Looking Back at the Carlisle School, by Maddy Starling

This evening, I decided to take a walk around Opossum Lake’s walking trails hoping I would notice some of the changes that had happened during this week of cold weather. The most noticeable thing was that there were fewer people out on the water. Probably due to the crisp breeze over the water. I also noticed that the birds seemed jumpier than usual. I could usually spot a few red-winged black birds, but tonight it seemed that every slight movement caused ruffling through the marshy littoral-zone. I’m not sure what was making them so jumpy, but it ruined my bird watching for the evening. The Cattails also have been severely affected by the weather. They have all developed white tuffs, which I learned when I looked it up are their seeds beginning to prepare for the fall (pictured below). It is amazing to see how quickly this place has adapted to the changing weather. Although I am not convinced that fall is fully upon us yet, this place sure is.

I decided to sit on the bench on the hill that overlooks the whole lake so I could really take in the scenery. As I sat there, I wondered if there were once Indigenous people on this land or in Carlisle. Of course, I knew there were Indigenous people in Carlisle at some point, but those were children stolen from their homes to go to the Carlisle Indian School. I wanted to take a moment to talk about this school after reading about it in chapters 8 and 11 of our book. With the school just 10 minutes from my house, it is shocking how little I was taught about the school. I mean most kids have a lot of questions on why there is a little graveyard in front of the Army War College in town, but the answers don’t usually go too in depth. Honestly, the only time it was really talked about was if a student chose to do it for a project or at higher level history classes like AP U.S. History. The history of the Carlisle Indian School is not something this town is proud of. Other than the graveyard, most of the school building have been transferred for other use for the Army War College with small plaques to mention what they used to be. What used to be one of the schoolhouses, is now a gym for Army officials, but the pictures of the students are still present in one of the hallways.

In the past year however, it has been hard to keep the school out of the community’s mind. Over the past few years, the Army has been trying to find the families of the children buried in the cemetery in hopes of returning their remains. Last year, there was a large ceremony as six remains were returned to their native reservations. That moment made the town have to relive its terrible history as every local news source was reporting it. I have always had a strong dislike for the school and what it stood for but reading the horrors the book brought up made me realize the mental torture aspect of the school. These children were brainwashed and beaten into giving up every belief from their culture. The histories relived on pages 151, 156 and 212-213 I had never heard before even though I live in the town that created them. This really makes me wonder if under Trumps “Patriotic Education” anything about the Carlisle Indian School will be taught.

As the sun began to set and the everything began to settle around the lake, including my thoughts, I took one last look around. The crickets and frogs created a symphony surrounding the edge of the lake. Almost like they were letting the rest of the lake know it was time to settle in for the night. And I think they got the memo because when I walked back to my car there was less rustling in the cattails and I finally got to spot a that red and yellow wing peacefully sitting upon a branch. I hope this place doesn’t lose too much of its beauty as the seasons change and instead just changes its form. I think next week I will go deeper into the woods here in hopes of seeing some new things to write about, but until then I’ll say goodbye to my hour of nature for the week.

Forest Bathing: The Cure to All Migraines, by Kyna Smith

Over the last couple of months, I feel like I’ve aged thirty years. Not archaic, but old enough to complain about back pain. Every morning begins like this: my alarm goes off, I frown at how early it is, and then groan as I get out of bed because my entire body feels stiff—suffocated even. I am not unique in this feeling. Being quarantined defies all human instincts; we are meant to socialize, to embrace each other, to wander and to explore. Conserving my sanity in the wake of a pandemic has been difficult. I’ve realized the ways I used to fill my time were merely escapism, bleak attempts to avoid emotions that would have otherwise consumed me to a point of exhaustion. Now, I have no other option but to actively confront myself, and as painful that is, I need to learn to love myself like I would a dear friend.

One of the few ways I’ve maintained my mental health is spending time in the woods. Sometimes, I try to find new trails, but I’m a creature of habit, so I always go back to Brandywine Creek in North Wilmington. The drive there is breathtakingly beautiful—long, winding roads, acres of yellow flowers, and an endless skyline of trees. When I arrive at the creek, I instantly feel better, like my troubles can wait a few hours because the present moment is most important. Two weeks ago on a particularly bad day, I decided to walk the entire trail. I don’t like to run because I don’t want to miss anything. Walking allows me to move through the world delicately and intimately, to breathe slowly and mindfully. That day, color bled back into my life, filling every grey and empty space. I noticed the migraine I had while I was driving subsided significantly, and my lower back was less tense and sore. I became reminiscent of my childhood in Indonesia, where I spent the majority of my time in forests, regularly experiencing their mental, physical, and spiritual benefits.

In Dr. Qing Li’s book Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, he explains the scientific reasons for why we feel better in forests. The concept of “forest bathing” refers to the Japanese practice of spending an extended period of time in a forest while engaging all five senses. For example, Dr. Li mentions looking at different shades of green of the trees, dipping your fingers in a stream, and listening to birds singing (121). The purpose is not only to feel better, but also to disconnect from our devices and reconnect to nature. In the beginning of the book, he introduces the “Biophilia Hypothesis,” which is, “the concept that humans have a biological need to connect with nature” (13). Because we evolved in nature, we learned to appreciate the sources of life that helped us survive. Human beings are physiologically attuned to the natural world because we share a deep bond with it.

Phytoncide, an antimicrobial substance emitted from plants, is the reason for forests’ refreshing aroma. Exposure to phytoncides increase “natural killer cell” (NK cell) activity; these cells help strengthen our immune systems and fight off infections. Additionally, phytoncides decrease the level of stress hormones, leading to lower levels of anxiety and increased hours of sleep. Because stress weakens the immune system thus causing frequent sickness, forest bathing allows people to stay physically and mentally healthy for longer amounts of time. These phytoncides are especially crucial for people who already suffer from mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Another beautiful aspect of forest bathing is its openness and flexibility. There are so many ways to engage the senses specifically in a way that is best for the individual person. My favorite “forest bathing “technique” is one Dr. Li actually mentioned, which is to focus only on sound. You start by slowing down and giving yourself time to release your thoughts. Next, you focus on your breath to let go of any distractions, and then you begin listening in all directions with your eyes closed. I usually do this while lying down on a bench. That way, I can be comfortable and hear more intensely. It is then I will be able to hear every rustle, every birdsong, rippling water over stone.

It is evident being nature gives us physical and emotional relief. Truthfully, science is only confirming what we already know and feel. The problem with most human beings, however, and especially in the U.S, is that they have desensitized themselves to their own bodily sensations. Most Americans are so consumed with work, money, and technology, that they have grown numb to their own physiological responses. In order to experience the benefits of the Natural World, we must be cognizant of our internal worlds—we must know how we feel. If we refuse to acknowledge the interconnectedness of our minds, bodies, and souls, we cannot know that we are sick and need to be alleviated of our stress and pain. The key is to be mindful of our bodies, to check in with ourselves as we do with loved ones. I am still learning this myself: the art of being my own friend, asking myself, “how does my body feel today?” so I can know if I am in need of extra support from my fellow living creatures, the vibrant leaves and curious animals who always encourage me to heal.

Grief and Memory, by Mark Switliski

My mind has been fixated on death and grief since finishing The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. I’ve particularly been strung up by one quote from the story Of Angleworms and Others that a classmate chose during an in class discussion activity, “They realized that from now on life would be quite different, but they didn’t know how, that is, in what way” (139). The quote is part of a narration by Sophia, a young girl living on the coast of Finland with her father and grandmother, about the thought process of a worm that has just been severed in half. The bisection is the result of a traumatic event, which, in Sophia’s case, is the recent death of her mother. With regards to death, the bisection is a creation of two identities, one identity that still exists with the person who has passed, and one that will continue living without them. During the beginning of the process of grieving a death, especially for the first time in one’s life, it is not clear how these two identities will coexist.

This quote, let alone the entire book, resonated with me so deeply because I also lost my mother as a child. I realized from then on life would be quite different, but I didn’t know how, that is, in what way. It’s such a simple statement, but when I read it, it takes me back to that day. I had, without a doubt, been bisected. It’s been just about eleven years since my mom passed, meaning that I’ve lived roughly half of my life without her. I wish I could say I’ve made some sense as to how these identities coexist, but it doesn’t seem like they’re connected by much more than fleeting memories.

Memories and grief have an undeniable relationship. Once we’ve experienced loss, such as a death, all we have are memories, both fond and painful. They shape our grief. The truly terrifying realization of grief is that we might forget these memories. And then what? Perhaps when that happens, our identity that exists with the dead begins to die itself. It nearly brings me to tears thinking about how little I can remember of me and my mother’s time together. What still pains me the most is that I hardly had the chance to get to know her. Pictures and vicarious memories are comforting mementos, but nothing could replace creating new memories together.

As I’m sure many others would agree, death puts many things into perspective. Some that come to mind are the fragility of life, the importance of reflection and the imperceptibility of time until it is too late. My mom’s birthday is, coincidentally, on Earth Day and now that our class is reading The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles, I can’t help but relate these perspectives to the impending grief that the impacts of climate change have caused and will continue to cause for humanity. Those that deny climate change may only feel this grief when their great grandchildren ask if the Great Barrier Reef was real. All those children will have to experience this planet’s beauty are pictures and vicarious memories. They will have been born into a bisected world.

Quarantine, Week Three, by Liz DeSonier

The sky is gray. The sunlight struggles to come out, muted by the clouds. The air is cold. It is unwelcoming outside. Nonetheless, my dad, brother and I ventured out into our neighborhood to stretch our legs and rest our strained eyes. During our walk today, we discussed the changes society will face as a result of this pandemic. How people are realizing what things are essential, and which jobs are necessary for them to be done in person. We entertained the possible outcome of this becoming a yearly event. How it would become like Thanksgiving, in the sense that certain relatives or family friends wouldn’t be invited back to spend quarantine together because of previous years incidents. How our societal structure would change to 3 months out of the year being spent inside our homes, distancing ourselves from each other and the new strain of virus. We’d have storages of food and toiletries stocked up, so we can live comfortably like mole people. At this point it had started to drizzle. This being the only time we’d leave the house today, we marched on. No obstacle is great enough to keep us from our daily government sanctioned walk.

I keep thinking about how this time is going to be written about in history books. It’ll talk about how COVID-19 started and then slowly spread to the U.S. It’ll say how people coped at home, how many people were forced to collect unemployment and the new trends that came out of this, like wearing face masks and an increased interest in public health. Then it’ll say “after [the time period this lasts] this many people were infected and this many died.” Like all history, these months will be easily summed up in a few sentences, our loved ones remembered as mere statistics. They’ll write books about this, I hope someone makes a musical.

The surge of debauchery that will occur post-quarantine is interesting to think about. If people haven’t learned anything by then they’ll go crazy, drunkenly urinating in the streets, climbing buildings and poles, and singing. The more cautious people will slowly emerge out, gradually returning to their previous schedule, still wary of the people around them. They’ll cautiously maintain a distance around them and refuse to shake hands with people. Societies where it’s customary will have to come up with a new noncontact greeting. A smile with a wave doesn’t seem like an appropriate way to solidify a deal. European countries that kiss upon introduction, can forget about that. The Asian custom of bowing, they got it right, no physical contact, but still shows respect and is disarming. We should go back to medieval times. Only curtsy and bow from now on, but because younger generations have embraced free gender expression anyone can do either or both if they want.

In Braiding Sweetgrass Kimmerer talks about how grief can be handled with anger and self destruction or “comforted by creation” (265-266). I think this explains people’s self destructive behavior in our situation. The impact of a global pandemic is scary. Some people were barely getting by in our structured society, now that it has crumbled, they must find new ways to cope. It’s common to use small inconsequential things as a distraction from bigger significant problems. Now that everyone is stuck inside, many without jobs or any purpose for their day, people are having to face the things they have been avoiding. As Kimmerer suggests this can be done through creation, any task no matter how small, provides the sense of purpose essential for people’s sanity.

On the other hand, some people can’t or haven’t realized the gravity of this situation and won’t change their behavior after this. If they’re selfish, they are going to continue to live life how they want to; with complete disregard for how their behavior affects others. Pretending this isn’t a big deal or going to change anything is a very unhealthy coping mechanism. Most people don’t care about things until they’re directly affected, someone they know, and care about must get sick before they can fathom the severity of this virus. It’s only a matter of time until that happens. The harsh reality is people are getting infected, healthy and sick, young and old. Some are dying, but even those who survive will still have to endure the horror of not being able to breath and the pain from the pressure building in their sinuses. There is no way to make people care about things.

A Constructed Utopia During a Pandemic, by Gillian Williams

Between 2 and 3 pm each day, it seems like all my neighbors are out of their homes and walking around the neighborhood. Exchanging soft smiles and small waves, or maybe even a quick, “Hi, how are you?” I make sure to give them enough space, typically crossing to the other side of the street, as we pass each other. We occasionally exchange small talk across the road. About how their grandchildren’s high school and college graduations have been canceled, their river cruise on the Rhine was postponed, their granddaughter will never get to wear her prom dress, how they came back from Florida just in time. Knowing that I’m the youngest person in the neighborhood and possibly a carrier, I don’t want to be responsible for a potentially fatal encounter. None of them expressed concern about contracting the virus.

My parents moved to this neighborhood when I was going into my sophomore year of college. They wanted a smaller house and quieter lifestyle so they decided a 55 and over community would suit their needs. Every house has the same mailbox, the same light post in the front lawn, the same vinyl siding in different shades of grey or beige, and some iteration of similar exterior design. It’s the kind of neighborhood that has blocks of granite lining the black asphalt road instead of the typical cement curb. Every Wednesday, the landscaping crew descends on the neighborhood, tending to the uniformity of the lawns, shrubs, and flowerbeds at every home. Despite the hard work these men do to keep their neighborhood immaculate, some of my neighbors never extend the pageantry of a soft smile or small waves. The neighborhood is a constructed utopia, oozing with elitism and exclusivity. Most of my neighbors are retired, white, in heterosexual relationships, and, although it might not appear so from the size of the homes, wealthy. Every day, I feel reminded that I don’t belong.

At this time of year, the ornamental pear and cherry trees light up the neighborhood with white and pink blossoms. Baring no fruit, these trees seem to serve no purpose other than beauty. On my almost daily walks around the looping streets, I encounter a surprising amount of life, popping up all over the place. The eastern cottontail rabbit scurries across the path, nestling under the vibrant forsythia in full bloom. Gray squirrels feverishly dig to uncover nuts they hid in the fall for this very moment. There’s a constant chatter of small birds, robins, cardinals, blue jays, and the occasional goldfinches, swooping above the trees, perching in the branches or on the ridge of roofs. They fill the air with noisy, yet joyful song. I tilt my head higher to get a view of what looks like a heron, with long, thin, outreached legs trailing behind slow but steady wings.

This area was once a dense forest, a refuge for wildlife surrounded my small farm fields and housing developments. In the middle of the forest lies a small but lively pond full of frogs, ducks, and other life below the surface. Activists tried to block the destruction of this oasis but their efforts were crippled by the strength of one of the largest home construction companies in the country. The entire area was cleared except a thin ring of trees around the pond. Now, there is a walking path circling the pond and signs around the stormwater retention areas stating “protected land for wildlife”, almost mockingly.

The wildlife and my neighbors now must cohabitate. They complain of geese and various species of ducks wandering through their backyard or defecating on the sidewalk. After a contractor broke a berm, releasing pond water that swallowed up the remaining rim of trees separating the ponds from their newly constructed homes, they complained about that too. They complain about problems with water seeping into their basements even on days without rain. They have to screen in their porches because of the gnats and mosquitos that congregate near the water. They complain of the frogs croaking from dusk until dawn, so loud it sounds like a siren. Maybe, a siren calling for help.

I don’t belong here. None of us belong here. This is not our land. What belongs here is the lush forest and lively ecosystem that once was. That is now forced out of their homes so we could live in ours.

Where the Pavement Ends, by Hayley Rost

1.

There is a place at the edge of the pavement where the lawn meets soil and weeds and roots. Where the undergrowth is allowed to grow freely within the confines of a row of natural forest. Back in the growth where the garter snakes and leaves rustle are the twigs and branches and bark and phloem of the history of our Christmases in this house. Each year we add a new dried tree and each year the tree below is closer to returning to soil. It’s the soil that really marks how many Christmases and seasons have passed and seasons before we were here. Before us there were only grasses and animals in this place. Before us there were ticks and mud and wilderness. In some ways we have become a part of the soil in this place. Soil that has been here recording the history of this place long before we were here and will be here long after we are gone. The native people who once inhabited this land and lived on the soil that is now made up of Christmas trees were driven from this place so the land could be sold and farms farmed and houses built. I wonder if they ever considered what this soil would bear witness to in the years to come.

 

 

2.

I’ve recently returned to the house I was raised for the first time in more than a few years and I feel like I’m a square peg trying to fit into a triangular hole; some of the shape that used to fit is there but there’s just one extra corner that wasn’t there before. It’s a strange feeling to try to fall into habits that you knew once existed but somehow no longer can. In some ways nothing here has changed and in some ways everything has changed.

Stars have been a guiding force for humanity for thousands of years playing a part in religious ceremonies, measuring time and steering those in need of guidance. There are hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way alone and hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe with just as many stars as our own. Even though the tools we humans use to navigate and measure time have changed, the stars are still present in our culture. In many places now it isn’t possible to see the stars at night because of light pollution from the countless bulbs used in streetlights, buildings and homes. Many times now I can’t see them but when I’m here at home on clear nights they’re always there.

Five years ago the night before I left for college I waited until dark, wrapped a quilt around my shoulders and walked barefoot across the quarter mile of golf course greens and roughs until I reached the hill I rode sleds down every snow day of my childhood. The Perseid meteor shower had begun earlier that night and I watched as each light traveled across the sky passing across the big dipper. Whenever I look at the night sky I center myself around the big dipper. It’s comforting to know it’s always there. the ancient Greeks the Big Dipper was the body of the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Zeus fell in love with a woman Callisto and after she bore their child, Zeus’ wife Hera turned Callisto into a bear. Callisto roamed the earth until many years later she came upon her son Arcas who rose a spear against her. Zeus intervened and sent both into the sky where Callisto became Ursa Major and Arcas became Ursa Minor. It was strange, that night, to see lights drifting across a sky that usually so still. For something so beautiful the vastness of it scared me; to think that by the time we see the light of the stars they are already dead.

Now, five years later I make the same trek across the landscape with the same quilt wrapped around me and the same sensation of wet grass between my toes. The path to the hill is still the same. The Big Dipper is still there. It seems only I’ve changed.

 

3.

The image I just can’t seem to get out of my head is the old oak that sheds layer after layer as the saw cuts through to spew chips of wood that have witnessed the dust bowl, the establishment if a national forest and the decimation of the prairie chicken. In the past few weeks I’ve been considering the old oak trees in my life. Over the years my grandparents have played a central role in my life, they are the pillars on which me and my family stand. I have a stereotypical big Jewish family with dozens of second-cousins, aunts and uncles. My grandfather was the youngest of four brothers who each had wives and children and now grandchildren and great grandchildren. I used to mind how big our family’s Seder was each spring, the one meal the entire year where dozens of relatives I hardly knew were brought together to catch up on a years-worth of family news and gossip. As I’ve grown older the Seder has grown as more grandchildren and great-grandchildren are born but as the number of babies and toddlers has grown the number of grandparents and great-grandparents has shrunk. When I was among the youngest family members the four brothers, my grandfather and his three older brothers, sat at the head of the table with their wives. This year only two brothers and one wife would have sat in their places at the head of the table.

The onset of this pandemic has changed the way people think, act and walk through the world. I walk down the streets of my neighborhood and see one neighbor has started chopping wood and has piles of split trunks in their front yard. The grasses in the yards are growing taller and uneven in places and broadleaf plantains are sitting squat and comfortable. I wonder if we kept living like this whether the native plants would return; whether they would overgrow the pavement and come up from between the patio stones. I wonder if the green would grow and grow until the neighborhood was covered like an ancient ruin. I talk to my grandparents on the phone every day now, something that is new to my routine. It eases us all in some ways but makes me want to hold them now more than ever. My grandmother who has slowly been disappearing into a fog the last few years has emerged with more alertness and memory than I’ve seen in years. A woman who grew up in the aftermath of the great depression in a poor family this crisis has flipped the on switch in her. At this chance I see the saw chips away at the years and I feel like I’m reaching my hands out to catch the splinters before they can slip away. Her memories of raising a family, of raising me when both my parents worked full time demanding jobs, her openness when her family grew in untraditional ways at a time when society demanded otherwise. When I consider my actions now I think about those too young to have memories yet of their grandparents and I make a choice so that they can have their own oak trees and the opportunity to hear stories from each ring and splinter firsthand.

Corona and Carbon, by Gabby Krupa

Within the past couple of weeks our nation has encountered a deeply concerning threat- something unlike anything we have ever experienced before in modern times. Lives are on the line. Our friends and loved ones are at risk. The threat began as something not really impacting our everyday lives however, within a short period of time, the situation escalated and now is affecting nearly everyone across the planet.

 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has evolved into a global pandemic. Impending fear has penetrated the lives of many. The global response has resulted in lockdowns, forcing people to self-quarantine, “stay-at-home orders,” and travel bans urging people to drastically alter their everyday lives in order to save themselves and others. We are constantly working to pull all of our resources together and immediately change our behaviors.

 

Many argue that we did not react to the situation quickly enough. They believe that we should have taken drastic measures earlier on which could have saved lives. Of course, there is no sure way to know if this is true, but the fact is that global threats need universal responses.

 

For the first time in a long time people were asked to change their individual lifestyles. They were asked to stay home, to stop driving, flying, and using other machinery which produces toxins. In just a few weeks alone we have seen notable results. There are less carbon dioxide emissions, better air quality, and potentially positive responses from wildlife.

In China, the standstill for a couple weeks alone has shown significant drops in nitrogen dioxide, an effect of people being quarantined. NASA has made comparisons of nitrogen dioxide levels of this year and years prior. Around this time every year, factories shut down and people stay home from work in order to celebrate the Lunar New Year. However, the levels still have something distinctive to show. An air-quality researcher at NASA, Fei Liu, states “this year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer.”

 

China is not the only country whose environment is improving due to the sudden lack of human interaction in the environment. Satellite images also show that Italy and South Korea are producing less air pollution due to the circumstances. Similar to China, the regions are showing lower levels of nitrogen dioxide which is caused by lack of vehicle and industrial use.

 

In addition, beaches across the country are being shut down, preventing visitors from overtaking the land which could have a beneficial impact on sea life. A Florida operations director at Ecological Associates, Niki Desjardins, states “without people on the beach at night and potentially reduced lighting from fewer people vacationing on the beach, nesting turtles will have a quiet and dark beach.” It is without a doubt that less people on the beaches will enable a greater chance of survival for turtle hatchlings.

 

Even though the coronavirus has shifted focus away from dealing with climate change for the time being, maybe more people will realize how their actions affect the environment. Together, we can apply the same behavioral changes to better the future of the environment. If one good thing can come of this pandemic, it’s that we can see how much human activity alone jeopardizes the air we breathe and the environments we live in.

 

Being from New York State, the new epicenter of the virus itself, I have never seen more people who have resorted to going on walks with their children around the neighborhood. Perhaps this virus will teach us to be more mindful of our actions and to connect with our environments in a new way.

 

If we take the same sense of urgency applied to combat the coronavirus and implement it to aid the reduction of climate change and fossil fuel use we can ensure a healthier environment for future generations. According to NASA, it may not be too late to avoid or limit some of the worst effects of climate change. People should be forced to change their consumption behaviors before climate threats become irreversible.

 

The state of our environment and climate affects us all. Like the virus, the dangers of pollution do not discriminate. Like the virus, the effects of pollution are invisible to the human eye, but remain very real in how detrimental the effects can be if significant action is not taken place soon.

 

The coronavirus has taught us that in order to solve global issues, we need both strong government and individual responses to see any improvement. It is clear that the government can implement radical change that can make a substantial impact on any issue. We must also act now, before it is too late.

 

 

The Uncertainty of COVID-19, by Mark Switliski

As I’m trying to write this journal, I’m finding it incredibly hard to gather my thoughts about all that has transpired in the past couple weeks. It wasn’t until recently that this pandemic truly felt real. Yesterday, March 28, 2020, I read in a news article that there have been approximately 2000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States. Only two days earlier than that, I read that the number of deaths had reached 1000. My jaw actually dropped thinking about such an exponential increase. Some worst-case scenario projections for the US death toll directly due to the virus exceed 2 million. This doesn’t even include the increased number of deaths that would otherwise be preventable if hospitals weren’t at capacity.

Earlier today on March 29, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated, “I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target, that you could so easily be wrong”. To me, that translates to “We have no idea right now how bad this could get”. While some world leaders and governments may tote that there is a handle on the situation, so much is unknown and that’s largely because there isn’t enough time or resources to weigh out all the odds. To my fellow college students that feel invincible in this pandemic, evidence is coming out that young adults might be more vulnerable than initially believed. Just imagine how much more at risk someone might be if they’ve been unapologetically hitting their JUUL for the past year and weakening their respiratory system. These are still the early stages of the pandemic and there are too many factors for any predictions to hold substantial merit.

During a class discussion earlier in the semester, Professor Jenkins stated that the idea that any of us have control over our lives is an illusion. If you’ve ever needed proof of that statement, this pandemic is it. Nobody knew how to respond to the prospect of social isolation so when the idea that we would run out of toilet paper spread like wildfire, a shortage of toilet paper resulted. Panic buying is a prime example of people trying to gain some sense of control in a dangerous or unknown situation.

In this mess of uncertainty, there has been at least one undeniable truth: The Earth can recover if we cooperate. On a personal scale, social distancing, washing your hands and coughing into your elbow are all behavioral habits that can be translated into carrying reusable bags, eating less meat and riding a bike to work. While small changes are only part of the equation, every bit helps in the effort to save the planet. On an institutional scale, the US federal government has just passed a 2 trillion-dollar stimulus package for the economy. That proves that we have the have the financial resources to combat climate change and begin the road to healing the planet. State governments across the country have ordered all non-essential businesses to close. That proves that we have the power to make polluting industries cooperate. Even after just a short period of humanity’s retreat indoors, air quality around the world has increased dramatically. It has been estimated that this improvement in air quality will likely result in more lives saved than lost to COVID-19. Isn’t that ironic?

Unfortunately, the other truth that has come to light is that the only real motivator for substantial change seems to be fear.

On a more personal note, these last two weeks have been quite dull. I’ve actually decided to stay at my apartment in Delaware for the remainder of the semester. This is primarily to minimize the pool of people with which I come in contact but also because I’d have already gone crazy if I was home with my family for more than a week. I’m quite anxious for this online semester to begin because I’ve never been able to do schoolwork at home. Even in high school I would stay at school to finish my homework. After reading an article about how to be more productive at home, I learned that I am what is called a “segregator”, or someone that mentally categorizes spaces based on their purpose. This is uncharted territory so I’m doing my best to be optimistic about the possibilities that lie ahead. For example, I don’t have to wear pants to class anymore.

Digging Deeper, by Grace Hussar

I take a deep breath in. 

 

First, those little purple flowers that seemed to take over entire lawns emerged — I couldn’t tell you their name if I tried, but they make me feel like I’m witnessing magic happen. Then, it was the vast amount of cherry blossoms around campus that began to bud and bloom with their wonderfully sweet bouquets. It was no longer frigid every time I stepped outside, my bare skin begging for a sweater on my bike rides to class. Suddenly, it was apparent that spring was a lot closer than I previously thought. For some reason, I think I was still holding on hope for the chance of an early March snowfall. 

 

I let my breath out. 

 

As I walk through the entrance of the woods, I notice a lot has changed since I was here last Sunday. For starters, it’s much brighter out, which makes sense considering I decided to start my trek in the early morning hours instead of around sunset today. This has proven to make all the difference. With the sun’s strong rays shining on me, I feel invigorated. The trees have begun to sprout these beautiful emerald buds and there are early signs of life all around me. In sharp contrast to these little hints, I notice ivy crawling up the sides of a decaying oak tree, sucking the energy and nutrients from it, and it makes me think. In every instance of birth, there is death. And in every episode of pure, unadulterated happiness, there is bitter, unresolved depression that follows. This natural order of things, the constant flow of ups and downs, has become more and more apparent to me after an insightful in-class conversation about Taoism.

 

I had to really force myself out of bed this morning — some days are just harder than others, ya know? These feelings of inadequacy and deep, rooted sadness comes in waves — but I’m really glad I woke up instead of sleeping in. If I had ignored my alarm (like I usually do) and easily drifted back into the enticing call of slumber, I might have missed this. I might have let another beautiful morning pass me by without appreciating how optimistic a new day can seem when you watch the world wake up around you — the possibilities feel endless. I might have missed feeling energy rush through my body as nature and all of its glory empowered me. I might have forgotten that when I am in the woods, I feel more like myself than I do anywhere else. Among the trees and dirt and familiar babbling creek, I feel myself get lifted out of this funk that keeps dragging me down. It’s like hitting a reset button. Being in White Clay helps me remember who I am.

 

I was never a big fan of organized religion. It was something that was really hard for me to wrap my mind around, the idea of blind faith and all. Still, I wanted to be. I wanted to have the strength to believe in some higher plan, a purpose that was unwavering, and the idea that I could make mistakes and still be unconditionally accepted. But I just can’t. Although I do not consider myself a very religious person, I do believe that I’m a very spiritual person. Like Nanabozho, I feel as though my purpose is to try as hard as I can to blend in with my surroundings. Now, I’m not talking about plastering myself in camouflage or anything, but about discovering the life around me, observing how things coexist and thrive together, and learning each organism’s place to become as indigenous to my environment as possible. I look around at the plants next to me and I know they’ve been here way before humans ever touched the earth. It is not my job to dominate over the living world and to treat it as my playground, free to do whatever I wish. Instead, it is my job to respect the life that has been living here long before me, and to make sure others know to do the same. I look up at the branches hanging over my head and as usual, I feel a rush of serenity, gratitude, and amazement wash over me. 

 

Broken from my thoughts, I hear the hooting of an owl. Huh. That’s odd, I thought owls were only really awake at night. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve started this project and it’s only been on my most recent trip to White Clay that I’ve realized how much I tune into my surroundings when I’m in the midst of nature. As I walked down the long paved road to my solemn spot among rocks and  I was really starting to learn how to listen now. Before this assignment, I was used to popping in earbuds as I walked outside, wanting to send a clear message to those around me that I was not in the mood for conversation — I had places to go and better things to do than stop and exchange small talk (blech!) with someone I barely knew for a few minutes. Anyways, the point is that when I’m in the woods, I don’t feel the need to pop earbuds in. Instead, I prefer to listen to the bright songs of birds, the shake of dead leaves as a breeze rushes through the branches, and today, the surprising hoot of an owl.

 

Like Nanabozho, I was once unaware, oblivious. He was sent to learn from the world, to not be a destructive force, but one that melds harmoniously with nature and all its counterparts. Nature was his biggest teacher. This is something I can relate to. I came from an unknowing state, wandering — not aimlessly — but without being fully aware of where I needed to go. I once looked at the towering structures around me and did not know what to call them. I continue to be in complete awe of the world around me and fear doing it wrong. I was once timid and nervous about mislabeling species, not knowing who I was among the birds and dirt and trees. But like Nanabozho, I put myself in the middle of it all, and instead of impatiently searching for all the answers, I stopped. I listened — just as I am doing today and have been for the past few weeks. 

 

Breathe in, breathe out. 

 

What does the creek have to say? What are the squirrels, running amok in the fallen leaves and sprouting grasses, chattering about to one another? Do the trees share my sense of invigoration as they awaken from their deep winter dormancy? How will this place look in only one or two more weeks? How will life have changed and altered and twisted and blossomed? Like Nanabozho, I don’t come with all the answers. But through thinking of myself as a sister to the life around me instead of some higher being, I hope to learn.

 

Spring: Trying to Emerge, by Jeremy Stevens

 

 

My second trip to White Clay felt more like a chore than my first one.  It was colder, the air was crisp, and I had just over an hour before my next class.  There was an agitated warmth in my legs from pedaling my bike, but the freezing temperatures numbed the rest of my body.  I was uncomfortable and impatient as I settled onto my mossy patch, but determined to write a thorough journal.

The lakes that held just a few stubborn ice cubes last weekend were now covered by a thin frosty wafer.  Mud along the banks had frozen into kernels that crunched under my feet and bike tires.  The warmth from last weekend was gone, but its effects were still noticeable.  Several small brown birds flitted around me, clearly annoyed by my intrusion.  The earth had a chill to it, but green was forcing its way through, pushing back against the frost encroachment.  Stems were sprouting from the ground, buds were forming on thorn bushes, and the sheet of ice framed the pond’s algae in a pane of emerald glass.  Spring had decided to stay.  Every small observation was further proof that the frozen earth was starting to yield life, as if the plants of the ground were in an argument with the temperature that they were determined to win.  It all breathed together and shivered against the frigid breeze.

The longer I sat and contemplated the growth around me, the more my irritation subsided.  I was now more focused on the task at hand.  After I made those initial observations and comparisons to the previous week, I started trying to pick out and identify individual plants and animals.  Japanese honeysuckle had coiled its way around nearby trees and was contributing its greenery to the scenery.  I also realized that the grasses around me were indeed Japanese stilt grass.  I was already familiar with its prolific summer verdancy, but I never realized that they reverted to old brooms in the winter.

Underneath the dense hay I found another plant stubbornly refusing to submit to the elements or its invasive competition.  The tall green stalks of wild onions rose in opposition to the mass of brown that surrounded them.   Here was a wild, native food that was being swallowed up by an alien plant.  I couldn’t have made up a better connection to Food Fight if I had tried.  The odds were certainly against the onions, but root vegetables are hardy and strong.  It already had the advantage of being able to grow in the winter.  It was insistent that it belonged there, and that, despite its sheer quantity, it was the stilt grass that was the outsider.  In Food Fight, the Hawaiian citizens faced an uphill battle against Monsanto’s agricultural testing, but their stubborness and tenacity paid off in the form of local pesticide restrictions.  As my hour wore on and the ground slowly leached the heat from my body, I resolved to have the same endurance as that onion, solemnly sitting and waiting until the task at hand was complete