Stewardship, by Hayley Rost

As I made my way down the manicured path into the forests of Pemberton park thoughts from the discussions and readings of this past week floated to the surface of my mind. After a week of learning that what I thought I knew of my life, and the world as a whole, just scratches the surface of what truly is these thoughts have come to permeate my consciousness almost every waking hour. I had intended this walk to be a time to organize these thoughts and anchor myself in the writings of Robin Wall Kimmerer but I found myself distracted by the twining of English ivy climbing and choking the trees and the plastic bottle floating among layers of algae on the rivers surface caused by runoff from the farm down the road. Pemberton is a place that I come frequently, with friends or with a dog, but on this day I decided to come alone with a notebook, a water bottle and a copy of Braiding Sweetgrass.

I made my way to my favorite place in the park, a clearing lined with trees, that provide many suitable anchors for hammocks on one side and bee boxes on the other, I began to think of all the places like this one I have known. I have tread down many trails made of gravel, wood, grass and the like, but there have been few instances that I have made my own way and followed no path through undisturbed nature. I settled down on the edge of the tree line, inspired by Kimmerer’s own experience as she found an “elder, [her] Sitka Spruce grandmother” under whom she settled “right between her roots” (206). And a while later, after finishing the readings from Braiding Sweetgrass, I couldn’t help but consider my own life in terms of the lessons the author was teaching her students about the relationship between humans and the plants and earth that surround us.

Going to Quaker school much of what we did was anchored in, what I have come to understand, as not only a religion but an ethos and way of life. One of the six central Quaker values, or the second ‘S’ in the Quaker S-P-I-C-E-S, is stewardship, taking care of what we have been given for the community and for future generations. I see many similarities between the idea of incorporating these values into not just one part of life, but in everything aspect of life as Kimmerer shares in her novel.
I began to reflect on my own spiritual roots in connection with the world above, around and below me. I considered the ways in which this exercise of going into nature, which for many people is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience and decided to return to a practice that I haven’t experienced in a long time which often makes me uncomfortable; Meeting for Worship (Meeting). Inner stillness and reflection, or even silence, are no longer a part of my routine anymore, but for thirteen years silence with the purpose of finding the light within me was a central part of life. Silence and stillness are not common anymore with the invention of technologies that allows us to be in constant contact and have constant interaction.

As I began my silent worship, I felt the discomfort in doing nothing but spend time considering creep over me. I decided this too will be a goal of this class for me as well as returning to nature; I will observe the world that surrounds me and as I return to a familiarity with nature I will return to a familiarity with silence. It is tradition that for each Meeting a guiding query is selected to contemplate, so as I considered my own inner light I also reflected on the Native American philosophy that every creature carries a gift and with it the responsibility of using their gift. The silence left me with the thought that just as there is a link between the Quaker idea of the light within and the Native American belief of a unique gift and the responsibility of carrying that gift; there is interconnectedness between every living thing on this earth not only physically but spiritually whether we realize it or not.

Woodland Beach, by Drew Rackie

Over this past week I thought about Woodland Beach more than I had in the previous couple years. Last week sitting on the on the beach made me think about the identity of this town, and how that identity is so dependent on having a respecting relationship with the environment surrounding the town. I wondered how long this community had been here, and what knowledge of the waters of the rivers and wetlands had been passed down through generations. Curiously, I looked up the history of Woodland Beach—only to read that Woodland Beach was not always a small fishing community! In the late 1800’s Woodland Beach was a popular resort town, providing rest and entertainment for passengers of the Delaware Bay Railroad (which does not exist anymore), and steamboats making trips up the Delaware River. The old fishing pier I have rested on many times was once actually a two story pavilion where vacationers and travelers would dance to live bands over the dark waters of the Delaware. The old abandoned building I drive by whenever I visit the beach was once a thriving hotel—complete with a full restaurant and bar. Reports show there was even once a roller coaster that ran over the river. The first major catastrophe to Woodland Beach happened in 1878 when a hurricane flooded the town. A massive tidal wave reportedly leveled the town, but the community and investors of the town saw this as an opportunity to modernize Woodland Beach’s infrastructure and build new amenities for the resort guests to enjoy. Woodland Beach thrived once more as one of the top resort towns in Delaware—until it was demolished by a hurricane yet again in 1914. Reports show that the damage from the hurricane of 1914 was magnitudes greater than the damage caused by the hurricane of 1878. Every single building and house in town was either completely destroyed or badly damaged. The loss of everything in town combined with the costs of rebuilding the attractions for vacationers was too much, so the investors left.

I was very surprised to learn that this small community has only been here for about a hundred years at most. Sitting on the pier now I try to imagine what this town was like at its peak. I cannot imagine the physical and emotional toll it took on residents to have to rebuild your town. To be honest, I am not entirely sure if the residents of Woodland Beach at the time just left town in the wake of the destruction of their homes, or if they took it upon themselves to try and rebuild. Either way it is not exactly an ideal situation. According to Michael Mann in The Madhouse Effect, all coastal areas will be threatened by rising sea levels and other natural disasters that will happen at increasing frequencies due to climate change. Much in the same way that I feel the scars of Woodland Beach, I think about the countless towns and communities around the world that will also feel the unforgiving wrath of nature. The difference I see here is that these displaced communities suffering the consequences of climate change, are really suffering the consequences of a small group of people trying to hold on to their wealth. According to Michael Mann heads of the oil, automotive, and chemical industries (all industries that would lose profit from climate change mitigation policy) have spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against climate change mitigation policy, and also sowing seeds of doubt in the public. The will of nature is stronger than our own, and to these industries displaced communities are seen as nothing more than a sacrifice for their profit.

A Foreign Land, by Sarah Jani

As I walked towards the green section on Google maps, I wasn’t really sure of where I was going. There were no clear directions on how to get to the forest in Newark, except for following the blue dot on my screen that indicated my location relative to the woods, and I have to admit that I am not the best navigator. It was a moderately sunny day, so I didn’t mind the uncertainty that delayed the time of reaching my destination. The fresh air was a treat after spending most of my days locked away in a white-bricked dorm room. With every house I passed along the road, I wondered if I would ever reach this forest that may or may not have existed according to my phone. Finally, I arrived at a small paved road called James F. Hall Trail that led directly into a forested walkway, and my journey into the woods began.


Walking alongside the trees, I could hear the crunch of leaves with every step I took. Occasionally, one of those footsteps would alert a nearby woodland creature that I was close, and I could hear the frantic, flapping wings of a bird or the scared, scurrying feet of a squirrel who was desperately trying to escape from my company. However, if they knew me and where I came from, they would know that I was incapable of harming them. From a young age, I was in the business of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife from storms, construction, and pet cats. This was a trade that I learned from my father who was a passionate nature lover and insisted that our house was near a forested area. Throughout grade school, there was always something happening within the Jani household relating to nature rescues whether that was the infant squirrels that were being raised in our foyer or the crow with a broken wing that was accidentally set loose in the kitchen. These were experiences that helped me to develop an intimate relationship with the wildlife and the woods behind my house.


I was familiar with the animals and landscape in my backyard, but roaming around in Delaware’s forest was different. It was like I was a stranger barging into someone else’s world. Although the area was similar, I did not personally know the paths, trees, birds, squirrels, or dirt here. I didn’t grow up near the Brandywine river like the Lenape or Ruthann Purchase. I wasn’t indigenous. In fact, according to my blood, I didn’t even belong to this continent. I recalled Robin Wall Kimmerer’s statement in Braiding Sweetgrass, “I’m trying to imagine what it would be like going through life not knowing the names of the plants and animals around you…I think it would be a little scary and disorienting‒like being lost in a foreign city where you can’t read the street signs”(208). Although I was not overcome by fear of the forest due to my past experiences in PA, I felt a little on edge being alone in unfamiliar woods where no one knew me. If I got horribly lost, I would not have the knowledge to survive for long. The birds hopping around in the brush made rustling noises, and I realized that maybe I wasn’t as alone as I thought.


I spent the next half an hour trying to stop and recognize my surroundings with intention. However, the only animal that I could name with any certainty was the Eastern Gray Squirrel with its frisky tail and beady, black eyes and the Japanese Honeysuckle, which wasn’t even native to the area. After going off-trail and pushing over some rotted wood to expose the moist soil underneath, I also found an Earthworm. It’s funny because I wouldn’t have given that slimy piece of string a second thought if I had not seen Dirt! The Movie. The little guy was hard at work recycling organic matter, so I gently put the mossy log back in place.


On my way back, I began to wonder if these woods would still be here in one-hundred years or if they would fall victim to commercial deforestation as well, wiping out the wildlife with it. If the animals could name and identify humans in a common language, I am sure that they would have called us something along the lines of “executioner” or even, quite literally, “homewrecker”. No wonder the animals flee when humans try to approach them; I would run, too. It’s sad to think that taking away the forest from woodland creatures would be the equivalent of dropping a human into the isolated wilderness. The animals would be forced to live in urban sprawl. They would be alone and scared in an unfamiliar world without being able to name their surroundings, and they can’t read street signs either.