Fishin’ in the Dark, by Jessica Tompkins

This week I deviated from my usual sanctuary on the Christina River for a night of fishing on the C&D canal. There’s not much in this life more soothing than the repetition of casting and reeling, and hauling home a handful of catfish and perch to fry up for dinner the next evening provides an unparalleled sense of pride. As we sat on the boat drinking beers and laughing at stories and waiting for the fish to bite, I found myself feeling blissful and stress-free. I felt connected with the people around me, connected with the water around me, and I felt more whole than I have in a long time. It amazed me how interacting with nature on such a personal level could fill a void I didn’t even know I had. Perhaps we’re all craving that connection, we’ve just grown too far from nature to even know what we’re missing.

You can imagine my surprise when this feeling manifested itself into a word as I was reading part two of Food Fight. “Aina represents a sacred bond between people and a place that, once broken, threatens to destroy both humans and the world around them.” Never before have I believed a concept to be so true. There is a disconnect between the people of this world and the ground they stand on, and I firmly believe this disconnect exists because we as a society have lost sight of “that which feeds us.” We no longer understand the land as a provider to us; supermarkets and fast food chains have taken on that role. We’ve inserted a middleman between where our food is grown and how we feed ourselves, and because of this distance we’ve lost an understanding and respect for the world we live on. That sacred bond between human and nature has been broken, and has left a gaping hole in the very essence of who we are and has left the world around us crumbling. To understand the emptiness we feel inside we must simply open our eyes to what the world needs from us instead of seeing only what we can take from it. I believe that this is what Aina is meant to express: a harmonious bond.

I felt this bond as I sat on my boat in the late hours of the night, casting and reeling with soothing repetition. Fishing has always been a favorite pastime of mine, but with our recent class discussions and the topics of agribusiness and GMOs and the divide between people and the food that we eat, I found deeper meaning in the activity. I have the capability of feeding myself with the nature that is around me, and the wholeness I feel from doing so is a refreshing change. It makes me believe that people are inherently programmed with the desire to provide for themselves and their families, and by allowing large corporations to take charge of this duty and feed us with food that we don’t even know the origin of, we are denying ourselves a basic human satisfaction. We are removing ourselves from the equation of what is used to nourish our bodies, and to believe that doing so will not break the bonds of Aina, the bonds between humans and the nature that we are unavoidably a part of, is naïve. With obesity levels rising, health problems increasing, and soil quality worsening every year, there is no denying that this broken bond is succeeding in destroying “both humans and the world around them.”

I lay on my back gazing up at the stars from the bow of the boat, listening to the quiet calm around me. There is music playing low, a country ballad of love and tractors and beer, and a choir of crickets serenades us from the shorelines. I feel the boat rocking gently on the still waters, and a cool breeze raises goosebumps on my arms and legs. I close my eyes and drink in the smell of the cool summer night air; it smells like campfires and bay water. If I could live in this moment forever, I would. But I know that it is moments like this that remind us that the bond between nature and humans cannot be broken, and I know that as long as the existence of this bond is not forgotten then there is still a hope of returning to the land from which we came and restoring that bond once more.

On the Brandywine, by Lauren McElroy

I take some time to take a hike on a trail in Brandywine Creek State Park. As I begin on the trail, it starts out mostly uphill. There are many rocks on and along the sides of the trail, making sure that I always am paying attention to where I step. Those rocks vary in sizes from some very small that can fit into the palm of my hand to huge boulders that sit alongside of the trail that seem unreal. The rocks I continuously step on or walk on top of on the trail have green moss them. Along with the rocks, there are many broken branches on and along the trail that have moss partially covering them. I am also surrounded many white oaks that tower over me as I walk along the trail. I look above me on the trail to see a bright blue cloudless sky. It’s in the late afternoon, the weather still remains to be abnormally warm for the season. I also see black turkey vultures flying high above me, looking for their prey.

My boots crunch below me as I step on some fallen leaves. Some leaves are orange, yellow, and brown. Some of the leaves I see on the ground vary in size. Some as small as the palm of my hand and large leaves as big as my face. I continue to look up and see that many of the trees still have many of their leaves and that they are still green. I assume it’s because of the strangely warm weather why the rest of the leaves haven’t begun changing colors yet.

As I am about half way through the trail, it levels out and then the trail begins to go downhill. I move more quickly as gravity moves me down the hill, but I continue to be careful with the multitude of rocks covering the trail. As I walk, I hear crickets chirping at me. They all seem to make their sounds in sync of each other because there are so many of them.

The way Kimmerer writes in her observations of nature, she personifies the creatures she writes about. She personifies animals giving them a different life.  In relation to the title of the book, she talks about sweet grass in relation to hair and connects it to braiding. The braiding resembling the love that you have for that person. “Kindness and something more flow between the braider and the braided, the two connected by the cord of the plait.” This shows how a mother might braid her daughter’s hair to show her love for her. Kimmerer then personifies the sweet grass to resembles to the hair of Mother Earth. Trying to show the reader that if you take care of the Earth, in return she will take care of you, like a mother.

As a writer, she also liked to connect to her own personal experiences in her life. “Farmers around us grew strawberries and frequently hired kids to pick for them. My siblings and I would ride our bikes a long way to Crandall’s farm to pick berries to earn spending money.” These experiences she writes about helps give readers a personal connection to the book. It gives the reader an understanding that she has experienced life in the same ways that we have connecting the readers more closely to her words.

This is an important idea of why we write these journals. Most people have a disconnect from nature. By going out to write these journals, we are reconnecting ourselves back to nature.

Interconnected, by Julia Bosso

“If a maple is an it, we can take up the chain saw. If a maple is a her, we think twice.” Braiding Sweetgrass focuses on a general theme of respect towards all things, not just humans, and how we’ve lost this basic principal with the manifestation of English and the market economy. The book discusses how it’s arrogant to only recognize something as worthy of respect if it is human. This is so deeply ingrained in how we live and are raised therefore it is so much easier to continue being this way.

I joined Zach on a planting expedition in White Clay on Thursday afternoon. Dusk was settling into the thick humidity of the forest as we listened to his various morsels of information, delving deeper down the path. About ten minutes in we passed a hickory, its roots exposed, grasping the earth against the edge of one of the hills making up the piedmont landscape. As one of the other students on the hike marveled at the resilience of the tree, pushing against the heavy force of gravity, Zach commented, “ Looks like he’s trying to get his feet in deep there.” The nonchalant way he commented on the hickory as if it were a man grabbed my attention and as we continued down the path I peered deep into the trees, trying to give animate life to each of the entities I saw. I thought of Robin Kimmerer writing about, “walking through a richly inhabited world of birch people, bear people, rock people,” and how every setting would indeed be more vibrant if it was considered this way. Using this school of thought lends a lot more emotion to every place I visit now. While walking down the green  I feel empathy for the trees, standing lonely amidst a human world, with only the occasional visit from a squirrel or bird. Would they be happier surrounded by a buzzing thicket, teeming with life? Or are they content to sink their roots into well cared for grounds and offer shade to college students.

I feel like the importance of recognizing everything in nature as persons worthy of concern is the first step in respecting them enough to view them as gifts. The concept of the gift economy can only be valued if you understand that each individual thing that you are giving deserves thought and care. Kimmerer talks about how her friend Wally uses abundant amounts of sweetgrass in fire keeping ceremonies and how some people will not donate it to him because they want money for it. She explains that it cannot be bought or sold or else it loses its value. As we explored the woods with Zach on Thursday we inquired about his gardening efforts and seed collection. One of my friends asked him how much the seeds cost and where he bought them but he insisted that in the seed collecting community everyone gives to each other, encouraging one another to grow a variety of things. This was reminiscent to me of the exchange of sweetgrass mentioned in the book.

Hand in hand with this goes the thought that “a gift’s value increases with each passage” and that we must, at some point, return the gift to the earth.  I felt this importance firsthand as Zach handed us each a bag of seeds, cucumber root, Solomon’s seal, and trillium and told us to plant them. Each of these little packets of DNA were gifts that had been stripped away from the area, traveled far away, only to circulate through the hands of many seed collectors ending up back in the earth that they belong to. The gratification of setting a native plant back into its home environment was enough, but hopefully we also encouraged the rotation of the ecosystem and in conjunction the revolution of gifts from the earth.

Hiking with Zach, by Patrick Sweeney

“I don’t think it’s likely that there is more than one guy barefoot and wearing jorts in the woods right now” I said as we were trying to decide if the man in the distance was Zach or not. It did so happen to be Zach and his dog, Wiley. We hung out at the meeting spot and talked for a while waiting to see if anyone else would show up for the five o’clock seed planting expedition, but as no one else came after about fifteen minutes, Zach, my friends, Julia and Ellie, and myself, headed out into White Clay with a big bucket of native seeds.

The ends of just a handful of leaves had just begun to yellow, barely even noticeable if you weren’t looking up at the right tree. Zach knew the dates of when all of the trees started to change color and when all of the wild flowers would bloom, but he listed so many as we walked that I can only remember a few of them. Zach found some wild berries for us that we warily ate, only after he ate some first. They were small and red with tiny white spots and had some weird name that I also don’t remember either. We kept on walking, Zach explaining various things as we passed them, how he could tell how old a certain section of woods was with just a click glance, and how some strange caterpillars way up in the trees made their nests.

We walked down the path and Zach turned sharply and headed into the woods. I had never gone far off the paths in White Clay Creek before. It had never even really occurred to me that I could. While Wiley swam around in a creek, Zach gave us all some seeds to plant. We went around digging shallow holes in the ground and placing the seeds within. Within the next two years, our very own leeks and wildflowers will be sprouting in White Clay Creek. The seeds we planted were plants that had been razed during logging operations and had not recovered well.

Zach then took us up an incredibly steep hill that I also never would have thought to have tried to scale. After struggling up the steep face, we planted some more leek seeds. We found a little turtle up towards the top of the hill which astounded me. This tiny turtle had made it all the way up this hill that I myself could barely make it up and it was just hanging out under a pile of leaves. Why did he climb all the way up this hill just to sit under some leaves when he could have just done that at the bottom of the hill? I definitely don’t know. Zach found us some wild mushrooms which can apparently be known to be safe if they have pores on them. He said that there are so many mushrooms out in the woods that he doesn’t even buy them anymore. He just goes out and picks them whenever he wants some, as he does with much of his food, sustaining himself on what he can find in the woods. I cooked up these mushrooms with the eggplant that I had picked earlier in a pasta dish.

Zach talked about how the woods offered an economically viable way to feed people by getting more in touch with our hunter gatherer roots. The woods produce a large and varied amount of healthy food, all while benefiting the ecological health of the region. This woods agriculture offers an alternative that promotes local plant species and gets people more involved in their local environment, all without the use of pesticides or industrial agriculture. With proper education, people could get much of their food from the woods, leading to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Food for Thought, by Eden Tinkelman

I got off the bus, excited to put my phone away. A brief escape from the myriad of emails, texts, and assignment notifications as I headed into White Clay. I entered the woods alone today, but that did not mean I was alone. As I entered the familiar call of the catbird greeted my ears. Continuing in, I heard the familiar orchestra. Although I am still not sure what I am hearing, I have become familiar as to what lives in the woods. I have heard the call of the blue jay, the catbird, the cardinal, and the wood thrush.

As I continue on, I notice more plants, and note a few of the ones I had learned less than an hour ago. The trails are dotted with orange jewelweed, or Impatiens capensis, and jack in pulpit, or Arisaema triphyllum. Aside from these few plants, I observe the familiar shapes and colors, such as the triangular leaves on some bushes, and the large thorns on others.

I march on until I find the bridge I am looking to eat lunch on. Once there, I search for the Great Blue Heron who greeted me before but he is not there. I sit and begin to observe my surroundings before pulling out lunch. The stream is clear and glittering in the warm sunlight, rocks dotting the bottom and pond skimmers on top. There is overgrowing flora on the banks of the stream and branches dangling close.

I begin to pull out my lunch: canned meat, low sodium black beans, spinach, carrots, and seasonings. Thinking about the book I had just been reading on the bus, Food Fight, I begin to wonder what was in my food. I question where the food was coming from, what went into it, and how it was processed. I could tell you that I got it at ACME, and a few of the brand names but not much past that. I have no idea what was feed to the animals whose meat I am now consuming. Probably GM corn and soy, as the book tells. The book also notes what a large wall there is between us, the consumers, and the producers. I have no idea what was put into my food. There could have been many pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides.

This makes me think of a quote within the book that startled me: “Six of the seven restricted-use pesticides are suspected of being endocrine disruptors…four of the seven are also suspected carcinogens…and between them, the seven have been linked to, among other things, neurological and brain problem and damage to the lungs, heart, kidneys, adrenal glands, central nervous system…” So essentially, anything could be hiding in my food.

Thus far, I have come to the conclusion that the GMOs aren’t the largest problem in our food safety and health, but rather the chemicals we use and how we go about using GMOs. GMOs can be very beneficial, such as adding b-carotene to rice to get more vitamin A, or adding insulin to some foods. Yet, they can be harmful, such as all the horror stories that the book mentions where the foods are altered to accept high levels of chemical sprays.

I think of all these examples, and look around me. What if any of those chemicals are here, in White Clay, it the water or in the air. Is it affecting what the animals eat or them directly? And yet I am jealous as the birds and bugs will never see it coming nor will they care in the same way we humans do. They won’t worry about choosing organic or something potentially laden with chemicals.

I hear the catbird, snapping me out of my thoughts. He reminds me to breathe, and noticing I have fished lunch, I say my good-bye.

Bennett’s Pier, by Alison Treglia

When my friend pulled onto the road for Bennetts Pier, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. The four of us were together again for the weekend – Jess, Kelli, Emily, and me- they had just graduated and I was the only one still in school. As graduation had approached for them last spring, we had all wondered what would happen to our tight-knit friend group. Who would be the first to pull away? To move on? To forget? Luckily, those questions haven’t been a concern and we’ve managed to find time for each other. Which is what led us to drive down to Milford, Delaware at 7 in the morning for a community beach cleanup. 

The sky was gray and the road got foggier as we kept making our way to Bennetts Pier. We were convinced we had made a wrong turn until we saw a sprinkling of other cars parked on each side of the road. From there, we got our gear and made our way to the beach. At first glance, the beach looked untouched from human nature. Brown tube plants were shooting inches out of the sand, while Sandpiper flitted around on the shore. Once my friends and I went closer, we saw shards of glass everywhere, and buried plastic bags that reeked of sulfur. Some folks found tires and parts of an engine. The waste wasn’t extreme, nothing like you see on those documentaries that are meant to shock people into action, but it was enough to make me think about my own actions. I’m guilty of being lazy about my own waste – do I always recycle or use reusable containers? Sometimes, but I could be doing more.
The beach was covered in dead horseshoe crabs, almost like a burial ground for them. How did they adapt to the waste? Was this their response? Or was this cemetery natural?  Growing up, I had an affinity for crabs. It was unexplainable, but whenever my parents took my brother and I to the beach as kids, I used to collect body parts of any dead crab I could find. Then I would try to hide my bucket of dead crab parts somewhere under all the beach gear so my parents wouldn’t notice and make me throw them out. Of course, if my parents didn’t find them quickly, the stench always gave the bucket away after a couple of days. And after enough trips to the beach, I wasn’t trusted with a bucket anymore. But I’d forgotten how I used to do that years ago, until I saw the horseshoe crabs there on the beach. I was disappointed that I didn’t see any live ones, but my feelings were short-lived.
As I went from the shore to the grassy dunes, I saw a fiddler crab scurry into the grass for camouflage. I forced my friend Emily to look at the spot, but the crab had already run away. We looked around the bend of the dunes and then saw a whole colony of fiddler crabs, with a blue crab quickly scuttling by. We picked up some more trash and then decided it was time to head back to Newark. On our drive back I noticed that almost all the fields we passed were covered in corn and wondered how much, if any, wasn’t genetically modified. I brought up to my friends that I’d been reading Food Fight  for a class and we talked about GMOs. What does glycophosphate do to the environment? We don’t know enough and maybe in twenty years, it’ll be a compound that we need to remediate. In environmental engineering, we aren’t required to take any philosophy or ethics classes that could help us to think more critically about the work we’re doing. We wondered if that was on purpose- that we’re supposed to be ignorant or that the university doesn’t think it’s important to know. Whatever the reason, I was glad that we could all spend time together and continue to keep our friendship strong as were volunteered to do something we all cared about.