Grandpa David, by Samantha Gordon

On December 4, 1921 my grandfather, Greshin Doovital (George David) Kuncman was born in the small town of Gostynin. Located in central Poland, it was a town of families and forests, mountains and markets, fields of fresh fruits, and pine tree lined promenades. Son of the local butcher, the life and death cycle was carved into the fabric of my grandfather’s being. In the summer, he would help his father in the shop, then run to the fields to play soccer with friends. As August drew near, the peaches grew ripe, and the children plucked the ripe fruit from the trees. They sat in the shade of branches, savoring the soft flesh after a sweaty game. “Ah baby they were the sweetest, the juiciest peaches in the world. The juice went drip, drip, drip, from my chin. So much juice it made puddles at my feet! Fish could swim in the puddles, so deep!”. You may gather from the previous statement that my grandfather had a knack for elaboration. With age, I have come to recognize the flexibility in his narratives, but as a child I took every word for what I learned to be true. If he said Polish peaches were so juicy they made puddles, by God I believed he went swimming in peach juice pools. While I marveled in the stories he created when I was younger, as I grow I marvel at the charisma that carried his words. His perspective, and that is all that it was he would claim, made the mundane things in this world come alive. A peach was no longer merely a fruit, but a fleshy ball of juice capable of forming ponds filled with life. His words sent a vibration to the things he perceived, and this transfer of energy pulsed the object to life.

I imagine my grandpa would love the story of The Songlines, as they too pulsated their world into being. Nothing, for the Aboriginals, is merely mundane. They tie their being to the land, thus giving the land their life. “So the land”, Chatwin writes, “must first exist as a concept in the mind? Then it must be sung? Only then can it exist?”. Reading this, I realize we do this every day of our life. We see the land, the objects, the world that surrounds us, and we sing, or define, what to believe to be true. In our culture we see a peach and sing the song of it dietary value. My grandfather sang of the juicy nectar that bred marine life at his feet. Aboriginals sing of everything, from honey-ants to chickenpox, emerging from earth’s depths and ancestors dreaming. It seems the depression of our culture is not the lack of objects to perceive, but the unwillingness to sing past the verses we deem “true”.

In 1939, my grandpa celebrated his 18th year of life. At the same age he mourned the loss of the place he called home. His evolution into manhood held an eerie parallel to the progression of World War II. When the war broke out and inched its way closer to home, he knew his choice was either to leave or to die. Always one to value the sacred nature of life, he left his beloved Gostynin with a backpack of family photos and his older brother by his side. The two boys were now men, by law and way of life. Soccer games, peaches, and pine tree promenades became a memory of their youthful fairytale. Their picture perfect childhood that seemed like the dream world of cinema soon turned to the nightmare of a twisted horror film. As Jews, the only safe way they saw out of Poland was to enlist as Catholics and join the Polish army. I pondered this uprootment while enjoying the contentment of familiarity, sitting on my beach back at home.

The soft doughy sand kneaded below my bum, molding to make a comfortable seat. Before me the Atlantic Ocean reached to hold me then set me free, and behind me the sea foam box I call home stood still. I was left wondering the same thing Chatwin does. Are we meant to grab the hand of the sea, or embrace comfort in stillness? I’ve grappled with this question quite frequently as of late. I see the benefit in both, but my cultures duality begs I choose.

I have lived in the same town, in the same house my whole life. Repainting our home from weathered peach to sea foam green was a big deal. My grandma lives steps away, and my cousins down the block. I refuse to let my mom replace our 23-year-old emerald couch, despite its obvious age spots from years of love. While home for break my friends and I went to the first annual “Jakesgiving” bowl. It was a flag football tournament honoring the life our friend, a member of our Long Beach family, who recently passed away. As I sat on the track of my local middle school, I observed the love prancing all around me. People strolled—my parents friends, my friends parents, my third cousin (twice removed), and my grade school classmates. Four games went on, and I knew every player. My third grade basketball coach was quarterback, and passed to my kindergarten crush. He was blocked my best friends boyfriend, who deflected the ball. On the next play the twerp that told me Santa clause wasn’t real leaped in the air catching the first touch down. I looked around at every single familiar face and felt embraced by the warmth of immense belonging.

I live in a community, my very own Gostynin. I am tied to these people and the land that holds the memories we’ve made. Every home holds a face of a person I know and every footstep presses upon a memory of my youth. As I bury my toes in the sandy earth I’ve touched before, I feel all the walks, laughs, dances, yells, and energies that have encompassed my feet in this place prior. I feel the memories, the person I was in those moments, celebrate as they reconnect with the person I’ve become. I sit on my beach, thinking about the Jakesgiving bowl, Gostynin, and this community I call home. I asked myself what it is I am looking for. What do I want to find “out there”, that I don’t already have right here? In that moment, a wave of contentment washed over me. I realized, in this place I call home, I have everything I need.

My grandfather never let the pain of his past tarnish his present. He discovered joy in the simplicity of everyday life. He never found a stationary place of his own that compared to Gostynin, but his life was an endless, joy filled quest to find it. He found it rather, in the motion of existence, recognizing that nothing, not even Gostynin is guaranteed to stand still. He found it in family parties, in reconnecting with childhood friends, in dancing, Hawaiian shirts, and Carvel ice cream cones. He found it in sun bathing, in bagels with lox, in housing stray dogs, and sewing tiny rose patches onto every shirt he owned.

I have a vivid memory of him sitting on my deck back at home. He wore a white short sleeve button down, matching his white mustache and Einstein hair. In his tanned, steady hand, he held a warm coffee cup, the warmth flowing up to his face as he stared at the sea. He sat there in silence, an inner grin flushing his cheeks. His crystal blue eyes marveled at the vibrant sea from which they came. He turned to me and I swear in that moment his eyes sparkled. “I’m so happy baby. You have it. Your very own Gostynin”.

The Way of Wu Wei, by Praneeja Matta

I closed my eyes, feeling the cold air flow through my nose as I breathed in slowly, trying to clear my mind. As I continued my slow, deliberate breathing, I felt the cold embrace me more tightly—it’s cold fingers tracing across my face that was exposed to the quiet cold of White Clay Creek this Sunday evening. I listened to the gentle flow of the creek and pondered in bemusement of its natural action. I kept my eyes closed, recalling Verse 8 of Tao Te Ching, “The best way to live/ is to be like water/ For water benefits all things/ and goes against none of them/ It provides for all people/ and even cleanses those places a man is loath to go/ In this way it is just like Tao” (Tzu 9). In a sense, I couldn’t help but think of the angelic nature of the creek. It rolled gently through Pennsylvania and Delaware, offering homes to countless creatures, water to drink for other animals, and even as a place of recreation for us humans. It provides for all people, for all creatures, without turning away a single one. Again, I let the sore irony of that sink in as the images of the toxins and waste we deposit into the creek kept appearing in my mind.

I closed my eyes, trying to regain focus, trying to prevent these painful images from blocking my path to mental clarity. I took another deep breath in, centering on the steady rhythm of my breath. Again, the sound of the creek caught my attention. This time, instead of trying to block out the sound, I tried to fixate on it. I could hear the swift rushing of the current and its clashing encounters with rocks in the streambed. I could make out where the water rapidly fell down a feet at the drop in the streambed before continuing happily on its path again. As I sat, leaving my mind open, I again my brows furrow in worry. Relax, Praneeja, I told myself. However, the stress of my daily happenings came pummeling in. I kept thinking of the 2 final papers and 2 exams I had due this week. Of how Donald Trump was President. Of the recent Ohio attack and the increasing prevalence of school attacks and violence. I felt chills up my spine.

My eyes shot open. I blinked and as the dimming sky came into clarity, I no longer felt safe in my spot in White Clay. However, in front of me, the creek continued its peaceful journey down the streambed. The Sycamore and Maple trees continued to stand tall from the forest ground, offering me a sense of protection. I heard the ever-present Belted Kingfisher, crying out in the treetops. I felt my heartbeat slow down again as I soaked in the comfort of nature’s continuity. How nice would it be if I could just go with the flow of things, just as the river did despite the obstacles (rocks) and falls that in encountered? How nice would it be if I could continue to stand tall and strong, despite my fears and stresses tugging me down, as the trees did?

I close my eyes one last time, urging myself to be still. I recall the dichotomies of the Tao Te Ching, “Life and death are born together/ Difficult and easy/ Long and short/ High and low—all these exist together/ Sound and silence blend as one/ Before and after arrive as one” (Tzu 3). Perhaps all the stresses I’ve encountered, that the world has encountered, are wholly necessary. I try to accept that. It’s hard—is violence really necessary? It’s hard to believe it to be so. Perhaps the ebbs and flows of life would be more easy to accept if I took the path of non-action like the river did, something very different from inaction. It’s a fine line that I haven’t quite differentiated yet, but believing that “Through the course of Nature/ muddy water becomes clear/ Through the unfolding of life/ man reaches perfection/ Through sustained activity/ that supreme rest is naturally found” brings me some peace (Tzu 17). I’m starting to realize that accepting the “ebbs and flows” of life does not mean I am okay with the “bad” things that are happening, but that I am accepting that some of them are bound to happen. I hope that through practicing mindfulness and wu-wei, I learn the way of taking the right action at the right time, and that the “muddy water becomes clear” and that good eventually overcomes evil.

Of Paddlers and Platters, by Brian Perkins

The relationships between river and dams is a curious one. Dams reveal what was once hidden by water and submerge what was once out in the air. This week I canoed around a heavily dam-controlled region of the Susquehanna River. The dams smoothed out the rapids for easy paddling, but cut off indigenous fish from their spawning grounds. They washed from human eyes ancient Native American rock art, but unveiled truly extraordinary rock formations along the banks. Vaulting walls of schist slope and twist in formations etched by centuries of water and erosion. It makes our intrusion that tiny bit more forgivable, that we can still appreciate one aspect of the changed landscape. At its widest the Susquehanna felt more like a large lake, paddles scooping deep and getting little purchase in the driving wind. My reading this week brought me to other lakes…

After reading Mary Oliver’s “The Ponds,” I was compelled to look back at the poem I passed a few pages earlier, “The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water.” Both prominently feature Oliver’s thoughts on water lilies, a peculiar family of pond plant. What immediately struck me was the recurring description of the “darkness” of the water the lilies grow in. The black midsummer ponds, dark water from which the plants spring. Oliver treats the floating platters with an ethereal reverence, riding high on a glassy cloud above the troubles of the world. Lilies are their own kind of perfection, blooming circles of white and green. She also hints at sorrow associated with the lilies; a darkness in the pools below. Less poetically, all this talk of dark water reminded me of Longwood Gardens, the botanical garden mentioned briefly in ContamiNation. The breathtaking lilies in the conservatory there grow in water with Longwood’s proprietary Deep Water dye. Aside from the aesthetic value (the dyed water makes for a striking backdrop not unlike the ponds Oliver describes, and hides the plumbing beneath), the treatments also protect the ponds from algal growth. I share in Oliver’s fascination of the water lilies and the larger water platters, though there are yet other notable qualities in the plants besides their tender leaves. Lilies are kind of creepy from a physiological standpoint. The blossoms and dishes, while picturesque from the top, delve into the realm of Science Fiction just beneath the surface. Rings of razor sharp teeth radiate out from the center, where hairy leviathan tendrils connect the leaves to the main plant concealed in the black below. Their bark is worse than their bite, so to speak, but the less glamorous side of the water lily is still an imposing sight that greatly contrasts the elegant top. In this way, they’re like the dams on the Susquehanna. They’re capable of great beauty, but flip the issue over and you see the teeth.

Everything is Fine, by Carleigh Antico

Waking up on this frigid December Sunday, my morale was dropping drastically. I couldn’t pin point exactly what it was that was making my feelings revolve around sorrow, self-pity, and underlying pain. Was it the weather outside, the fact that finals are right around the corner, not being with my family this close to the holidays, or was it just me. I am guilty of letting my emotions get the best of me; I get caught up in life and personally attached to most situations and individuals that better myself.

To let you in on a little background, my future (as it does for many others) unconsciously drains me everyday. I volunteer under a Child Life Specialist (the career I hope to one day pursue) at A.I. DuPont/Nemours Children’s Hospital once a week for four hours, usually on Sundays. Due to Thanksgiving break being so extensive this year, I made up for Sunday hours lost this past Wednesday night. Wednesday night was the first time I became aware of how draining this future I long for will one day become. It was on that night that I was informed one of the patients I cared for was no longer suffering, fighting, and living here on Earth any longer. I put it that way instead of blatantly saying he passed away because that’s the reality of it; he was suffering. That news was life shattering to me. An 11-month-old baby, with minimal love and support, didn’t even have a family for all I know, lost his life. It was then in that moment that I finally understood why people respond to my intended future with statements such as, “that will be a tough one.”

With these emotions and vibes circulating my mind and body, I traveled back to White Clay Creek one last time before the semester came to an end. I thought I would do something so different from what my usual routine is; I would complete our required readings for the week while within nature. I thought of this as a meditation technique that would help stimulate different emotions and thoughts due to my individual alone time with the land. I sat on my usual rock, looked as far down the creek as my eyes would allow, sat up straight, breathed in then released the air built up inside my lungs into my surroundings. Metaphorically this was my way of putting my mind at ease, I emptied my internal morale into nature only for it to travel down the creek and finally escape my body. Once my body and mind were both as calm and still as the water, I dug into Tao Te Ching.

I personally love when I read something that I have felt and thought before, but could never condense my thoughts into words. Verse 2 made me feel this way for the first time since early on in Ancient Futures.

“Everyone recognizes beauty

only because of ugliness

Everyone recognizes virtue

only because of sin

Life and death are born together

Difficult and easy

Long and short

High and low-

All these exist together

Sound and silence blend as one

Before and after arrive as one.”

 

How interesting is it that within our world we only recognize some concepts because we compare. It is amazing how comparisons can be so gentle and simple while also being harsh and pessimistic. On one hand, some of these comparisons listed are blatant negative opposing answers. Everyone lives life guilty of jumping to extremes. Exaggerations are too common in today’s society; nothing is ever in between the two extremes. But because of my prior emotions I had when arriving at WCC, I read this piece and let the gentle, simple appreciation of comparisons flow through me. The fact that life and death are born together is in a way, comforting. No, it is not appealing to know that everyone has an expiration date, but it is welcoming in a sense that there is a plan for everyone. I really needed to get this death of Nassir off of my chest. I needed to let myself understand that this was the better life for him, a happy ending to say the least. So if death comes with life than I am okay with that because it just means that there is better to come that unfortunately is not offered here on Earth.

Boots on the Ground, by Maddie Hannah

They took steps every day. Steps along the creek side. Steps through the valleys, hills, mountains, deserts, and swamps. They walked through the fading leaves, freezing streams, and falling rock. They moved carefully across the land, somehow never fully aware of what they passed. Success in their eyes was conquering the “natural” world before them. They overcame the density of the forest, the discomfort of the elements, and the scarcity of food for all their people.

But what they didn’t see was the truth under the ground or beyond the horizon. They didn’t lift the rocks or peer behind the far side of the trees. They didn’t dig beneath the ground that their boots so quickly covered. Self-interest limited their perspective. They were oblivious to the sensuous presence of the world, to the “lives of other animals, the minute gestures of insects and plants, the speech of birds, the tastes in the wind, the flux of sounds and smells…” (Abram, 201). Measurable progress in establishing their communities and quality of life seemed to be the only concern.

Curiously, ignorance did not hinder their survival. Despite oblivion of the sensuous world, they carried on. A Western Apache woman, Annie Peaches, of Arizona explained it that “The land is always stalking people. The land makes people live right. The land looks after us. The land looks after people.” (Abram, 156). Even after ignoring the moral efficacy of the land, they were able to establish themselves across the North American continent. The western world became something different.

Their boots were always on, always working. They lived in the present, mindful of the past but concerned with the future. Learning, conquering, expanding. Taking everything they can, and making it their own. They never stopped moving. But neither did the rivers and streams. The water kept flowing. The wind never stopped blowing and the leaves never stopped falling. The land persisted to be despite the ruckus of western expansion. They perceived something different than the earth itself. They lived conscious of their time, but “things are different in this world without ‘the past’ and ‘the future’,” (Abram, 203). Sensuality was overlooked.

They passed by the world for what it truly is. They knew a creation story that ceased just after it began. This is much different than the creation notion of the aboriginal Australians. Their creation story is a continuous process. “the perpetual emerging of the world from an incipient, indeterminate state into full waking reality, from invisibility to visibility, from the secret depths of silence into articulate song and speech.” (Abram, 169). The modern westerners face a blindness to the depth of silence, the world without definitive time.

They are “raised in a culture that asks us to distrust our immediate sensory experience and to orient ourselves instead on the basis of an abstract, ‘objective’ reality known only through quantitative measurement, technological instrumentation, and other exclusively human involvements” (Abram, 217). Existing on this earth must have more purpose than to develop the human experience. The mystery of what is under the ground and beyond the horizon begs to be known. John Fire Lame Deer tells us: “A good way to start thinking about nature, talk about it. Rather talk to it, talk to the rivers, to the lakes, to the winds as to our relatives,” and in doing just that they can uncover the mysteries beyond the human perspective. (Abram, 225).

Our Dualistic World, by Praneeja Matta

As we embarked on the hour and a half to the Susquehanna River on Tuesday, we felt ourselves escaping the confines of our reality. As I peered out the window, I watched us leave behind the cramped, vehicle-automobile streets of Newark in exchange for the vast, green rolling hills of Amish county. As I observed the dips and peaks of the hills that stood in front of blankets of orange, red, and yellow foliage, I thought about the waves that the hills formed—how the peaks and dips represented the good and the bad, respectively. We really couldn’t get to a peak, or the good, without experiencing the dip, or the bad. As we passed the farms, buggies, and the Amish children that were playing outside and enjoying the simple pleasures of life, I couldn’t help but be grateful that we were leaving behind the complex politics filled with hate, anger, and conflict that filled media in modern society, especially today. As I kept driving, I realized that I was only grateful for this reprieve from our technology-filled society because I had two extremes to compare—the peaceful and seemingly simple life of the Amish to the busy and complex life that I lived in day to day.

I pondered about this theory dualism later on that day as we stood on Little Indian Rock in the middle of the Susquehanna River. On one side was the breathtaking beauty of the river glistening in the sun and its towering banks with walls of trees surrounding it, and on the other side was the sore sight of the brown, dull concrete of the Conowingo hydroelectric dam. We all stood there and discussed the dualistic nature of these contrasting scenes. Similar to the car ride, I guess my appreciation for one (in this case the natural beauty of the river) is in part due to the contrasting sore sight of the hydroelectric dam. As Professor Jenkins said, although it would be great to just have the nature aspect, we live in a world where both extremes are very much interconnected.

As our tour guide Tom pointed out the circles, spirals, and the cupules within the petroglyphs engraved on Little Indian Rock, I was once again reminded of the wave like form that seems to be omnipresent. Coincidentally, Tom went on to describe the dualistic attitude of Native Americans, who believed that for the good to exist, the bad had to exist as well. They believed that both entities were dependent on one another, and that without one, you couldn’t have the other.

As we piled into the cars to return back home a few hours later, I realized just how perfect and necessary the balance of things were in the world. With the happiness and bliss that I filled myself with from the day’s outdoor adventures, I felt equipped to handle the realities of modernized society. Even this, I reminded myself, was dualistic. Experiencing stress makes relaxation that much more peaceful, experiencing sadness makes happiness that much more sweet.

One vote, 2 homework assignments, and several hours later, I settled into the couch in the living room, watching the results of the election pour in. My family and I watched in dismay as Trump’s numbers steadily beat Hillary’s. Sometime well past 12 o’clock (honestly my feeling of dread blocked out any sense of time), the results came in—Trump won. Donald Trump—the sexist, xenophobic, misogynistic, racist, hate-spewing man was America’s next President. I went to bed in shock and disbelief.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt like I was waking up from a bad dream, only to remember that this was very much reality. Anger, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness—emotions of every kind just kept pummeling through my body. I stayed in bed reading every article about the outcome of the election that I could get my hands on. Suddenly, going to school didn’t seem so important. The thought of classes and exams paled in comparison to the knowledge that Trump would lead America for the next few years.

Over the last five days, I’ve gone through quite an emotional roller coaster. Reading stories of black and Muslim people experiencing violence from people who were empowered by Trump’s agenda within days of the election filled me with so much sadness and hopelessness. However, as I sit here and reflect on our trip to the Susquehanna River, I find peace in the theory of duality. We cannot reach the peaks of the hills without enduring the Trump-filled dips (not to say that Trump represents “the bad”…well actually, that’s exactly what I mean)—and in that, I find some comfort. While gripping onto this theory of duality as my cloak of comfort this week, I look forward to spending these next four years fighting for a little more good and a lot less bad.