An Unexpected Journey, by Grant Argo

My trip to White Clay State Park this week was very unexpected. When I arrived, I meandered through the trails back to my usual spot by Cattail Pond. Unlike last week when I visited this sacred place, I saw some of the creatures that call this pond home. Three beautiful Wood Ducks were swimming around the pond and suddenly soared into the sky when I approached. Seeing these magnificent creatures with their array of colors was truly a picture-perfect moment. Mother Nature allowed me to be present during this spectacle so instead of staying stationary around this pond, I decided to hike through some unknown trails with the hope of seeing more of nature’s beauty.

Before I knew it, I was deep into the forest of the State Park. Being surrounded by a plethora of species of deciduous trees, insects, birds, and mammals is the closest we modern humans can get to connecting with our primitive ancestors. I felt at home. I felt at peace. These trails required a lot of careful navigation. Whether it be crossing rocks, roots, bridges, twists, or turns; these trails had it all. I was able to find a very small freshwater stream that was located near a surveyor’s stone erected in 1872. Here, I sat and listened to the running water while taking in all the other noises and sights that Mother Nature was gracious enough to share with me. I felt that I was one with nature, not separate from it.

This week’s article, written by Elizabeth Kolbert, titled, Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast, was truly eye opening. Never had I heard the truth about the state of Louisiana and the inevitable doom that lurks in the future. Since I was a young boy, I understood that nature is the ultimate power in this world. No matter how much humanity attempts to alter and control the world, Mother Nature always comes out on top. Reading this article and understanding how Kolbert describes the engineering pursuits that are underway in Louisiana is utterly terrifying. For example, Kolbert includes a statement from a resident which states, “But, when we as humans intervene, it rarely turns out well. That’s why we are where we are today” (Kolbert). This is perhaps the most powerful portion of Kolbert’s piece. Not only does this statement resonate with climate events underway in Louisiana, but it also ties in very well with the rest of the world. Humankind needs a major shift in its approach to the environment. We, as a species, cannot control nature. Instead, we must understand how we are negatively impacting the environment around us and then come up with practical solutions to stop or limit these negative impacts.

In addition to Kolbert’s article, the documentary produced by Spike Lee, titled, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, depicts the social, political, and economical side of disasters in Louisiana. Kolbert touched on this idea in her article as well; however, Spike Lee demonstrates how impoverished areas in New Orleans are not given the resources needed to stay protected and recover from natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. For example, the documentary depicts FEMA Director Mike Brown underplaying the possible effects that Katrina could bring. This “can-do” optimism expressed by Brown greatly contributed to Louisiana and the United States’ lack of preparation. The government was caught flatfooted and per usual, the impoverished neighborhoods of Louisiana were hit the hardest.

Judging by this week’s reading and film, as well as all the other material included in this class, it seems that the United States of America is obsessed with making the rich richer and the poor poorer. When is this going to stop? All the issues in today’s society are minute compared to the inevitable doom that climate change poses to all of civilization. When is the world going to wake up? Louisiana demonstrates the underlying truth that humans cannot and will never be able to control Mother Nature. It’s time we put our differences aside and work together to save our planet.

 

Taking Any Advantage, by Megan Noonan

It’s Monday morning and I am once again walking the path at White Clay Creek. The day is bright and sunny with a high of seventy-nine degrees and a low of fifty-seven. As October slowly creeps closer, the sun has begun to set earlier in the day and with the darkness brings the cold. Each step I take creates a small cloud of dirt that circles around my ankles. All around me I can hear the cicadas and crickets chirping. After only a short amount of time I became habituated to the noise. As I continued to walk I spotted many different types of wildlife such as different species of birds, insects, plants, and fungi. I was in awe of the beauty in the array of living creatures.

As a medical diagnostics student, it intrigues me to think about how these creatures evolved to be how they are today. I wonder what these same animals that I am observing now might have looked like when the Native Americans lived on this land. The topic of evolution has been discussed in every class of mine.  Exterminate All The Brutes Part 3, discusses the environmental mindset of the colonizers during the eighteenth century. The colonizers in the eighteenth century believed in, “A ready made universe where nothing could be added or subtracted from it” (Peck, 2021).

It wasn’t until Georges Cuvier found the remains of what we now know is a mammoth and speculated that the mammoth was its own species that had become extinct. Years later Charles Darwin published his theory on evolution. His findings were instrumental to the science community and changed the public’s thinking entirely. As discussed in the documentary, the white colonizers saw this new theory as advantageous to their racist agenda, “Genocide began to be regarded as inevitable byproduct of progress and predudice against alien peoples which had always existed was now given organized form and apparent scientific validation” (Peck, 2021).

The white settlers used the theory of evolution to “prove” their superiority and used it as a reason to continue to enslave and murder all people of color. Anyone who opposed this ideology was deemed as ignorant, “After darwin, it also became accepted to shrug your shoulders at genocide, if you were upset you were just showing your lack of education” (Peck, 2021). I take a deep breath and with the exhale try to release all of the frustration of reflecting on the past. I continue to walk further down the path. I find a small path leading down to the creek and decide to venture that way. The water below me is a murky dark blue color that hides the fish below the surface. As my eyes travel to the middle of the creek, I see a variety of soft colored rocks. The sound of the water gliding across the rocks could put me to sleep. The water doesn’t smell of fish as I would have expected it to have instead it smells of tree bark and fresh air.

I took out my phone to take some notes. As I am typing I remembered a quote from the documentary stating, “History starts when men start to write” (Peck, 2021). Whoever holds the pen to write also holds the power of how history is portrayed. The book, An Indigenous People’s History Of The United States provides another perspective to the history of the colonization of America. The reason that the true history of colonization which includes the pillaging, kidnapping, and genocide of native americans has not been taught is becasue the same people who are comitting those crimes are the ones writing the history. The “victors” will write history to their advantage and avoid documenting the disgusting practices they used to obtain the wealth and land they still currently hold. Words have power and this book has the power to change minds and bring light to the dark past. I am now walking back to my car and taking in all of my surroundings. The fresh air and the sweet smell of grass linger as I step into the driver’s seat. In one week I know I will find myself in this exact parking spot, walking the path I just left.

 

Why Do We Climb, by Wylie Feaster

Where the path I take to reach the pond meets the edge of the woods, a great-pine tree stands, the last of its generation. Whether it was left as a boundary marker for hikers to use as a reference point, no one can say, but, personally, I prefer a little bit of mystery. I have always wanted to ask the owners of the property its rotund trunk just barely nudges if they know of its true origin story, but my fear of confrontation has always gotten the better of me. The woodchoppers who felled its neighbors left a long time ago, and, in their place, a whole wooded ecosystem full of sturdy pines, oaks, and maples now flourishes. However, the majestic head of this particular pine tree towers high above all the rest, serving as a landmark for any and all to see as they wade into the woods in search of who they are.

In my seventeen years of living just seconds away from the wood’s edge, I have come to know this tree well. I have always believed that whoever can climb to the top of it will be able to see the Hudson River, hell, maybe even the Long Island Sound given the clearness of that day’s sky. Oftentimes, I lay my hand on its great rough trunk and look up wistfully towards its dark boughs, the ones the wind always stirs, no matter how hot and still the air might be below. Yet, today felt different, entirely different. As I approached the tree, I felt more and more determined to climb it. And climb it I soon did.

With the utmost bravery, I began my ascension, branch by branch, my every movement pushed forward by the tingling, eager blood coursing through my every vein. As my fingers lay bare, my boots covered in fraying tree bark and fallen pine needles, I pinched and held the monstrous tower of wood like how an eagle clutches a mouse. Oddly enough, the tree seemed to lengthen itself out as I progressed further and further up. As I straddled its trunk, a great main mast to a voyaging Earth, I couldn’t help but ponder what the tree itself might be thinking. It must have been amazed, awestruck indeed, as it felt this determined spark of a human spirit weaving his way from branch to branch. More than all the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and ants was the brave, beating heart of a solitary blue-eyed boy, eager to reach a view that he knew would be nothing short of heavenly, or so he hoped.

As I closed in towards the pine tree’s canopy, the early morning sun, soft and diffuse in nature, gave way to the day’s first true rays of sunlight, the ones that provide warmth to the woods and all who inhabit it. From the treetop, I could see the stagnant blues and greens of the pond’s surface begin to evaporate into the air above in slow waves, waves that eddied gracefully upwards towards white-puffed clouds. Quickly, I realized that it was only here, only amidst the tops of the trees, could I observe this phenomenon, one that an average passerby would not be able to see back down on the ground. All it took was a shift in perspective.

Since entering the environmental humanities realm, perspective shifting, at least for me, has seemed to be the only syllabus requirement. From learning about the true history of the Indigenous people who first settled the continent to the conflation between non-white skin and filth, uncovering the real, unidistrubed truths buried underneath altered historical narratives requires the use of a new vantage point. A vantage point that allows the viewer to see everything at once. Recently, Rauol Peck’s docuseries “Exterminate All the Brutes” became that new vantage point, that view from the pine tree. By gathering a set of historical atrocities of vast geographical and historical scope, like the imperial conquest of Africa by Europe and the Holocaust, he is able to map out the inextricable connections they each have with one another, connections formed out of commitments to white supremacy. As he presents each narrative to his viewer, all within the span of an hour, he instills within us the ability to see our world in a new light, a world that, for far too long, has used white skin as an excuse to murder, kill, and indoctrinate. “[We] already know enough…what is missing is the courage to understand what we know and to draw conclusions.”

Don’t Give a Crick, by Kylie Smith

I walked down the path to White Clay Creek trying to allow my body to absorb some sunlight

while being aware of the loose rocks lining the path so I did not roll my ankle, my attention was more on the latter. The trail eventually was cleared of stones and replaced with sand, dirt, and dead grass. I was able to then take in my surroundings. No one was around so I was able to take in my first maskless deep breath in what has seemed like ages. In the air, spring and winter battled with the forces of the warm sun against the nip in the air, and it will be a couple of weeks before spring wins the battle. And even though the air dried my mouth and was sharp against my lungs, that breath felt better than using a new pack of Bic colored pens or finally smoothing out that stubborn wrinkling in my duvet cover.

I looked around to take in my wooded surroundings and everything reminded me of home. With White Clay Creek looking exactly like the Rocky River, only the water much more clear, and the branches bare of leaves but beginning to bud at the end, transport me to the Cleveland Metroparks with how identical it looks to the scenery back home. There, I decided I wanted to spend a bit more time listening to the stream in the creek and getting some sunlight. I walked back to my car and grabbed Clean and White so I could both do my homework while enjoying the outdoors. As I reached the street, I could hear multiple croaks and volume continued to grow as I made my way towards the parking spaces. I traced the noise to a small puddle, probably formed by the rain water and in it there were three small frogs. So needless to say, that was the highlight of my day.

Book in tow, for a second time attempted not to roll my ankle and happily, I succeeded. I went back to the same area I was before, and tried to find a tree trunk I could sit on that I could get to without being poked and scratched by a thousand little thorns and twigs. I carefully made my way to a fallen tree, taking the long route. I took too many pictures of the surroundings and sent them to people who, rightfully so, did not care that I was outside. I was amazed at just how clear the water was and sent a picture of it to my best friend commenting on it only to receive the response “ok grandpa”.

My gaze followed the water as it moved down the creek. I followed each little ripple with my

eyes periodically until something caught my eye. There, in the dirt, off to my right, was the tread of my left platform van, staring back at me. It then hit me about how many other footprints, both physical and environmentally I have left over my 20 years. Most of them I have probably been unaware of.

After I felt like it was time to return home, I gathered my things and left. Even though I was back in Sharp Hall, the checkered pattern of the sole of my shoe still remained embedded in the dirt.

My existence is filled with shoe prints, the empty plastic Sabra hummus container sitting beside me that I will recycle but it is only delaying the inevitable; the fire roasted salsa sitting in my fridge that I tried once and hated and will probably throw out at the end of May when I back up my dorm. I produce a lot of waste but because of my race, class, ethnicity, I will never experience the full repercussions of it.

About 5 miles away from the Cleveland Metroparks lies Cleveland, a city once controlled by the auto industry, now left abandoned and destitute partly because of the departure of General Motors. Although very close in distance, the Metroparks and Downtown Cleveland, look like two completely parts of the country. The Downtown has been ripped of trees, clean air, and clean water. Through the practices of redlining, and just overall racism, black people are “lawfully” segregated to Downtown. The effects of environmental racism are not felt by the whites in the suburbs today, nor were they felt by those in rural areas. Many of these problems are no better than the conditions immigrants in the tenement houses faced during the second Industrial Revolution. “On cold days when home use of coal was heavy, Pittsburg skies appeared black at noon” (141). With the natural air filtering system of trees plowed down and replaced with skyscrapers, the polluted air could not be clean then and continues to remain dirty in urban environments.

I live off heat and food and clothing whose waste I will never see the effects of. Just like the

tread of my van in the dirt, my actions do not affect me as much as those who live in the area

where my waste will go. This problem has been going on for far too long, but there seems to beno end in sight because the problems of waste and the effect that come from it are only felt by the poor and people of color, not the rich and in power.

A Walk for Reflection, by Kiernan Fallows

The weather at the farm this week was saddening. As the sun melted the snow that was

present at the start of the week, more rain came in full force. Normally I find rain relaxing to

listen to, but when I’m working outside four days a week, it gets old fast. Inside the barn was

busy this week, as usual. The normal hustle and bustle of thirty-five horses moving from place to

place and pasture to pasture gives you a little bit of a whiplash but I am starting to get the hang

of working at such a fast pace. I took a horse named Vera on some walks this week for twenty

five minutes a day. She has a torn suspensory ligament and as part of her healing process I give

her daily walks. Usually I call someone and talk on the phone to pass the time, but this week I

decided to walk outside and take a listen to my surroundings. As the weather has warmed up, I

noticed a huge flock of canadian geese has taken up residency at the pond near the barn and they

are quite loud. They were taking baths in the water, probably just as happy as I was that the

weather was up to the forties. As the snow melted, the ground became soft and quite muddy. If

the horses aren’t careful when galloping through the fields, they may just find themselves

slipping and falling. The barn swallows have been making so much noise flying from tree to tree,

chasing each other almost as if they are playing tag. Other people in the barn have been

complaining about how loud they are, but I find them quite enjoyable to watch.

While on one of our walks, I was thinking about trauma. Partially because we were

discussing it in class and partially because the night before I had a really bad dream flashing

back to a traumatic experience in my own life. I don’t usually have dreams like that often, but

when I get really stressed about work or school, I feel like these dreams are my body’s way of

telling me to slow down and take care of myself.

A couple years ago I was driving down the road and came upon a woman begging for

help as her house was on fire. There were two people in the house when it started, this woman

and her eighteen year old daughter. When I came upon the accident by chance, the mother had

jumped out the window to save herself and had no choice but to leave her daughter behind in the

flames. She was bleeding and in obvious shock and as I held towels from my car trunk on her

wounds to try to stop the bleeding I couldn’t do anything but watch the house go up in flames

knowing her daughter was inside. There was absolutely nothing I could have done, but for a

while I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible for her death. After months of trying to just

forget this whole thing happened, I finally went to therapy to talk about it and I have been doing

much better since.

While reading about how the indigenous people were removed from their homes and as

they looked back they saw their own houses in flames, I felt a pang in my chest. It hit close to

home and although, thankfully, I have never seen this happen to my own house, I have seen it

happen to someone else’s right before my eyes. Although this specific part of the book struck a

chord with me, another person may have read it and felt nothing. There is a level of compassion

and understanding necessary to feel grief. It’s so much easier to just forget something happened,

to turn a blind eye, to not have uncomfortable conversations, but those responses aren’t helpful

towards forward progress. When reading about people’s homes being burned down, it’s easy for

me to feel for them because of my own experiences. It is important for people to read books like

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States so we have a better understanding of what

happened to indigenous communities and the ways that our country was founded. Not only just

reading books like this is important, but also discussing them with others. We can then use this

information to help better understand why there are lasting impacts on groups of people today

and help us understand the steps needed to be taken to sympathize with those groups and

reconcile the present effects of those lasting issues.

Oh, Clear Sky, Teach Me Freedom, by Arlett Ramirez

I enjoyed looking up at the grand sky, getting lost in thought as the blue color continues to intensify. The sound of the river walking by, as it follows a limitless road. I feel less connected to my earthly attachments and I begin to wonder why I had the dream to own a big house. For a long time, I always thought that a house would provide me shelter but it would still feel congested regardless of the size.

The worst of tight living conditions as told by Clean and White such as the large European and American cities in the eighteenth century were a breeding ground for poverty and filth. The lack of sanitary infrastructure came with a great cost, where there was an increased risk of yellow fever, typhoid, and other diseases. Despite this history, we continue to have growing cities such as New York City that take more from the land than give back. White Clay Creek could have been unlucky and had a city built over it. It is sad that in our lifetimes, we may never get see the original beautiful nature of the New York City area before settler intervention.

Taking a step back, I was feeling intimidated by the amount of space in the forest. From my perspective, I have always prioritized my feelings of safety over spaciousness of an enclosed building. Growing up I have lived in the white man’s house, never thinking that other communities would see the same house as a cage. The pictures from the National Geographic article show the broken and crowded living conditions of the Oglala residents. In the white man’s house and cars, there is limited space to make a home and it constantly reminds the residents of the barriers created by the White society. There is little wiggle room to live outside of these houses as White American society has this expectation of everyone living in a building and the appearance of a standard home. To show signs of fighting back, the Oglala residents continue to practice ceremonies and customs in order to break the white man’s cages.

The wind was petting my hair into a wild mess as usually. It was a friendly gesture, where the life of the forest was beginning to grow back as it transitioned to spring. The little plants were starting to germinate, even when the weather was slightly cold. Sometimes, nature can still find the will to live and move forward from the violence of humans. Such violence is found in events such as the Wounded Knee Massacre, which ensued a protest against the U.S. due to the horrid actions against vulnerable groups of people. Once again, the U.S. felt the need to stop the protest through the use of violence, which ended up in 130,000 shots fired and 1,200 arrests. The screams of terror, confusion, sadness, and mercy were all heard by mother nature but not by the U.S.

With everything stacked against Indigenous people, their sense of community did not fade, and they continued to keep their culture alive. As stated in the “Shadow of A Nation,” wealth was not from the individual but from the community according to customs in Indigenous reservations. Another sign of high community value was the ritual of being a hero. Instead of receiving gifts which is often portrayed in White American media, the hero would give gifts to the community as a way to say thanks for the endless support.

However, all these strengths from the community wouldn’t be enough to comfort or protect individuals from struggles present in their communities. Jonathan Takes Enemy used basketball and alcohol as an escape from reality. The constant running away from the heavy grip of doubt and negativity impacted many lives. In the boundless forest, no matter how much one runs away, the struggles come back and drag everyone down.

One day, there may be no more standard house trapping communities, no more screams of agony, and no more suffering of communal struggles. Maybe one day, we can all lose ourselves in the vast emptiness of space, to be free from the pressures created by internalized trauma.

Nearly Erased, but Not Forgotten, by Rebecca Mezei

When I was little, and even to this today, I loved to color, draw, and just make art. I found that making art was a fun way of expressing myself, allowing myself to convey feelings without having to say words or without having to formulate emotions into a cohesive thought. Furthermore, very early in life, I formed a habit of being eraser-happy. One misstep of my colored pencil and out the eraser would go, ready to cover my mistake in a layer of shed rubber. Even if the misstep was an improvement to my work, it was gone, forgotten, erased. A piece of the story to never be shared and to never be remembered.

As I walk around White Clay Creek I feel as though I see a similar behavior in the world. I walk in the snow and I leave footprints. These footprints will melt by the next time I return. I breath in the air and a cloud of smoke appears, yet quickly disappears. As I walk, I kick leaves and sticks around in all directions. However, even that is fleeting as the wind will surely move them back. Every action I have taken while at the park, erased. I tried to test this further. I made a ripple in the water. It eventually dissipated. Nothing I did was lasting, a phenomenon which in nature is relatively reassuring. My actions did not leave a permanent impact, allowing for others to experience as I have. However, the same phenomenon is also scary; it is terrifying to think that something could be so easily forgotten, so easily erased.

Thinking about this in the middle of a natural park makes it hard to ignore how the indigenous people seemed to suffer and be erased. The settlers came to North America with the goal of a fresh slate. Upon their arrival, they realized this clean slate “for them” could only be achieved with messy conflicts and bloodshed of others. The indigenous people were the ones to suffer the disappointment and the disappearing. They were treated as having no value: less wealthy, less deserving and generally worthless. Their lifestyle and lives were ignored. Their progresses trampled. Their villages and societies burned. Ultimately, they were brutally killed and mutilated, with only fractions of the initial populations left to remain. More than hundreds of thousands of Native American Lives, forgotten, ignored, erased.

Thinking about that is so crazy to me. It is inconceivable to think that anyone would be willing to cause such suffering in order to further themselves to a goal they conceived only a few years prior after facing societal injustices in their place of origin. What should be more important? Why were the settlers the ones who claimed the right to decide? They should not have had the ability to erase entire cultures as they had done. They erased populations of animals, they erased buildings, they erased most of entire societies without a drop, a speck, or even a thought of remorse.

I am not related to an indigenous person. I am a child of two families who immigrated here: one from Hungary and the other from Belarus &Ukraine. For me, my cultures have felt very distant from me in some respect, separated by borders and oceans. However, my parents and grandparents, and even my aunts and uncles, have taught about how they grew up. They have made family recipes passed down through generations and have even taught bits and pieces of their languages. They have told me stories about my grandparents when they were in Europe and about the struggles they faced to get to the United States. They have played songs, showed me pictures and helped me try to learn to feel connected to a culture that I do not live in, a generation removed. However, for the few indigenous individuals who survived and were able to live on in this country, covered with eraser shavings of their cultures, their experiences must have been very different.

For descendants of the indigenous people who survived, their connection to their culture must be hard and painful, as their very way of living is a reminder of what they lost in the past. While their parents and families are probably still present in their lives, their communities are likely small. I expect that their experience of trying to connect to their culture is more difficult, as many people were killed, or forcibly assimilated, in an effort to erase them from the slate of North America. Many traditions, family recipes, songs, and other cultural aspects of importance likely fell to the same fate.

In class we watched a video about chief Quiet Thunder, a direct descendant of an indigenous individual in the Leni Lenape tribe. In the video he talked about his culture and how his tribe thought of food and of the pipe and how they continue to plan to treat the earth to prepare for seven generations to follow. This video was informative, of course, but it also made me upset. These cultures should be one which we are all well informed about and familiar with. It shouldn’t take a video of a late chief to open our eyes to these cultures. There should not be only a few individuals who participate in these cultures that were here so long before the settlers. It is unfair and it is inconceivable that anyone considered it to be okay to try and erase a culture. It is worse that they succeeded for a large fraction of the populations that were here and are here no longer. While the indigenous populations were nearly erased, it is our responsibility now to make sure that they are not forgotten.  We should be doing everything in our power to help them prosper and grow and regain some of what was taken away, regain some of who they were and should be again.

The Noises of a Not-So-Natural World, by Wylie Feaster

As I return to Sugar Pond for my second visit, it saddens me to say that the ice from last week has not left: the pond still remains entirely frozen over, even more so than before. In the areas where motionless pools of meltwater once rested, small, elevated ridges of compacted snow have now taken shape, splitting what was once an entirely flat, frozen plain into an uneven array of jagged slopes and edges. Along the pond’s perimeter, rings of twigs and leaf litter assemble in the uniform depressions leftover from previously felled oak trees. Gauged out of the Earth by the sheer force of their collapses, each hole in the ground represents a grave − the pond, a graveyard − for natural beings that took centuries to grow, yet only seconds to topple over. I find it ironic that what once stood so high above the pond now rests for eternity submerged beneath the frozen surface, concealed from the view of even the most observant passersby.

As I begin to straddle the edge, hoping to spot a log or two suspended beneath the ice, my search carries me towards the pond’s steepest bank. Upon my arrival, I notice that the soles of my boots are no longer passing over thick swathes of snow and ice but rather an orderly assortment of cedar planks, anchored perfectly in between two sizable boulders. I had reached a bridge, the only point along the pond’s entire circumference where water is granted the chance to escape into a connecting stream. As I sit atop one of the railings, the torrents of water spewing out from the gap below the bridge create an intense reverberation, one that bounces between each of my ribs before plunging back into the frigid depths below. “Was I too becoming a part of nature’s cycle?” I thought to myself. The expression, “Now, our minds are one,” kept repeating in my head as I attempted to align my breathing with the cadence of the water droplets skittering off the rocks. Whether I succeeded or not was now the least of my concern. I was too focused on the fact that, for once during this pandemic, I truly felt at peace.

Or, at least that’s what I kept telling myself. As fast as the natural world instilled within me with a sense of newfound serenity, the continuous clatter of the non-natural world snatched it away twice as fast. In the span of the entire five minutes I spent attempting to listen to the water beneath me: a fire alarm had sounded (four repetitions meant a fire had broken out), an HVAC system behind a nearby home had whirred to life, and three deafening crashes (followed by the sounds of trucks reversing) indicated that construction down by the train tracks had just begun for the day. Yet, as much as I wanted to tune out these noises, I couldn’t. I didn’t have a choice.

Whenever I think about the goal of our journal assignments, to “[engage] with the noise[s] of the world,” I cannot help but also think about the noises that helped colonize this country. From the gunshots that tore through the flesh of innocent Indigenous men and women to the crackling of crop fields set ablaze by army troops, America represents a nation founded from the commotion caused by barbaric violence and total war. When a singular shot from a confiscated Worcester rifle misfired, the lives of 300 defenseless Lakota Sioux individuals were claimed as quickly as the soldiers who killed them could mount their machine guns into place.

The noise of the world had overcome them. Just like the great oak trees I had searched for earlier, their downfalls took with them centuries of Indigenous knowledge, growth, and wisdom, all erased within a matter of minutes. Yet, still today, we are rarely ever exposed to what truly happened at Wounded Knee, the massacre, the bloody mutilation of hundreds of innocent lives. We make up excuses. “It simply doesn’t align with the white American perspective,” we say.

As I begin my trek home, just a stone’s throw away, I think I’m finally starting to understand why the pond freezes over every winter. It’s not because of the frigid outside temperatures or some reaction that occurs between the air and the water. No, the pond freezes over in order to shield itself from the noises of the world. I often wish I could do the same.

Seeing With New Eyes, by Alexis Cervantes

A few sprinkles of snow from the last winter storm remain, blanketing the rocks that barricade the vulnerable land from the Atlantic. Along the wrack line, cigarette butts lay scattered here and there, along with several plastic cups and even a shoe insole. Officer’s Row, a long line of quarters which once housed an officer and his family, remains in ruins from Superstorm Sandy. These buildings, destroyed and now without porches, directly face the Sandy Hook Bay. Trees appear so bare that you can see the bright blue and cloudless sky when looking through their leafless branches. The grass is even the same color as the sand. Everything just feels lifeless. I see now why I am the only one here. Though abnormally warm and sunny for a winter day, I have the entirety of Fort Hancock all to myself.

As I casually walk around the peninsula, I look around at my surroundings. A bright white lighthouse catches my eye over the towering stone wall as I stroll through what is left of former military batteries. There are still remnants of barbette mounts. This former U.S. Army fort was first constructed during the 1850s. The original design of the fort, created by Robert E. Lee, was locally called “Fort Lincoln” or “Fort Hudson”. It is only to be expected that this once powerful military location has connections to three powerful white men, all with notable names.

Lee, who inherited slaves from his mother, also married into one of the wealthiest slave-holding families in Virginia. Given his history, and his reputation as a racist, having Lee as the designer of this important fort tells quite the story, specifically regarding status and power as an individual in the United States. As discussed in class, the Calvinist “elect” includes people that “God picked himself as the favorites.” Lee, being rich and having a successful public image at the time, would have been seen as one of these special, hand-picked by God individuals.

Indigenous peoples, on the other hand, were the prime image for those that were not included in this elite status. Their skin color, way of life, and lack of fortune were seen as inferior, uncivilized, and unworthy of God; colonists wanted nothing to do with them, except steal their land. An image shown on the first day of class that has stuck with me since was that of a massive pile of bison skulls. These innocent bison, just roaming their land, were killed by European settlers in a way to force out Indigenous peoples. The invaders figured that if they got rid of the food supply of the Indingeous peoples, they would have to leave and find new resources, leaving the land open for European settlements.

On a related note, not only was land being stolen, but also innocent Indigenous lives. America is a country founded on genocide, yet refuses to recognize this massive astrocity. This country has the rhetoric of being a great and perfect country, thanks to the novels by James Fenimore Cooper, but that is clearly not the case.

Power and narrative go hand-in-hand. European settlers had the authority at the time; they had all the power and were forcing the Indigenous peoples to comply. With this power came the ability to pass on information, owing to their status and credibility. Growing up in a public school that is in a state of one of the original thirteen colonies, I personally never heard the term “genocide” connected to “Indigenous people” until I was a junior in high school. In fact, my sophomore history teacher outright refused to teach us anything other than the standpoint of white male in colonial America. Stories of American history just ignore the perspectives of Indigenous people because they did not hold any status.

After learning the historical context of Fort Hancock this week, I will absolutely be looking at my surroundings differently from now on. I will no longer just see this strip of land as my getaway and escape from the stressors of the real world, but rather an area with a dark history and ties to racists, as well as individuals that committed genocide on innocent groups of people.

The Weight of Racism, by Marissa McClenton

After watching and discussing the work and life of James Baldwin, I have decided to use this journal to talk about my family. This will be in two parts because in order to understand how I came to be the woman I am today, you need to learn about both the black and the white parts of my family. I hope that, in telling this, you understand more about who I am as a person as well as who I came from and the legacies that I am tasked with both upholding and dismantling. 

The Lasister Family is a very typical southern white family. There is a long long longggg history of alcohol and substance abuse, sexual and domestic violence, poverty, and patriotism. There is not a single Lasister man with whom I feel safe around with the exception of my cousin Caije who has not disappointed me yet and his last name is Dilts. When it was found out that my mother was pregnant with a child fathered by a black man she was disowned from parts of her family. She was tainted now. Dirty and Black on the inside. To this day, none of us have met those family members because my father has a low tolerance for disrespect that my brothers and I inherited. It would not have gone well. I am not a white woman because I come from a family of white women who enabled the white men to hurt everything that they touched. Everytime I watch the videos of the integration of schools, I see my family because I know for a fact that they are those kinds of people. I don’t have the space in this journal to discuss how my mother is both different and the same from her family. 

The first time I learned about the childhood of my great grandfather, Mark McClenton, was at his funeral. He was born in Ocilla, Georgia and there was a lynching there the year he was born. The New York Times Article quotes “OCILLA, Ga., Feb. 1 (AP).–Overpowering Sherift W.C. Tyler and his deputies early today, a mob of 500 men took Jimmy Levine, a negro, from the officers and lynched him ten miles from town. The negro had been arrested about an hour before at Mystic, Ga., for attacking and slaying a 14-year-old white girl.”. He was raised in Florida and we are unsure how much time he spent in Georgia before his family left. PopPop was the smartest man that anyone around him had ever met. He did not graduate high school and I’m unsure if he made it past middle school either. He worked fields and factories for most of his life and retired as a truck driver. I heard secondhand stories about Kenton being a sundown town where being found past sunset as a black person was to ask for trouble to find you. My PopPops earlier adult life was full of alcohol and violence. He was a part of one of the deadliest gangs on the east coast called the East Coast Gladiators. The gang was forced to dismantle but the constant sound of bikes coming to visit my PopPops house all the time makes that seem like it didn’t fully happen. 

I am named after Leona McClenton, she was biologically my great grandmother but my father grew up calling her Mom so that has never felt right to say. She is my grandmother. I’ve never heard someone talk about Leona without crying. Not my dad, not my uncle, not my great-grandfather, nobody. She was the glue that held everything together and the shield that protected the children from the anger of my PopPop. He cheated on her with a white woman named Barb, who went on to have several of his kids and marry him after Leona passed away. These children were included in my grandmother’s obituary when she passed away. Every member of my black family that I meet has told me, in one way or another that my father raised me in her image and it is one of my greatest prides in this life. I never got to meet her but my identity of a black woman was built from the stories I heard from her life and the legacy that she left. 

I carry the weight of racism and white supremacy from the Lasister family. They are not all bad people, but all of them have benefitted from the actions and behaviors of the white men within the family.  My grandmother is the only Lasister that has done the actual work to repair the harm that my family has caused myself and my brothers, both directly and indirectly. I love her more than anything in the world. I also carry the weight of my ancestors who were slaves in the south but still managed to pass on the heritage and culture as my PopPop moved north to Delaware. I carry on a legacy of strength and intelligence but also a pain so deep that my PopPop never spoke of it and it was lost when he passed away in 2019. This is why I am a Black Woman. The legacy of Leona is carried on as I carry her name within mine. I just hope that I am doing her justice.