Stephen R. Miller Memorial Bench
Today’s observation period at my sight sit besides being my last was also the first one that I’ve managed to have for a few weeks. With the weather conditions making the day feel more like it should be in March rather than December, it felt like it was going to be a rather pleasant hour at my bench. Unfortunately though, the visuals that I witnessed at the bench were not as pleasant as the weather. Although the sight of the trees along the nature tree and the pine needles healthily covering the bench were still there, placed right in the middle of the Arboretum field in front of me, was a cleared section of dirt and gravel. Leading from this spot were both a similar dirt and gravel path and a black plastic fence snaking away towards the Nature Trail and apparently extending all the way to Haverford Road. Upon inquiring about the cleared patch later, I found out that the field was being prepared to be turned into a temporary parking lot for the golf tournaments that were to take place on local golf courses during the summertime.
On November 18th, Rachel and I met up with our 3 freshmen partners (Alex, Hannah, and Rochelle) to conduct both the botanical tour and the geographic tour of Bryn Mawr. We began by first sitting down at our usual circle chairs outside of English and having a discussion in which we compared and contrasted our two classes. While there was certainly some similarities (they are of course taking an ecological-minded class as well) there did exist some differences, mostly in terms of the texts we read. Following this, Rachel and I brought the freshmen into the woods and had them examine privet, viburnum, spice bush, beech trees, and tulip trees. In turn, the freshmen brought to various buildings and structures around campus and explain to us the composition of each particular building, and highlighted particular usage of Wissahickon Schist and Baltimore Nice on a few of the buildings and contrasted their attributes. As we finished up the Interdisciplinary Ramble of the campus at the Bryn Mawr Fieldhouse, our combined groups discussed what we had learned through each of the botanical and geological examinations of the campus. We ended with an agreement that the current landscape of the campus did consist of the natural landscape but in the process of being turned into a college campus the landscape had to incorporate imported components (such as Baltimore Nice and the non-native species in the woods).
Yesterday during my observation period, I decided to incorporate some of what the class discussed in regards to Caning in the City,as well as the experiences of the "Find Your Tree" exercise into my observation period. Having been inspired by both being blindly led in Morris Woods and Carmen's talk of how being physically blind changed his perceptions of his surroundings I decided to conduct my observation with my eyes closed. I wanted to see if I could be able to observe just as much sitting on my bench without visual aid as I could when I had my eyes open. Naturally trying to do so created some issues, as having my eyes closed led to some horrendous note taking but more importantly blindly observing would be vhallenging my orginal intention for choosing the spot so I could note the visual seasonal changes on the Haverford Nature Trail. But in conducting this visual-free observation time, I nonetheless was able to still take note of my surroundings in suprisingly new ways. For instance I noticed I had a better sense of how intense each gust of wind was and from which direction it was coming from, based on tiny things like feeling the wind on exposed skin or the slight rustling of dead leaves near the bench. I could suprisingly tell the differences between different vehicle engines and animal and bird calls based on small variations in the noise level that was generated (something I may have missed if I merely saw these objects and organisms and only took note of their visible differences rather than the small differences).
The first half of my hour of observation felt like a very standard observation period for me. I noticed it was windier, slightly colder, how the tree’s had lost even more of their leaves (not only could I now see the Nature Trail but I could see all the way through the trains along the Haverford Road to the golf course on the other side of the R-100 line),the diminishing animal life (excluding dogs being walked), and how the nature trail was starting to resemble a trail in a forest (with all the leaves covering it) rather than one on a college campus. Sitting on the bench , and making what I saw as my rather standard observations, I began to get bored and started to wonder if I could actually observe something new. Sure unlike in the previous weeks the weather was less turbulent, and the cold and wind weren’t bothering me that much (showing that I was at least becoming more adapted to the seasonal transition) so there was that. Still wanting something more exciting to observed as well as a change of pace, I finally figured out how I was going to mix things up. I decided…. to stand up from the bench and walk around a little bit.
Besides briefly seeing it from a distance, I had not seen or visited my spot since before Hurricane Sandy hit the area. Luckily for me the bench had survived the storm although it was still soaked from the weather we had the last week as well as looking much more weathered. Besides this, there was also plenty of other signs of Sandy even a few days afterwards. Although the trees around the bench had been spared for the most part (save one that was slightly uprooted and leaning slightly on its neighbor) there was one tree that had been blown down that I had noticed on my route to the bench. Likewise looking around the ground was strewn with, sticks, and fallen braches so Sandy certainly had done some damage to the general area of this section of the arboretum. Besides blowing down the branches, Sandy also helped the transition towards winter by blowing off a good portion of the tree leaves, so the rainbow of colors I had noticed on the tree line earlier was now replaced with patches of bare leaves. Although this did allow me a better view of the nature trail I also could see Haverford road more clearly, so the scenery unfortunately was not solely a beautiful natural setting. For the most part the area was pretty empty, both of individuals using the nature trail and of the usual signs of nature, so at times I felt like I was my current observation period was rather dreary. It was cold, windy, and cloudy so that didn’t really help.
As I arrived and settled into my position on the bench, I did so with some expectations , chief among them was that I was going observe a huge amount of change in observations in comparison to my last week two weeks ago . I expected this change to be part of the ongoing and inevitable march of autumn into winter. In some ways this was true as there was not one uniform color scheme for the leaves in the visible tree line, I had a much better view of Haverford Road from angles and positions previously covered by foliage and there were absolutely no birds in sight or within earshot. These observations of autumn though seemed overshadowed by several observations that suggested that seasonal transitional wasn’t transitioning as fast as I thought they might/should. The most notable observation to back this up was that it was HOT sitting on the bench, as the temperature was pretty high, the sunlight was bearing down on the bench directly, with no tree shade or clouds and hardly any wind to cool the area down. Also in comparison to bird life which had been nonexistent, the area surrounding the bench was filled with insect life, and I found myself swarmed by bees, lady bugs, and gnats (due to the isolation I guess I was the only living thing in the area they could swarm to) as well as observing spider web-like silk threads drifting by on what little wind there was and clinging to anything they touched.
My latest observation at the Miller Memorial bench really put into perspective how isolated the spot really was. True for the most part the spot and the surrounding area was not as lonely as it had been. Seeing how it was early afternoon on a day with fairly warm weather for an October day, I saw plenty more hikers, dog walkers, and runners (especially one who streaked across my field of vision 4 times in a 20 minute period) than there had been on my previous observation periods. Yet while it was more common to see people nearby than before, surprisingly there were huge spans of time where I was completely alone in the area and quite frankly enjoyed it. It was quiet and peaceful and made it hard to believe I was close to a busy road nearby and with a hugely populated college campus no more than a football field behind me. I was not only one who seemed to finally accept this spot as a quiet little bubble to get away from it all. When I first arrived, there was another observer, a local resident it seemed like, on a bench nearby, and it was only my arrival that forced him to reevaluate his position and leave, his content isolation apparently shattered by myself. But for me the highlight of the hour ( and perhaps of all my observations so far) was seeing a fox move out of the bushes bordering the Nature Trail and quietly slip back in after a few minutes.
The first few minutes of my third trip to my spot followed the basic general format that I had followed in my previous observation periods. I sat on the bench, taking into account how there were growing splotches of color in the tree leaves above the Nature Trail, noting the relative isolation of the spot being interrupted by early morning runners, noticing the mushrooms starting to grow around the bench, hearing the car horns as a traffic jam started to form on Haverford Avenue, and looking for other aspects of my location that were not the same as the previous week’s visit. But after a while of this, I kept thinking back to the alien world in Vaster Than Empires and More Slow and our class discussion about potential forms of plant sentience. By constantly thinking back to these subjects, I started considering whether my surroundings had a form of sentience and wondering if my presence at the bench was being registered by an alien mind? I began asking myself more and more questions regarding this concept such as:
- Did the leaves and pine needles lying on the ground share the same manner of sentience the trees they came from hold and lost that sentience when they fell from the trees or did they possess a separate form of sentience than the trees they come possess?
Today was my first observation period at the Stephen R. Miller bench, located in the North West corner of Haverford’s campus. The bench is located on a hill in a section of the campus/Haverford Arboretum known as the Ryan Pinetum, and provides an excellent view of the Pinetum’s field and the college Nature Trail. As I was settling into the bench I began to debate by myself of whether the spot would be considered an isolated section of campus or not. There is plenty to suggest that it is relatively accessible, including a trail leading from the Nature Trail that passes right by the bench on a loop of the Pineteum’s field, the occasional hiker and jogger passing by (including one who had left his running shoes on the bench while he ran in the field), and the Haverford field hockey field being 100 feet behind the bench. But at the same time, there existed multiple signs that contradict the notion that the bench is not isolated including, the overgrown weeds and plants surrounding and beneath the bench , the great distance I had to walk from the main part of campus to the bench and the pine trees surrounding the bench which blocked the bench from view from most angles. Besides debating the question of whether the spot was peaceful isolated or not, I also took in how the sights and sounds that I was able to perceive at the current moment might not be there as autumn progressed.