The Quality of Being Clear, by Laura George

It’s funny. The things we bury away. The things we refuse to feel. We think it makes us strong to detach from fear, and sadness, but I don’t feel strong. I don’t really feel at all. I’m empty. Numb. My phone rings. It’s distant; in a separate world. I ignore it and when it finally gives up, I turn it off. My friends blabber around me, making plans for the uniquely warm day. Suddenly I stand up and move to the door without a word. My mind is blank and my body moves on its own accord.  I feel the confused gaze of unknowing eyes as I let the door close loudly behind me.

I find myself on my bike, peddling hard. My vision is blurry around the edges. Distorted slightly. The sensation is familiar but at first it doesn’t occur to me that I am crying. My mind turns its back on my sorrow. I am not sad. My tears are simply sick of my eyes. With every sight and every sound I feel further separated from myself, unable to perceive the sensations as my own. The streets are busy. Traffic wizzes around me. People. Everywhere. Claustrophobia shatters my emptiness and leaves me feeling desperate for an escape. I bike faster.

I trudge through thick mud, a byproduct of the waterlogged soil that has dutifully absorbed every last drop of melted snow. The park is quiet and as my claustrophobia departs it leaves in its place hollowness. Birds chirp and their calls echo inside me. I walk slowly to the edge of the creek and look down at the water. It is bluer than it has been, brighter. The sunlight spread across the surface and the river is a mirror. It reflects the sky, the clouds, the treetops. And it reflects me. As I look at my reflection I find that I barely recognize what I see. My eyes glow slightly as they bore into me. I find it impossible to hold my own gaze. Those eyes that know me. They looked at me with sly confidence. They see through my walls, deep into the cave of my being where hides all that I have buried away. They threaten to expose me; to shatter my strength and break down my barricades with mallets of vulnerability. I cannot look any longer.

I do not need to look away to evade my own gaze, I simply change my focus. I now see the tiny pebbles that lie restfully at the bottom of the creek. Some are sharp, some smooth. The soft sandy-brown riverbed gives them a place to slumber peacefully for as long as they must. Some reach half-heartedly out to the warm air through the surface of the water, flirting with a life that is not their own, while others remain safely tucked away. Snug between their brothers. Content in where they are. Perhaps I am one that braves the reach to a different world. Perhaps by coming here I am reaching out from the water that seems to be enough for those around me; reaching to the warm air that lies just beyond the life I know. Maybe it is an accomplishable feat. But then again, I am not a stone, nor do I slumber day and night in a cold clear creek. I am simply human.
From nowhere ripples erupt through the surface of the water and distort the image that I had lost myself in. I look up to find myself taken aback. A quirky looking duck stares back at me. His green head floats tall above the water. His yellow beak points towards me. To his left swims a smaller female duck, her feathers lighter and her personality more timid.  She doesn’t turn toward me the way her partner did. The male duck starts to show off. He plunges his head into the water as his date watches admiringly. When he resurfaces he ruffles his feathers and then suddenly flaps his wings, thrusting his chest out of the water elegantly. The creek shutters as he lowers himself back onto its surface. After only moments he returns to swimming gracefully across the water’s surface. I find myself mesmerized by his smooth movements. Then I realize in amazement that a duck, not the most majestic of creatures, is enough to hold my attention. To fight off my emptiness and replace it with thought and wonder. To take in his grasp my cluttered, fuzzy mind and lend me a much needed helping hand in finding clarity.

Clarity. The quality of being clear. The quality of transparency. Could it be that after all this time, after all the numbness and uncertainty, what I’ve been facing is a simple lack of clarity? Perhaps, I am not the longing stone after all. Perhaps I am the ground. Opaque. Masking the secrets that reside within me. Displaying on the outside only a flat, concrete surface of who I am, while the depths of my being lie undiscovered beneath my skin. Maybe we, the ground and I, can learn a lesson from the creek. The water, clear and inviting lends its secrets to us all. It is nothing if not transparent. It shows us the extent of its depth and hides nothing, opening itself up to the world and thereby embracing itself in its entirety. And it is honest. As the light skates across its surface, it offers to us some clarity of our own. It reflects back to us who we are. Offering us a window through which to see what lies behind our own carefully composed walls. Keeping nothing from us.

It’s funny. The things we bury away. The things we refuse to feel.  We think it makes us strong, but if we are so strong why then do we feel ashamed when we meet our own gaze on the surface of a clear creek? Why do we choose to look straight through ourselves and delve instead into the unhidden depth of the creek itself? We tell ourselves it is because we know ourselves too well already and are thus more compelled to get to know others. But perhaps the real answer is that we don’t know ourselves well enough at all. We look through ourselves not because we already know all there is to know about what lies beneath our opacity but because we are scared that deep inside us we are not who we think we are. That when we truly face ourselves we will find secrets and emotions for which we do not have adequate strength. That if we allow ourselves true clarity we will be vulnerable, breakable like glass. But not all that is clear can be shattered. The creek, clear as a crystal, is invincible. Immortal. For too long I have been running. Running away from my weaknesses and struggles. From the part of me that I buried away in an effort to be strong. From the fear and sorrow that hides in the caverns of my heart. And as my flat opaque outer surface, much like that of the solid ground, has moved relentlessly away from the things I have hidden from myself and from the world, the void between the two halves of myself has left me empty, and numb. But as I take one last look at the creek and gaze deeply into my reflection, I feel something again. My sadness catches up to me suddenly and tears again flee my eyes. It may not be the feeling people tend to seek in life, but it is just nice to finally feel. And gradually I begin to feel whole again. The warm sun breaks through the clouds lighting up the bleakly “beautiful” day and I am reminded what its like to feel truly alive.

Weather and The Mind, by Hirak Mukhopadhyay

I enter White Clay, and again I see the same landscape I’ve been seeing. The snow once again has covered the ground. After the pleasant weather over the weekend I was expecting the mud to dry, the snow to be essentially gone, but alas, one can dream can he not?

For now, that picturesque green scenic view of the park will be a dream, as snow fell once again even in the middle in March, and left a soft fresh layer to tread on. The snow was not as heavy and loud as the snow before- it was much softer and lighter which made the walk far easier than I expected. The treading of my boots sounded like walking on tissue paper (like what you find inside gift boxes) rather than harsh sandpaper and thankfully did not drench my socks. The trees and the leaves unfortunately still look quite bare and squalid, but there was one particular tree I observed very carefully to find little stems of leaves coming into form. I considered this was a good sign that perhaps leaves were on their way in the next few weeks.

Despite the new inch or two of snow, the wildlife in the park remained prevalent. I heard hummingbirds, crows, finches, and saw squirrels looking for food, and robins were searching the ground for worms and insects. The snow had already started to melt in certain areas of the park, and perhaps the robins along with other birds had realized they can still find what they are looking for. Then I thought to myself: what do animals such as birds and squirrels think snow really is? Do they think it’s dangerous or harmful? Do they think it’s edible? What goes through their mind when they see it fall down or when they see it the next morning?

We as humans can check the weather on our phone or on the computer but birds really don’t have that. I can only imagine their frustration when they fly through breezy winds and sit under sunlight only to have that taken away the next day to overcast and snow without any warning or signs of such. The wind also tends to blow snow from one place from another; that must be quite a nuisance if a finch or small bird is sitting on a branch just minding its own business and then bam! The finch gets plastered with snow even though it stopped snowing hours ago. I guess it is wrong of me to complain about the snow given that set of circumstances for the animals who live in White Clay Creek.

For our class readings, I was very much surprised by whose writing I found in Moral Ground. President Barack Obama has had a lot of issues to deal with, and when it is all said and done, his tenure may be looked at as one of the most difficult presidencies in American history. That being said, I have never heard President Obama say anything about climate change or the environment. So when I read his entry regarding global warming and climate change including record breaking climate recordings, I was surprised that Obama had even researched the topic in such depth. It was also a powerful and moving statement when he referred to how he wonders what kind of a place his daughters or other children will live in one day, and how we as a society are running out of time to save our planet. It is rhetoric like that which alarms people to act, especially the doubters and naysayers (which climate change has plenty of). It was also interesting to read about his take on alternative energy and new methods of fuel, given that now he has the ultimate say on the controversial Keystone Pipeline and will soon have to decide its fate. I am eager to see what he decides to do, especially after reading this monologue.

Another interesting piece was the one of the Dalai Lama, and his opinions on climate change and the environment. This was also a surprise to me because clearly the Dalai Lama is not a scientist, but rather more of a philosopher for the Buddhist cause and for peace and non-violence. But to hear the Dalai Lama talk about overpopulation, pollution, and sharing the Earth is eye-opening yet persuasive. But as you keep reading, you see the connection between Buddhism and the environment, in terms of caring for what’s around you, seeing the mind in living things, and the health of the earth as a whole. Nature is an essential stamp of Buddhism. Therefore, you see the urgency that the Dalai Lama presses in the essay and promotes the idea that we must leave the earth in better shape than what it was when we found it as this is our sacred duty.
Speaking of Buddhism, the meditation exercise we did in class was one that was quite challenging for me personally. I tried for a long time to not think of anything and to be still but eventually I just could not do it. Things like “what am I doing tonight?” or “why does my leg itch so badly?” and petty thoughts began to fill my brain.  Although I was able to enter a calm phase for a good minute or so, it did not last and I opened my eyes to see if anyone else was having trouble. To my ease, some eyes were wandering as well. But this simply goes to prove what was mentioned in class- our minds are always running and it never stops. Like a fine-tuned machine, it just goes on and on and on and on. That’s why people like touch screens so they can scroll and scroll and scroll down Twitter or Instagram, we like Facebook so we can scroll and scroll and like and like, and comment, and IM people and always have something to say. The desire or thirst for things to do is never satisfied. We are all zombies or “hungry ghosts” when we do this because our intake never ends and in fact keeps growing. That is the same logic that can be used for our desire to constantly buy things whether it’s clothing, electronics, cars, houses, anything.

We always want more, need more, have to have more and this is for the same reason I was having trouble meditating in that we can never just stop thinking or acting. The brain is not meant to relax but to always be working. Even during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, kids on campus had beers after beers after beers but still needed more… why? They were already intoxicated, already had tasted the taste of beer ten or twelve times.. It was only to keep the cycle going as if to say “why stop now?”. 

What people should do is just stop and breathe and see the true value of things and to appreciate them rather than using something up, throwing it and going back for more. Because really, what is the difference between a million dollars and two million dollars? You still have the same things to buy, same options, just more of the same. But what is the actual gain here between one million to two million? What’s the difference between 1,000 Twitter followers and 2,000 followers? What is the true intrinsic purpose of what we actually want? That’s where Buddhism comes into play where Buddhism encourages need and enlightenment rather than want and pleasure. If we took something for what it’s truly worth, perhaps we wouldn’t be dissatisfied. We would be content. Many people don’t know what that feels like.

Tossing a Snowball into a Creek, by Owen Schroeder

It has snowed yet again! The trees are fresh with it as it continues to blow around me.  The sounds around me are hushed except for the rapid tempo pitter-patter of snow being smacked against my hood. The winds glide by not forcefully but instead with a steady purpose and flow. Thankfully the wind isn’t angry or sharp like other days in this long winter.

The water flowing to my left is absorbing all that the sky is giving while the banks grow higher and higher hiding the sand and rocks completely. Currently, I am bored, don’t want to be here, and feel as if none of the scenery has changed from the last time it snowed (probably a slanted view since I’m freezing). My bored self pulls me to do what every boy does around a body of water… throw something into it!

I lightly toss a snowball underhand into the water and just stare at it. On impact it sinks deep adding a small ripple, which is quickly absorbed into the greater rippling mass of water. It quickly rebounds back to the surface and then moves with a small bobbing motion with its distance from the surface diminishing at an increasing rate. As it settles on the surface it is pulled away slowly at first with it’s color changing as it soaks up more and more water, and then as its speed doubles with its proximity to the falls it just breaks apart completely dissolving into the stream.

I know I’ve been working too hard when all thinking about is defining the constraints and the objective function for some kind of maximization problem with snow’s ability to melt in moving water. I’m not sure what I’d make the objective function be, maybe something like “how many snowballs would have to be thrown in for the stream to not be able to absorb them anymore?” The constraints are easy however; you’d have to account for the rate of absorption being affected by the amount of snow already absorbed. That should be a simple enough equation to find and then another constraint would have to be how quickly the water is traveling downstream. To make the experiment more realistic there could be a time constraint, so maybe snowballs could only be thrown in for one minute.

But aside from the math there’s that whole philosophical side to thinking about the snowball. In The Forest Unseen’s preface he mentions William Blake’s poem Auguries of Innocence, a poem in which I had to memorize the first stanza of back in high school. That stanza’s meaning, which says that human instinct is to compare a small universe with his own. As I breathe deeply and let go of the annoying math thoughts, I try and compare myself with the snowball in the water. The ball enters a foreign environment, and then bounces back and forth between varying positions, but eventually it settles in and is absorbed into something greater.

I think I’m a bit like the snowball. For example when I joined the triathlon club here my freshman year and I’ve done some bouncing myself like trying to make power plays to get an officer position, but after finding my set place (the water’s surface) I’ve let myself be absorbed into something bigger than a position of power I have. Instead I’m part of a whole club, a group of friends, and a family, something greater. And while I know this is only a small example, I hope I can incorporate the teachings of the snowball into my life because it’s really quite hard to let go and be absorbed into a larger group or environment, or anything really, but all in all I’ve learned that it is worth it.

Dichotomy, by Cady Zuvich

The moment my left sneaker strikes the asphalt, I feel free. Though I’m in perpetual motion, my typically racing mind begins to slow down––reaching that precise level of stillness in which I am only focused on the environment around me.


It has been difficult for me to get out of my own head lately. Constantly consumed by my thoughts and apprehensions, my multitrack brain is filled with off-ramps, exits and overpasses that distract me and leave me feeling displaced. Juggling schoolwork, projects, and two jobs while simultaneously overstimulated by far too much espresso, I oftentimes feel in a haze, never sure where to go or what to focus my energy on.


When I run, all of those preoccupations melts away. With the last bit of crisp winter air lingering, my lungs begin to contract the further I run, forcing me to focus on breathing. In and out, I notice how I breathe in the crisp air, only to release it with every step. The combination of snowfall and the fleeting moments of warmer spring weather have left puddles of water scattered throughout White Clay. I deliberately dash straight into the puddles, just to feel the cool splash of rain water on my shins. Used to treadmill season, my running shoes are reacquainted with the natural elements, having missed the mud.


White Clay Creek––filled with running trails I have come to admire––is my refuge. Noticing the slightly warmer weather, I decided to take full advantage of a day I am sure will be a tease among many more chilly, bleak days to come. Others have noticed the weather too, as the trails are filled with other runners who also consider White Clay to be a sort of refuge. As I reach the bridge, I see a mother and her young son walking along with their husky puppy. The boy, his cheeks tinted red from the slight winter chill, gives me a cursory wave. As I wave back, he bashfully hides behind his mother, still managing to hold a slight grin. I come to a halt at my typical spot which is at the end of the bridge that runs over the creek. Exhausted, I plop down, immediately reaching to my toes with my hands to bring relief to my still-tense body. Finally, I reach the ultimate endorphin-induced euphoria that all runners know and crave. Below, I gaze at the creek, noticing how dihcotomic it is in how it flows. To the right, the creek stagnant and calm. Then, near a cluster of rocks, the water breaks and so begins its frenetic state as it rapidly flows downstream.


Like the creek below, I find myself moving a contradicting paces throughout the day. While running––physically in the most motion––I feel that stagnant calmness similar to the creek before it breaks. However, throughout the day, my mind is pouring out in all directions. I ask myself which state I prefer being in. Do I enjoy the calmness, the feelings of peace and stillness? Or is there something to gain from the frenzy?


“Dreams” by Mary Oliver has resonated with me throughout the past couple of days. In the poem, Oliver talks of her two great uncles who moved to Colorado “looking for the good life.” “I think with pride of my uncles who went out west/Full of hope and vision/I think they became healthy as animals, and rich as their dreams/Before they turned some corner and became/Two graves under the leaves.”


In pursuit of my dream of being a journalist, I have taken a lot of risks, taking on projects that contain a lot of uncertainty. The uncertainty leaves me feeling anxious, as I worry what the future will hold. Applying for internships, taking on stories and buying plane tickets to take the enormous risk of freelancing abroad is overwhelming. Sometimes, I wish I could slow down, and be permanently stagnant, never having to feel this busy. Yet, perhaps the coexistence of calmness and frenzy––and striking the balance between the two––is what is needed after all.

Seeing the Creek Through an Old Beer Can, By Chelsea Cox

Anyone trained in the art of excavation has a habitual tendency to stare at the ground. Although I have given up my trowel for fecal samples and SAF formula, the archaeologist in me still yearns to know the mosaic of natural processes and human activity that has come to shape what we now call White Clay. Who was navigating this river before European settlers arrived? How different did this place look then? Did the same species of birds fill the air with the melodies of their daily conversation? When did this place become a protected state park anyway and what has taken place during the time in between?

Normally, questions such as these are the spark that motivates exploration, manifesting in countless test pits and more sifted dirt than you can imagine. Today however, my adventurous and inquisitive demeanor was the driving force, leaving me with a multitude of topics demanding further examination. Since it was my second time journeying into the woods this week I figured I could allow a little free spirited investigation of the area that surrounded my contemplation station.

Uninterested in the manicured and maintained trails I bounded straight into the forest, hoping to track animal prints in the snow that was now rapidly melting. The vanishing precipitation created more problems than erasing footprints however, the earth was absolutely saturated. Searching for higher ground that retained any structural integrity proved hopeless. But that’s the other great thing about archaeologists, we love dirt. So I went about my business, maneuvering enough to avoid becoming totally submerged, all the while scanning for tracks I could identify. Eventually my gaze fell upon something shiny and unnatural, yet not totally out of place; anticipated even, if only for the fact that there are so many signs stating its strict prohibition. A beer can, a very stubby beer can. Two stubby beer cans, I noted as I did a double take. Impressed at the tenacity of the previous owner(s) desire to drink in the stillness of the middle of the woods, I had to probe further. Then again, maybe I was just being nosey.

Neither had been crushed. They had very unique triangular pull top openings. Coincidently, this was the same type of can I frequently slurped down after a long day of digging out at site in the heat of the Wadi Hasa desert; I hadn’t seen them anywhere since. Their shape and design suggested they had been sitting undisturbed for a while. Surprisingly they were not rusted in the slightest. Aluminum’s chemical properties make it naturally resistant to oxidation, unless exposed to a harsh and wet environment. Maybe its anti-aging properties were the result of a chemical coating, I speculated, reminding myself not only of all the snow we accumulated this winter but also of Delaware’s infamous humidity index. Its label was in almost perfect condition.

“It’s a Rolling Rock?” I thought with confused familiarity as I plucked one up from its resting place. Just last night I had taken one out of my fridge. The attractive vintage design mixed with the 16.99 price tag made Rolling Rock the obvious choice for college students that can no longer bring themselves to buy Miller or Budweiser. I had a feeling the can in my hand was the real deal.

I let my imagination wander. Some forty years ago in the 70’s, a couple of long haired, hippy high-schoolers came to this exact spot to throw back a cheeky cold one camouflaged by the forest, hidden from any disapproving eyes. I wondered what became of them. Were they still in Newark? How many people came across these beer cans since they had been tossed and forgotten on this soggy piece of White Clay?

My thoughts lingered on the agency of the beer cans as well as their previous owners for several more minutes. Then, according to procedure I documented the artifacts in situ and collected them. Jazzed with this unanticipated find and wanting to get the answers to the multitude of questions that were already plaguing my brain, I started home.

Still hopscotching through the swampland, my focus was married to the forest floor. It was just when I finally reached sturdy ground that a distinctly spongy rock came into view.

“No way is that slag,” I protested, “I’m in the middle of White Clay!” Examining the material closely confirmed my predicament. Slag is an industrial by-product created from the smelting of metals. It is an artifact of colonial towns, not the forest. So what was it doing here? Iron Hill? Paper Mill? That apple cider factory I noticed for the first time on my way in? I tried to run through all of the historical industries in the area that might explain its presence. Nothing. More perplexed than ever I scooped up the bulbous by-product, which was supporting its own little moss colony, determined to find answers.

It must of been a sight to all those who happened to be on Creek Road as I fumbled out from the tree line, arms brimming with a bunch of really old and obscure trash. A mature couple passing by actually stopped to thank me for cleaning up the park. I blushed, feeling the need to justify what they saw as a good deed. As we got to talking the man suggested that the slag was the result of the railroad line that had been converted into Pomeroy Trail. I knew the walking trail had been named for the old railway, but it had never occurred to me that it ran all the way up through the park. Nonetheless, it was exactly what I needed to place the artifact in a larger context.

Several hours of research later, I was beginning to make sense of my collection. As it turns out the Pomeroy Railway ran more or less directly over top of White Clay Creek. It was a failed attempt at reducing construction costs. The logic was to follow the flattest grade of land. What they hadn’t anticipated was the 65 bridges necessary to traverse its banks along the 26-mile rail. Consequently it became known as the “railroad that should never have been built”. Construction began in 1868 with the inaugural trip occurring on May 1, 1873. A cow belonging to John Dorsey was struck by the passenger car, nicknamed  the “Pumpsie Doodle”, and was decapitated in the process. The railway seems to have been wrought with misfortune from the very beginning. Economic depression and competition from the automobile industry resulted in the abandonment of the line in 1939. The funny shaped rock I recovered was use to form the trackbed on which the railroad ties were laid, making it at least 140 years old.

Information regarding the ancient Rolling Rock cans was much more sparse. The official website had zero information about the history of the brewery, except of its creation which coincidentally occurred the same year the Pomeroy Rail was shutdown. After comparing labels with Etsy accounts that advertised the sale of vintage brews, I surmise that the can was produced in the 1970’s, revealing its age at roughly 40 years old. The only other information I could find was that the brewery was no longer owned by and produced at Latrobe Brewing Co, PA because it had been sold to the massive corporation, Anheuser-Busch, in 2006 for a cool 82 million dollars. Production was immediately moved to New Jersey, sparking a nationwide boycott of all Anheuser-Busch products.

Days of Destruction Days of Revolt brings to light the cold and faceless machine of capitalism. The author Chris Hedges claims that no one is immune to its exploitations and it would appear that he is correct. Two random objects illustrate two separate stories, one of overtly greedy economics and another of a long forgotten industry, both found on a spontaneous journey through what we like to think of as a quaint nature reserve right in our own backyard.

Mindfulness, and Environmental Justice, by Katie Bonanno

I sat down at my computer to write around 6 o’clock in the evening.  With a glance out the window near my desk, I was taken aback by the brightness that lingered outside.  The gray winter clouds that hovered overhead all day had relented somewhat, giving way, around dusk, to dusty blue ones smudged with pinks and reds.  I assumed last night’s snowfall, softly blanketing the ground today, was now reflecting the sun’s remaining rays, capturing a few more rare moments of lightness, of daytime.

But I am struck by the sky’s birthday-cake stripes.  They instantly take my mind from my desk to a Newark-bound summer drive from Rehoboth Beach.  My wee two-door car had been packed with friends, and one had the rest of us in a twisted tangle of limbs, struggling to take a photograph of the sunset through my windshield.  As her shutter snapped, another explained that the sunset’s vibrant patterns were a product of air pollution.  His claim unsettled me at the time, and I hadn’t investigated its veracity then, or now.  I suppose I feared, and still do, that in our human carelessness, we actually created in nature something we thought worth photographing.

In ways beyond the bleeding watercolor hues of a sunset, we communicate with the earth reciprocally, one reflecting the other.  As we blast the Appalachian range away, mountain by mountain, in search of coal, West Virginian communities are trapped in suffering.  Or, as the earth suffers, so do we.  As we ruthlessly ensnare migrant workers in Immokalee, Florida in modern-day slavery, the earth is bombarded with a vicious cocktail of herbicides and insecticides.  Or, as we experience injustice, so does the earth.  The way one so clearly reflects the other is sickening but also, seemingly, quite obvious.  So, why does environmental injustice ring loud and clear in every corner of this country, in every corner of this world?

Maybe we’d be more compelled to address this injustice if its reflection was as clear as the image of the steely winter sky in White Clay Creek this afternoon.  Standing on the bridge that has become my weekly refuge for contemplation and observation, the woods are quiet, aside from the rushing of the creek below.  The sound of the swishing, swirling creek, surprisingly so for such a small ribbon of water, fills my ears, and the chill in the air bites at my nose.

What a contrast from my last visit to the woods: the sun was streaming and the dry grasses that line the banks of White Clay Creek were swaying gently.  Geese were plodding through muddy puddles, and songbirds were calling to one another from tree to tree.  Spring was beginning.  Today, winter has returned, and these woods are hushed.  All is frozen.  The grass is motionless, the tree branches are caked with snow, and the birds are absent.  The muddy basin where the geese had pecked and pecked for food has frozen over.  All is still, except for the current of White Clay Creek, a swirling, whirling kaleidoscope.  River hydrology, though I know little of it, is an art, a joyful one in this solemn, snowy landscape.

This solemn environment matches the solemnity I felt as I read of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia and slavery in the agricultural industry in Florida in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt this week.  In the face of so many wicked problems, it is easy to slip into a state of perpetual pessimism, especially because in many of these affected communities, the residents themselves rarely latch onto hope.  And for those of us who live outside of this wrong, we see the cogs in the system revolve around money, not justice.  Hope seems a slippery entity.

But maybe that’s a problem in itself.  Maybe we need to take the time to investigate whether or not air pollution does contribute to incredible sunsets, even if we fear the answer.  (It does indeed contribute, according to Scientific American.[1])  Maybe we need to cling to hope, like the babbling voice of the active creek in the silence of these snowy woods, even in the face of all destruction and injustice.  Like Mary Oliver writes in “The Ponds,” “Still, what I want in my life / is to be willing / to be dazzled – / to cast aside the weight of facts // and maybe even / to float a little / above this difficult world.”  In this world where we destroy mountains and enslave our fellow man and woman for the sake of cheap tomatoes, we must recognize that we’re all a part of it; we’re all connected.  So, maybe if injustice to any, earth or human, is injustice to all, then hope can be all-encompassing, too.


[1] “Fact or Fiction?: Smog Creates Beautiful Sunsets” by Coco Ballantyne,

The Silence of Snow, by Taylor Stein

The snow always brings silence. Not just quiet, but silence. It is possibly the only thing about the snow that I still enjoy. As children, I am sure most of us always looked forward to the snow. It was what made the winter cold more bearable. There was always fun to be had with friends sledding, building forts, and staging snowball fights. But it seems like those things, those simple pleasures, slowly disappear as our years add up. The innocence we possessed as children has long gone, and less and less often do we find the time to escape to spiral of modern society, to take a step back and enjoy life. We just go on, never questioning, never thinking, never living.

Not even the river makes a sound today. I’ve never seen it this still. It might as well be completely frozen. It looks almost like glass, so placid. I feel like if I were to step onto it from this rock, the murky water might support me. If only. I lie back on the sloping surface of the boulder, letting my head hang off the high edge and hover just inches above the freezing river. The sky above me is a dull gray with pale swathes of yellow where what is left of the daytime sun fights to be seen through the endless cloud cover. I wonder if this is what the skies over Gary, West Virginia look like year-round. Probably even more gray than this. At least these are actual clouds, not massive pockets of soot and slurry floating through the air. Imagine if those playful little snowdrifts you see when the wind kicks up were actually drifts of dust and waste from the freshly demolished mountain one valley over.

I have always been very aware of the fact that I am so lucky to live the life I live in the time and place I live it in, meaning I know a lot of other people are much worse off than me. I know these people are everywhere, many being located in Third World countries, but the fact that such horrible things are happening on our own soil is distressing. A recurring theme in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is the one that corporate and government corruption runs rampant through our country, decimating anyone standing in the Machine’s way. It is true of the Native Americans, when the government took and took and took from them until they were left with nothing but barren lands and alcoholism. It is true of the poor souls in Camden and their corrupt, cut-throat mayor who abandoned civility and his people long ago. It is true of huge corporations like Walmart, that completely suck the life from local economies and take more jobs than they create. And it is certainly true of the coal companies, who leach the land and leave nothing in the wake but contamination and death. I wanted to shed a tear for Larry Gibson, especially during the moments when the coal conglomerates seized the land where his people were buried. If I can feel such feelings of sadness and remorse, followed immediately by such a burning anger toward the coal company, I can hardly imagine how he must truly feel.

I am getting tired of this weather. It is like an itch that never goes away. Off in the distance, I can see a rope swing hanging from a tree branch about 30-40 above the water. I remember what it feels like, slowly inching my wet feet up the steep, precarious incline of the tree trunk, tightly holding the rope just in case I slipped off. I can almost feel the summer heat pressing on my body. Almost to the top. The water looks so much farther away than I thought it would. Adrenaline kick. Exhilaration. Elevation. Now. I miss the feeling of weightless the fall brings. Just before I hit the water, the rope tightens and pulls me up as I skim my feet across the river surface. Release. I can’t wait for summer.

Looking for More Light, by Lauren Price

So it seems that Mother Nature is not the least bit fazed by the fact that March is upon us as the snow continues to come falling down. I went to my spot with less reluctance than I have in the past because not only am I numb to the weather as of late, but I’m currently numb to most of my emotions. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me and the sullen, tireless snowfall resonates well with my soul as I sit outside looking up at the gray skies.

As I sidled up next to a thick, strong tree trunk perched closely to the top of the bank looking down at the snow-covered creek, I rested my head back on the tree and turned my face to the side. Despite the occasional flurries still falling, the snow was mostly done for the day and life was continuing on as usual. Birds were flying overhead and every now and then you could hear a squirrel making noises, bustling around in the bushes on the other side of the creek. As I watched a small group of birds skittering around in the snow, something caught my eye. The birds were hopping around on what appeared to be a tree that had fallen down a long time ago. Moss had grown over it and though it was a dull shade of green showing the signs of winter and not the vibrant glow it might have during the summer months, it was still present and proved as a nice bed for the birds to warm their feet on in the snow. During the warmer seasons I’m sure the moss thrives on the decaying tree trunk, providing a home and nutrients for many things trying to survive and grow. New life was created and made useful for other living creatures, just by growing on something previously destroyed. This simple example of life sparked something in me; something I have been struggling to find for weeks now about my life and about the future. That thing was hope.

This week before my trip into the woods, I read a passage that really hit home with me in Days of Destruction about the coal mining fields in West Virginia. Larry Gibson spoke of his childhood there and said, “I thought I was the luckiest kid in the world, with nature. I could walk through the forest. I could hear the animals. I could hear the woods talk to me. Everywhere I looked there was life.” I felt this exact way growing up in a small town on a river, where everyone knew everyone and a typical day was spent in the woods. But that lifestyle is no longer. It is very similar to the change Mr. Gibson experienced when he said, “Now there is no life there.” I can say just about the same for my hometown.

I grew up in Seaford, Delaware otherwise (and very frequently only known for) the 609-acre site of one of DuPont’s largest nylon plants. The once thriving company created an entire town of families, jobs, wealth and community. In fact a wealthy country club was built neighboring the plant. That was in 1939. Today, I live in a decaying town. Once known as one of the best small towns in America, Seaford was my home. DuPont lost all of its business in Seaford. Between half of its workers dying from Mesothelioma including my grandfather, and others having to leave town to find more work as the company began to lay people off as they lost funding, the wealth and success of the town plummeted. The country club has failed and been shut down. The golf course lands can’t even be sold for development due to astronomical chemical seepage from DuPont below the surface, and the high school in town went from being one of the best in the state, to one of the worst.

I came to college and became very jealous of all my new friends who missed their lives back home and their high school experiences, because I was sent away to Maryland for private school due to the state my town’s school was in, and I hated every minute of it. I always resented Seaford for that. I had such a good childhood, but then left with a bitter taste in my mouth when I went away to college.

It took me until today, at the creek to realize what an asshole I am. Instead of letting my town deteriorate around me like most people do, I should try doing something to restore and rebuild it. We live in a society that wants to grow and expand but no one ever takes the time to consider the importance of maintenance. Until we learn that we must maintain what we already have, we will never be able to succeed.

To quote Charles Bukowski, “You can’t beat death, but
 you can beat death in life sometimes and the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be.” We can prevent the destruction of this world by restoring it, reviving it and putting life back into it. However to do this, we first need to put life back into ourselves.

I went to the creek this morning feeling defeated, broken down and sad about many things going on in my life, but in the end I left with hope. I left with a hope that we can actually fix some of these things in our lives that we hate, be it the environment or our personal life, if instead of sitting around and complaining about them, we actually put some of our thoughts into action. I finished a book by John Green last night that left me thinking of this quote. After today I hope that it is something we can all try and live by. “We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken.”

Mood Shift, by Tanya Krapf

The world around me reflects my dismal mood. It’s cold and a heavy fog hangs in the air. Even upon glimpsing a cardinal in a tree on my way into White Clay, I can barely muster a smile. Getting to my sit spot is harder than usual today. I take a slightly different path in and find myself surrounded by and tangled in thorny branches. They grab at my clothing, as if they are trying to prevent me and my sulky mood from entering the forest. At one point, I am trapped in a complete standstill. There is no place for me to go without the danger of getting stabbed. My anger rises as I trudge forward, getting pricked and poked almost the whole way to my spot.

I finally reach my place and ease my body down onto the log I like to sit on. My eyes land immediately on the shredded plastic bag that is trapped in the branches of a tree that lies in the stream. I realize that plastic bag is the one aspect of the landscape that has not, and probably will not change from one week to the next as winter melts into spring. The Styrofoam cup that was trapped on the side of the stream the last two times I was here is now gone. Great, now it’s just polluting some other part of the woods, I think to myself.  

Sitting here on the log, I notice that the air is still and a little warmer than on my walk here. I hear an airplane above me, but when I look up all I see is a thick layer of grey clouds. A few minutes later, I hear another airplane. And then another. Three planes pass over my head in just the first 10 minutes since arriving here. For some reason, this makes me snap. The noise pollution and stress and exhaustion and cold seem to permeate my body and sink into my bones. My senses, usually so acute when I am in the woods, are blurring the world around me into one damp, cold, dismal mess. The one thing I notice is water… A giant blur of water. I hear it flowing in the stream. I feel it landing on my hands and hear it tapping on the hood of my rain jacket. The air I breathe is moist and water-laden. Two drops pool at the corners of my eyes. I don’t even know why I’m crying.

I lay down on the log and close my eyes in an effort to calm down. At first, the rain hitting my face bothers me. The drops are too cold, too prickly, too many. I hear another plane pass above me. The log is hard and cold against my back. Two birds call down to me from above. One speaks in a short chirp that I have heard in these woods before. The other trills between two distinct notes. I recognize the interval as a minor third. I am captivated by this call and open my eyes to try to spot the bird. I am unsuccessful, but do see three robins in a tree in front of me. I sit up to get a better look when a small grey bird enters into my vision. It hops and flies along the ground, stopping only to peck in the brush. It is plump and grey with a small, pointed beak and a yellow stripe on its head. After looking for it in both my field guide and online, I am convinced it was a golden-crowned kinglet. A flash of cobalt blue appears in my peripheral vision and I turn my head to see a bright blue bird fly across the creek and land on a branch directly across from me. It is medium in size and has a burnt orange chest – an eastern bluebird, according to my field guide. I am taken by this bird and how majestic it seems, sitting on its throne in the trees. A moment later, it flies across the larger creek and off into the distance. I am completely captivated by these birds and only now notice that I am warmer and calmer.

I sit back down on the log and look at the mud underneath my hiking boots. A sudden urge to walk barefoot overcomes me and in moments, I have stripped my feet of my boots and two layers of socks and am standing barefoot in the mud. I walk towards the stream and feel the mud rise into the cracks between my toes just a little bit. I step into the frigid water and feel it forming a path around my ankles. My feet are so cold they burn and I start grinning. I walk upstream for a few steps and then, unable to bear the cold any longer, hurry back to my log. My feet are slightly pink and tingling. I dry them off and slip my boots back on. Before heading home, I untangle the plastic bag from the branches of the log in the stream across from me.

On my way out of the woods, my steps are slow and my mind is calm. I have left my hood down and don’t mind the rain on my hair. Two birds are cawing and chasing each other in circles above me. I imagine the spiraling trails they would leave behind them if they were airplanes. As I emerge from the woods, I feel my eyes filling with tears again. I stop and just let the tears roll down my cheeks. A red blur–a cardinal–flies across the path only twenty feet in front of me. It must be the same cardinal that I saw on the way in. This time, the smile comes easily and lingers on my lips all the way home.

Pay Attention, by Kerry Snyder



Here it was, my reminder (it comes each semester) that I need to slow down and relax, that doing too much running around, procrastinating, and cutting back on sleep runs us down eventually. My cold had been present for a couple days at this point and was subsiding, but the chilly air had a way of uncorking my nostrils. My eyes ached slightly, as if they had been straining to see something bright in the distance and had grown weary. My head was a little foggy, my mind unfocused.  The creek didn’t notice of course – it just kept flowing with the normal sense of purpose and adventure. In between the shades of brown of dead leaves on the ground I saw that green grass was starting to tentatively poke through, testing the waters and longing for sunshine, for warmth. A house sparrow sang in a bush nearby. I suspected that a companion was close by, although I could not see him or her. I decided to spend some time listening. That would be easy enough. Two birds were talking to each other on the opposite bank. I wondered what they could be saying, and some possibilities crossed my mind.

“Is it spring yet?”
“Is there food over there?”
“Yes, if you come quickly.”
“Wanna hang out tonight?” (A hopeful male)
“Get lost.” (The female he so delicately tried to woo)

My trips to the woods are my favorite time to read Mary Oliver, because much of what she talks about is going on around me. I opened up to “Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine” and decided that I might get more meaning out of her words if I read them aloud. The effect was incredible. Every phrase made more sense when I could hear it coming from my own lips, in a voice that I normally use to talk to others but need to hear for myself every once in a while. To me, this poem discusses our desire to do things quickly and glamorously, to be like a fluttering hummingbird that is both beautiful and swift.  The problem with this is that we often don’t stop and appreciate life when it becomes a race and a competition. Eventually, Oliver says, we may see the world as “pale, cool stones” instead. I wondered if she was referring to death, or simply the wisdom of old age. As I read her words, I heard rustling behind me. Oh great, someone is walking by and will think I’m this crazy girl talking to herself, I thought. I turned around to see who my intruder was and discovered a migration of six white-tailed deer.

They stared.
I stared.
They stared.
I snapped a picture. Or ten.

After relaxing for a time and trying to forget the fact that I was still feeling slightly ill, I heard a couple “quacks” close by and saw a flap of wings. Three mallards flew down into the creek, one female and two males. This was timely, as I formally learned how to identify this species in my ornithology class this past week.  The males seemed to be in hot pursuit of the female, and therefore weren’t getting along with each other. After a quick confrontation, one floated down the creek alone, clearly the reject. I wanted to tell him that he’d have better luck next time, that this just wasn’t his moment. Unfortunately I don’t quite speak his dialect. The remaining couple also ventured downstream after he made his graceful exit, stopping to find food as they went. I suppose it was an intimate moment, but I really don’t understand how ducks connect. When I was about to get up and leave for home, they returned, this time traveling against the current.

My copy of Mary Oliver’s book of poems did not come from the UD bookstore. On my fourteenth birthday, a family friend gave it to me. I still have the card she placed inside.

“Dear Kerry,

This book of poems was mine. I want you to have it. Mary Oliver is a great observer of nature both human and animal. I hope you will enjoy these poems. They have been a guiding light for me. I took the liberty of dog earing a few of my favorites. We are glad to have you in our lives. Happy Birthday.”

At the time I wasn’t quite sure how to absorb and appreciate this gift. I thumbed through it on occasion, but Oliver’s style just seemed so strange to me. I couldn’t grasp what she was trying to communicate. Seven years later and I think I may have it. It took some personal observation of nature and life experience, but she speaks to me now.  Many of her poems touch on personal consciousness of the natural environment and her opinion that we can’t hope to understand everything in a world that doesn’t quite include us. She provides examples of how we as humans observe and interpret nature for our own enjoyment. So yes, my friend was right to say that her poems talk about both animals and humans.

“so this is the world.
I’m not in it.
It is beautiful.”
As I sat thinking about how true this is, some words came to my mind, and to my pencil. Nothing close to Mary Oliver, but it put me at peace today. Sick or not, I love listening to the sounds in the woods and taking time to appreciate a place where I continue to be merely a visitor.
My mind in the clouds
shouts to the body
below, commands it
to start walking
far into a world
of water, trees, birds.
True freedom lies in appreciation
of what you can access
but cannot quite understand.
Pay attention.
The understanding may come
sooner than you think.