This Land is the Only Land We Get

I confess I didn’t really give much thought to my connection with the land before this course. Its sheer beauty would sometimes strike me, and I had a surface-value appreciation for how much it gave for entertaining purposes (skiing, 4-wheeling, hunting, kayaking, etc). A huge part of this had to do with where I grew up: rural, northern Pennsylvania. Although there were plenty of farms near me, it didn’t register as much that the earth was used for food. Its use for energy slipped my mind, unless it came up in conversations about building wind turbines.

The Susquehanna from seen from Hyner View State Park, Clinton County


This course reminded me that the land was so much more than that, and that I had deeper connections than I thought. During class we were instructed to lie in the dirt. I was lying on my back, eyes closed, and then Prof. Bartlow urged me to flip around because, as our lovely little video told us, we know more about the sky than we do our own earth. I idly poked at the dirt and tugged at the grass, and then the memories came back. When I was a kid, so much of my time was spent outdoors in rural Pennsylvania. I’d trek through the woods, catch snakes, walk through streams, all the things good Pennsylvania kids do. And now that I’m older, most of my time is spent staring at a computer screen, inside. I had forgotten how nice it was to simply be outside without annoying, artificial distractions.

This course also opened my eyes to fracking. I lived in a small town whose economy was demolished when its main employer, Adelphia cable, went bankrupt. I remember the talk sweeping around town that fracking would bring back some jobs. I remember the desperate hope people had that this would stir up something, but no one came. We discussed fracking in Pennsylvania in class, and it became clear that the fracking industry looked for desolate, sparsely-populated towns like Coudersport. It wanted to provide jobs for a bit because people there were desperate. And then it cuts down trees, ruins roads, stalls traffic, and otherwise ruins the earth. It leaves once its taken what it can get, and it leaves more of a mess than when it started.


Marcellus Shale drilling in Lycoming County

Soil Not Oil was a powerful read. Of all the texts we have read in this class, this one has had the greatest impact. It impressed on how interrelated the three major crises are (climate, energy, and food) and how the solutions must come from the earth – a good, working relationship with the earth that doesn’t drain it of all its resources. Fracking does not seem to be a good solution to the energy crisis, as it is a resource-intensive, destructive way of acquiring natural gas. Before this course, I would not have been able to recognize that.

I’m beginning to value the land much more for its power and resources. And since the “lying in the dirt” class, and the beautiful weather, I’ve been reminded of how nice it is to just sit outside. No electronic buzzes and beeps, no air conditioning, nothing. Sometimes we forget that we’re a product of this earth as much as anything else. We’re not superior to it. We don’t have any innate right to what it can provide for us. We have to work with it, and we have to take care of it.

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