Grief and Memory, by Mark Switliski

My mind has been fixated on death and grief since finishing The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. I’ve particularly been strung up by one quote from the story Of Angleworms and Others that a classmate chose during an in class discussion activity, “They realized that from now on life would be quite different, but they didn’t know how, that is, in what way” (139). The quote is part of a narration by Sophia, a young girl living on the coast of Finland with her father and grandmother, about the thought process of a worm that has just been severed in half. The bisection is the result of a traumatic event, which, in Sophia’s case, is the recent death of her mother. With regards to death, the bisection is a creation of two identities, one identity that still exists with the person who has passed, and one that will continue living without them. During the beginning of the process of grieving a death, especially for the first time in one’s life, it is not clear how these two identities will coexist.

This quote, let alone the entire book, resonated with me so deeply because I also lost my mother as a child. I realized from then on life would be quite different, but I didn’t know how, that is, in what way. It’s such a simple statement, but when I read it, it takes me back to that day. I had, without a doubt, been bisected. It’s been just about eleven years since my mom passed, meaning that I’ve lived roughly half of my life without her. I wish I could say I’ve made some sense as to how these identities coexist, but it doesn’t seem like they’re connected by much more than fleeting memories.

Memories and grief have an undeniable relationship. Once we’ve experienced loss, such as a death, all we have are memories, both fond and painful. They shape our grief. The truly terrifying realization of grief is that we might forget these memories. And then what? Perhaps when that happens, our identity that exists with the dead begins to die itself. It nearly brings me to tears thinking about how little I can remember of me and my mother’s time together. What still pains me the most is that I hardly had the chance to get to know her. Pictures and vicarious memories are comforting mementos, but nothing could replace creating new memories together.

As I’m sure many others would agree, death puts many things into perspective. Some that come to mind are the fragility of life, the importance of reflection and the imperceptibility of time until it is too late. My mom’s birthday is, coincidentally, on Earth Day and now that our class is reading The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles, I can’t help but relate these perspectives to the impending grief that the impacts of climate change have caused and will continue to cause for humanity. Those that deny climate change may only feel this grief when their great grandchildren ask if the Great Barrier Reef was real. All those children will have to experience this planet’s beauty are pictures and vicarious memories. They will have been born into a bisected world.

Quarantine, Week Three, by Liz DeSonier

The sky is gray. The sunlight struggles to come out, muted by the clouds. The air is cold. It is unwelcoming outside. Nonetheless, my dad, brother and I ventured out into our neighborhood to stretch our legs and rest our strained eyes. During our walk today, we discussed the changes society will face as a result of this pandemic. How people are realizing what things are essential, and which jobs are necessary for them to be done in person. We entertained the possible outcome of this becoming a yearly event. How it would become like Thanksgiving, in the sense that certain relatives or family friends wouldn’t be invited back to spend quarantine together because of previous years incidents. How our societal structure would change to 3 months out of the year being spent inside our homes, distancing ourselves from each other and the new strain of virus. We’d have storages of food and toiletries stocked up, so we can live comfortably like mole people. At this point it had started to drizzle. This being the only time we’d leave the house today, we marched on. No obstacle is great enough to keep us from our daily government sanctioned walk.

I keep thinking about how this time is going to be written about in history books. It’ll talk about how COVID-19 started and then slowly spread to the U.S. It’ll say how people coped at home, how many people were forced to collect unemployment and the new trends that came out of this, like wearing face masks and an increased interest in public health. Then it’ll say “after [the time period this lasts] this many people were infected and this many died.” Like all history, these months will be easily summed up in a few sentences, our loved ones remembered as mere statistics. They’ll write books about this, I hope someone makes a musical.

The surge of debauchery that will occur post-quarantine is interesting to think about. If people haven’t learned anything by then they’ll go crazy, drunkenly urinating in the streets, climbing buildings and poles, and singing. The more cautious people will slowly emerge out, gradually returning to their previous schedule, still wary of the people around them. They’ll cautiously maintain a distance around them and refuse to shake hands with people. Societies where it’s customary will have to come up with a new noncontact greeting. A smile with a wave doesn’t seem like an appropriate way to solidify a deal. European countries that kiss upon introduction, can forget about that. The Asian custom of bowing, they got it right, no physical contact, but still shows respect and is disarming. We should go back to medieval times. Only curtsy and bow from now on, but because younger generations have embraced free gender expression anyone can do either or both if they want.

In Braiding Sweetgrass Kimmerer talks about how grief can be handled with anger and self destruction or “comforted by creation” (265-266). I think this explains people’s self destructive behavior in our situation. The impact of a global pandemic is scary. Some people were barely getting by in our structured society, now that it has crumbled, they must find new ways to cope. It’s common to use small inconsequential things as a distraction from bigger significant problems. Now that everyone is stuck inside, many without jobs or any purpose for their day, people are having to face the things they have been avoiding. As Kimmerer suggests this can be done through creation, any task no matter how small, provides the sense of purpose essential for people’s sanity.

On the other hand, some people can’t or haven’t realized the gravity of this situation and won’t change their behavior after this. If they’re selfish, they are going to continue to live life how they want to; with complete disregard for how their behavior affects others. Pretending this isn’t a big deal or going to change anything is a very unhealthy coping mechanism. Most people don’t care about things until they’re directly affected, someone they know, and care about must get sick before they can fathom the severity of this virus. It’s only a matter of time until that happens. The harsh reality is people are getting infected, healthy and sick, young and old. Some are dying, but even those who survive will still have to endure the horror of not being able to breath and the pain from the pressure building in their sinuses. There is no way to make people care about things.

A Constructed Utopia During a Pandemic, by Gillian Williams

Between 2 and 3 pm each day, it seems like all my neighbors are out of their homes and walking around the neighborhood. Exchanging soft smiles and small waves, or maybe even a quick, “Hi, how are you?” I make sure to give them enough space, typically crossing to the other side of the street, as we pass each other. We occasionally exchange small talk across the road. About how their grandchildren’s high school and college graduations have been canceled, their river cruise on the Rhine was postponed, their granddaughter will never get to wear her prom dress, how they came back from Florida just in time. Knowing that I’m the youngest person in the neighborhood and possibly a carrier, I don’t want to be responsible for a potentially fatal encounter. None of them expressed concern about contracting the virus.

My parents moved to this neighborhood when I was going into my sophomore year of college. They wanted a smaller house and quieter lifestyle so they decided a 55 and over community would suit their needs. Every house has the same mailbox, the same light post in the front lawn, the same vinyl siding in different shades of grey or beige, and some iteration of similar exterior design. It’s the kind of neighborhood that has blocks of granite lining the black asphalt road instead of the typical cement curb. Every Wednesday, the landscaping crew descends on the neighborhood, tending to the uniformity of the lawns, shrubs, and flowerbeds at every home. Despite the hard work these men do to keep their neighborhood immaculate, some of my neighbors never extend the pageantry of a soft smile or small waves. The neighborhood is a constructed utopia, oozing with elitism and exclusivity. Most of my neighbors are retired, white, in heterosexual relationships, and, although it might not appear so from the size of the homes, wealthy. Every day, I feel reminded that I don’t belong.

At this time of year, the ornamental pear and cherry trees light up the neighborhood with white and pink blossoms. Baring no fruit, these trees seem to serve no purpose other than beauty. On my almost daily walks around the looping streets, I encounter a surprising amount of life, popping up all over the place. The eastern cottontail rabbit scurries across the path, nestling under the vibrant forsythia in full bloom. Gray squirrels feverishly dig to uncover nuts they hid in the fall for this very moment. There’s a constant chatter of small birds, robins, cardinals, blue jays, and the occasional goldfinches, swooping above the trees, perching in the branches or on the ridge of roofs. They fill the air with noisy, yet joyful song. I tilt my head higher to get a view of what looks like a heron, with long, thin, outreached legs trailing behind slow but steady wings.

This area was once a dense forest, a refuge for wildlife surrounded my small farm fields and housing developments. In the middle of the forest lies a small but lively pond full of frogs, ducks, and other life below the surface. Activists tried to block the destruction of this oasis but their efforts were crippled by the strength of one of the largest home construction companies in the country. The entire area was cleared except a thin ring of trees around the pond. Now, there is a walking path circling the pond and signs around the stormwater retention areas stating “protected land for wildlife”, almost mockingly.

The wildlife and my neighbors now must cohabitate. They complain of geese and various species of ducks wandering through their backyard or defecating on the sidewalk. After a contractor broke a berm, releasing pond water that swallowed up the remaining rim of trees separating the ponds from their newly constructed homes, they complained about that too. They complain about problems with water seeping into their basements even on days without rain. They have to screen in their porches because of the gnats and mosquitos that congregate near the water. They complain of the frogs croaking from dusk until dawn, so loud it sounds like a siren. Maybe, a siren calling for help.

I don’t belong here. None of us belong here. This is not our land. What belongs here is the lush forest and lively ecosystem that once was. That is now forced out of their homes so we could live in ours.

Where the Pavement Ends, by Hayley Rost


There is a place at the edge of the pavement where the lawn meets soil and weeds and roots. Where the undergrowth is allowed to grow freely within the confines of a row of natural forest. Back in the growth where the garter snakes and leaves rustle are the twigs and branches and bark and phloem of the history of our Christmases in this house. Each year we add a new dried tree and each year the tree below is closer to returning to soil. It’s the soil that really marks how many Christmases and seasons have passed and seasons before we were here. Before us there were only grasses and animals in this place. Before us there were ticks and mud and wilderness. In some ways we have become a part of the soil in this place. Soil that has been here recording the history of this place long before we were here and will be here long after we are gone. The native people who once inhabited this land and lived on the soil that is now made up of Christmas trees were driven from this place so the land could be sold and farms farmed and houses built. I wonder if they ever considered what this soil would bear witness to in the years to come.




I’ve recently returned to the house I was raised for the first time in more than a few years and I feel like I’m a square peg trying to fit into a triangular hole; some of the shape that used to fit is there but there’s just one extra corner that wasn’t there before. It’s a strange feeling to try to fall into habits that you knew once existed but somehow no longer can. In some ways nothing here has changed and in some ways everything has changed.

Stars have been a guiding force for humanity for thousands of years playing a part in religious ceremonies, measuring time and steering those in need of guidance. There are hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way alone and hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe with just as many stars as our own. Even though the tools we humans use to navigate and measure time have changed, the stars are still present in our culture. In many places now it isn’t possible to see the stars at night because of light pollution from the countless bulbs used in streetlights, buildings and homes. Many times now I can’t see them but when I’m here at home on clear nights they’re always there.

Five years ago the night before I left for college I waited until dark, wrapped a quilt around my shoulders and walked barefoot across the quarter mile of golf course greens and roughs until I reached the hill I rode sleds down every snow day of my childhood. The Perseid meteor shower had begun earlier that night and I watched as each light traveled across the sky passing across the big dipper. Whenever I look at the night sky I center myself around the big dipper. It’s comforting to know it’s always there. the ancient Greeks the Big Dipper was the body of the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Zeus fell in love with a woman Callisto and after she bore their child, Zeus’ wife Hera turned Callisto into a bear. Callisto roamed the earth until many years later she came upon her son Arcas who rose a spear against her. Zeus intervened and sent both into the sky where Callisto became Ursa Major and Arcas became Ursa Minor. It was strange, that night, to see lights drifting across a sky that usually so still. For something so beautiful the vastness of it scared me; to think that by the time we see the light of the stars they are already dead.

Now, five years later I make the same trek across the landscape with the same quilt wrapped around me and the same sensation of wet grass between my toes. The path to the hill is still the same. The Big Dipper is still there. It seems only I’ve changed.



The image I just can’t seem to get out of my head is the old oak that sheds layer after layer as the saw cuts through to spew chips of wood that have witnessed the dust bowl, the establishment if a national forest and the decimation of the prairie chicken. In the past few weeks I’ve been considering the old oak trees in my life. Over the years my grandparents have played a central role in my life, they are the pillars on which me and my family stand. I have a stereotypical big Jewish family with dozens of second-cousins, aunts and uncles. My grandfather was the youngest of four brothers who each had wives and children and now grandchildren and great grandchildren. I used to mind how big our family’s Seder was each spring, the one meal the entire year where dozens of relatives I hardly knew were brought together to catch up on a years-worth of family news and gossip. As I’ve grown older the Seder has grown as more grandchildren and great-grandchildren are born but as the number of babies and toddlers has grown the number of grandparents and great-grandparents has shrunk. When I was among the youngest family members the four brothers, my grandfather and his three older brothers, sat at the head of the table with their wives. This year only two brothers and one wife would have sat in their places at the head of the table.

The onset of this pandemic has changed the way people think, act and walk through the world. I walk down the streets of my neighborhood and see one neighbor has started chopping wood and has piles of split trunks in their front yard. The grasses in the yards are growing taller and uneven in places and broadleaf plantains are sitting squat and comfortable. I wonder if we kept living like this whether the native plants would return; whether they would overgrow the pavement and come up from between the patio stones. I wonder if the green would grow and grow until the neighborhood was covered like an ancient ruin. I talk to my grandparents on the phone every day now, something that is new to my routine. It eases us all in some ways but makes me want to hold them now more than ever. My grandmother who has slowly been disappearing into a fog the last few years has emerged with more alertness and memory than I’ve seen in years. A woman who grew up in the aftermath of the great depression in a poor family this crisis has flipped the on switch in her. At this chance I see the saw chips away at the years and I feel like I’m reaching my hands out to catch the splinters before they can slip away. Her memories of raising a family, of raising me when both my parents worked full time demanding jobs, her openness when her family grew in untraditional ways at a time when society demanded otherwise. When I consider my actions now I think about those too young to have memories yet of their grandparents and I make a choice so that they can have their own oak trees and the opportunity to hear stories from each ring and splinter firsthand.

Corona and Carbon, by Gabby Krupa

Within the past couple of weeks our nation has encountered a deeply concerning threat- something unlike anything we have ever experienced before in modern times. Lives are on the line. Our friends and loved ones are at risk. The threat began as something not really impacting our everyday lives however, within a short period of time, the situation escalated and now is affecting nearly everyone across the planet.


The coronavirus (COVID-19) has evolved into a global pandemic. Impending fear has penetrated the lives of many. The global response has resulted in lockdowns, forcing people to self-quarantine, “stay-at-home orders,” and travel bans urging people to drastically alter their everyday lives in order to save themselves and others. We are constantly working to pull all of our resources together and immediately change our behaviors.


Many argue that we did not react to the situation quickly enough. They believe that we should have taken drastic measures earlier on which could have saved lives. Of course, there is no sure way to know if this is true, but the fact is that global threats need universal responses.


For the first time in a long time people were asked to change their individual lifestyles. They were asked to stay home, to stop driving, flying, and using other machinery which produces toxins. In just a few weeks alone we have seen notable results. There are less carbon dioxide emissions, better air quality, and potentially positive responses from wildlife.

In China, the standstill for a couple weeks alone has shown significant drops in nitrogen dioxide, an effect of people being quarantined. NASA has made comparisons of nitrogen dioxide levels of this year and years prior. Around this time every year, factories shut down and people stay home from work in order to celebrate the Lunar New Year. However, the levels still have something distinctive to show. An air-quality researcher at NASA, Fei Liu, states “this year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer.”


China is not the only country whose environment is improving due to the sudden lack of human interaction in the environment. Satellite images also show that Italy and South Korea are producing less air pollution due to the circumstances. Similar to China, the regions are showing lower levels of nitrogen dioxide which is caused by lack of vehicle and industrial use.


In addition, beaches across the country are being shut down, preventing visitors from overtaking the land which could have a beneficial impact on sea life. A Florida operations director at Ecological Associates, Niki Desjardins, states “without people on the beach at night and potentially reduced lighting from fewer people vacationing on the beach, nesting turtles will have a quiet and dark beach.” It is without a doubt that less people on the beaches will enable a greater chance of survival for turtle hatchlings.


Even though the coronavirus has shifted focus away from dealing with climate change for the time being, maybe more people will realize how their actions affect the environment. Together, we can apply the same behavioral changes to better the future of the environment. If one good thing can come of this pandemic, it’s that we can see how much human activity alone jeopardizes the air we breathe and the environments we live in.


Being from New York State, the new epicenter of the virus itself, I have never seen more people who have resorted to going on walks with their children around the neighborhood. Perhaps this virus will teach us to be more mindful of our actions and to connect with our environments in a new way.


If we take the same sense of urgency applied to combat the coronavirus and implement it to aid the reduction of climate change and fossil fuel use we can ensure a healthier environment for future generations. According to NASA, it may not be too late to avoid or limit some of the worst effects of climate change. People should be forced to change their consumption behaviors before climate threats become irreversible.


The state of our environment and climate affects us all. Like the virus, the dangers of pollution do not discriminate. Like the virus, the effects of pollution are invisible to the human eye, but remain very real in how detrimental the effects can be if significant action is not taken place soon.


The coronavirus has taught us that in order to solve global issues, we need both strong government and individual responses to see any improvement. It is clear that the government can implement radical change that can make a substantial impact on any issue. We must also act now, before it is too late.



The Uncertainty of COVID-19, by Mark Switliski

As I’m trying to write this journal, I’m finding it incredibly hard to gather my thoughts about all that has transpired in the past couple weeks. It wasn’t until recently that this pandemic truly felt real. Yesterday, March 28, 2020, I read in a news article that there have been approximately 2000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States. Only two days earlier than that, I read that the number of deaths had reached 1000. My jaw actually dropped thinking about such an exponential increase. Some worst-case scenario projections for the US death toll directly due to the virus exceed 2 million. This doesn’t even include the increased number of deaths that would otherwise be preventable if hospitals weren’t at capacity.

Earlier today on March 29, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated, “I just don’t think that we really need to make a projection when it’s such a moving target, that you could so easily be wrong”. To me, that translates to “We have no idea right now how bad this could get”. While some world leaders and governments may tote that there is a handle on the situation, so much is unknown and that’s largely because there isn’t enough time or resources to weigh out all the odds. To my fellow college students that feel invincible in this pandemic, evidence is coming out that young adults might be more vulnerable than initially believed. Just imagine how much more at risk someone might be if they’ve been unapologetically hitting their JUUL for the past year and weakening their respiratory system. These are still the early stages of the pandemic and there are too many factors for any predictions to hold substantial merit.

During a class discussion earlier in the semester, Professor Jenkins stated that the idea that any of us have control over our lives is an illusion. If you’ve ever needed proof of that statement, this pandemic is it. Nobody knew how to respond to the prospect of social isolation so when the idea that we would run out of toilet paper spread like wildfire, a shortage of toilet paper resulted. Panic buying is a prime example of people trying to gain some sense of control in a dangerous or unknown situation.

In this mess of uncertainty, there has been at least one undeniable truth: The Earth can recover if we cooperate. On a personal scale, social distancing, washing your hands and coughing into your elbow are all behavioral habits that can be translated into carrying reusable bags, eating less meat and riding a bike to work. While small changes are only part of the equation, every bit helps in the effort to save the planet. On an institutional scale, the US federal government has just passed a 2 trillion-dollar stimulus package for the economy. That proves that we have the have the financial resources to combat climate change and begin the road to healing the planet. State governments across the country have ordered all non-essential businesses to close. That proves that we have the power to make polluting industries cooperate. Even after just a short period of humanity’s retreat indoors, air quality around the world has increased dramatically. It has been estimated that this improvement in air quality will likely result in more lives saved than lost to COVID-19. Isn’t that ironic?

Unfortunately, the other truth that has come to light is that the only real motivator for substantial change seems to be fear.

On a more personal note, these last two weeks have been quite dull. I’ve actually decided to stay at my apartment in Delaware for the remainder of the semester. This is primarily to minimize the pool of people with which I come in contact but also because I’d have already gone crazy if I was home with my family for more than a week. I’m quite anxious for this online semester to begin because I’ve never been able to do schoolwork at home. Even in high school I would stay at school to finish my homework. After reading an article about how to be more productive at home, I learned that I am what is called a “segregator”, or someone that mentally categorizes spaces based on their purpose. This is uncharted territory so I’m doing my best to be optimistic about the possibilities that lie ahead. For example, I don’t have to wear pants to class anymore.