Thursday, September 27, 2007

through the lenses

On Wednesday, I called up my mom to chat about an upcoming visit this weekend, and she told me about her evening. She left work an hour early, prompted by the summer-like heat wave, and decided that she wanted to enjoy the last throes of summer while she still could. She came home and walked down to the beach near her house, walked along the beach and swam about a mile down the beach with the current helping her along. She drifted, floated and watched the sun setting. As she turned and swam back in the opposite direction, she watched a big, fat, orange harvest moon swell over the water and rise high into the sky as she swam back. The colors, and the beauty of watching both the sun set and moon rise was an absolutely spiritual experience for her, and she yearned for her camera at the time so she could have showed me how beautiful it was.

Interestingly enough, the idea of trying to capture nature or a scene - but never being able to truly do so - was the topic of my Language of Nature discussions today. The Picturesque movement that I talked about before was simply that artists tried to "frame" nature within their canvas. They tried to capture (or sometimes create) the quintessential representation of the landscape, while not truly reflecting it in its entirety. The picture to the right is from a park on the seacoast... it is a metal sculpture of a painter with a frame with an empty middle, and standing in the right place, you can get the 'picture' of the landscape without fully absorbing it.

Every morning that I drive into Keene and every afternoon that I drive home I am struck with the same situation that my mom described. I have a camera, but despite the pictures I take, I can't really describe the whole picture, the whole beauty of my drive in a frame of sorts. It took me a few weeks, but I've stopped trying to capture the drive's beauty.

The chorus to John Mayer's song "3x5" says this well:

didn't have a camera by my side this time
hoping I would see the world from both my eyes
maybe I will tell you all about it
when I'm in the mood
to loose my way with words
but let me say
you should have seen that sunrise
with your own eyes
it brought me back to life...

To experience it, you'll just have to take the same route early in the morning sometime to feel it. Nature to me is not only for your eyes or for your camera to capture. Its about rolling my windows down while driving and smelling the pine trees, swamps, flowers and fallen leaves - its hearing the birds, locusts and rustling of trees in the wind... It is an experience that can never be captured in a picture alone - so I've given up trying, and have resolved to spend more time enjoying the journey instead of trying to photographically represent it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

From canvas to National Park

This morning, I decided to begin some of my homework in a relaxed way, and cross off what I could before getting into the intense and thick readings, or the papers that I will have to write. One of my pieces of homework from the Language of Nature was simply a link to a presentation about nature's relationship to art and God through history.

The first juxtaposition that I found interesting was that the woods were often portrayed in paintings as dark, scary, and unknown. God was not found in nature and to revere nature as beautiful was a competition to spirituality. Eventually, things changed and light began to represent God's presence in paintings. Forests eventually lightened their understories and shafts of light may illuminate something in particular, reminding you that God is present in that natural setting, and revering God's natural beauty that was created by him was acceptable and desirable.

I learned some fascinating things from the presentation about how art reflected the attitudes and ideas that man had about God and nature and changed with those shifting ideas. I was surprised to learn that the painters who painted real places were very much responsible for their eventual preservation.

Places like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Niagara Falls were not places that people were able to visit directly, but by painters highlighting their awe-inspiring beauty, people felt compelled to make sure that those landscapes were not ruined. The same was true for several animals, and the point was made that the turkey was almost made the United State's official bird - which would have certainly lead to the extinction of the eagle.

I have to say that I really want to visit some of the National Parks out west even more now...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Metamorphic meanderings...

Turned in my first observation paper today, and I felt pretty good about it. I am still struggling a bit with the tree and non-woody plant identification, though I expected that since I haven't had much practice. I am anxious to see what my Community Ecology teacher has to say about the paper. We had a lecture today on niches and factors in competition. It was hard for me to focus on and take notes because I feel like I already know what he's talking about from Ecology at UNH or just from being a real bio geek. You can't talk about anything going on at the shoreline without understanding competition, predation, coevolution, etc. I did learn that some plants have nasty chemicals in their leaves which, when they fall, inhibit the germination of other seeds anywhere near the base of the plant. Sneaky way to make sure that you are the only tree around...

This afternoon, though, in Earth Systems Science, we took a field trip to visit various road outcrops and actually an abandoned old pigmatite mine. Most of what we saw were metamorphic rocks, bent, melted, twisted and recrystallized into other rocks. As we learned more about what processes caused those types of formations, I realized that, collecting "rocks" as a kid, I never really connected fully with the overall processes like igneous intrusions, metamorphic rocks, etc, because the rocks I had were on such a small scale. It was great to have some familiarity with them (and the three different types of rocks in general) so that I could try to grasp the bigger picture things that were going on.

I got to see contact zones and intrusions and varying crystal structures based on the rate of cooling, erosional factors... throwing me back into the world of rocks. It was a great outing because we got to visit several different sites, and the pigmatite mines were VERY cool. There they have a specific kind of granite that is rare, and also contains huge pieces of mica (and even a little garnet).

The second site we went to was awesome, too, because there was a huge stone bridge built over a stream, and the builders left a huge jut of rock and used it as part of the bridge. It was beautiful to see the natural and the man-shaped structures side by side (all of the rocks used in the bridge were obviously local stones of the same types.

On the way home, in traffic, I caught myself observing the road cuts and looking at the different types of rocks there. I love my life!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Foundations of EE - freewrite, outside

(For this assignment, we walked outside and were asked to journal about a specific place we found on the grounds, it was essentially an outdoor free-write.)

Behind me, the hum of power and sweat of asphalt, the griding noise of stones crushed underfoot and a car passing by. As I let my eyes unfocus and let me ears adjust I hear more - I hear crickets, the click of a dog's fingernails on stone, the brief rustle of leaves or snap of a dry twig. As I lift my notebook to write, a small cricket leaps off the page that he temporarily inhabited. When my eyes adjust to the symphony of green, it allows me to see yet more colors. A yellow goldenrod flower, a flash of red on a berry. An orange leaf, turning a little before its brothers. A deep red from the sumac, and a pale yellow leaves of a hop hornbeam.

I catch myself defining, categorizing, so I stop to breathe.

I adjust to the stillness, and I can see the motion. Leaves shivering gently in a breeze I am barely aware of. Grass springing back up where I once laid my hand. Bugs foraging climbing jungles of grass and mountains of stone. Doves fly overhead casually, as if nothing is new to them. Unseen, worms move earth and trees grow and bend. Leaves open, leaves color, leaves fall; constantly renewing. A leaf sinks to the ground and allows me to see all the others above. Silhouettes of tree branches frame my words on a page. More not seeing allows me to see tiny pale yellow flowers, and the perfections of a curled leaf.

I see death which allows me to observe life.
An insect buzzes with the same indifference to my presence as the dove, and visits each yellow flower, repeating the same functions at each. A chipmunk reveals himself and hesitantly beings a a journey divided into three foot bursts. A dragonfly circles swiftly with intent but his purpose is not something I can know...

Beautiful morning... pumpkin chai

There are some mornings that fill me with a sense of wonder. Some mornings are just perfect like that. Today, for the first time, I physically noticed that the seasons had changed a bit since last week. I left my apartment this morning and it was darker, and the sun peeked out at a different milestone in the trip. Days are getting shorter, shadows longer. It was foggy on the way up this morning, but it is always sunny when I get to Keene. The air was cool and I could see evidence of dew and perhaps frost from the night before.

Arriving at Keene early (as always) I decided to stop in for a chai. I got the strange urge for pumpkin - and I asked him to put a shot of the pumpkin flavor in my chai. It was marvelous and was autumn in a coffee cup.

The sun's rays were still low when I went in there this morning, and I took this picture of the front door, which faces the rising sun. What a beautiful way to start a day.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What I learned today...

When a mountain is composed of materials that don't easily erode, and it is in a range with mountains that do erode easily, the mountain will be taller than all the others around it. That type of mountain is called a monadnock. Mount Monadnock in Keene shares its name because it is such a mountain.

I learned that there are a lot of fossil hot spots in New England, and I kind of want to visit them now! I also learned that dinosaur footprints are far more common fossils than their bones.

I learned you don't have to go far from home to find interesting wildlife and places to wander - and on the flip side that if the place is accesible, then there's a darn good chance that other humans have been there first, and they've usually left evidence behind, like a mattress bridge or a fort too big for any child to be playing in...

recycled reflections?

As I have been going up to Antioch, I can't help but feel that the environmentalist spirit has entered my heart again. I was very, very cynical (and still remain partially so) after George Bush was elected again in 2004, and I kind of turned away from being on top of the Environmental News because I found it to be too depressing, too overwhelming to attack, and definitely too big for me to make a difference in. But my attitudes are shifting a little bit, because I'm surrounded by people who do believe we can make a difference. Since I've started attending Antioch, I've made a few changes in my life that I wonder about.
  • I picked up some of those canvas bags and I've been bringing them with me to the convenience stores and grocery stores instead of letting them give me plastic bags. It feels good, and it creates less trash for me.
  • I've been recycling more attentively. When I have a glass bottle of tea, I find somewhere to recycle it instead of trashing it in a dumpster.
  • I've been trying to eat "local" produce and food, but that is really hard being that there is hardly any labeling on the food I buy to this respect. Hannaford is great for that, but they're more expensive of course.
  • I've been buying packages of things that have less waste in them.
  • I've been recycling in my apartment *despite* there being no program to do so. (I'm brining my recycling to the UNH campus to add to theirs... sneaky, I know, but how else should I do it?)
What I'm specifically wondering - though maybe it doesn't matter - is whether I'm doing that because I think I should or it is right to, or because I want to look as if I am doing the right thing to my fellow Antiochians. Now, to my favor, most of what I do at home is not seen by them, so in that respect I am probably safe. But I think about it just the same.

observations in a little patch of Dover forest...

Kellee and I decided that, since we live in Dover, that it would be more convenient to find a place to do our observations close to home. We ended up going into the woods behind our apartment complexes. Despite initial discouragement because there were lots of signs of man's presence there, we eventually found a spot that was perfect.

The goal was to find a place where there are two portions of forest that are next to each other that are very different, and to try and determine the reason. The first part of the forest was dominated by very large and old White Pines, if I had to guess I would say 50-80 years old each. The understory and forest floor was littered with pine needles, and there was very little light, and not much light came through. The only other types of trees growing were very tiny beech and red oak trees, and a few wildflowers. (see picture to the left). There were also a curious amount of downed paper birch trees, all of which seemed to have been felled at the same time, which we did not have an immediate understanding of the reason for it.

In stark contrast to this was the site down a slight slope to this patch. There, ferns dominated the under story, the soil was wetter underfoot, and there were no conifers to be found- only tall silver maples, red oaks filled the canopy. This area of the woods was also lighter, and there was even grass growing. It was apparent that the area was likely often saturated with water - the grasses were recently all bent in one direction, and there was debris clinging to tree stumps, which makes me think that there was definitely flowing water ate one point. We found a frog, too, which also was a strong indication that there was water nearby.

I haven't been able to write up the observation paper quite yet as I ran out of time today, but I am confident that it was a good site to choose just based on the contrast we saw.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Putney field trip

Friday I stayed over at Antioch because of a morning field trip excursion to Putney Vermont. Admittedly, despite being woken up by a cat louder than a rooster, I got more sleep than I had any previous thursday night. I woke up and drove to Putney, with kind of sketchy directions given to me last night after having a few beers. So I got to the town just fine, but I didn't know where I had to go.

A few windy roads later, I didn't care that I was lost, because I saw some *beautiful* spiderwebs hanging out in fields from the morning dew and fog. So beautiful, I can't even describe. But I couldn't stop to photograph them, I had to go to the site. Later I passed schist (see picture) with oxidized iron ore in it, gleaming brilliantly in the morning sun.

Our class walked around forests and glacial delta deposits, digging up dirt and feeling it, tromping around in forests and looking at dominant species. One of the most memorable moments was coming to clay deposits - which had rivers of pure clay - exactly what you would use to "throw" a pot. I played with this in my hand for several minutes, forming a ball, and wondering about the awesome power of glacial waters and deltas that allowed the sediment to sort so perfectly.

The picture to the right is of a glacial runoff stream - the sediments there were dropped by melting glaciers and the stream was carved out by water melting in rushing rapids - slowed, of course, today, but it is still obvious that there is glacial history.

I didn't want to leave this powerful place - but I had to return to Keene for my later classes. I think I may return to Putney with my camera on another morning - it was so beautiful I cannot accurately describe it.

I took a few pictures on the field trip - of a few trees I'd never seen. I saw both an adult, natural sycamore tree, and an American Elm. The Elm is almost non-existant in New England because of Dutch Elm disease, so it was awesome to see one. My picture of the Elm wasn't fantastic, but the one on the left here is the Sycamore - it looks totally "wrong" in the forest it was in - a big, smooth white trunk and a height that dwarfed everything else in the canopy. Very cool.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Language of Nature - freewrite, first day of class

I am thinking of Karme Choling, such a strange and spiritual place, the first night I felt a little lost. Why go to bed in a place so wondrous with natural starlight and beauty - a tingly feeling of being alive? So I laid in my bed for about five minutes before becoming completely restless. I got up, took my camera and stepped outside.

Lighting flashed silently from afar, the only light to temporarily illuminate the grounds, highlighting the fields and mountains surrounding it. I walked around and watched the storm, still silent form its distance. I came to a field of wildflowers and let my eyes adjust.

What greeted me was an uncountable number of lightning bugs both in the air and on the plants, going about the business of advertising and attracting a mate. Part billboard, part telegraph their simple actions always made me smile as a child, but the synchronizations of the masses of them was something I could barely comprehend, like the stars.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Who am I?

A little introduction as to who I am and what I'm doing writing this. I was recently accepted to Antioch University of New England in Keene, NH to pursue a master's degree in Environmental Education. At our orientation, one speaker caught my attention when he said that our time here would be so short that we should do everything we can to savor it - and not let the experience of being here and learning slip through our fingers.

I plan to use this forum to post a journal of my experiences at Antioch, to post questions and thoughts and assignments so that I can really cherish and savor the time that I have at Antioch, and so I can get a true sense of what I've experienced and learned.

I chose environmental education because I've always been curious about nature and the world around me, from when I was at the seashore bringing my parents whatever cool organism I had uncovered in the sand, to more recently when I corrected and educated my coworkers about environmental news topics like e. coli contamination and the Avian Bird Flu. I wanted a formal way of sharing this knowledge with others - in my interview I spoke about that moment when a light bulb lights up in a child or adult's eyes when they finally understand - that is what I am out to do. I love to break down complicated topics into parcels that can be understood by anyone, and it has been my passion to educate others through writing or through telling them about it.

I invite you to check in here every once and a while as I put my experiences out there - and thank you for stopping by.