Sun Rays of Courage, by Praneeja Matta

As I sit cross-legged on the dusty, earthy banks of the lake I peer off into the sunset of my new spot this week. The slowly setting sun that is partially hidden behind a thick, puffy mass of stratocumulus clouds paints the sky a beautiful orange-ish yellow. The beams of the sunrays reflect off the water’s surface almost like a glimmer of hope, of the dying days of the warm season. I recall Barry Lopez’s description of the lack of sunlight in his book Arctic Dreams. He describes a shipwrecked explorer and his crew’s emotions as they are forced to spend the winter in the Far North: “They awaited the return of the sun in a state of deep anxiety. More than the cold they hated the darkness; no amount of prolonged twilight could make up for the unobstructed view of that beaming star…‘The sunlight is sweet; and it is delightful for the eyes to see the sun’” (Lopez, 23). As I take in the beauty of sunset, I appreciate it more now than ever before, for I cannot fathom a world without sunlight. It is my source of courage, for all of my endeavors are a thousand times more frightening in the dark. It is also my natural alarm clock, for the warm, bright rays gently shine on my face every morning, signaling to me the beginning of a new day. Without it, I would have no sense of time and no sense of hope in a world of darkness.

I continue to gaze into the distance, the water seems almost motionless, but suddenly there’s a small, gentle ripple a few feet from the bank. I peer intently at the water, and suddenly I see the small curved head of a Northern Water Snake peek out from the surface of the lake as it peacefully swims through the water. The beams of sunrays reflect off the water’s surface almost like a glimmer of hope, of the dying days of the warm season. A colorful mixture of red and yellow Maple leaves are scattered sporadically on the banks of the river. The air is pungent of lake water. As the sun starts to fade even more and those glimmers of hope reflected upon the lake slowly die with the setting sun. I feel l tingles throughout my body, a cold, formidable sensation.

As it gets darker, I decide to walk around, no longer comfortable sitting down in such a vulnerable position. I stroll through a beaten path of the wooded area besides the lake. Some trees stand completely healthy and green, while others stand bare. And the rest are comprised of that beautiful red/yellow foliage. As I rustle through the leaves, I see a featureless figure quickly flutter past me. It’s sharp-edged wings zoom across my field of vision as I am left stunned, into another tree. A bat—more specifically, the brown bat that is common to Mercer County, NJ—is thriving in the one the environment that that fills me with fear—darkness. I hear some more rustling, but I am silent and suddenly frightened. I turn around quickly. Is someone else here? There’s no one in sight. I hear more rustling. My eyes scan the woods through the trees. Through my periphery, as the sun’s rays still offer some a sparse of light, I see a four-legged creature. It’s lone deer behind some Maple trees, calmly grazing on sparse grass available in this wooded area. As I quickly make my way to the main path that is surrounded by bright lights on tall lamp posts, I feel some of my courage come back because of this artificial light that humans have created to traverse through the darkness. As I see a thirteen more white-tailed deer on my walk back to my car, I watch in awe from the distance, no longer afraid because of the abundance of light around me. I think back to another phrase by Lopez in Arctic Dreams, in which he states “The awe one feels in an encounter with a polar bear is, in part, simple admiration for the mechanisms for survival it routinely employs to go on living in an environment that would defeat us in a few days” (Lopez, 26). In contrast, my bemusement lies in the deer, the bat, the snake’s ability to survive in an environment that has been so altered to fit the needs and desires of human kind. I think about their courage to adapt to an environment filled with chemicals, artificial lakes, and man-made paths. I think about my courage, which desperately clings onto the necessity of artificial light. As I stand there quietly, trying to not scare off the deer, I question—who is really the frightened one here? One thing for sure is that with the sunset, disappears my courage.

Penetrating Rain, by Jayme Soyak

Though it is not dusk yet, the somber skies turn my mandala ten shades darker than I’d seen before. I had expected a light shower and was surprised when the sky quickly dimmed and suddenly opened up.

The torrential downpour engulfs me and therefore all I can hear is the rain assaulting every surface I can see and my heart pounding in my chest. An assortment of oak, maple, and willow tree branches dangle in front of me, covering the corridor to my destination; like the “Do Not Enter” signs of a haunted house, I paused to consider if I should continue. A cold shiver crawls up my spine, a response due to the rain and a slight twinge of fear slowly wrapping around my mind, fighting its way into every thought.

I struggle to emerge from the drenched branches but they cling to me as if attempting to take me hostage. I shake the remaining grasps, trying to shake the eerie feeling as well.

Kneeling next to the dam, I am bombarded with raindrops as they pelt the back of my raincoat-covered head and race down my back. Though spooked by the caliginous vibe of the forest, it had at least provided me with a little more shelter from the bomb-like rain. The water drips off the now saturated brim of my hat, as it is the only part peaking out of my raincoat. It has consequently morphed shades: from a washed out blue to a drenched navy. The foreign hue seeps towards my scalp.

The rain entertains me; though so simple, it has the power to bring on much chaos and fear. But to me, it brings clarity and matches my constant clouded state. I gaze toward the abyss above me; tilting my head only slightly to try and get a glimpse of the treacherous sky without letting its dagger-like drops pierce my eyes. The amethyst sky is alive and livid as the clouds thunder through my line of vision.

I tilt my head back further and watch one lone leaf take a dive from the oak branch above. It plummets toward me like a skydiver hurdling from a plane. With a swift breeze tickling the branches and causing the entire tree to shimmy, the lone leaf is soon followed by another, and another, and soon, what seems to be the entire branch, is filling the sky around me. Now not only am I thoroughly soaked to my bones, I am sufficiently sprinkled with leaves.

My mind wanders and I consider if the rain is actually soaking my bones. Can it penetrate my raincoat and my skin like that? Maybe it sort of just seeps in, getting absorbed through many layers of tissue. Thoughts zig and zag, but I catch one contemplating if these drops are pure water. I hold on to this thought, it’s paralyzed inside my head, as I am struck with fear to even consider the possible answers. It has to be, right? It’s from the sky. I’m sitting in the woods; it can’t be that bad, right? I am flooded with feelings of ignorance as I think back to Jenkins’ book, ContamiNation. Everything from our cleaning products to our homes, including our drinking water, is more complex and contaminated than we could ever imagine. He explains the real issue, “…most of the tens of thousand of chemicals that are used commercially have been around for only a few decades, far too short a time for researches to figure out with any certainty what impact they might have on our health” (14). In everything we eat, everything we use, everything we touch, is filled with chemicals that we are completely in the dark about. This makes my stomach turn and I don’t want to believe it.

This is an issue in and of itself but it brings up an even deeper debate for me. What would I rather have, ignorance or frustration and fear? Every time I sit in class or read about and hear about more issues, I have this thought: wouldn’t it be better to sit in the dark, happy as a clam, unaware of the world collapsing around me? But I’m still here, I’m still learning.

Since getting to college, I have had good classes and bad classes, and then I have had classes that drill into to my very core and make me rethink my entire existence. I get extremely frustrated learning about issues around the world, from the ones presented in ContamiNation, to world hunger, to climate change, and I can barely sit still as statistics fill my head. I am first filled with a wave-like surge of desperation, followed by frustration. That lingers for a bit, until I am exploding with passion I can’t stand to sit in the classroom any longer because the thought of letting these tragedies go on for another minute makes my skin crawl. I am torn every day between going to class or joining the Peace Corp, between attending a protest for animal rights or taking an exam, between doing my math homework or traveling the world. Yet, every time I have this contemplation, I remember why I am thinking these thoughts in the first place. There is so much more I have to learn before I can be this caveat for change that I want to be.

I continue to kneel by the water, my face now drenched with a combination of rainwater and tears falling from frustration. How am I supposed to go back into a world where people don’t even understand these issues that cause me such internal conflict? I see my pained expression brokenly reflected in the menacing water. As a tear rolls off my face and slips into the captivating water, almost unnoticed as it vanishes, I wish I could do the same. Maybe then I can shake my clouded mind.

Blue Jay, by Emily Esposito

I have not slept through a full night since the bird quiz. All I hear are Carolina Wrens and Blue Jays singing melodies throughout the night. Every bird I hear I insistently associated its call with the similarities and differences from the 15 birds we had to learn. I would like to say I’m grateful for this newfound knowledge, but both my roommates and the bags under my eyes say differently.

I went out to my spot this morning after the gym and was shivering the entire walk down to the water. I feel like the weather did a 180-degree switch in the last two weeks. The leaf litter covers all inches of the ground, now with mostly dead, dry brown leaves. The wind has a way of wrapping itself around you and hugging you close with an icy embrace. Mary Oliver wrote how the waves, “gush pearls from their snowy throats,” when writing about winter this to me was the image of rough and brisk seas. The water was exemplified as choppy and white, from the caps overlapping one another, like on a cold winter windy night at the beach when all you can see are white caps. The water of White clay may not of been churned to that extreme, but it was moving quickly. The ripples repeated themselves along the water, but were no birds flapping about at the creeks edge this morning. And I was happy I had decided not to run to my spot, because if anything is as bad running in the heat with my chest tightening, it’s running in the cold air.

I heard a Blue Jay singing loudly at my spot today. Its repetitive call of monotone squawks makes it sound like it’s in some sort of pain. Its called is very predictable; you can practically count down the seconds to the exact moment for the next sound. The sound is remarkably similar to the beeping fire alarm in the scary basement of the house I rent for school. It has been going off since the day I moved in, in August. And the small battle of who will break down and buy a new battery is currently in a four-way tie between my roommates and I. At first the sound was maddening, it would go off every three minutes and irk my core. I couldn’t sleep or think without wanting to rip it out of the ceiling. I’m not sure what was worse in the beginning though, the annoying sound of the alarm or the terrifying wet and dark basement you had to journey to get to the source of the noise.

After I while I have grown accustomed to it, barely notice the beeping until someone brings it up or maybe if I think about it. I guess this is how it will go with the bird songs as well. Soon I’ll hear the familiar sounds, but they wont startle me or drive me insane while sleeping, instead they will become natural again like they were before our quiz. I guess I could relate to the exact opposite Mary Oliver writes about in “The First Snow,” and her eloquent writing of the silence and peacefulness of fresh snow.

The fading out of this constant brain on, study mode bird quiz mindset hopefully ends soon so I can go back to enjoying the sounds of the birds without despising them for keeping me up at night.

Defense Contracting, by Brian Perkins

This week I had the unique chance to observe the monarch caterpillar in its natural habitat, which is to say the massive combination nursery-buffet of the milkweed leaves they hatched on. Monarchs are in this part of the world one of the quintessential butterflies of popular knowledge, in part because of the beauty in their seemingly unmistakable orange and black colors, in part because of their commonality in the region, and in part because of the notable physiological niche they’ve created in the butterfly world. Poison caterpillars are not terribly uncommon; it’s one of the big three ways the butterfly family stays off the menu – poison, pretending to be something inedible (bird droppings, anyone?), and good old-fashioned hard-to-spell camouflage. The monarch and a few of its evolutionary relatives eat exclusively milkweed leaves because the milkweed is poisonous, and they can store the poison inside their bodies through the rest of their life cycle, dissuading birds from coming for dinner. But there are also other butterflies in the family – namely the queen and the viceroy butterfly – that wear the orange and black “don’t chew on me” badge of their royal cousin. They’re mimics, and for a long time were textbook examples of Batesian Mimicry, wherein a harmless creature evolves to look like a not-so-harmless creature to fool predators. It’s since been elucidated that viceroys and queens can also be unpalatable, making theirs an example of Müllerian mimicry instead. That the viceroy probably tastes like an aspirin due to its diet of willows and poplars was such a bitter pill to swallow for the entomological community that the tale is still recounted in Ecology textbooks today, or at least two years ago, if my somewhat informed opinion didn’t give it away. At any rate, the monarch is the one who consistently eats the foul stuff, where as its relatives have a bit more range to their appetites. So when it comes to giving predators upset stomachs, the monarch is the genuine article.

A vertebrate also spoke to me about bodily poison this week, one Scott Russell Sanders, in his essay on growing up on a military base. There was some (perhaps intentional) irony in a man who played in an ammo dump insinuating I may develop cancer from living on the same planet as a working nuclear device, but if a child of the Cold War wasn’t generously wary of nuclear weapons I’d be concerned he wasn’t paying enough attention. However: there was one point I must admit I disagreed with Mr. Sanders on. He bemoans the fence locking both him and nature inside the stifling atmosphere of one of the most abhorrent times to be an American citizen. But he only lightly acknowledges the fact that the fence is the only reason the nature is still there. For what was his childhood playground if not a crudely rendered national park, a wildland where interlopers faced federal prosecution? That the chain-links and machine guns were there to protect stores of death didn’t stop the fact that they also protected the life inside. Behind the walls of the arsenal the trees and animals were able to recolonize their stolen land from the farmers that came before. His home offered him a chance to view nature’s slow victory over humanity, a “terrifying comfort” my generation no longer has the chance to feel due to the inaction of the previous one.

This brings me back to the caterpillars. It may seem like a miserable existence, but those 60 square feet of leaves that comprise the monarch’s world here at the farm are a haven. In that field they are protected from further habitat destruction. In this case it’s a rare upside to habitat fragmentation, in that there’s still any habitat left at all. The fence goes both ways.

Fallen Soldiers, by Jessica Jenkins

I sit down on the cool gray rock that is my spot, the water rushing in my ears louder than usual. The water runs deep and fast, no doubt a result of the rain this Saturday. The rain was never that hard, I remember. I had been outside in it all day from start to finish as a result of one stubborn band director and a lot of hopeful parents, and I now had, as evidence, an aching sinus and constant sniffle. Yet all of those steady, tiny little droplets had been enough to soak through my band uniform, and to completely fill the creek. The water rushed along, its path with no destination besides ever onward, at times looking so smooth and taut that it could be the taffy from the candy shop by the seashore that my grandmother took me to as a kid. The cool, but not cold air was a reminder that fall was coming and with it, came an army of colorful soldiers billowing to the ground. Their orange, red and brown parachutes seemed unsure, for they were among the first to depart their comrades. These leaves humored the river by entertaining its mini whirlpools, slides, and stegosaurus ridges like brightly colored surfers as they seemed to laugh and delight in their rides. At the bottom of the waterfall, where one current pushed on direction and the other rushed another, those not swept away gathered in a steadily increasing pile, like a family reunion of sorts, a remembrance of swishing among branches. These soggy fallen soldiers were not merry in their meeting however, it seemed as though they were seeing an often lost loved one at a funeral. Saying time and time again “It is so good to see you, we must must meet again, but under better circumstances,” yet never coming through with the promise. Their forefathers, the trees, loomed grandfatherly above me. Their kind and ancient gazed seemed to be providing a steady watchful eye as they knowingly looked after their children, splashing in the water. Grandpa maple loomed over me, his outstretched arms shielding me as the other elders bobbed their branches in agreement, nodding in the changing winds. Right before the waterfall, the water appears slower, less perfect. It appears like the surface of the mirror in a bathroom after a hot shower and little kids draw shapes in the steam. These squiggle ripples stop only for the occasional leaf. Yet the water still shines in the midday sun, and I see its gleams from my rocky spot as they produce tiny aurora boreales on the veins of maple leaves bigger than my hand stretched out as far as I can spread my fingers. The rock below me is cold, I look around and see others like it and wonder if at one time they were all one long expanse of rock, but the water, like a poet came and carved into the rock her stories of sunny days, drought, and rain, of leaves and snakes and deer and water spiders. Of yesterdays and alien eons, of people that have come and gone, of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. It strikes me then how ancient the river is, even more ancient that the grandfather trees that loom above me. All of the water in the river was the same water that had been on earth since its beginning and the place itself had outlived any person I would ever know. The music of Disney’s Pocahantas immediately tinkles in my mind as if with portable brain bells saying “What I like most about rivers is, you can’t step in the same river twice. The water’s always changing, always flowing.” The river is at once the oldest thing in this forest, but yet entirely new and different from what it was yesterday ad every day before that. The river is old but not static it changes and flows. I think to myself that I want to find a way to be like the river. To be changing constantly in little ways based on what the earth gives me, but to also soldier along, steady as life moves forward. Or maybe, I thought, life was the river and I was just one of the thousands of leaves that fell into it.

Comfort Zones, by Carleigh Antico

The weather this week was an accurate representation of the attitude and emotions I continuously had. Trying to avoid being saturated in raindrops and stomping in mud; I postponed venturing to my spot until later on in the week.

Saturday rolled around and the air was damp, spit was misting from the sky, and the whole Earth appeared delicate and indented from its creature’s footprints. Dehydration was not an option for the world this week, my spot felt cleansed and pure. The rain had mentally wiped out all productive living movement and physically left my spot isolated and quiet. I did not have the privilege this week to see the ducks swim across the creek, hear my friend, the Barred Owl, or see the squirrel frolic in the Sycamore above; instead I was left with a blank slate in front of me. This visit was about what the lack of company and overall stillness within my environment, could do to me both mentally and physically.

Sadly I admit that I truthfully dreaded being outdoors this week. I know that is not something to admit to my environmental humanities professor; but it was indeed the truth. I don’t mean to sound fearful of this event but it was something out of my desire as well as my comfort zone. I realized that I am fortunate to constantly have shelter and options; the life within White Clay Creek does not have that ability or privilege.

I was instantly reminded of other times I had been out of my comfort zone. Do you know what you lose from stepping out of your comfort zone? Nothing. You can only gain. You gain experience, knowledge, visuals and adventure, which you would not have been exposed to if it weren’t for escaping your comfort zone.

My mind thought back to Scott Russell Sanders essay, “Staying Put.” It begins with talk of Scott, his wife Ruth, and their two friends continuing to eat their dinner on the porch during a tornado. Sanders acknowledges the fact that he could have physically, metaphorically, and mentally stayed put, but instead didn’t. I took out my book to refer to the text and indulge in Sanders experience. I wanted to reflect on my removal from comfort and knowing and ultimately compare it to his. Sanders writes, “These tornado memories dramatize a choice we are faced with constantly; whether to go or stay, whether to move to a situation that is safer, richer, easier, more attractive, or to stick where we are and make what we can of it.” That is exactly what I was going to do. I was going to not experience nature in all of its natural beauty because of bad weather, it was easier, more attractive, and safer for me to just stay inside. I know my comparison of sitting in the woods during a dreary rainy day does not compare in the slightest to Sanders tornado experience, but that’s not the point. The focus here is on starting somewhere. If you don’t start small, you’ll never start at all. Since I came to college I have been allowing myself to focus on engaging in activity outside my contentment, this class already has permitted me to gain that exposure.

My worries will remain irrelevant next time the weather isn’t 70 and sunny and I am faced with visiting my spot once again. I actually look forward for my next trip in unfavorable weather; I may even purposely pick a day that the sun isn’t shining. It’s time to find comfort outside of the internal zone, I have unconsciously created.

Getting Your Feet Wet, by Sara Afshar

Two worlds collided this week when I went into the depths of White Clay Creek for my biology class. On my usual trips to the woods I tend to stay on land and make my way around the edges of the creek. This week there were a lot crunchier, brown, and disheveled leaves on the ground than there were in the last. But those leaves soon turned to mush as I took my first steps into the river this Friday afternoon.

I automatically felt the chill of the river make its way through my rubber soles of my rain boots and a shiver ran through me from my contact with the ground to the top of my head. For the first time this semester, I didn’t feel myself sweating due to the heat. The sun was shining but the wind was making sure I was cool.

We mediated this week in class and while it has been something that I dabbled in throughout my life, it is not something that I do on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. But taking a deep breath in the creek, it reminded me to how I felt when mediating in class and something that I had also read by Scott Russell Sanders.

“As the family grew to four, six, eight, and eventually thirteen, my grandfather used this hammer to enlarge his house room by room, like a chambered nautilus expanding its shell,” Sanders wrote. While the only wood around me was either thriving in the forest or deteriorating in the river, I felt the expansion in my chest.

Deep breath in, hold it, deep breath out.

While my breath began to slow down in mediation, the rushing of the river at my feet gave me the same feeling of settling into my own being.

It’s a funny thing that when you decide to look into your own mind it feels like a ping-pong ball going back at forth. But as I focused on the rush of the river at the creek and the pattern of my own breath during class it was harder and harder to find where the ping pong ball was going. Leaves flowing through the creek were easier to relate to at this point.

They just flow by, passing with the rush of the river, and then disappear around the corner of the creek. They don’t come back, they’re in no hurry, and they especially don’t cause a feeling of panic to rush through my body or cause a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Suddenly the world seemed larger, the air more dense, if sound could be held back like any ordinary traveler,” Russell wrote.

While I may be picking up mediation as a daily ritual, it feels like nature has actually been doing the same thing for me all along. Silence is scary but it’s also soothing when you give it a chance.

Noise, by Daniel Hyde

This past Sunday morning I am reading about the latest happenings in the world, catching up on the news when I hear a birdsong float through my open window next to me, and I am drawn away from those far away events to this noise. I do not recognize the bird’s song although I would guess it to be a mockingbird, but it brings several thoughts to mind; about how I should really spend more time studying the bird calls for our class, how strangely uncommon it feels for me to hear a bird from my apartment, and how I still needed to complete my weekly journal. Taking advantage of this inspiration, I head off towards my spot, quickly remembering that the fall equinox was a couple of days ago, something that is well reflected in the cool air that greets me outside.

As I descend the hill towards my spot by the creek, I notice something aside from the cool air that suggests autumn has truly started which is the satisfying crunch of leaves as I walk the path. The leaves on the trees are still green by and large, but there are a few that have begun to shed their leaves for the winter months, and the feeling of walking over downed leaves in the presence of a cool, slightly breezy morning warms my soul, as the natural transitions that happen during the autumn have always captured my imagination and gave me the urge to head into nature.

As I return to the tiny, rocky area next to the water’s edge of the creek that has been my mandala, not much has changed with the autumn equinox, save the cooler weather and a few more leaves floating along the creek. Remembering our class on Tuesday where we spent time meditating, and how Scott Russell Sanders described being able to disappear for a spell, with “only this rapt awareness” instead of the incessant thoughts that usually cloud our minds on a minute-to-minute basis, I am inspired to try the same. Settling into as comfortable of a position as I can on the rock that has come to be my perch during my visits, I try to focus on my breathing, the rustle of the breeze through the leaves, the slight murmur of the creek’s water, and the occasional bird call to separate myself from my own thoughts. It is difficult, with so many things competing for my attention in my own mind, let alone in the environment I am surrounded by. I begin to notice two distinct bird calls that I know belong to a wren and a chickadee, knowledge I have from growing up near where such birds were ubiquitous, and a quick look around the area shows that there are two of each type of bird on either side of me, bouncing through tree branches. For such tiny creatures, the volume of noise they can produce is impressive, but as I am admiring the birds capabilities, my concentration is broken by a series of noises; a car’s engine somewhere in the distance comes to life as it hits the open road, a branch or a rock falls into the creek with a satisfying sploosh, and finally the train that crosses North College is approaching that road, and sounds its distinctly unnatural horn, echoing down the hill into the small valley I am currently in. While the horn seems to blast on and on for several minutes, announcing its mighty presence to all whether they care to hear it or not, I try to retain my focus on the nature around me which has either been silenced by the train, or entirely drowned out. When at long last the horn subsides and the last reverberations dissipate from the soundscape, the natural noises I had been focusing on, particularly those bird calls, seem to have come to a rest, and there is a surprising silence. This does not last long, and soon the birds begin to chatter away, the squirrels’ rustling is audible again, and life in the environment seems to have normalized.

My attempt at meditation may have been thwarted, but I am spurned to an interesting train of thought about nature and its relationship to humans and the infrastructure we have created in the environment. The train’s horn, when heard in such a setting as I was in, far from being able to actually see or interact with the train, it is ridiculously out of place, and clearly unnatural. To be a creature with minimal comprehension of such things as trains, like the birds and squirrels I have shared this morning with, what must their instincts make of this massive, alien noise? Has it been normalized, just another part of their environment due to the frequency at which it occurs, or was that brief silence and stillness I experienced after the train’s horn ceased indicative of deeper effects on those animals? These answers would be impossible to find, but as I leave my spot this week, I cannot help but ponder just how complex our relationship with the rest of our environment is, as we (humans) have managed to make our presence felt in so many aspects of the environment.

Brisk, by Emily Esposito

I trudged to my spot through the leaf litter and muddy terrain bundled up in sweatshirt and leggings. This was first time I’d worn closed toed shoes besides being obligated to. I noticed the ducks as soon as I got to the water’s edge. Throughout this semester I have been trying to be more aware of my surroundings, truly listening and looking for the wildlife around me. I usually am unlucky don’t get to see much wildlife at my spot, perhaps the location isn’t the best or my southern parts of the stream don’t have the best fish.

I first noticed four big Canadian geese all standing near each other in the sandbar of the creek, along with two mallard ducks swimming next to them. The geese were standing rather odd, switching off from one leg to the other, but almost all of them were standing on only one leg at a time. I watched them for a while; always standing on one leg and from time to time they would broaden their wingspan for a moment almost like a big stretch in the morning. My presence must not of bothered them because even when I moved around like a bull in a china shop their heads would turn, but they would still stand on that one leg and after a second look away.

I knew I had seen this weird phenomenon before and it took my weekend trip home to realize where. I drove the three minutes to my favorite beach spot and sat with coffee, and there I realized all the pesky seagulls were too standing with one leg tucked up and the other balancing them upright. The birds do this for warmth; by tucking one leg up they minimize half of their heat loss through their legs I have learned. I then wondered why seagulls do this even in the high of summer time, but I guess it has something to do with their circulatory system verse a humans.

I wondered if the geese learned through observation or if it was simply instinctual to balance their bodies on one leg. Scott Russell Sanders wrote about inheriting tools from his family line. I wonder if these birds learned from their parents who learned from theirs that this was a tricky way to stay warm as the seasons begin to change. Sanders wrote about how whenever he has to hammer a nail into something he thinks of his father and how he would do this task. Sanders mentioned that the scar on his finger left from the day he was hammering and found out his father had died was a remembrance of his father he couldn’t escape. Every time I see Canadian geese I think immediately of my backyard and marshland behind my house. I think of how when hunting season rolls around I can hear the shots from my house and about how one time I teased one of the geese bad enough for it to bite me as I ran away and it made me bleed. I also think about how rare it is to see their babies, its like one-day they’re tiny and cute and the next day their hissing at me as I pass them.

I think Sanders often writes about his father because he sees a great deal of himself in his father, he makes note of the good and the bad his father had and mirrors it with reflections on his own life. It reminds me of how every-time I cook something I think of how my father would prep this food and his little catch phrases like “air is the enemy,” when putting leftovers away. And I find myself saying this to my roommates when they leave opened containers in the fridge. Whenever I got to the beach I pack extra snacks and always something sweet because you never actually want the fruit you pack because that’s what my mom had taught me. I’ve grown to act and think much like my parents and it took going away to school to really understand I am mini-versions of them, though I am taller than both technically. Maybe the geese have to learn to act and do as their parents in order understand how life works and how to stay warm.

An Approaching Apocalypse, by Maddie Hannah

The sky was a dull orange. The sun could not find even the slightest crack in the dense blanket of clouds that wrapped Newark that morning. The effort of the sun attempting to break through the clouds created an eerie, warm, humid air. I ran down the pavement into White Clay Creek without a single encounter from another human being. Despite the approaching sunrise, it became darker and darker as I reached the thick canopy. Apocalyptic. Of course, nothing actually indicated a catastrophic end was near, but I associated the struggling sunrise with the connotation of an apocalypse that I had created through horror movies and violent video games in which all of civilization is left in a gray expanse of destruction.

I felt a sense of appreciation towards the eerie sunrise that morning. It was a rare solitude moment between the Creek and me. Two squirrels chased each other about ten yards ahead of me. As I approached, they froze as if I interrupted a serious discussion or maybe an intense game of tag. I jogged around them feeling impolite for disrupting their morning. The emotion I connected to the squirrels did not hold much meaning, but just like the sorrow that man felt for the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the human emotion I applied to the squirrels serves as evidence of our superiority over other species (“On a Monument to the Pigeon”, Leopold). I remind myself, I am not running through these woods as a guest in the ecosystem but as a far-too-long-been-removed part of it.

The story of the Skywoman reiterates this message. That story of creation tells of a woman, our ancestral gardener, that helps create the world while maintaining balance of all the needs of every life. It is a story quite contrasting the Genesis creation story that portrays a woman as “an exile, just passing through an alien world on a rough road to her real home in heaven,” (Skywoman Falling, Kimmerer). Too much of mankind has been living alienated from the earth and its natural balance. Upon first reading Skywoman Falling, I realized I overlooked many of the beautiful details of the world around me. During that same apocalyptic morning run, I heard and saw some of the noted beauties. Geese chattered for a brief moment leading up to a loud ruckus and splashing in the creek. That must be the “wave of goose music”- an entirely different and unique experience than my ignorant brain had imagined when I first read the story. Perhaps had I not run to the Creek that morning, I would still be imagining a wave of goose music as a peaceful, chirping song, despite the obvious honking and squawking that geese release.

That first reading of Skywoman Falling was an eye-opening experience. It connected a very familiar story of creation to a contributing factor of human negligence to care for the land. Many of us have based our past and future on a false relationship of living separate from or “above” the land and surrounding ecosystems. I regret that disconnection. Several other meaningful connections forged during the story. I read as my younger brother braided my hair, and just as he finished I read the line “There is such tenderness in braiding the hair of someone you love.” From blood to body, we connect to people and our surroundings, and the same loving attention must transcend. This is similar to the thought of Aldo Leopold in his “Land Ethic” essay in which he defines an ethic ecologically as “a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence” and an ethic philosophically as “a differentiation of social from antisocial conduct.” It is far too easy to neglect any type of ecological ethic.

In fact, neglecting our ecosystem is exactly how we are creating our own apocalypse. That eerie, dull sunrise the other day, sent these thoughts wild. As we fight the land with disconnect and abuse to further our “success” or quality of life and survival, we are taking steps closer to disaster. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines apocalypse as: a great disaster; a sudden and very bad event that causes fear, loss, or destruction. With so many contributing factors of destruction and experts like Leopold to acknowledge the abuse, an apocalypse would not be “sudden”.