Last Surviving American Sycamore

After having spent time observing and interacting with Sycamo in the academic quads, I have gained a larger perspective on how important trees like Sycamo are to sustaining a complex ecosystem. He should not be removed from Dickinson College because he provides food and shelter for many species of animals and plants. These animals were observed interacting with Sycamo on a consistent basis and proved to me why Sycamo can symbolize a parent. A parent that provides for their family no matter how bad the weather can get and hard it is to sustain life, Sycamo will always provide. He is crucial part of the ecological makeup that exists on Dickinson College.

Sycamo baring it all

Sycamo baring it all.

American Sycamores are large and tall trees that can grow up to 100 feet tall and 15 feet across. These trees provide an abundance of shade for all those interested in cooling off. Apart from that, American Sycamores like Sycamo are great for landscaping in built environments like cities, because they are resistant to pollution. Even more important, these trees are essential in preventing soil erosion from occurring at Dickinson College. We all know how important our buildings are and the last thing we would is for the soil to start eroding and affecting the foundations of these buildings. Sycamo also stands up well in inclement weather, such as high winds and hail, thus avoiding any type of damage toward students or structures.

Sycamo stands out amongst all the other trees in the academic quads due to his height and width. His large trunks stick out as if though lending a hand for birds to rest upon. He is a gentle giant that provides so much for both the environment and humans. Sycamo deserves to live on Dickinson College for his significant impact on the daily lives of animals, plants, and humans. Without an American Sycamore, we have no trees to look up to and say, “ that is one humongous beautiful tree.”

Use-Value of Trees

Since the beginning of this blog, Sycamo has stood his ground as the leader among trees. He’s a provider for many, animals, plants, other trees, and humans. He has taught me that providing for those that matter to you are important, but even more important is expecting nothing in return.

Gould in The Marxist Glossary defines use-values as “anything that satisfies a human want” (1943: 96). I am thinking that Sycamo is satisfying my human want, as he is essential to my grade in class. But I think he is a need rather than a want because the class requires me to keep a blog, meaning I need to put in effort into completing it. I’d leave it as something that can be argued on both ends.

Sycamo has allowed me to enter a state of tranquility when everything around me was chaotic. He gives me comfort. He gives animals comfort. He gives the soil comfort. Sycamo is a tree that provides for all. I will now explain how he has provided a lot for the environment, campus, global ecosystems, world, and I.

Sycamo has many relationships with its surrounding environment/nature. Animals use Sycamo as a food source for he drops fruit that has seeds inside packed tightly together called Achenes. American Goldfinches, purple finches, but most importantly the common gray squirrels we see around campus. He also provides shelter for woodpeckers, owls, blue jay, and squirrels. It is evident how many animals are dependent on Sycamo whenever I sit down to observe what goes on around him. On a global ecosystem and world scale, Sycamo and other American Sycamore’s are important in having carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is the long-term storage of carbon dioxide and other forms of carbon that are detrimental to global warming and climate change. American sycamores like Sycamo are planted to stop soil erosion. Another use-value of American Sycamore’s is that their wood is used for furniture, baskets, cardboard boxes, and other uses. Overall, Sycamo is valuable to the environment, global ecosystem, and the world.

Lamppost near Sycamo

Lamppost near Sycamo

In regards to campus, American Sycamore provides aesthetics. It is another tree that makes our campus enhances the aesthetics of Dickinson College. People do not appreciate the value of it as an individual tree but as a group of trees I think it is more valuable for aesthetics than anything.

As mentioned before, Sycamo has given me tranquility at the times I needed it the most. He was my escape from all the stressful times of college work and thinking about what I am going to do after graduation. Time is passing and it continues to become more and more stressful as graduation nears. Nature can be soothing and all it takes is for us to go out and experience it for ourselves. It is spiritually lifting to be able to go away from all the hectic day-to-day activities of humans. Even for just a moment. Trees like Sycamo give so much to all those who are part of the environment. These contributions go completely unnoticed.

HEP or NEP?

Catton and Dunlap’s discussion of the Human Exceptionalism Paradigm (HEP) and the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) offer different perspectives on how to view trees and their value in our ‘human’ world. It’s important to first note that a paradigm as defined by Catton and Dunlap; “is an image shared by members of a scientific community telling them the nature of their science’s subject-matter.” (Catton & Dunlap 256). Also, each of these paradigms has their own perspective on how humans interact with the natural systems of the world.

The Human Exceptionalism, HEP, claims that humans are a superior species that they are exempt form any environmental forces. In contrast, the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) recognizes the innovative capacity of humans thus saying that humans are ecologically interdependent as are other species of the world. This paradigm notes the power of social and cultural forces as well as humans being impacted by the changes in our ecosystems. It is important to also note that NEP understands that the earth has a finite level of natural resources; therefore the environment does indeed impact our human activity even if HEP believes that we can rise above because we humans are the superior species.

Sycamo

Sycamo

Now, as I sit back and take a moment to observe Sycamo, I think here at Dickinson we follow the New Environmental Paradigm (NEP). Why? Well, we place these trees as not only to be aesthetically pleasing but also to serve as providers for animals living in the area. The trees provide many environmental services that improve the air, water, and land around us. I see Sycamo as an important contributor to bettering our campus both as an aesthetic and provider of environmental services that human cannot emulate. NEP brings attention to the fundamental characteristics of a thriving ecological makeup and here at Dickinson we experience that with all the varying plants and trees.

However, I would also argue for the Human Exceptionalism Paradigm (HEP) for these trees have no business being in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Humans ignore the fact that the exploitation of natural resources will lead to our demise and continue to alter the environment to our liking. That very same ideology goes for Dickinson’s way of altering Carlisle’s environment by introducing new species of plants and trees that best fit both the needs of the environment and humans. But then again, is Dickinson doing this with good or bad intentions? Well, if that’s the case, I think this is all done with the good intentions of aiding the altered environment Carlisle has created. We are helping the animals already living here with providing trees that act as good sources of food and shelter. Following this type of thinking will ensure the ecosystem continues to thrive and support human lives here in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Field Notes 3: Shadows and Lights

The more time I spend with Sycamo, the more I appreciate sitting in silence. I am often lost in a world of deadlines and having time to gather myself has given me tranquility. The time spent listening, seeing, smelling and feeling this natural atmosphere, has allowed me to reflect on everything that I have done to get me to where I am today. Also, graduation is nearing.

These next 28 minutes or so will be amusing as I sit out here in the cold air. As mentioned before, I am not conditioned as a Californian to withstand such cold weather, so this feels like an expedition across the Antarctic chills of Carlisle. Luckily there isn’t much wind. Maybe a gentle breeze here and there.

I see shadowy figures climbing up and down trees. I hear the sound of a bird calling out to his fellow bird friends. I wonder if when they chirp at each other, they are holding conversation or warning each other of the changes in weather and humans roaming below. It’s amazing how the night consumes the naturalness of this area. Everything that was once bright is now engulfed by shadows. Luckily, the lamp across from Sycamo guides those walking through the academic quads. Also, the lights of Carlisle are still visible behind the darkness that sits between Carlisle and where I sit. The doors to Bosler have been opening and shutting multiple times.

Lamppost near Sycamo

Lamppost near Sycamo

Light emitted from the lamppost seems to be a bit orange/yellow tonight. As I am looking at the lamppost I hear a subtle movement in the grass in front of me. I stand up to see what it is and I realize it is a rabbit as it scurries away and halts completely to see if I am chasing after him/her. These animals must have some of the most powerful legs to be able to accelerate so quickly at any given moment. Nature is beautiful.

This gentle breeze feels great on a chilly night. I notice that I often lose myself staring blankly into the shadows.

Listening to the breeze pass through as it lightly rustles leaves and cut through trees. Sycamo stands their tall and strong. He reminds me of a leader, a leader of trees. His branches are high up and any squirrels that can reach it and live there, are in my opinion, considered the elite squirrels. His presence is felt at night as everything surrounding it, is swallowed by it.

 

Field Notes 2: Sunny Day

As I embark on another set of field notes with Sycamo, I realize how deceptive the weather can be. One day it is bundling up weather and another it is shorts with a tank top. I’m sure Sycamo would appreciate California’s weather more than Carlisle’s. At least our warm climate won’t trick you into believing it will be a warm day, only to drop to 30 degrees in a matter of hours. I am not one to speak for Sycamo but I am sure he hears about California’s weather.

 

The weather has been inconsistent as of lately. Sycamo has been losing his hair (leaves) due to him stressing out about the weather. Luckily today’s weather is bearable so he won’t be losing any more hairs for now. As I sit here admiring the tree’s photosynthesizing, I notice students walk amongst these trees taking as much sun as they can before tanning is not a thing anymore.

 

There are quite a lot of squirrels moving about from tree to tree. Two squirrels begin to chase each other and I am amazed at how fast they can move. Seeing these squirrels chase each brings back memories of my younger days as a child.

Squirrel hiding nuts.

Squirrel hiding his nut

Some of the squirrels have begun to pack nuts into the ground. I wonder if squirrels fight over nuts because they are hiding nuts in front of each other. There has to be one squirrel that is always stealing nuts from others. I would love to see squirrels fairly punish him/her since they are law-abiding squirrels of the United States. Watching these squirrels stock up food makes me think of home and how parents are always stocking up the fridge with food. No matter what day of the week it is, my parents always had an abundance of food and various types of refreshments. Providing for your family is important and I would imagine squirrels doing the same for their young ones.

 

A person is approaching with what seems to be a golden retriever. The dog has no leash. Its facial expression is that of a curious dog that snoops around a lot. The woman walking the dog has a full on athletic outfit. I think she’s wearing all Nike. Nike cap, Nike shirt, Nike compression leggings and Nike running shoes! To be honest, I was surprised the dog did not have any Nike gear on. The dog roamed freely across the quads. The golden retriever began sprinting from tree to tree and returning to the owner after each tree she visited. Interestingly enough, the dog never went to far. Always stayed within close proximity to the owner. Some may say it is a well-trained dog but I would rather say that the dog loves her owner and is protective of her.

Field Notes 1: Gloomy Night

October 15, 2015 8:08pm, I sit here on a very cold night next to a stone sculpture of what looks like two babies holding up a piece of writing that reads, Bosler Memorial Library Hall. I dim my laptop down to movie mode, in order to prevent the bright screen laptops give off.

It is a beautiful cold night. Luckily I am wearing a fleece-lined flannel to keep my body warm. There is a bit of a breeze. The lampposts give off a gloomy sensation.

FullSizeRender

Sycamo in the distance

I wonder if students can see me as they walk down the pathway that Althouse Hall, Old West, and East College sit near. Either way, there has been numerous students passing by and heading into Stern. Each with a backpack or purse, flocking to this building. Some students had a jacket to keep them warm, some with scarves, and others had just a long sleeve on. I see one of my friend’s on his longboard speeding down the pathway toward Denny Hall.

By 8:22pm, it has now become somewhat silent except for the sound of crickets chirping their night away. You can hear engines growling close by and the sound of metal brakes squeaking as cars come to a complete stop at the intersection. Some cars are louder than other when stationary.

The cold air persists. It is now 8:30pm. A flock of students exit Stern, probably an event that had just taken place ended. They are creating a disturbance to the peaceful night these trees and I were having. Laughing, yelling, and speaking loudly, these students scatter in every direction to their own destination. I am once again left alone, with one or two students walking down the pathway here and there. A gloomy night it seems to be. The streetlamps are the source of light in such a dark place, even with academic buildings around with light. Looking past Sycamo, I see the darkness I speak about. There are no lights within the field itself, aside from the ones on the pathways.

I am starting to feel the cold more and more. I am unsure as to whether or not I would be able to withstand the forces of nature if it were not for this human built environment we have. Side note, some of us get a pleasure out of venturing into wilderness to experience the natural world and to show that we can live in it.

This was a beautiful night to take thick notes.

Sounds of the Night

As I sit under my tree, facing Althouse, I get a sense of how nature interacts with human activity everyday. Buildings over there, here, and over on the other side, nature cannot escape humans built environment. Sycamo’s branches appear to be bold and fierce with how they extend outward. A gust of wind cuts through the trees and building on the academic quads. Sycamo’s rustling of leaves in the wind is overshadowed by the sounds of loud engines and exhausts.

Time passes and student activity increases with the beeping and clicking of doors as students enter academic buildings. A friend approaches me as she notices I am sitting under a tree. It is interesting how people question as to why one would interact with nature in such way. Is it weird to sit under a tree? She seemed puzzled as to why I was writing a blog about a random tree, to which I replied that this is not a random tree, but a Sycamore Tree within a human built environment. The conversation ended on a positive note, as she left with a better understanding of why nature should be recognized and appreciated more for its beauty and contribution to our good health. More often than not, we as students disregard the presence of nature within our campus, unless it is a picture to post on social media.

I am amazed at the beauty of trees at night. Each with their own personality, distinct looks, and purpose. Leaves rustling. Cars driving by. Students going in and out of buildings. The sound of crickets chirping begins to sound off. The chirping sounds make me think of the relationships nature has with all the insects, animals, and plants. It provides an array of important functions that humans cannot meet as they are constantly modifying the environment to their liking.

Sycamo and I looking on

Sycamo and I looking on

The smell is that of soil, grass, and manure that facilities may have spread earlier in the day. Cold air sends chills down my body. As I sit with Sycamo and look on, I realize he is lost in his own world. He works within his surroundings (as far as his roots go). He doesn’t have the ability to think critically or express emotion, yet he has the gift to nurture others. I look on and think to myself, what a beautiful campus.

Observing a Human Built Environment

As an Environmental Studies major, I have come to understand the importance of appreciating nature through observation. It’s the little things about nature that make one think about how beautiful and majestic it can be. Before Dickinson College, I never took nature as an important aspect of my life; I simply enjoyed it for what it had to offer in terms of recreational activities, but not observing its movements. Now, I sit here on this bench, observing Sycamo. I must thank my previous class, Buddhism and the Environment, for developing my observational skills, meditation, and pushing myself to be closer with nature.

Yet, after taking that class, I find myself being able to pay the most attention in a quiet room listening to studying music on YouTube. Sometimes I listen to white noise, as it allows to me to focus more on the task at hand and not be distracted by other forms of music that have bass, snares, vocals, and a catchy melody.

Sitting under my tree, I realize how difficult it is for me to focus with so much noise and movement around me. Students walk down the academic quads, laughing and yelling. Cars roaring by. Birds chirping as they sit on the massive trunks of Sycamo. A student speeds by on a long board, similar to a cheetah sprinting to go home. Multiple squirrels are scattered on the grass are looking for food, while I am sitting here, thinking about where I should go buy my next meal. How easy we have it as a humans with feeding ourselves in a developing country. We are privileged to have many things ready for us. In nature, there is no such thing as prepared meals for its inhabitants. You must work for the spoils of nature. These squirrels must work for their food. Another car accelerates by, this time with an even louder and menacing tone.

All the noise pollution derives from a human built environment. Leopold operated in a similar manner with observing nature in detail and writing down his observations. Yet, he wrote in a notebook, whereas I am typing my observations in a laptop. He experienced true nature with minimal human interaction; meanwhile I am in a human built environment that has far more noises than Leopold’s observations.

How old am I?

I asked Sycamo, “How old are you?” To which he gave a blank expression, hoping I would have the answer. Based on his diameter, height, and overall presence of Sycamo, I told him he was 21 years young with much to learn like myself.

In 1994, Sycamo was raised in the soil of Dickinson College near Bosler Hall. He was blessed enough to see many generations of Dickinson students graduate and walk down the steps of Old West. Along with witnessing graduations year after year, he saw the community of Dickinson change as some faculty retired, others earned tenure, and new professors were given opportunities to teach at Dickinson College. He saw first hand the development of a community over time, the changes in fashion, the introduction of advanced technology, and many other 21st century inventions. I too witnessed the change in

Sycamore was present during saddening events such as the 1995 heat wave in Chicago, Columbine in 1999 and then the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. To have lived through during the years in which these events occurred is remarkable with myself being too young to neither remember or comprehend what was occurring. I cannot even begin to imagine how students reacted to these events.

On a lighter note, Sycamore has lived a comfortable life with Dickinson College ground facilities taking great care of him during the worst of storms and hottest of days. He is well nourished and has a promising future ahead of him. As I sit here at night, observing from a bench, I realize how silent the academic quads can be at night. Sycamo stands erected as tall as he can be, enjoying the cool breeze on a beautiful night with nothing to worry about. What a life. He’s been here for quite some time and has accumulated enough experience to apply for tree of the century.

 

 

Sycamo

On a hot summer day in September, I went on a tree tour led by Dickinson College Arborist, Mark Scott. He took my classmates and I around the academic quads that afternoon to befriend a tree for our tree journal blog. Mark Scott gave us specific details on the history and facts of each tree we encountered and they were each followed by guessing a number between one through ten to win that tree, because more than one student wanted the same tree. Finding my tree was a difficult task. I was looking for a tree that grabbed my attention and represented something beyond a simple tree.

American Sycamore

Sycamo showing off his exfoliating bark.

I was introduced to a Platanus Occidentalis (American Sycamore) with an astounding presence. Its enormous trunks command attention with a mottled exfoliating bark and a height that my phone camera couldn’t capture up close. I named him Sycamo and he was regarded as one of the tallest trees at Dickinson by Mark Scott. The wood from American Sycamore’s can be used for butcher blocks , which testifies the durability and tough persona Sycamo has. Sycamo’s leaves can grow up to 9 inches wide! And he is about four or five feet in diameter and 70 feet tall, which is not that big considering Sycamores can grow to massive proportions, reaching up to 98 to 131 feet high and about 4.9 to 6.6 ft in diameter. Sycamo has plenty of time to grow into an even larger tree and I can’t even imagine how much bigger he’d be.

Students are in constant movement with their daily routines, as for Sycamo, he goes unnoticed. And that is the beauty of Sycamo. With such an astounding presence yet fading into the created environment around him.