Why Autumn in my Favorite Season, by Aileen Kerrigan

          This week in White Clay Creek State Park, I was really blown away at how immediate the change into Autumn was. The smells in the air turned from fresh water and foliage to decay and wet soil. The sounds in the trees turned from singing song birds to the scurry of squirrels up and down the trunk. Most importantly to me, though, the leaves were just mesmerizing.

            I went on a run with my dad once at Judge Morris Estate in White Clay Creek State Park. It was closer to Summer than Autumn, but the strong smells of the woods we were in still captivated him. He had asked me “What is this really organic smell? It is times like these when I really love being outside because when I smell something like that, I really know everything is in balance”. I tripped on a root when he said this to me. My dad is an electrician, he was always in his office when I was a kid, and loved his newspaper and coffee. I had no idea he had this affection and knowledge for the place I also felt most at home. I tried my best to explain to him how the log that was down 100 feet back will be left their by the maintenance crew because they do not remove anything not causing a disturbance, and with time, that wood is going to be broken down by insects and fungi and join the leaf litter on the floor of these woods and be given right back to the Earth to feed another tree until it also falls down and goes through the same process. At the time I had not known, but now after reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, I really do see the world as an interacting circle, with reciprocity guiding all actions by flora, fauna, and occasionally, mankind.

            Whenever I hear a bird up in the trees, making a call to another bird for whatever reason, I always have a hard time finding them. I have never really had an interest for birds, and thought they all were just the same: beaks, feathers, and weird talon feet. Why would anybody pay attention to something so boring? Unfortunately, I still really have a hard time finding them in the trees, and would not enjoy the Ornithology class offered for my minor more than the Mammalogy one I am in now, but I at least have learned about enough different birds and their calls and the different nests they make to think much higher of them and appreciate them in the woods a little more. The squirrels that are taking over my attention, though, absolutely blow my mind. In my mammalogy class, I have learned to identify 17 squirrels, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. They are all native to North America, and I know that we have the Northern Flying squirrel around here. Yet, the only one I ever see is Sciurus carolinensis, the Eastern Gray Squirrel. When I hear their weird chirps, or hear their claws scraping up and down a Tulip Poplar, I love to see their tail whip back and forth as they fly up and down the tree in a crazy zig-zag pattern, and scurry like a robot across the ground. I one time saw a squirrel frozen on a tree branch, with its tail just making the most absurd movements. Immediately, another squirrel had showed up to meet the first, and I had witnessed some crazy communication going on, that only another squirrel would have gotten.

            I talked a little bit in my journal last week about how much I love the colors of Autumn. After reading the “Asters and Goldenrods” essay from Braiding Sweetgrass, I feel the admiration even more. This essay was my favorite so far, and I have most of the pages marked for passages I really enjoyed. This essay is about when she goes to college for Botany, and when asked why she wanted to major in Botany, she answered because she “wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together” (Kimmerer 39). This is not exactly the same thing about why all the trees in White Clay’s fall colors look so beautiful together, but walking down the trail, I could not take my eyes off the canopy. The reds and the oranges in particular look like no color I had ever seen produced by nature. When next to each other and blending in to one landscape, the plumes of each color grouped in a bunch of leaves makes a sort of “fire” effect on my eyes, and I have always stared at fires for hours at bonfires. Just like our eyes enjoy the purple of asters and the bright yellow of goldenrod next to each other, I think we all have an eye for the reds, oranges, and yellows that are not always included in landscapes, or even clothes and branding and anything else with patterns. Needless to say, Autumn is my favorite season, and there is no changing my mind.

Advice from the Trees, by Hannah Martin

I went into White Clay Creek feeling quite lost and somber. Losing a loved one is never easy. Coping with loss is never easy. I went and sat underneath a pine tree and thought to myself: “Do trees comfort each other like they comfort me?”. If you think about it, trees are just like you and I. They live and grow in communities, some thrive, while others die off. There are all different kinds of trees, just like there are all different kinds of people. Why do some trees grow taller and stronger than their neighbors? Is it a food source problem? Is it an invasive species problem? Can some trees help out neighboring trees? These are all questions I thought to myself while in the woods on Sunday. For some reason, comparing trees to humans really inspired me to do some research when I got home.

I reached out to my friend Haley who studies mycology and biology at Slippery Rock University. She told me to listen to one of her favorite podcasts titled From Tree to Shining Tree. The thirty minute podcast dives deep into exactly how trees operate below the surface, and my comparisons of trees to humans grew stronger. The podcast discussed the relations within tree communities. They feed off of the same soil, sharing nutrients and water via their roots. Just like humans live off of the same land. New research has shown that tree roots alone do not absorb the nutrients from the soil, but it is in fact very thin strands of fungi connecting tree roots to the soil, where the nutrients are transferred. A scientist found this web of fungi beneath the surface to be some hundreds of miles long, while being thinner than a strand of hair. This new research is fascinating, but what really got my attention was the portion of the podcast that focused on how trees support each other via these intimate connections. It was explained to me that as the older trees begin to die off, they funnel their nutrients into the newer trees in the forest, basically sacrificing themselves. The older trees recognize that they are not fit to adapt to the changing and warming climate like the younger trees, so they are better off giving their nutrients to the new trees in the forest, for the betterment of the rest of the community. The intelligence of these trees really blows my mind.

Not only are trees similar to humans, they’re smarter than humans. Their ability to set aside their own well-being for the sake of the rest of the community is amazing. If only humans in their communities were as generous as trees, the world might be a better place. Humans, Americans especially, need to learn how to distribute their affluence and dismiss their status to help those in need. If humans were more empathetic to those in their community who need help or guidance, there might not be as much hatred in the world.

Chaos and Peace, by Carly Wasko

Going to White Clay Creek State Park is becoming habitual to me. I look forward to it each week. It is my place to get away from the stress of school. Normally right after my classes I go to work. I work at an afterschool care for children in grades Pre-K 3 to 8thgrade. When I go there, the chaos is nonstop. I have Pre-K kids crying and peeing themselves, and 7thgraders fighting over who could beat who in basketball. I have parents asking me why their children didn’t finish their homework and kids lying straight to their faces as a response. 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, I feel like I am in a madhouse.

When I go to White Clay I just think about how if the children I work with could just be as calm as the birds and the creek, I would not mind going to work. If they could just experience what a tame environment is, they would understand sometimes being silent is best for you. These kids are “let outside” for about an hour each day, if the weather permits. However, their “outside” time is on a parking lot. They don’t get to adventure through the trees or going near a creek. For obvious reasons, yes I understand, but I just feel bad that they are so limited.

I walked down the path with a banana in my hand. I’ve come to realize eating fruit while I walk tends to make me feel more connected to nature, even though it was a banana I got from ACME. It was nice and cool out, the weather has progressively getting colder and this makes me extremely happy. So walking in the most peaceful area around here, eating, while it was chilly, I was in my paradise. The bugs weren’t as plentiful this time around, but I could definitely hear some making a high pitch noise from far away. I see the usual amount of dog walkers and bikers and politely wave as we pass each other, knowing we will probably never see each other again. The trees looked green and leafy due to them amount of rain we have been receiving. It always amazes me how nature can just thrive off of water (from rain) and sunlight. It’s truly crazy to think of the science behind nature. In class, we talk about the science behind GMOs and chemicals in pesticides, but nothing compares to mother nature herself.

I walk past a dirty pickup truck, assuming someone is fishing nearby. I realized I had yet to see a fisherman while on these walks. I wondered how often fish are actually caught at this creek. I used to fish a lot when I was younger. My parents use to enter my brother and I in fishing competitions down at the bay. We actually won quite a few. If you won w=your age group, your prize would be a bobber/weight and a new fishing pole. The amount of fishing poles we have acquired from these competitions with our extended family is crazy. There’s at least 20 at our beach house.

I’ve noticed a lot when I go on these walks, I think more about my past and not about my future. Everything I see on these walks reminds me of something from my childhood. I guess this goes to show I was more active and adventurous when I was a kid than I am now. It’s sad how as you get older, you get more confined into spaces (work, school, car, bars, stores, etc.) When you’re a kid, the whole world is your playground.

Gifts, by Melanie Ezrin

The constant pitter patter distracts from the natural hum of White Clay Creek. It floats gently down from the gray sky in thin sheets, masking the sounds of birds, people, and other wildlife, so it is the only thing I hear. It is cold, and I grip my raincoat a little tighter, regretting my lack of foresight to bring a sweatshirt. It falls to the earth, wrapping delicately around everything it touches. It cascades down thick slabs of rocks, pools at the base of towering trees, and brings life to every crevice of the forest. Eventually, the sound blurs together, until I’m no longer truly hearing it, and it becomes a distant noise in the background. Rain.

 

Depending on your perspective, the arrival of rain is both a blessing and a curse. Rain disrupts our daily lives, making us feel lethargic and tired. Today’s rain made me crave nothing more than to curl up in bed with Netflix and a warm blanket. Often, it causes us to alter our plans for the day. My own family has spent numerous rainy days running errands instead of our original plans to be outside. You would think that with so many modern advantages like rainboots, raincoats, and umbrellas that we wouldn’t shy away from rain so much. That we’d be able to stick to our original plans and feel fairly comfortable. But we don’t. We hear the word rain and we frown. We immediately brainstorm backup plans in case the meteorologists are correct. Somewhere along the way we began ignoring our desires to jump in a puddle, and we forgot how beautiful the rain can be.

 

Perhaps this is a byproduct of increasing urbanization. In a world of local agriculture, and in most of human history, rain is a blessing. Around the world, different cultures have prayers and rituals designed specifically to call upon the heavens to bring forth rain. Some, like many Native American tribes in what became the southwest United States, performed intricate dances to appease the G-ds. Others, like the San people of southern Africa, had shamans offer sacrifices. Regardless of ritual, people all over the world have prayed for rain for thousands of years. Rain brings forth life. It replenishes groundwater stores, hydrates soil, is crucial in the transportation of plant nutrients through xylem, and provides drinking water for both wildlife and people.

 

However, as people distance themselves from where their food comes from, the value of rain becomes lost in the shuffle. Increasingly, people are struggling to form the connection between precipitation and the food on their dinner plates. In one breath, they complain that the rain we’re finally having after a drought is ruining their weekend plans and that there isn’t enough of their favorite vegetable in stock at the grocery store. They don’t make the connection that drought results in lower crop yield and the return of rain benefits them. We live in a world where someone can go years without seeing a farm. As a result, we’ve forgotten how much we depend on the rain.

 

Water is the lifeblood of our planet. It deserves our respect. It is not living, but it is within every living thing. We take it for granted, having adopted the attitude of “out of sight out of mind” over time, even though it isn’t. Whether or not we acknowledge it, we can’t escape how much water is part of our lives. We can’t survive without it, yet we regard it as a nuisance, intruding on our days. Its arrival sparks endless complaints. Yet it is people who have intruded on water. We selfishly poison it, using it as our personal trash cans. We divert its natural pathways in favor of our needs, regardless of the needs of the earth. We take, but we do not give. We ignore the respect it commands, until it forces us to remember the destruction it can cause, shaking us from our stupor. Water leaves both life and death in its wake.

 

Humanity would do well to remember the value of water in our lives. It may interrupt our days and preclude us from our original plans, but it deserves our respect. So I may be cold and wet as I sit in White Clay Creek. I may wish I was in my warm bed wrapped in a blanket. But I am grateful for the rain, for every drop brings life. It is a never ending present from the earth to us.

A Day at the Farm, by Courtney Ryan

When my peers and I were told that we would spent Thursday’s class at a local farm, I can safely assure that many of my peers were rather perplexed by this idea. I, on the other hand, was very eager to go on a field trip to a farm- in college! When Thursday arrived, I jumped into my Honda Civic and picked up a few of my peers from Morris Library, and we proceeded to caravan our way down to Fair Weather Farm. The drive was only about ten minutes long, just about four miles from campus, down Route 273 in Cecil County, Maryland.

 

I signaled with my right blinker and turned down the narrow gravel, and seemingly unstable driveway, I began to look at the beauty of what I was entering. One of the first things you see as you are coming down the driveway is the classic farm house, surrounded by fields of crops like tomatoes and hops, flowers, chickens, goats, a horse, sunshine and fresh air; and full of love. After I parked my car, my peers and I ventured over to join the rest of our class standing amongst a patch of Milkweed plants, sunflowers, and other pollinators. Our professor discussed the critical benefits of Milkweed, detailing how without it, the Monarch butterfly population would completely die off. He pointed out how humans, and predators of the Monarch caterpillar, can distinguish where a Monarch caterpillar is, based on the small holes created by caterpillars munching on the leaves. Our professor flipped one of the leaves over, and evidentially, a large striped Monarch caterpillar was slowly inching its way down the vine. While I was listening, I scanned my eyes through this meadow, admiring the beauty of the chaos of weeds and the variety of plants grown here. I found it refreshing to see a meadow like this one, without perfectly aligned rows of flowers, or entirely void of weeds. It was not perfect, it was natural.

 

Our class essentially walked the entire perimeter of the farm. We began with the native pollinator meadow, and a discussion on the necessity of meadows like these. By physically standing in a meadow, as the late summer sun beats down on the Earth, and watching Monarch butterflies, and a variety of others, zig zag their way through the breeze- one can literally see the rewards that these environments provide for human beings. The entirety of the Fair Weather Farm provides for human beings. The chickens provide eggs, the goats provide wool, the horse can be used for labor assistance, and of course: the crops provide local, healthy, fresh sustainable food, and the income necessary for the farmers to continue operations.

 

Nancy Bentley is the owner and operator of Fair Weather Farm. Her husband Randy, and their two sons Cameron and Christian help to maintain the farm, together as a family. Anyone who visits their farm can instantly recognize their efforts to maintain responsibility of safeguarding the integrity of the land and its natural resources. Even the Fair Weather Farm’s new barn is being constructed with high regard for the resources used. The entire structure was built with no nails or power tools. A group of Amish carpenters assembled the frame and structure of the barn in a single day. By consciously choosing to build the barn with sustainable materials, it ensures that there will be minimal wear and tear to the land over the years- guaranteeing longevity of the barn. The Bentley family is a noble one for sure; their desire is to be good stewards of the land for future generations, and to educate the local community on growing, harvesting, and preserving sustainable grown foods. Fair Weather Farm is a small, family owned and operated, sustainable, organic farm on a mere five acre plot. “A little over a hundred years ago, there were 38 million people living in the United States, and 50 percent of them worked on a farm. Today, we have 300 million people. How many work on farms? Two percent” (Jenkins 49).

 

As I read this statement from McKay Jenkins novel, Food Fight, I could not help but think about Nancy and the Fair Weather Farm. The United States industrial food industry has ruined the concept of small, local, organic, sustainable farms. Not only do farmers like Nancy struggle to compete with the industrial agriculture industry in terms of profit, but they also struggle to share the benefits of their products outside of their small local communities. Why do so many people choice to be blinded by the truth? Why do so many people continue to support the industrial agriculture industry when they know the harm it causes the environment? Why are we not doing anything about it? Unfortunately, these questions are not easy to answer.

 

One of my best friends from home, her mother, Erin, owns and operates an organic farm very similar to Nancy’s. I have spent a handful of hours working with Erin, pulling weeds, planting seeds, and helping out with whatever I can. It has always been very rewarding and therapeutic to spend time on New Harmony Farm, with my best friend and her mother. I feel blessed to have known someone with such knowledge on sustainable agriculture, and I truly find it a shame that very few people have knowledge or exposure to this type of knowledge. The work that Nancy and Erin do to educate their local communities is a valiant effort, however, it is not enough. Imagine if industrial agriculture companies did as much to inform the public about their operations as organic farmers do; they may not end up as successful as they currently think they are.

Not at the Right Park, by Alysha Jaitly

Confession: I don’t think I’m at the right park.

Well not the rightpartof the park, anyway. I drove about 10 minutes out of campus to find a part of the park where I could park my car, and I did that. I’m definitely in White Clay, but not the part that’s anywherenear UD. Whether I’m supposed to be here or not, I’m here. And I’m quite content about the area I discovered. I’ve been sitting here for about 5 or 6 minutes now. I wanted to digest my surroundings before I began to write. The land that I’m on right now is more or less flat – lots of grass, some trees. I found a tree that I like and I’m sitting against it. It reminds me of Holmdel Park, a park near my house I go to to run… Ok, I couldn’t even type that with a straight face. It’s a park near my house where I go to read, and watchpeople run. As much as I wish I was, I’ve never been a runner. Never will be.

Today is a gorgeous freaking day. Its Monday, around 6 pm. The sun is in that spot where its perfectly leveled with me, warming the right side of my body as I’m sitting upright in the grass. It’ll set soon. I’m not sure why I picked this area. I guess I like how it’s off to the side, away from everything. Not too much shade, not too much sun. I like this spot. From where I’m sitting I can count 7 trees immediately around me. Of course, everywhere I look, there are trees. But the one’s in my direct field of vision are what I’m paying attention to at the moment. I’m taking it all in but, to be honest with you, I have no idea what I’m looking at. I couldn’t tell you what kind of tree I’m sitting under or anything about the ones around me. I can’t tell you anything about the tangled grass I’m sitting on. I see normal green blades, clovers, and big leaves all spread on the ground underneath me. Can’t really say much else. All I know is that I like it here. I’ve always liked being outside. No distractions, no annoying roommates, no phone calls, no texts. I live for times like this. I’ll probably just sit here and read or listen to music even after this journal is done because, well, why not?

A fly just buzzed past my ear. I’m trying to sit here and be one with the bugs ‘cause I know there are probably a million of them around me and they’re not bothering me so its fine I have to accept it. I just hate getting bit by mosquitos. It’s one thing I can’t stand. I need bug spray next time I come here.

I just got distracted for like 6 minutes because I was watching a caterpillar make its way through blades of grass. Do they have eyes? When it gets to the end of one blade, it moved its head back and forth and back and forth until it found another blade to latch onto. I wonder what it’s doing. It’s pretty cute.

Its 6:45 now. The sun is behind the trees and it’s definitely stickier out. Maybe it’s going to rain. I hear a LOT of stuff going down. Buzzing and chirping and…squawking? I never really took the time to isolate all of these sounds. I usually just mush them all together and categorize it as “nature.” I don’t want to do that anymore. If I’m going to sit here, or sit anywhere outside, once a week for the whole semester, I want to know what I’m hearing. I feel like I wont be able to identify any of it on my own, even with the right tools. How do you look up, “a super intense buzzing noise that starts out low then gets really loud then stops coming all the way from the top of the tree next to me?” I feel like you can’t. Maybe I’m wrong.

I forgot to bring a blanket. I have to remember to do that next time. Blanket and bug spray. I think I would be much more comfortable if I could lay down and just look at everything and listen to everything. I know I can do that in just plain grass but, you know, bugs. Other than that, I think I’m going to love these hours I spend out here. I need moments like this in my life. A quiet where it’s not tooquiet. I’m not alone in my room being deafened by silence, but I’m not out in public where the noise is just too much to be at peace. I hear birds, bugs, cars, and people in the distance. Today, this tiny space in (what I had no idea was) a massive state park, is my own, and I’m loving it. A huge flock of crows (I think) just flew over my head. That was awesome. I love birds.

Okay, I’m starving. Need to go get myself some dinner. I don’t feel like cooking today, so it’ll probably be something along the lines of a mass produced, unhealthy meal that consists of high levels of fat, salt, and sugar. Can’t wait to think about that while I eat it! As much as I’d kill for a healthy meal filled with produce from a local farm, I’m in college and I have about $20 to my name. Not my fault the good stuff is so expensive.

Butterfly Massacre, by Katey McCarthy

Walking into the vast expanse of White Clay has its own special kind of excitement. Hearing the cicadas click and birds sing in melodic harmony, seeing plant species gently entangled with one another- I feel as though I’m in a haven of biodiversity, a place where I can forget about human encroachment on nature. But, as I walked from my home down a bike path, before even entering the park itself, I saw a heart wrenching phenomenon on its outskirts. Dead butterflies. I came upon the delicate wigs of a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail sprawled out on the pavement, its intricate pattern of yellow, black and blue acting as a burst of color on the mundane black top. It laid lifeless, yet still in perfect condition. The trend continued, as I would find eight more butterfly remains sprinkled on the same right side of the trail, mirroring a sort of sick Hansel and Gretel opting for these elegant creatures over breadcrumbs. Pipevine Swallowtails had wings ripped off and were run over by passing bikes, with holes chewed out of their sparkling blue and orange extremities.

            When I finally entered the park, however, there were only lively butterflies to be seen fluttering gracefully above my head. Although there wasn’t a glaringly clear evidence that humans were the reason for the dead insects, I was still inundated with thoughts of the repercussions of human infringement on their vitality. Professor McKay Jenkin’sFood Fight discusses the impact the American food industry’s monoculture planting wiping out almost the entirety of milkweed in Middle America. He shares that with monarch butterflies solely depending on milkweed to survive, the population has dwindled to just to 4% of what it once was. Even if we are not the ones physically running over swallowtails in White Creek, by supporting the mass food industry in America we are responsible for the genocide of butterflies in our country.

            However, it is people like Nancy from Fair Weather Farm that give me hope that we can make a turn around. A vivacious garden of flowers of all varieties acted as a warm welcome to her farm, not just for our class but for the bees and butterflies that flocked towards their vivid petals. With sunflowers towering above our heads and green weeds tangled below our feet, the garden was a pure playground for the insects that depended on the plants to feed off of. We were even able to see a monarch caterpillar hastily engorging itself with a leaf, preparing for its next stage of life in its chrysalis. It was a true juxtaposition from the scene I saw at White Clay, as Nancy explained the lengths she went to to keep the plants on her property to provide for these creatures. I thought, if only everyone cared enough to do this. To go plant flowers and milkweed in their backyard. To not see weeds as pests, but as opportunities to feed this struggling population. To see past monoculture and pesticides, and think about how the land survived before humans tampered with it. It’s a problem I didn’t even know exist, and I’m sure most live completely unaware of. It’s wild to think this expansion of consciousness all began with a walk on a bike path before even truly entering White Clay.

Deer, Cows, and a Swallowtail, by Victoria Mayer

As I walk towards the woods, the rays from the sun are beaming down on me. The slight summer breeze dries off my glistening forehead as I look up in the sky; its deep blue colors remind me of the ocean. The sky is also filled with white, fluffy cumulus clouds.

The first thing I notice as I am walking into the park is a large pink and white flowered bush on my right. There is a butterfly flying around the flowers; one I have never seen before, a Tiger Swallowtail. Its wings are mostly golden yellow, with occasional black stripes. Together, the colors created a unique design that look like artwork.

As I’m walking further into the woods, the sound of cars are disappearing, and it seems as if I’m traveling through an uninhabited land; as if the peaceful notes of nature are overtaking the daunting sounds of civilization. The woods are filled with unique noises; birds chirping, cicadas’ buzzing, and crickets’ stridulating. However, I do not see any of these creatures; where could they possibly be coming from? High in the treetops? Under a fallen tree? I see a beautiful blue jay fly in front of me and sit on an oak tree’s branch. Although this bird isn’t doing much, it’s still putting on a show of exotic chirping and calling. The large oaks and other tall trees create a canopy cover the woods. This creates natural shelter for the creatures below, and also acts as an aesthetically pleasing feature for people who don’t like to walk in the sun. The dense cover from the trees allow little light onto the wood’s floor. This allows only a limited number of things to grow in the forest, such as moss. There is moss covering old branches that have been scattered throughout the park. I think to myself, “Where did these branches come from? Did they fall in a storm or did someone hack them down?” These fallen trees are now home to many ecosystems. For example, when you lift up a log, you will see many different types of bugs. A moist environment with insects such as centipedes and pill bugs. These bugs thrive in a warm, moist environment such as a rotting tree branch.

As I continue my journey deeper into the woods, I notice a tree that has fallen into the creek, which has created another ecosystem for different plants and animals to grow and live off of. The creek was cool and refreshing as I stick my hand into the rushing water, to grab a rock. From behind the rock swims a small fish. Growing off the side of the tree is a slippery moss-like plant.

In the distance I see a white-tailed deer grazing in a small clearing. The deer is eating leaves from a nearby tree and small plants on the ground. Similarly, to the deer, cows are supposed to graze, but most cows in the United States are kept in close quarters called CAFOs. In the CAFO, the cows are pumped with a cheap, genetically modified version of corn, to fatten them up. This is done to produce more meat from each cow. This is also done with chickens, but they are fed soy beans instead of corn. Why do we not do this with deer? There is an abundance of deer in numerous areas but there is not a demand for their meat. Some people are beginning to think that using genetically modified organisms to create larger livestock is inhumane. Cows and chickens are supposed to graze naturally just like the white-tailed deer, yet they are fed products that are not beneficial to their health. In return, we do get more meat from them, but the quality of the meat is at a lower grade. Instead of eating beef or chicken, we are essentially eating the genetically modified corn and soy that the cows and chickens are fed. Which in turn decreases the nutritional value of our food but increases the number of calories we consume.

After spending a few hours in White Clay Creek State Park, I began to look at things differently. I started looking at simple things such as a deer and thinking about that one thing and asking questions I would not have normally asked.

 

 

Listening for Birds, by Biaggio Gangemi

Like most people, I waited until the weekend to go White Clay Creek. As I was lying in bed on Thursday night I looked at the forecast for the weekend and realized I was probably screwed. The forecast called for rain the entire weekend. But, I told myself I would commit rain or shine, partly because it was required to go but also because I wanted to get the full experience for this class.

I got up Sunday morning and went for a run. As I was running I was thinking about a lot of things. I thought about how lucky I got that it wasn’t raining. I got caught in the rain walking to class on Friday so I was very thankful the Sun was out. I started thinking about this class and the opinions I had about the environment before it. I wasn’t aware of the exact numbers but I knew that there was a great debate regarding GMOs. I knew the bee population was on the decline. I knew forests were being cut down and CO2 emissions are rising at an alarming rate, yet, it didn’t affect me that much. It didn’t keep me up at night. But then I started thinking about this class. How one professor was so driven by these issues that he dedicated an entire course for it. I wish I could say that it was this exact moment that changed my entire perspective on these issues but it didn’t. But I find myself thinking about them a lot more. It made me curious about what my perspective would be like by the end of this course.

When I got to White Clay Creek I took out my earbuds so I could hear what was going on around me. I heard crickets and cicadas. I remembered talking about how we would learn about bird songs and kept my ear out for them but didn’t hear any. It’s possible birds were singing all around me but I wasn’t sure what I should be listening for which could explain why I didn’t hear any. I listened to the sound my shoes made as they were hitting the trail. The squish the mud made and crackling of the gravel. I put my earbuds back in and started running again.  I felt the differences in temperature as I ran. No 5 yards were the same. There were patches of hot, thick, humid air and patches of crisp, cool air. I took in a deep breath and thought about what I was smelling. To me it just smelled like a forest. But then I thought about what was making it smell the way it did. Would a forest here smell the same as one in Oregon or California. I’ve only been to forests and parks around the Mid-Atlantic which could explain why I thought what I was smelling was generic.

Eventually I got to a spot I had gone to once before. There was a pool of water and a small waterfall which looked like a pretty good place to take a break. I sat down and put my feet in the water. Immediately I saw two giant trees that had fallen over into the water. They weren’t there when I had gone in May. I thought about the strength that was needed to make these two trees fall. How strong the wind must have been to rip the trees, roots included, directly out of the ground. I’d break every bone in my body before doing the same to another tree that size. I looked at the water around me. You don’t often get to describe moving water as smooth but that’s exactly what it was. It was clear enough to see the color of each rock on the bottom. I watched a small fish try to swim upstream, I took my eyes off of it for a second and it was gone. I looked up at the trees. I thought I saw an owl at the top of a tree but as I kept looking I realized it was a big spiders nest. I was really impressed. It made me think about how long it must have taken for a spider to climb to the top of a tree that big.

On my run back to my apartment, I looked at all the plants and trees around me. I remembered talking about invasive wildlife in class and was curious as to which plants were invasive. It reminded me of a time during one of my summer jobs where I had to get rid of vines that had wrapped itself around a pine tree. After I was done I remembered thinking about how sparse the tree looked. Then I thought about how different the forest around me would look if the invasive plants were gone. Maybe I’ll find out by the end of this class.

Coming Back to Nature, by Lauren Barczak

There is a spot that speaks to me in the woods, just off the trails and shaded from the rest of the world by Sweetgum and Oaks that touch the sky. It’s a spot that feels distinctly mine, despite how many people surely pass this place when biking and walking past. The vegetation here parts in certain places, quietly beckoning to anyone brave enough to wander off of the given path and explore its little wonders. Spiny patches of Smilax vines tug at your pants and leave pin-prick scratches, and the mud sucks your feet into the ground if you aren’t careful, as if nature is warning you to tread lightly in such a sacred place. If the land lets you come to this place, you’re lucky. The pool here is deep in the spring, chilly and deep enough to hit your hips in waders, and by August it’s dried into a patch of soft, damp soils and masses of reedy plants. Every rotting log in this place holds an entire ecosystem within it, crawling with tiny insects and fungi. If you pay close attention, you’ll find Red-Backed Salamanders skittering along the edge of the pool, small and slimy and magical. Different kinds of mosses grow here like a carpet laid out for the dragonflies and the frogs, who greet you like an old friend. Here, a Blue-Faced Meadowhawk frequents the same side of the pool as I do. He occasionally lands on my knee when I’m still enough, as if he’s welcoming me back to our little secret space. When I don’t see him, I hope he’s well. The Spring Peepers and Chorus Frogs here sing loud, joining with the crickets and cicadas in a relaxing harmony.

 

 

I often wonder how to give back to this place in a way that’s substantial. Pulling plastic bags from the shore and removing invasive Japanese Honeysuckle sometimes seems futile when another careless person drops their aluminum can in the water and invasive vines grow back. Humans tend to make a lot of mess out of the land that we live alongside, and sometimes, small individual acts of love for nature feel futile. The trees here know my secrets and keep them better than anyone else – they are a constant source of comfort and the best listeners imaginable. I’ve come to the realization, while sitting in my spot along the drying pool, that any good listener needs that to be reciprocated. As quiet as they seem to anyone visiting the forest without intent to stay, every forest is charged with energy and life and sound. Trees speak to those willing to listen and they need as many good friends and listeners as possible. Trees are communal creatures, dependent on one another and sharing space and light and nutrients. Different species warn each other of danger and illness, root systems intertwined across acres. If plants and animals can listen to each other so attentively, why have human beings been so unable to do the same? Have we grown so distant from nature that we can no longer connect with the world around us in the way that other species can?

 

 

Food Fightauthor McKay Jenkins offers a view of the horrific truth about how we use and view the land we share in the United States. One third of our country is used to grow and harvest just three crops- wheat, soybeans, and corn. It seems sort of strange and paradoxical to me that we are happy to wipe out countless species of edible and more nutritious natural plants to grow three crops used in the majority of the cheap, processed foods we find in grocery stores. Things that are edible and far better for you exist literally right below our feet. Patches of White Clover (Trifolium repens) blanket almost every grassy space in the country but is commonly considered a weed. Turns out, this herbaceous plant is not only one of the most important plants in the spring for native pollinator species, but it is edible for humans as well. The flowers and the leaves are high in protein and B vitamins. Dandelions, another commonly hated “weed” targeted by homeowners armed with bottles of RoundUp, are also edible and low in calories. Clover is abundant in my special spot in the woods, as well as other native and edible plants. Clover, it turns out, tastes similar to the way that freshly cut grass smells. The flower is sweet and fragrant at first, followed by a bitter and leafy aftertaste. Young Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) trees with smooth green bark and fragrant leaves line the edges of the woods – the leaves and the twigs are both edible and thought to have medicinal uses. Even the tall and majestic Pines scattered throughout the mostly deciduous woods have needles that can be brewed into vitamin rich teas. Cattail, Mayapple, Blackberries, and wild garlic and onion are all native plants that thrive right below our feet, unnoticed.

 

 

Nature provides for us in ways that humans have not seemed to comprehend yet. We are still new to the world, the younger siblings to the rest of the world’s many species. Like all young things, we make mistakes, and I hope that we will learn from them before it is too late. We have cut the biomass of plant and animal species down quickly and swiftly like a child playing with a set of building blocks, and it’s daunting to consider that these building blocks are the structure of life on Earth. Nature provides food, shelter, the air we breathe, the water we drink. But as all functioning relationships go, we must learn that it relies on the art of give and take. If we expect to receive and use nature’s gifts, we must be willing to give back. Instead of replacing fields of prairie grasses and Milkweed with corn, sustainable methods of farming and harvesting can make an enormous difference. Loving the soil that we use, being mindful of what we eat and where it comes from, and protecting the land that supports us can be a giant step forward in reclaiming our lost connection to the natural world.

 

 

I am not particularly good at the art of writing, and I’ve always been envious of those who are able to weave words into something beautiful. However, I don’t believe that it takes a lot of words or grammatical flair to get to the point of all of this – the more that we rely on this cycle of not paying attention to where the food that we eat comes from, the further we stray from nature. Coming back to my secret spot in the woods is something like coming home. The breeze feels like a sigh of relief, as if the Earth is happy to have another listener, even for a few moments. There was a time in my life before the forest, when what I ate didn’t cross my mind and I didn’t have friends among the dragonflies. Coming back to nature is like switching a light on, and I hope that we can one day learn again how to listen to the trees.