Summer Prep for Treehouse Living

This summer I read the book “Confessions of an Eco-Sinner” by Fred Pearce. It made me think a lot about my impact as a human being and the traceability of the products and services I consume on a daily basis. I considered this good practice for my fall semester in the Treehouse at Dickinson. So one fine day in the Adirondacks of New York I attempted to chronicle my daily mark on the planet while going about my duties as a watershed steward in the park. Like most humans, I think that I have a relatively small mark on the planet as just a simple cog in the global machine that daily pumps CO2 into the atmosphere. However, my conscious individual efforts could curb daily emissions at least a small fraction.

On the bright day of June 9th, 2012, I awoke to my loudly blaring alarm clock at 6:00 in the morning. My $6.oo alarm clock I bought from Target at the start of my college career is run on electricity, obviously. So I’m off to a good start. “Hummmmm should’ve gone to bed earlier last night,” I think as I try to pull the covers over my head for five more glorious minutes of sleep. But I know I need to wake up if I’m going to be in Lake Placid, 45 minutes away, for the start of my 7:00 shift.

Coffee time. My small stove in my cabin (which I share with an equally environmentally-conscious roommate) is run on propane supplied by Adirondack Energy. Because I’m living in a protected state park, the residents that rely on this company pay a premium for fuel that is pumped in and shipped into the park. This is incredibly energy intensive. I let coffee brew in my French press. (No cord, no electricity. Win!) I stick bread in the toaster. I would consider thinking about the source of my bread, but I made it myself the day before; I celebrate that small victory while waiting for the loaf to toast up. After my toast is finished, I turn off the power strip connected to the toaster to save myself from any unnecessary electricity draw. I scarf down toast and throw on my work uniform, running out my door to my incredibly fuel-inefficient car.

I drive a hand-me-down 1999 Toyota Camry. My car tends to get about 20 miles to the gallon of regular gas fuel on a good day (i.e. when there are not mice living in my air filter, long story). I am not a good person who runs her car on biodiesel or wind-power generated electricity. I shudder as I drive mile after mile onward into Lake Placid.

Although I made myself get out of bed, I still manage to be late to work, but no one is at the boat launch site, so I sit on the grass staring out into Mirror Lake and drinking coffee. I fill out data paperwork and watch the fog slowly roll away over the lake as the first rays of early sunlight warm the cement dock. Ah, the feeling of using zero energy. So relaxing.

Just then, as I’m finishing the dreggs of my coffee, I get a text message. That’s odd, who in their right mind is even awake now?! It’s one of my coworkers and before I know it we’ve texted back and forth for ten minutes; the battery dips on my phone. Nice job, Elena.

I get up to fill my water bottle at a nearby spicket. The water I get is taken directly from Lake Placid and is minimally treated before being fit for drinking. The residents of Lake Placid draw their drinking water form this lake and therefore take good care of it. I shut the tap off, careful not to waste a precious drop. For some reason, seeing the lake in front of me reminds me that wasting water is an eco-sin. Perhaps people need more of these direct connections in life so they don’t run water while brushing their teeth.

Lunchtime rolls around and I nosh on some rice I made the night before. I wonder where in the world that rice was grown. Good thing I didn’t get takeout, I think. With so many factors to consider, it would be an eco-nightmare to source all those ingredients!

I get an hour-break in the afternoon, during which I have letters to mail to friends who live in civilization. I have to drive into town since the launch is too far away to walk into the village. So I get into my car and drive into town. While there I pop into a coffee shop. More caffeine is necessary to function. I purchase my coffee in a paper cup, which is an eco-sin. However, I reason that supporting a local coffee shop cancelled out that environmental “faux pas.” However, gallons and gallons of water were used in the making of that cup of coffee to get it hot and delicious into my hands.

After an hour I head back to work and snack on an orange. Oranges, typically not grown in the northeastern woods of the Adirondacks, are instead trucked in from Florida and California. The carbon footprint of my fruit is horrendous.

As I fell asleep that night I couldn’t help but feel like I had a much larger footprint that I originally thought that same morning. However, I pledged to remain conscious of my actions, not to an obsessive degree, but so that I could learn and gradually improve on my impact each day. The next day I hopped on my bike and biked the eight miles to my shift.

That day’s account is a reflection of the reasons why I wanted to live in the Treehouse. I haven’t even been in the Treehouse a whole semester and I’ve started thinking more and more about what physical products I use and what energy sources I draw on each and every day. My treemates help to point out (in a friendly way) my bad habits of keeping lights on and how much water I put in the kettle. I’m more conscious of my water use and how much trash I make everyday. I’m so grateful for this mode of living. However, the one thing I wish I could explain to the Dickinson campus is that you don’t need the label of being a “Treekid” to make eco-conscious decisions everyday. Our campus is fortunate to have facilities on campus for composting, recycling and other sustainability resources. Reducing your footprint each day starts with learning about your actions and place in the world, and you don’t need to be a TreeKid or an environmental science major to do this!!

From: Elena Capaldi ’14
Published: November 4, 2012