Welcome to the Anthropocene, by Jessica Tompkins

When it Rains it Pours

I can feel the wind biting at my cheeks today as I brace myself against the cold. I begin my trek from my car to my sanctuary, taking in the smell of crisp fall air. We’ve just had heavy rains, and I can still feel the dampness of it lingering in the air. A gust of wind sweeps my hair across my face and raises goosebumps on the back of my neck, so I wrap my arms around myself a little tighter and hasten my steps, grateful that I brought a blanket with me today.

Leaves of red and brown are scattered across the ground, tumbling through the grass on the breeze. I alter my steps every now and then to try and catch that satisfying crunch beneath my foot as a crisp brown leaf is squelched, but they are all too damp for any crunching and they merely spring back up and tumble away as my foot passes over them. I reach the gravel path – the final stretch of my walk – and I pause. It has been a few weeks since I have been here, and my, has it changed. I no longer hear the rattle of leaves in the wind, but rather the clapping of bare branches. A squirrel here and there scurries about, with treasures to sustain him through the winter clamped in his jaws. I can hear the beating of a bird’s wings speed past me just overhead, but he does not sing. The colors and songs of my sanctuary have changed, but the beauty remains the same. I wrap my blanket around my shoulders and perch on my stone bench, settling in for my hour of peace.

Except peace does not come. Instead, a monsoon of thoughts and emotions crashes through my mind, stealing any hope of peace and quiet I had hoped to enjoy. I have grown to have a deep love for my sanctuary and its inhabitants, from the hydrangea bush that I’ve watched flaunt its colors to the warblers that sing to me from the cattails to the egret that has become a friend I look forward to seeing every week. Reading The Sixth Extinction has left me wondering if I have not done enough to protect places like my sanctuary and those that live in it, not just for my children, but also for the sake of the egret’s children, and the hydrangeas and the bees and all the creatures that go on living with or without my appreciation. I look around at this little piece of heaven that has taken such good care of me over these past months, and I think of how there are so many pieces of nature in the world as beautiful and precious as this one, and how they are all in danger. I think of the state of the world, and one question comes to mind: what have we done?

Elizabeth Kolbert quotes a line from Essay on Man by Alexander Pope in chapter two of The Sixth Extinction, and this prompted me to research and read Essay on Man in its entirety. I found a portion that spoke to me deeply, and encapsulated (for me, at least) the direst of issues raised in Kolbert’s book. The section of Pope’s work was this:

“Each beast, each insect, happy in its own:

Is Heav’n unkind to man, and man alone?

Shall he alone, whom rational we call,

Be pleas’d with nothing, if not bless’d with all?”

The importance I find in this quote cannot be understated. Particularly since the industrial revolution, humankind has sought to dominate and control as much of nature as possible. Harnessing fossil fuels (and destroying our planet, both through extraction and use of these fuels) for ease of energy use, killing off entire species like the passenger pigeon for sport, poaching beasts like wolves and buffalo to near-extinction – all of this and more has occurred on man’s unending journey to finding how to be the happiest he can possibly be, yet happiness evades us still. We leave destruction in our wake and curse the heavens when the balance of nature is disturbed, failing to see the blood dripping from our own hands.

I look around me, and as if on cue my egret friend comes emerging from the cattails across the river. He ruffles his feathers and settles in for his hunt for dinner. The sun is dipping lower in the sky, painting the horizon in pink and orange and sending sunbeams rippling across the water. I become aware of the notion that the beauty that exists before me does not exist for me; I am simply blessed with the ability to observe this moment in nature. It is moments like this that the people of this world need in order to remember that not everything can (or should) be dominated and controlled. Can we learn to be happy only with what we need, or was Pope right in asking if man has become a creature that appreciates nothing if he does not have all?

There is fear in my heart for places like my sanctuary, and for the future of my egret friend. The future of our planetary home lies in the bloodstained hands of man, and my only hope is that we stop cursing the heavens for disaster and instead seek to wipe our hands clean of the blood we have spilled. It is a scary time we live in, indeed. Welcome to the Anthropocene.

I Got The Blue Jay, by Brittany O’Connell

I’m sitting on the uncomfortable pavement surrounding the Newark Reservoir. After finally memorizing 15 birds I’ve been excited for this day: to sit and recognize something around me that I did not notice before. I feel more masterful at sitting, waiting and observing than I did at the start of this class. I find it’s still easy to get swept away by my worries and daydreams, but notice that my patience for something that may not even show up has grown. Or so I thought. Because as I sit and listen for a bird I recognize, looking like somewhat of a squatting duck myself, I realize I am hoping for an owl or a mockingbird. I want to see or hear something jarring in comparison to what I usually hear. After about 15 minutes, my ears pick up a sound I can recognize. It’s not the cooing of a mourning dove, nor a call that is sweet and soft. It’s a blue jay.

I see it as quickly as I hear it as it flies by. For some reason this is my least favorite call. It’s somewhat aggressive and irritating and it makes me almost annoyed at the bird, similar to my natural reaction towards young children screeching in public and quiet spaces. But it is then that I take a step back and remind myself how disturbing and wrong quiet nature would be. Thinking about the solemn picture a silent forest or stretch of land would paint allows me to be more appreciative of the blue jay’s call. I realize I’m part of the problem. I want a show and to be entertained. I want something exciting that I didn’t see yesterday instead of appreciating what I actually have in front of me and why it’s beautiful.

I had a lecture a week ago where a professor was discussing the importance of seeing one good trait in everything. Whether it be someone you love or loathe entirely. I’ve been trying to work on that a lot. I tend to write off what causes me stress or wrongs me, but life doesn’t work like that. It’s an inkling of a much larger problem really- not being content and always wanting something else. I’m sure it’s more of our culture at large than my upbringing to blame, but now that I’m aware of it, I want to practice gratitude as often as possible. I start to list all of the things I appreciate about the blue jay in my head. I love how its blue feathers makes the sky behind it pale in comparison. It’s probably one of the only bird I could recognize from a distance without glasses on. I like knowing I’m not alone at the Reservoir this morning. I enjoy how it probably doesn’t want me there either, but when it lands near me, it looks at me with beady black eyes, and leaves me alone. I like that it’s existence is a part of a giant chain of species that keep the world going. The more I list, the more I like the blue jay and the less it’s call irritates me.

My lack of appreciation for the blue jay’s call makes me think of the great auk in The Sixth Extinction. When I read the passage about the last birds killed I myself wanted to hurt Sigurour Iselfsson, Ketil Ketilsson, and Jon Brandsson for being so egocentric and stupid. I found my blood boiling when reading, “On catching sight of the humans, the birds tried to run, but they were too slow” (65). I tried to make sense to myself about how people could be so selfish and cruel and I can now see the parallel to my time here at the Reservoir with this Blue Jay. While I would never harm an animal myself, I could see how not appreciating what you have could happen. When you don’t take the time to notice the magic of other living beings or get to know their “one good trait” you lose your sense of humanity. Much like war and how it becomes increasingly hard to kill an opposing army when you get to know them in a human way. I wonder if teens were asked to go around nature and list what they liked about living things if it would increase their appreciation, and if repeated, if it would it substantially harder to kill.

Asters and Goldenrod, by Alex Ardila

After reading Robin Kimmerer’s chapter on Asters and Goldenrod I found myself looking for the things that contrast one another while on my walk in White Clay. The gold in the goldenrods and the purple in the asters were so unalike and different that it made each of them that much more vibrant when placed next to each other. What pairs in this nature were so clashing that in turn were able to complement each other so well? The green color and looseness of the leaves with the browns and sturdiness of the trunks. The shimmer and glow of the water with the matte, earthy tone of the mud. The natural quietness of the forest with the loud echoed chirps of the birds. The fast flow of the stream with the grounded stillness of the rocks in its way. The height of the trees compared with the smallness of me immersed in them. All of these things sharing the same idea that two things so different, can produce something so overwhelmingly beautiful, a sublime experience that science can’t explain.

I went more into a personal depth, and wondered about how the contrasts in me as a person could bring out something larger than I, something extraordinary. I was brought back to Kimmerer’s mention of Greg Cajete, a native scholar, who states that “in indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit.”

Mind. I felt the small, quick connections occurring in my brain as I tried to figure out how nature was so angelic, so magnificent. Like Kimmerer explains, science “is rigorous in separating the observer from the observed, and the observed from the observer.” and only explains things in black and white. What I pondered about in my mind while in nature was something that you can’t experience with the knowledge of science. Then again, does the mind consist of connections not complex enough to understand the connections of this life, of this nature that created us, something so small made from something so immensely huge? The interconnectedness of the mind is small when compared to the interconnectedness of life, but it is big enough to understand that something so grandiose like our world and universe has given to us so much that we cannot give back, and in turn is something that we don’t deserve.

Body. As soon as I cross the border from campus to being within the trees of White Clay my body becomes calm and relieved. My lungs open and I can breathe better, my muscles lose their tense and I can stroll openly, my eyes and ears widen to let in the sights and sounds of the plants and animals. I am not just a body in the woods, I am a body in unison with the woods. Because I am there I am able to feel the crisp air on my cheeks with the coming of winter season. Because I am there I know what it’s like to have the trees lose their leaves for the gain of my colored, scattered pathway I now walk upon, the crunch of the leaves getting louder the deeper in I go. My human body within the body of the woods, a connection and love formed, one that cannot be appreciated unless physically being within. Because everything in nature comes together to form a force that is unexplainable, the contrast of the physical self and body immersed within a large energy allows the person so experience a heightened understanding and love for their surrounding nature.

Emotion. I am angry when I first enter White Clay; there are not enough hours in the day for a single Delaware student to simply finish all work for five classes. The stress grows as the piles of paper on my desk grow. It sticks with me, this stress, a weight on my shoulders that I am not able to shake off for the life of me. It weighs me down and my temples and eyelids start to numb with the headache created from the memorization of poems by the late Wordsworth and Byron. But yet again, I come back to this time when I first enter the life of the forest. How many people come here to cleanse, to pour out their emotions and stresses into the woods, so they can be lightened with the release of their anxiety or sadness? My guess would be many. We use nature as an emotional escape, something that can hold our deepest feelings either bad or good. There is a layer of emotion at the bottom of the forest floor that is soaked up by the roots of the trees and let out to the sky through the breathing of the leaves. We find comfort in our emotional connection to our land, something that cannot be experienced or properly carried out with the absence of love for it. This is the beneficial contrast of our closed in sorrows with the openness of the landscape.

Spirit. What is a spirit or a soul? I would say it is something invisible and immortal that lives inside us, something that never dies when we do, something that has a force affecting other forces around us. But does a spirit have to have a single kind of host or hosts? After being within woods, or a forest, or land, I would say no. I would say that the trees, plants, and all living things surrounding me in this land have a cumulatively combined force that forms into its own type of spirit. White clay, just like I, has a spirit. It provides an invisible energy that I feel when engrossed within it. A sublime connection between the invisible life-force of human and nature that allows an individual to appreciate what surrounds them, without being able to explain why, because of its essence of being unexplainable or even not understandable. The trees; physical. Us as humans; physical. Both completely different aspects when compared to the non-physical, spiritual connection formed when in the presence of one another. Yet, a force so powerful that it is able to bring us together in supernatural harmony.

Greater beauty from such divergent parts. “The beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other” Kimmerer says. The reciprocity of each to allow a balance that is to be appreciated and create a preeminent value. The beauty in the contrast.


On the Susquehanna, by Olivia Linehan

The trip down the Susquehanna was the first time I ever really processed and understood what eddylines meant. The dictionary definition states it is the outline of an eddy, an eddy being: a circular movement of water, counter to a main current, causing a small whirlpool. It was very interesting to me to see the eddylines of a great river like the Susquehanna. To not only see, but also experience. I realized on the Susquehanna how powerful the eddylines were. Deceivingly weak looking, I learned little eddylines that you would think can only affect a leaf, really can drag a whole canoe off route. 1


Coming from Robin Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass, she says: “Native scholar Greg Cajete has written that in indigenous ways of knowing, we understand a thing only when we understand it with all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion, and spirit. I came to understand quite sharply when I began my training as a scientist that science privileges only one, possibly two, of those ways of knowing: mind and body. As a young person wanting to know everything about plants, I did not question this. But it is a whole human being who finds the beautiful path.”  After not only hearing about, but experiencing the eddy’s of the Susquehanna, I can only agree with this statement. Although my experience was with a river and not plants, I felt as though this quote was accurate. Prior to our canoe trip I understood what an eddy was with my mind only. And to be honest, I associated eddylines more with our class blog than with any river at all.


However, after canoeing (attempting to canoe) through the Susquehanna’s eddy’s I believe I gained new understanding of eddylines. While traveling over the eddy’s I understood the sheer power of the river, even if the ripple looked so small. My understanding was amplified when I realized even with all my strength I could not move my canoe through the eddy. Here my body’s understanding of both eddylines and the river itself was formed. It was through the eddy’s that I felt true emotion towards the river. The sheer power of the river, combined with the gentle beauty moved me. It was something I couldn’t have actually experienced just from looking at the river, but instead I could only gain these feelings from being on the river. I’m not quite sure how I gained this emotional connection to the river, but it just seemed to be there once the canoe trip was finished. I noticed when I was met with multiple “You were canoeing all day? That must have been brutal” and rather than agreeing I was only thinking about what an amazing time it was for me to reconnect to nature. The river became an object of beauty to me.


The only understanding I lacked in gaining was a spiritual connection. Although I have often struggled with spiritual connections. For example, in yoga it is always challenging for me to completely relax and spiritually connect to the practices. I realize this is a flaw of mine and can only hope to try and improve my abilities for spiritual connection in the future, and I can only hope that I can enhance this learning process through nature.

Home Sweet Chickens, by Hannah Esham

This weekend, I visited a different PLACE than usual, because I went home. Though I missed seeing my PLACE this week, this new, temporary, fill-in PLACE proved to be very relevant to the movie, “Poisoned Waters,” that we watched in class. I live on a 10-acres, in Sussex County, and my house is surrounded by fields and chicken houses. As I sat in my backyard, drinking a sweet tea made by my even sweeter Mommom, I watched as my neighbor, Fred West, harvested the last of the corn in the field behind my house. The loud roar of the combine, and unbelievable amount of dust that followed behind it, seemingly enveloping the entire combine, was majestic and intimidating all at once. This sparked my memories of stories my Mommom has told me about her childhood. She lived on a farm, until she married my Poppop, then she moved a whole 3 miles away, “into town,” but she vividly remembers hand harvesting corn, or using a small man-powered harvester that still required work. While, I know farming still requires work, the air-conditioned cab of the combine, I watch in front of me makes it clear, the advances of modernity have brought to farming. For the first time, I think about the fact that this “farming,” I’m witnessing, isn’t technically for human consumption. Fred isn’t about to go eat the million ears of corn he just harvested, but it is instead, to be used in processed foods, in which Food Fight describes as the main component of “The American diet.”

When I look to my right, away from Fred’s field, I see Hayward West’s chicken houses. Though I knew that Hayward doesn’t actually own the chickens, I never actually read the sign in his front yard, that reads that “This farm grows from Perdue.” Prior to viewing the film in class, I didn’t fully realize, just how big the chicken business is, or how detrimental it is on the environment. My side yard, has a big drainage ditch, maybe the length of two football fields away from the chicken houses. My yard, is a prime example of what was discussed in “Poisoned Waters.” After a heavy rain, the field runs off into the ditch, along with the loads of manure that are both on the fields surrounding my yard, and inside the chicken houses.

The film discussed that it is the “nutrients that are killing the bay.” Just a side story, that I’m reminded of is last spring. Instead of planting corn in the field in front of my house, Fred planted “rapeseed,” a plant that is beautiful. I don’t know the purpose of rapeseed, or what it is used for, but the yellow flowers were absolutely gorgeous. My parents and I loved looking at it, and even took pictures in the field. One day when we were outside, a scientist studying the crop spoke to us, while we were in our front yard. My dad asked what he was doing, and the scientist responded “I’m checking the nitrogen levels of the field.” Since, my dad had a confused look on his face, the scientist, decided to clarify, “Nitrogen, is just the technical term for chicken shit, man.”

I enjoyed the scenery change of being home. I saw farming, chicken houses, and a lot of birds on my Mom’s bird feeders. My Mom has an obsession with birds, and feed them all of the time, even going so far as spreading different types of bird seeds on the ground, for the birds that doesn’t use feeders. I was lucky enough to see a Blue Jay, blackbird, and dove. I didn’t want to leave home, but I do enjoy Newark and White Clay Creek, and I’m sure my PLACE will possess a great change, when I go back next week, since fall is sneaking up closer and closer.