on a big part of the way I think a lot of us think about the environment (occasionally without admitting it to ourselves). To do this, I have to examine something that we haven't touched on so much in class: fear. One thing I kept coming back to this semester but never really found the time to talk about was the fact that I was having a hard time fully embracing the attitude of "love your environment, go outside and frolic in it" and the occasional "...or you're a bad person" that some of our readings seemed to imply. This is mostly because my journey to familiarize myself with the outside world contained a great deal of fear that I had to overcome, and I don't believe that I could be one of the only ones that experienced this.
(With my extension for my final work, my teach-in participation was at this point a while ago. However I think I still remember it well enough!)
My contribution to the teach-in was to discuss the subject that drove me to take this class in the first place. My journey in connecting with my environment was greatly helped along by working with a marine animal hospital and this peaked my interest in this class as an elective, so I thought I would share something about these experiences with the class as part of the teach-in.
The point of my demonstration was to peak people's interest in further exploring the world around them, but from some of the reactions to my question about which animals they could identify, I feel like I instead made some people feel like they hadn't done enough exploring of their own environment. This was accidental but I feel like it was also a good thing. I liked the fact that people felt like the absence of their ability to identify common animals meant that, generally, they had more exploring to do in order to fully understand the world around them, and I liked that I ended this class in a way that opened further reflection instead of clsed our earlier reflections.
I'm conflicted about the result of our trip, so my reflection may be a bit scattered. There were some things I really liked and some that I didn't like so much, but overall I think we made the right decision to experiment with this alternative class structure.
Still, I think we failed in our objective to connect with water. I spent a lot of our ramble looking into the water, but I couldn't find much except for mossy rocks and trash. The water itself seemed a bit dirty (probably due to the trash surrounding it), and I think that may have been why I didn't see a lot of people doing what I was doing. Most people I observed were talking in groups or exploring the plant life around the banks. I'm completely okay with this, but I think if our intention was to explore in this way, we should have chosen a different location.
The water was cold and contrasting with the overwhelming (to me) surprise of Monday's heat, and I enjoyed being able to sit on a stone in the center of the creek, surounded by water on all sides, and look for frogs or minnows in its slower parts. I didn't find any, though. I guessed that this might have been because of the conditions of the creek area which, again, weren't very good. In result, my individual ramble was a time of pastoral reflections shadowed by the real, ecological concerns of litter and irresponsible human behavior. I don't think I did much connecting in result, but I do think my experience was important.
Today, at the ever-surprising space that is my observation spot, there is melted plastic covering a lot of the steps. Tuesday night, while walking out of Erdman, I saw a small fire inside the circle. I didn't react to it because I could hear people around it and they did not seem concerned. Maybe they were burning some particularly nasty graded assignment or conducting an experiment or getting rid of a bad memory. I don't know. I guess I figured they must have had a reason.
My hometown recently released a magazine called "Grown." This is a town in which the class differences are extremely visible and most of the people that live here year-round are not really part of the higher ones, but most everything caters to the wealthy tourists and summer home owners. This magazine, apparently, caters to them, too. It discussed summer programs for high school students at sea, fundraisers for health food stores and local eating, and information about how to make a summer house more "green." No options were given to the many residents of the town that cannot afford these things. The wealthier members of Western society are given in forms like this easy ways to be environmentally-friendly and connect to the Earth, while the less wealthy are not. The less wealthy that do not happen to live in tourist towns with rich plant life do not even have the opportunity to.
After Monday's trip to Morris Woods, I have starting noticing more plants that seem to be invasive or are clearly taking over with no natural enemy. Because of this, when I got to my spot, I realized that I had never actually noticed the English Ivy. Looking now, it is probably one of the stone circle's most noticeable attributes and I am kind of confused as to why I simply looked over it. This place is such a mess of different plants that I assumed that all of the green vines were parts of various ones, but after paying attention to the Ivy in Morris Woods and thinking about how it clearly does not belong there, the vines in the circle seem more noticeable, prominent, and out of place.
There is a concept in science fiction which allows a device to be created to hide things in plain sight. The device limits your perception of things by making you simply fail to notice them and occasionally notice something else instead. This can only be broken when an outside source draws your attention to what's being hidden. I just experienced real life science fiction! I know, not really, but the concept behind the technology is real. I didn't even see the English Ivy and I even perceived it as belonging to multiple plants until somebody else told me in a different situation to attend to the invasiveness of it. When I got to my site today, the presence of the ivy was almost creepy as I had never seen it before, but I had been seeing it every week at the same time.
Today I continued my experiment that I started last week. I kept some leaves and needles that I couldn't identify around my spot to see how far they blew in from the hurricane.
I found some matching needles from the group of trees on Erdman Green between the health center and the dining hall, which is close enough to make sense but still pretty far in terms of wind gust strength.
One odd red leaf that looks like a cross between a maple leaf and a tiny palm frond (really) was still nowhere to be found, even though I was pretty determined to find where it came from because it seems like it would be an interesting tree. This means it probably traveled very far before it fell onto the steps behind Erdman Circle.
A lot of the leaves came from the pretty tree that once had shocking red/orange fall foliage under the streetlamp on the path from the arch to Erdman. Last week, they stood out in wonderful bright colors, but this week they are mostly a muddy shade of brown just like the rest of the leaves on the Overlook behind the Circle.
The branch I brought back is a holly branch. Those are very sturdy and it just seems unlikely that a storm could pull one off of a holly tree, but I guess it can.
Last week, I was so proud of my shiny new spot with the bright leaves in warm colors. This week, it looks absolutely nothing like it did.
The tree that had provided me with a spectrum of warm colors and a little autumn paradise has moved from shedding its leaves to shedding entire boughs and branches and ironically limiting my mobility in a spot I chose in order to increase it. At first I was disappointed (although not entirely surprised) by the extreme changes, but the storm, as it turns out, didn't ruin my nature observations forever.
Last week, my observation was about the diversity of leaves that I initially overlooked and the difference between my initial perception of them and the way they appeared to me upon closer examination. Honestly, I now wish I had saved that topic for this week as Sandy has brought me a huge range of not only different colors but different leaves, needles, acorns or pinecones, entire branches, and displaced vines that probably have no business being there or anywhere nearby, but make my spot full of a lot more interesting things to discover. Looking beyond the one primary tree to the ones nearby, I can identify a lot of the new additions as parts of those, but some are strangely nowhere to be found. This implies that some of the leaves (and one branch or part of a bush) was blown into my spot from some places that are nowhere in the general vicinity of the Erdman circle. The strength of wind that this suggests is both worrisome and fascinating.
In my earlier Thoreauvian walk, my examination of Bryn Mawr's campus was restricted to the literal environmental aspects of the school. I looked at trees, I walked, and I let "nature's compass" guide me. Now that I have read more closely into the idea of ecological literacy and have been able to analyze my personal experiences in the context of ecological schools of thought, my early campus exploration seems limited and too literal in the way I defined my relationship to the environment and our relationship to it as an institution. Recently, I have found myself without easy access to required technology. This problem has actually prevented me from accomplishing most academic things that Bryn Mawr students would usually assume to be simple. With no personal computer and limited mobility toward an outside computer, I would like to examine the ecological illiteracy of Bryn Mawr's dependence on the internet and computing.
So, obviously a lot of us are scrambling to prepare ourselves for the hurricane and adjusting our plans to fit its needs. I think this is relevant to our recent conversations and that unpacking this might be interesting.
I experienced this less when I lived in a tropical climate prone to hurricanes, but people around here are either extremely apprehensive or extremely excited about the idea of the hurricane hitting Bryn Mawr. Either way, we are reacting to something that we do not understand in very typical and very human ways. That is absolutely acceptable, but sometimes it looks like we are trying to comfort ourselves by turning the storms into something campy, familiar, and non-threatening, even though a lot of times they are a lot more damaging than the way they are portrayed. For instance, we give hurricanes names. This potentially dangerous and uncontrollable storm has been given the name "Sandy."
Naming hurricanes has always bothered me. Giving something a gendered name to familiarize us with something we don't understand and to potentially decrease the feeling of a threat is unsettling. Does a hurricane need a name? Does a hurricane need a gender? Weather forecasters refer to hurricanes as "she" or "he" depending on their given name, and I have previously seen yet-unnamed tropical storms or depressions referred to as "she" as a default (I'm not even sure what this implies).