Last week, I participated in a UDaB program with the Allegheny Mountain Institute in the mountains of western Virginia. The organization runs a fellowship program where fellows work on the mountain farm for six months and learn about sustainable growing, herbalism, and a variety of other skills that come across as outdated to many. They then move on to work on other projects that AMI runs, such as their farm located outside of a hospital where fresh food is put in to the hospital cafeteria and used like a prescription would be through their Food “Farmacy” program for people with type two diabetes and similar diet related conditions. Before working on the hospital farm, we stayed in the mountain lodge at their mountain farm and helped prepare for the spring season. Highland County, Virginia was the most rural place I had ever been. I lost cell service past Harrisonburg and panicked until I realized how dramatic I was being. The town closest to the lodge had three streets, was fifty minutes from a grocery store, ninety minutes from a hospital, and was excited about the dollar general that had just opened because it meant more accessibility to food and other necessities. We reached the farm after a stressful drive up mountain roads that many of us didn’t stomach well. The stars here were the clearest I have ever seen, and I stood in awe, in snowy weather, for thirty minutes, unable to glance away. Food was a huge part of our time there. We had complete breakfast, lunch, and dinners each day- not the norm compared to my typical college diet. Everything besides a few staple items like rice and beans came from the farm or had been preserved in to salsas or pickles or sauerkrauts from the last year. We gathered potatoes and beets from the root cellar, and eggs from their fifteen chickens, and ate no meat or processed food. The only plastic I could find in the lodge was a pack of toilet paper and was told that AMI has a separate line in their budget for mason jars, because glass is completely decomposable, so everything is stored in them. Never have I felt my carbon footprint grow smaller than it was this week. Every day, the thought of coming back to campus and seeing the amount of unnecessary waste my roommates and I, and the campus have been creating felt like a big, growing, gray cloud hovering over me. I realized that a lifestyle exactly like this one would not be possible at this point in my college life, but paired with the lessons from this class, I gained greater awareness of the value of local food and the footprint I create in my daily life being five minutes from a grocery store full of plastic and food shipped from across the country. Coming back to class and visiting the farm on campus the day after returning from my UDaB trip fueled a frustration in me and added even further meaning to my past week. In Food Fight, Strella, of the farm in Baltimore City, says, “teaching people to think as intimately as they can about the relationship between their bodies, their food, and their soil- the prospect of giant agribusiness seems entirely counterintuitive.” The lack of access to the food grown a mile away from the dining halls at the University seems counterintuitive when thinking from this viewpoint, especially when comparing it to a week where the food I ate and the place I lived was entirely interconnected. The idea of large businesses, including the University, prioritizing convenience and profit over quality and physical and environmental health of students and the area around us is utterly clear in this example. In class, a comment was made about using this class to turn students against the harmful policies of the university, and it’s working. I had never questioned why I have never seen any information about the organic food grown here and available for sale, or why students weren’t eating it, even though I was aware that this food is being grown. Now that I see the issues at hand, the big dragon that is the University seems even bigger. I want to see and create change here but can’t help but feel intimidated by what would be necessary to do so. However, an informed group of students that grows in to a bigger and bigger group of informed students seems like the best option.
Looking back on my first few journals, I read my descriptions of brown shriveled leaves and frost that coated the grass around my mandala. I pictured myself hiking down creek road in a hat and gloves to brace the air that hadn’t yet received a breath of spring. Today, the air was warm and welcomed me as I felt the sun on my skin, wearing a t-shirt and shorts. The trees were full and bright as the sun shined through their leaves and the water had warmed since I had felt it last.
I was greeted by a goose floating at the top of the waterfall. Over and over, it would let itself drift to the edge of the water, just before the line where the ground dropped off, and then paddle against the current up the river again. While being entertained by the goose’s comedic behavior, I noticed the Great Blue Heron that stood at the bottom of the water fall on the far side from where I stood. I have seen this heron here before, but each time, it has flown away after a few minutes. This time, it stood with a careful focus on the water, eager to catch its lunch. After watching it for about ten minutes, he stabbed at the water with his beak but came up short. He shook out his feathers and moved a couple feet closer to the center of the waterfall where the water was moving quicker. Some fisherman waded their way in to the water beyond the waterfall and cast their lines, unable to break the heron’s focus on the water rushing below it. After a few more minutes, I watched the heron take a quick jab in to the water again, this time with its beak and then with its entire stomach. After a few seconds of what seemed like a violent underwater interaction, the heron lifted itself out of the water with a fish that looked to be about six inches long in its mouth. It swallowed the fish and I watched the heron’s throat expand as the it descended to its stomach. After a congratulatory cheer from me and a middle finger from the fisher who had lost his hook and hadn’t been able to make a catch yet, the heron receded back to its original spot on the edge of the waterfall and stayed perched.
Lao Tzu in Tao Te Ching says, “Grabbing and stuffing, there is no end to it. Sharpen a blade too much and its edge will soon be lost. Fill a house with gold and jade and no one can protect it. Puff yourself with honor and pride and no one can save you from a fall. Complete the task at hand. Be selfless in your actions. This is the way of heaven. This is the way to heaven.” The heron caught its meal at the waterfall today, I made mine in my kitchen, and the fisherman were attempting to find one in White Clay as well. The difference between the heron and humans, however, is that the heron doesn’t take more lunch than it needs. As humans, we have been taught that it is better to have more. It is a sign of power, importance, and wealth. In a society controlled by private ownership and profit, the goal is to have more than the next person, even if more is not required to live a better life. The heron, while wanting to outcompete any other heron for this fish it caught today, still only took just as much as he needed. It has no need to carry extra weight or spend extra time fighting for resources that are beyond its basic needs. It completes the task at hand and moves on. I think that filling the gap between humanity’s grabbing and stuffing and nature’s simple living may decrease the negative impacts that humans have on the earth. “Sharpen a blade too much and its edge will soon be lost,” can be equated to humans on earth in general. Use resources to their extent, and in ways that are unnecessary and exploitative, and there will no resources left in the end.
A great migration,
vibrant orange wings flapping,
like tiny turbines.
Losing energy with time,
searching for food they won’t find.
President Trump proposed significant budget cuts to the government agencies responsible for overseeing the nation’s energy and environmental policies, including a 31 percent reduction in spending at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The New World
Land of the greed,
Home of the endangered.
Regulate our wallets,
leave the water unchecked,
guzzle fresh fertilizer and digest pest poison.
Floods and fire swallowing us,
meaningless because it still snows.
Starve the pests and their predators,
by tearing and mowing and spraying,
a perfect trim to keep the life away.
Grow crops and grow cows to feed the world,
throw it away before it can.
Destroy the soil to feed the world,
and move on when it is ruined.
Drive or fly whenever you please,
the land of the free implores you to.
A supreme quality of life on the surface,
gives way to a crumbling world.
I am laid bare,
previously laden with life.
Men would delve in my depths,
extracting their prize with great risk.
They won’t endanger themselves any longer,
deciding to destroy me instead.
Lumbering metal monsters sent with explosives,
to blow away my livelihood.
My peak taken from me,
my greenery blown to dust.
Homes stolen from wildlife,
and from the men themselves.
Trapped in their poverty,
as the machines steal occupations.
Avalanche of dust to descend on those below,
breathe it deeply and suffocate,
Lungs rot to black,
just as my precipice does.
The Bush administration’s repeal a Clinton-era policy that banned road construction in nearly 60 million acres of wilderness will likely increase the ‘human footprint’ on pristine wildlands in the United States.
A legislative minefield,
carefully planted by those with no care,
for the lush land that was stolen.
Purposing to advance dollars,
proposing to dismiss life.
The sage grouse knows no danger,
as one side pleads: to give the bird a chance,
and the other scoffs at protection of that which isn’t human.
Calls for the repeal of the Roadless Rule,
which stood as guardian to wilderness,
so the most intelligent of animals,
can exploit, extract, and destroy.
They undermine clean water,
to be more favorable to commercial interests.
There can be no interests,
in a world devoid of life.