Save Kylander!

I have enjoyed visiting Kylander this semester:  he and his little habitat next to admissions have provided a calm spot of quiet reflection during my busy weeks.  While he may not have the large, swinging branches of the trees in front of my house I liked to climb as a kid, he can–and will–provide a lot of joy now and in the years to come.  Remember, Kylander is only a small nugget of a tree–he still has a lot of growing to do!  Imagine being able to return to campus every year to see his branches grow longer and trunk taller; creating a nice canopy over the admissions habitat for all of Dickinson’s beloved squirrels to burrow in.  If he is allowed to live, someday students will be able to sit in the shade of Kylander’s branches.  Please don’t destroy what is bound to be a beautiful future for Kylander by chopping him down to make cork–who even likes corkboards anyways??  Save Kylander and his family; buy some glue dots to hang your pictures and command hooks to store your keys.  Better yet, kill two birds with one stone and just reuse an old bowl to store your keys instead of contributing to plastic waste!

What impression would prospective students get of Dickinson, a supposedly sustainably-minded school, if they cut down the adorable little tree right outside of admissions?  What would they have to look at otherwise?  More buildings?  They see enough of those on tours.  Parking lots?  Come on, we all know that they’re part of the problem.  Now that I think about it, what would Kylander’s home become if he was removed from it?  There are a few small shrubs nearby, but not enough to be considered worth saving with a mindset geared toward making money.  Despite the many large parking lots, street curbs cutting between campus, and ban on cars for freshmen, Dickinson students are constantly complaining about there not being enough parking.  A new parking lot at Kylander’s home would stop these complaints and make more money for the school as more people buy parking passes, but at what cost?  Yup, all the environmental values that Dickinson claims to abide by.  (On that note, why is Dickinson considering cutting down any of its trees if it’s such a sustainable school?)

Not only would cutting down Kylander and developing his home remove any semblance of environmental values from Dickinson, but it would also steal from any future beauty at that site.  Every spring and summer, winds blow away Kylander’s seeds and they find themselves rooted throughout campus.  Some must not go too far.  In a few years, there could be a miniature grove of trees that would provide a home for animals and serenity for students.  Overall, letting Kylander stay at Dickinson would benefit more people than the minimal amount of cork that could be made from such a small trunk.IMG_5448

Kylander’s Contributions

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Kylander’s view of campus

In an ideal world, we’d appreciate all natural environments for the sake of their own existence more so than for what they provide for humans.  This is only beginning to become the case on a larger scale, as there are movements to protect wonders of the world such as the Amazon Rainforest not for the shade the trees provide or adventurous weekends kayaking on the Amazon River, but for the habitat it provides for millions of plant and animal species that would be wiped out in the event of its destruction.  The polar ice caps similarly do not create an environmental concern for their beauty, but for the sake of polar bears and other creatures who need land masses to not drown.

These examples take a strong leaning within the New Ecological Paradigm, which seeks to challenge the quasi-biblical idea that humanity’s intelligence has given our species a claim to the earth and its resources.  While this paradigm stresses the idea that each species should be granted with undeterred survival simply based on its existence, it also emphasizes that humans are no more exceptional than any other species.  Therefore, solving our environmental challenges can be approached using the New Ecological Paradigm:  we should also protect the rain forests for the important ingredients for cancer-curing medications they contain and the polar ice caps to prevent entire nations from sinking, creating millions of climate refugees.

NEP also stresses the recognition of natural sites as culturally significant, as opposed to the Human Exemptionalist Paradigm which takes a more capitalistic, human-centric approached.  Under an HEP thought process, Kylander’s trunk and branches may be seen as firewood or a means to make cork; thus how he got his family name, Amur Corktree.  His leaves would be turned to mulch or fertilizer–mixed with additives of course rather than the natural one that is created when they fall every autumn and benefit the entire ecosystem rather than simply one person’s backyard.  He’d live on through seeds that have been scattered around throughout time, however the trees that would come from them would face a similar fate.

From an NEP-based perspective, Kylander would still provide much use to his community, however he is able to do so without being completely destroyed.  He’d be both a home to the small animals such as squirrels that run around campus, a relaxing place to sit after a long day, a source of shade (once he grows bigger, that is–a chance he may not get under HEP thought), and even simply an aesthetically pleasing aspect of the admissions building.  While Kylander may not have a large scale impact on the planet like the polar ice caps or Amazon rain forest, he still plays an important role in a community.

I Hate Rain

…but Kylander doesn’t.  Nope, on a day that I would much rather do all my work curled up in bed (or at least attempt to do so), I remember that I’d agreed to spend half an hour with Kylander.  I can’t say any of my friends, tree or not, are important enough for me to want to go out in not just any rainstorm, but a cold one.  At least in the summer when it rains, your fingers don’t feel continuously numb and you don’t have to wear not just a rain jacket, but a full out winter coat as well as carry an umbrella, unless you love it when your backpack and all of its contents get soaked.  Besides, it’s just another reminder that it should be snowing right now:  the snow doesn’t soak your gloves, and it could lead to class being cancelled.  Kylander hates the snow; it gets all up in his branches and creates quite the heavy load to have to carry all day every day.  But for me, his beloved rain is just another reminder that this winter is too mediocre to even let me make a snowman in my backyard.

As much as I say that I’ll miss Pennsylvania snows when I go to Copenhagen next semester, it really doesn’t even snow that often here.  Most of the time, it just rains some more during the barely-too-warm for snow evenings and then that freezes over into ice overnight, adding onto the annoyances of rain.  But at least ice would be enough of an excuse to stay in my house with hot coffee as well.  On this day, I walk out my side door and don’t even think about riding my bike:  it’s locked up at the gym from when I stupidly decided it was okay to ride over and ended up with embarrassingly wet shorts.  Even if I could miraculously avoid that, having bitter wind blowing in my face as I ride just worsens the effect of the raindrops.

“I thought that trees were supposed to protect from raindrops,” I think to myself as I head over to see Kylander.  But no, I seem to get soaked the most when I walk under tall trees, as the rain that gathers in the leaves all slides down at once.  At Kylander’s spot, there isn’t any sort of better protection from the rain.  The side of admissions is too narrow and not close enough.  Kylander appreciates the rain much more than I do, even if it means I can’t take his photo this week due to not wanting to risk ruining my phone.  It means a long awaited drink that we humans have the luxury of taking every time we turn on the tap, fewer squirrels nibbling at his branches, and simply something more interesting that yet another partly cloudy day.  Without the rainy days, none of us could appreciate the nice ones as much.  Everything around Kylander is moist, and there isn’t enough room to sit under him (far enough of course so that nothing is dripping from the branches onto me).  However, when I am not in a rush to get anywhere and able to put my hands in my pockets consistently so that my gloves don’t get soaked, the rain isn’t as bad.  Not ideal or even okay, but not the worst thing to ever happen.

a nicer day

a nicer day

Surroundings

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My friends like to make fun of the fact that I am never without my earbuds.  By that, I mean I am never without my earbuds with loud music playing from them, rendering me unable to hear my friends calling for me sometimes up to seven times (as one friend who catches me with them so much that last week when I was without them he was genuinely surprised claims).  This isn’t even on purpose anymore (most of the time); I’ve just loved music from before I could speak, according to my parents.  The best moment of my semester so far has not been getting accepted into my top choice of abroad program or celebrating my 21st birthday, but going to my first music festival and seeing my favorite band from the fifth row after waiting four hours in elbow to elbow crowds.  Speaking of my 21st birthday, one friend got me a large pack of mix cds with the excuse that “no one knows your music references, Ellen.”  All this being said, I don’t actually remember a time since high school when I didn’t walk from class to class without earbuds in.

For yesterday’s visit to Kylander, I refrained from using my earbuds; something that I probably should be doing more often.  In the past, I had only expected them to distract from noises such as trucks and other students–at this point in the semester, there aren’t many more birds or other animals to be heard in the afternoon–and heading into this visit I thought that the only benefit would be not being surprised and caught off guard when a prospective student from admissions came up and asked what I was doing.  I soon realized however that without an outside distraction, I was more aware of all my surroundings.

Had I been listening to my music, I may have only noticed my first impression of Kylander and his home:  his now bare branches, minus one toward that bottom that contains a few more gradually dying brownish-green leaves.  Against the setting sun–at 4:30 PM, still throwing me off–these branches look like a charcoal drawing with an idyllic orange-tinted blue sky as the backdrop.  I try to snap a photo of bursts from the sun’s rays shining through, however my impressive yet still unprofessional iPhone camera is unable to capture them.  Even though Kylander is devoid of color and ready for winter, there are still hints of other seasons all around him that I hadn’t noticed previously.  The ginkgo tree across the street at Biddle house adds its bright yellow leaves to the backdrop of the sky, while bushes even smaller than Kylander to my left still contain radiant red leaves; possibly the last of fall.  Across from me, there is a bush that kind of looks like an anchor and probably hasn’t changed aesthetically all year.

As I’m about to bike away, I hear something scampering around behind me, quietly enough that I would have missed it had music been playing but loud enough to distinguish itself from my natural surroundings.  I turn around to find a small dog out on a walk.  When I ask its owner if I can pet it, she lets me feed it a few treats, which makes me excited to go home and see my own dogs in about a week.

While my music makes me forget how lethargic I am before my morning classes, after my half an hour without it I feel more calm than I ever am on my morning bike rides from my house to Denny.

Morning Notes

tree blog 6

I never started liking mornings until recently.  In high school they were always something to dread; I guess because there was really nothing too them.  I’d get ready in the dark, eat a rushed breakfast, drive to school every morning as soon as I got my licence (all my friends rode the bus and I didn’t want to walk in the cold alone), and immediately got started with classes I was mainly taking because they were graduation requirements–my high school didn’t have any classes related to my major and minor (sociology and environmental studies), so I didn’t discover my passion for them until well into college.

Even in college when I started taking classes I enjoyed more and didn’t have to wake up at 5:45 to get everything I wanted accomplished, I didn’t start appreciating mornings until I starting working 8:30 shifts at The Peddler, my schools’s coffee cart.  When I first found out that even though I signed up for later classes I’d have to be up before most people at my school, I felt a sense of dread, however after only a week that hour long shift making coffee became the thing I looked forward to the most during my day.  Even if going to sleep and waking up doesn’t magically solve every stressor in my life, I certainly feel revitalized at the start of a new day–maybe it’s just a construct or maybe there actually is something hopeful about a new blue sky, but starting my days doing things I love; making coffee and talking to friends, helps prolong this feeling.

This morning after opening The Peddler and making myself a cup of coffee, I walked over to Kylander.  The morning air was cool and nippy; not freezing to the point that I’d need to drag my coats out of the closet and waste precious time but I also would be miserable without my jacket and cup of coffee.  It’s not a lasting cool though; even over the half hour that I sit I can feel it warming up.  By the middle of the day it could be too uncomfortable to keep on wearing the outfit I picked out when the cold awakened me in my central heating-free house.  Fall can be confusing like this for awhile and I’d prefer it make up its mind.  The more consistent breezes that keep me from taking off my jacket for good though give me hope that there won’t be as many more warm weeks this semester.

On the ground surrounding me, brown leaves are scattered; more like islands in a sea of green grass than the blanket that they will eventually create this fall.  Looking up into the leaves of the taller trees however, I notice none of the traditional fall colors.  The remaining leaves are actually a similar picture as the ground:  large amounts of green with a few branches covered in dead brown leaves.  Missing are the reds, oranges, and yellows of fall; possibly delayed by the warm September or possibly killed by the rain storms a few weeks ago.  A few squirrels run past; carrying acorns from other parts of campus.  Overall, a great morning.

A Mix of Sounds

treesAs I have previously mentioned on here, Kylander is located in a more secluded section of campus yet blatant signs of the man-made world still surround him:  the main street through Carlisle in the front, an alleyway in the back, and campus buildings around all sides.  Even though he is far away from the more distracting noises that I encounter every day at Dickinson, sitting by him does not provide the same experience as camping in the middle of a forest would.

Resultantly, it can be challenging for me to form a connection with the natural world when I am constantly being distracted by man-made annoyances.  In my previous post, I talked about biking through and hearing trucks driving through town while on my way to spend time with Kylander.  Needless to say, I can still hear them rumbling down the street while sitting with him.  During a time of year when I’m quite stressed and like to think of my time with my tree as a time to detox from this, it is very disconcerting to hear them so nearby–not the same as being reminded of my stress by every friend I have worrying about their own workloads, but still not as refreshing as a weekend camping would be.  Absent from Kylander’s spot is the sound of other students though, either because they do not carry well or they are drowned out by the ever-present trucks.  Sometimes I can hear footsteps through the parking lot behind admissions, both because of its closer proximity and the louder clicks of high heels hitting the ground.  These admissions workers are often walking alone though, so I can sit for an hour without hearing a conversation; something not possible at many other places around campus.

Not that conversation is a bad thing–I usually love it, even when connecting with nature.  Over the weekend, I went camping with some friends and we spent the entire time chatting around a makeshift fire place we had to make when some unfriendly fellow campers were unexpectedly on the grounds at which we originally planned on staying.  For me, the difference between this experience and my time spent with Kylander lies in the fact that in the forest, the things I’m trying to escape become invisible while when I am sitting with my tree, I can walk a few steps to the right and be staring directly at the library where I will be spending my entire night reading.  Sure enough, every time I have to leave an extended trip into the woods I feel a sense of dread knowing that all of the stressed that was forgotten during that time will probably return within a few days.  That being said, my stress-free camping trip was not the same for all of my friends:  they were awaken in terror by a coyote howling a few feet away from our campsite.  Ironically, I slept through all this because of one of the luxuries of human society I brought into the woods with me:  earplugs.

The natural sounds at Kylander are far less fearsome than a coyote–in fact, I don’t even see a squirrel in the area because just like Kylander, all of the trees nearby are too small to provide anything for animals.  I can however hear them scurrying around nearby periodically.  The natural sound that stands out the most for me is that of the wind blowing through the leaves.  Not only does it provide relief from the continued warm days; this week it causes some colorful leaves to fall to the ground, creating even more rustling.  When I bike home this week, there are blankets of yellow leaves all around campus rather than in just one parking lot.

An Afternoon with Kylander

kylander and street

I’ll be the first to admit that the conditions under which I think best are finicky.  It creates an added struggle with time management every time I have a lot to do:  I can’t get work done in my room because there are so many distractions better than reading or papers around me and sitting on the lawn isn’t an option because at such a small school I’m bound to run into someone I know and spend the next three hours talking to them, leaving the library as the only realistic place to accomplish anything much of the time.  But even the library can be a challenge, as it is often crowded with even more people I know and sometimes even the quiet section is full of groups loudly studying.  If that is the case, earbuds are always an option as long as I’m extra careful to not focus upon the lyrics of my favorite songs too much.

In “A Sand County Almanac,” Leopold has it lucky for thinking conditions, as he observes nature from his isolated Wisconsin farm.  He spends an entire end creating meticulously-detailed images of his land throughout all four seasons through his writing, turning something as simple and taken for granted as bird songs into a grand spectacle that makes the reader want to put down the book and experience it for themself.  I wonder if he would be able to create such a complex impact if he was writing in a different environment filled with man-made distractions.

Kylander’s home on campus is a unique combination of distracted and isolated:  while he is surrounded by campus buildings and the main street running through Carlisle, he is far enough off the road and away from the center of campus that very few students walk by.  So when I went to spend some time with him the other day, I brought a little bit of reading that I hoped to get done for another class out of curiosity about how these surroundings would be beneficial for thinking.  In some ways, doing work with Kylander was less distracting than anywhere else I have been on campus:  he didn’t interrupt me to ask if I wanted to make a food run or talk too much, let alone at all as I tried to read, making him a better study buddy than any of my friends here.  As for those friends, if any of them had been walking down the street I wouldn’t have noticed, and the only people who even came close to where I was sitting were a few prospective students on a tour.

While students on the road weren’t a problem, trucks were.  It felt like I thrown off  by the sudden consistent growling of an engine every five minutes only to look up and find a tractor trailer driving past, bulky and out of place in the middle of the picturesque campus.  These also posed a problem with getting to Kylander to begin with, as I ride my bike everywhere.  It can be a little disconcerting while on a small bike without a helmet to suddenly have a vehicle about a hundred time your size engulf the entire road.

Despite the fact that it is mid-October, Kylander’s leaves are still entirely green, just like many of the other trees on campus.  Maybe it was just because I had ridden my bike over in a sweater, but it also felt much warmer than usual for this time of year, with the exception of the occasional breeze.  Every morning this week though, I’ve needed a jacket while sitting outside and the other day I saw what I think was the first pile of yellow leaves in a parking lot while riding home from class.  Hopefully after fall pause next week, it will finally start to feel like fall for Kylander!

Leopold, Aldo. 1949. “A Sand County Almanac.” Oxford University Press.

A Tree’s Life

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a sunny day

 

When I think of trees, I think of longevity; of old-growth forests in the west with trees that have survived for hundreds of years and individual trees that have managed to survive for millennia.  In my environmental studies class last semester, I learned that even tiny trees that the average person would assume were recently planted can be up to twenty years old and have simply had their growth stunted as they wait for a spot in the forest canopy and its resultant nourishment to open up.  Even though new trees are planted on a daily basis, it is hard for me to imagine one that has not witnessed events that to me are only historical relics.

Kylander, however is young both in terms of trees and the students with whom he spends his days:  at approximately eight years old, he is less than half of my age and still youthful compared to other Amur Corktrees, which can live up to ninety years (only a little longer than the average human, making their lifespan quite short in comparison to other trees).  He was born in 2008; the same year that Barack Obama was elected to his first term as president and America saw the worst of its most recent economic crisis.  Kylander remained oblivious to this political and economic change however, as he grew quicker than his friends fighting it out on the forest floor would have and enjoyed fresh supplies of carbon dioxide and water.

2010 and 2011 hit hard for Kylander as a result of environmental catastrophes such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the Fukushima earthquake that resulted in an explosion at a nuclear power plant.  Even though Kylander wasn’t directly effected by either of these disasters, he still felt great concern as a tree in a world with limited water.  Large scale disasters such as these which are either created by humans or have effects that are worsened by their environmental presence, as well as large-scale harmful practices both worry him:  as a young tree, he could be facing a bleak future.

A complaint of many Dickinson students is the lack of weather cancellations we get:  throughout the past two winters full of extreme ice storms and days with a below zero wind chill, I have had to go to every single one of my classes on schedule.  “In my hometown, we got four days off for a few flurries but the dorms here can be completely snowed in and I’ll still have class,” a friend once told me.  In October of 2012 however, the arrival of Hurricane Sandy at the tail end of hurricane season was enough for Dickinson students to get two days off.  Even though Sandy’s record-breaking flooding was enough to give the students a day off, Kylander arrived at his new home on campus only weeks later, as relief efforts were still underway in along the east coast.

After the class of 2016 graduates in May, Kylander will have been in Carlisle longer than most Dickinson students.  Even though he has witnessed many concerning environmental events in his short life, the students he witnesses every day give him hope that the future won’t be as worrisome for him as the present.

A Little Nugget Tree

friends forever

friends forever

I’m excited to say that this past week I made a new friend:  Kylander the Amur Corktree.  Standing at approximately 10 feet tall, Kylander is a quite a bit taller than I am, however compared to other Amur Corktrees, he is just a nugget:  a fully grown Amur Corktree can grow up to 45 feet tall.  He gets his family name from his cork-like bark; a trait which is more common in larger trees of his kind.  While one day he will be able to live up to his name, right now I can easily wrap two hands around his trunk.

Although Kylander is just a young tree however, he probably makes more friends than older trees since he is located right next to Dickinson’s admissions building, where dozens of potential students pass every day.  Events and dinners are also held in the field to the left of him, so no matter where he turns, Kylander can find friends.  Who knows how many current students met Kylander as they visited Dickinson for the first time?  After meeting him for the first time, I quickly realized that I have passed him many times without saying hello or even noticing him before; whether it be while taking a shortcut back to my dorm freshman year or giving a tour of campus to my pre-orientation group this past summer.  I’m looking forward to creating new memories with him as our friendship develops this semester.  Maybe in a few years, I’ll be able to sit in the shade when his branches grow–even a tree can’t stay a little nugget forever!

Trees Beyond Trees

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When I began thinking about my relationship to nature for this post, the first memory that came to mind was my trip to the Adirondacks this past summer.  Even on the drive up along a seemingly-everlasting I-87, I felt as if the road would become engulfed by towering green-covered mountains that made me rethink having called my west coast raised sophomore year roommate pretentious for referring to the Pennsylvania Appalachians as “foothills.”  However, I unfortunately can’t say that I got to truly appreciate these mountains:  the day before I left, I spilled a boiling french press of coffee on my leg that left me with second degree burns and a stern warning from the doctor to not do any hiking unless I wanted to risk infection.

Even though I did not get to hike through the clichéd mountaintop meadows and pristine forests I had been looking forward to, the views from the car seat were enough to inspire me to want to return and served as another step to recreating a connection with nature that I forgot I had.  When I was younger, I could find this connection easily.  I would attempt to climb any tree with a branch that could be grabbed when I jumped and hike the Appalachian Trail with my parents on the weekends.  Summers were spent camping on Cape Cod, where my friend and I had the thrill of getting to sleep in our own tent and ride our bikes through the campground on our own.  The brittle Massachusetts pine trees were used to create secret forts and pretend campfires.

Somewhere along the way though, I lost my ability to find these simple pleasures in nature.  Maybe it was during my family’s final camping trip, during which it rained every day of the two weeks, forcing us to sleep in our car on the last few nights.  After that we started renting houses.  Or maybe it was when I was waken up for a 4 AM hike after being kept up by my lovely bunkmate’s snoring at sleepaway camp.  Either way, by high school I considered myself “not much of an outdoorsy person,” as a draft in my notebook for an English assignment I had to write about myself in 12th grade starts.

Yet even as I felt no connection to nature, I still appreciated it.  I would still be the one swimming farthest into the ocean on my family vacations and I ended up taking many, many more hikes on the trail taken for the sunrise hike (albeit when I wasn’t lethargic and angry).  It wasn’t until I arrived at Dickinson and was surrounded by a strong environmentalist community that I realized how much I take these small moments for granted.

Last year, I spent my fall pause backpacking through Allegheny National Forest in West Virginia t0 avoid being bored in Pennsylvania for a long weekend.  During those three days, I felt a sense of calmness in being surrounded by trees with no end in sight that I had thought impossible at such a high stress place as college.  I dreaded losing that feeling upon returning to classes, but over the next few weeks, I could feel it returning to me through those moments that I had taken for granted before:  a quick bike ride to class, an afternoon reading in a field rather than the library, and a day spent climbing the trees I loved so much as a child.  It was possibly for this reason that I wasn’t entirely disappointed when I couldn’t hike in the famed Adirondacks over the summer.

Despite not having celebrated national parks in my backyard, there are still spectacular ways to connect to nature every day without having to drive 7 hours listening to the same two CDs.  Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax stresses the importance of how one person can have a great impact on their environment; whether it be positive or negative.  In a similar idea, it only takes one small, seemingly unspectacular connection to inspire a positive relation with all of nature.