Archive for September, 2010

Discovering our Home

Annie Gilmore, Claire Tighe, Torey Donato, Mary Lang Gill

1.) Point north. Write a description of your experience finding North from several locations on campus. What locations were more difficult than others? Why? Did you use ‘natural’ or ‘made’ guidemarks to help point North?

When asked to find which direction was North, I thought I would be unable to locate point North because it was cloudy and I did not have the sun as a guide. In order to figure this out I had to think back to sunsets I’ve seen since coming to Dickinson, tracing the sun’s path and using this to determine where North was. It came to me that I walk towards the sunset when I’m heading home along High Street towards Miseno’s.  North was in the same direction as Kaufman from where I am now (at my house). When I am standing at the front entrance to the Landis House, going North would be like walking down South College Street to the Quarry, which happens to be on North College Street. Given that the direction is the same direction as North College Street, this location is easier to figure out North. I feel like I should have been able to point in the right direction without thinking. Thinking about driving to places I know are North on a larger map is helpful, like North Mountain for example. I can recognize Carlisle on a map, but there is a disconnect between that map and my sense of place.

The other image that comes to mind when asked which way is North is the “You Are Here” maps of Dickinson one sees scattered throughout campus. In this way we think of ourselves in relation to buildings, streets, and other manmade structures. A sense of direction is not so innate; we were unable to point somewhere and say “this is North.” It is interesting how most people have to first think of a two-dimensional map and then apply that map to the real world in order to find their way. Whether or not I use the sun or maps to determine my bearing depends on where I am and how well I know the area. The better I know it, the more likely I am to know the streets and visualize a map in my mind.

2.) What time is sunset today? What time is sunset this day months from now? Where could you go within walking distance to watch the sunset? Would it be illegal/difficult/unsafe to get there?

The sun sets today, Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 7:22 pm. This time seems so much earlier than the summer when the sun sets after 9 PM.  On December 12, 2010 sunset will be at 4:43 pm. That time is unimaginable at this point. It makes me feel like I ought to be taking advantage of every minute of light while we still have longer days. This information was slightly difficult to pinpoint; I eventually found Harrisburg’s sunset times and deemed this adequate. If I wanted to watch the sunset I could travel to some picturesque lookout, but no locations come to mind immediately. The football field is an option Where to see a great sunset is not a common topic of conversation among college students, many students suggested sunsets and sunrises were not usually in daily discussion. I honestly feel like I do not have the time to watch the sunset most days. After doing some research among friends, I found out that the balcony on Tome and the roof of Denny apartments are also great places to see a sunset, even though climbing on top of the apartments is probably dangerous, and probably against the law. Answering this question reinforced the fact that one cannot Google every fact out there: sometimes the best information straight from a friend is better than impersonal search engines.


3.) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap and explain this process.

Tracing the journey of water is yet another question that is not easily procured on the internet. After feeling ignorant for not knowing the answer to this question despite all the environmental science classes I have taken, a current professor of mine was able to shed some light on the answer and the history of clean water in Pennsylvania.

The larger watersheds that Cumberland county crosses are the Lower Susquehanna-Swatara, the Lower Susquehanna, and the Conococheague-Opequon watersheds. Carlisle itself overlays the Conodoguinet Creek and Yellow Breeches watersheds. Rain that falls over these areas either falls directly into an open water source (river, stream, etc.) or eventually seeps into the ground elsewhere. The water makes its way through the waterways, flowing towards the Conodoguinet and Yellow Breeches Creeks. Carlisle gets its water from the Conodoguinet Creek. The water then goes through a process of removing particles and bacteria in Carlisle’s water treatment plant. The first step in this process is coagulation, where chemicals are added to coagulate with large particles in the water which are then filtered out in the sedimentation process. Next, the water goes through filters made of sand, gravel and charcoal to remove even finer particles. The water is then disinfected, probably with chlorine, in order to kill bacteria and microorganisms. Finally the water goes into storage where pipes lead to homes and businesses in the area.

(Sources:, Professor Greg Howard)

4.) When you flush, where do the solids go? What happens to the waste water? Name both manmade and natural resources used in this process and two people in your bioregion.

Human waste goes through the sewage system to the Carlisle Sewage Treatment Plant. The solid waste and waste water are separated and treated.The sewage treatment plant can be explained in three major steps:1) physical treatment; 2) biological treatment; 3) chemical treatment.

The physical stage involves letting the influent settle, at which point anything heavy sinks to the bottom. This layer is known as sludge, and at Carlisle it’s stabilized with lime and pressed, after which it’s called “biosolids” and spread on farm fields.

The biological stage is mostly concerned with removing nitrogen and phosphorous using bacteria. They aerate the sewage so that there’s as much oxygen in the mix as possible. The product of this stage could generally be considered water, but it’s replete with pathogens, hence phase three.

The chemical stage involves removing bacteria, usually by using chlorine or UV light.

There are both man-made and natural processes involved in treating the sewage. The toilet, sewer system, treatment plant and its machines consist of the man-made processes; the water, bacteria used to treat the water, and oxygen consist of the natural processes. This processes involves people who manage and monitor the sewage treatment systems at the plant and around the town of Carlisle and farmers in the local area who utilize the solid waste as fertilizer.

We spoke with Carl Kjellman, a former student who worked at the Sewage Treatment Plant last year to retrieve this information. The Carlisle Public Works’ webpage was also a supplementary, factual resource. Before knowing the information, I assumed that the solid and liquid wastes were separated and treated. However, I as surprised to find that the solid waste/sludge is treated and can be used as fertilizer on surrounding farmland. Considering this is important when thinking about sustainable agriculture. Reusing our solid waste is one way of keeping nutrients in our local systems. If I eat a peach from a local farm and my human waste ultimately returns to this farm, the whole process is cyclical and sustainable because I am consistently taking and replacing nutrients.


5.) How many feet above sea level are you?

I used a website to obtain this information about Carlisle, PA. The elevation of Carlisle is approximately 580 feet. I was surprised at how low the elevation was considering the nearby mountains, but this makes sense because Carlisle is situated in the Cumberland Valley. This particular factual data was easy to find and I really enjoyed using this website to see other data about the borough, such as how far people commute to work each day, the average family income, what kinds of jobs citizens have,and the types and rates of certain crimes that occur. Even though it was not required of me to read this information, I really enjoyed finding it because it contributed to my knowledge and understanding of life in Carlisle, its quality and residents. It offered a view of the borough that I do not necessarily think about every day on campus, but are important for me as a part-time resident nonetheless.


6.) What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom here?

George’s Florist was very helpful in finding the answer to what spring wildflower is the first to bloom in the Carlisle area. The head florist was a botany major many years ago. The florist stated there were two wildflowers that are the earliest to bloom in the Carlisle area- Snowdrops and the Winter Aconite. The Winter Aconite, or it’s scientific name, Eranthis grows between 10-15 cm tall and has a yellowish hue. It is the first to appear in early spring and last for about 2-3 months. The second wildflower is snowdrops also known as Galanthus. This wildflower blooms in early spring and is related to 20 species from the Amaryllis family. Jenn Halpin from the College Farm stated some of the first wildflowers to bloom are dandelions, Queen Ann’s Lace, and numerous weeds. Surprisingly, as I reflected I had never seen Snowdrops or Winter Aconite in the Carlisle area during spring as the florist stated at George’s Florist. However, from my experience living in the Carlisle area, I agree with Jenn Halpin’s that the most abundant wildflowers and the earliest to bloom are dandelions, Queen Ann’s Lace and weeds.


7.) How  many days is the growing season here?

I e-mailed Jen Halpin, who works at the college farm, to ask about the growing season. She said that the season (from frost to frost) extends from around May 15 to November 15. Unfortunately I was not able to connect with Jen personally as a local source because we used technology to communicate, but this means of communication proved most efficient for both of us. I was surprised at how late the “growing season” goes (into November!), because that is when the frosts prevent things from growing. I guess that makes sense considering how late into October one can find produce at the farmers’ market.

8.) Name five birds that live here. Which are migratory and which stay put?

When approaching this question, I knew immediately who to call. A good friend of mine, Billy Weber has been birding for a hobby his whole life, and began birding in Carlisle the last three years. When I asked him what five birds live in the Carlisle area, he was thrilled to give me the information and knew very intricate details about these birds that I had never considered before. He knew where the birds were migrating from and during what time of the year. The birds he expressed to me all had the reoccurring theme of migrating south during the warmer months. He also stated many of the birds came to the Carlisle area for the natural structures such as ridges, heavy growth around the Susquehanna river, and large and open farmlands. The birds also migrated to Carlisle for man-made structures such as brick chimneys located in the local Carlisle community. The first bird is the Golden Eagle.Golden Eagles are attracted to Waggoners Gap, specifically Kittatinny Ridge (part of the Appalachian Mountain Range) from late September to early December. Small numbers of Golden Eagles flying from Eastern Canada following the mountain range south to the Appalachians in the fall. They enjoy the Kittatinny Ridge because of the air thermals. The second bird is the Black Crowned Night Heron migrates to Carlisle during the warmer months. This waterbird requires heavy growth(trees and shrubbery) around river courses. Carlisle being close to the Susquehanna River attracts these waterbirds because of the river’s wooden islands where they can rest. The third bird is the Vesper Sparrow requires large open fields to nest. The Vesper Sparrow migrates during the warmer months to Carlisle. The farmland between Carlisle and Shippensburg is relatively undisturbed and allows the birds to set up territory. The fourth bird is the Barn Owl migrates south in the winter passing through Carlisle. They nest in either barns or silos, which is abundant in Cumberland County because of the large number of  farmland. The crop lands are rich in rodents and attracts the barn owl to the land and open country. Lastly, the Chimney Swift requires vertical surfaces  and protective walls to perch on and build there nest, for example hollowed out tree trunks. However, the Chimney Swift has adapted to man and usually makes nests in chimneys. Therefore, the Chimney Swift builds their nest in the large population of brick chimneys in Carlisle.

9.) What was the total rainfall here last year?

The total rainfall last year came to 4026 inches. This question was very challenging to answer. There was a lot of information on the bigger cities close to Carlisle though none specifically for our town. The group came to the conclusion that given that Carlisle is such a small and specific area, many of the weather patters and information was not very accessible. Our group came to the conclusion that given we live 8 months in Carlisle out of the year, we are aware of the large amount of rainfall. It is not a surprise Carlisle receives 4026 inches of rainfall a year.

10.) Name two places on different continents that have similar sunshine, rainfall, wind, and temperature patterns to here.

Carlisle  is considered to have “Humid Continental Climate” with warm to hot with often humid summers, and cold and often severe winters. The warmest months are July and August, with high temperatures at a least 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit with September being the wettest month. The coldest months are January at 26.6 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. Carlisle has a snowfall average of 29.8 inches per year. The hottest temperature was recorded at 102 degrees Fahrenheit in 1966 and the coldest temperature was recorded at -19 degrees Fahrenheit in 1994.

This was one of the most difficult questions our group had to answer. One person was assigned this question, but because of its challenging nature we investigated individually and then collaborated together. We all came to the conclusion that Carlisle was a humid continental climate, however, little information was given on the website we found. We had difficulty finding the days of sunshine and wind, though we were able to find average temperatures in the Carlisle area. From the Figure below, one can see the similar countries with the same humid continental climate.  The countries are located in the Northern Hemisphere. When we located the other countries with the same climate, we noticed that information was misleading. While the countries did not have Carlisle’s  specific terrain of farmland or open fields, they still have climate similarities.

(Source:, 1))

11.) Could your community feed itself within miles? What could you not provide that you would need? Where is the closest it could come from?

Through our research, there are ten farms within the surrounding Carlisle area. This isn’t even including the creameries and independent farmers that are not listed on Google. One can simply see all of the farm and crop land in Carlisle by driving within miles of the center of the city.  Corn fields and apple orchards are abundant in the Carlisle area. There are many independent farmers that have an array of produce that includes vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat products. Just going to the farmer’s market in the Square downtown one can sample the  locally grown and raised options: squash, tomatoes, cheeses, milk, eggs, apples, peaches, and more.This is all testament to the fact that we could feed ourselves with food from ten miles around us throughout the year depending on the seasonal crop. Even though the Carlisle community could feed itself in a 10-mile diet, many products could not be grown and distributed within 10 miles. For example, tropical fruits such as bananas and pineapples would never exist is Carlisle humid continental climate.  Also, Carlisle most likely does not have the resources to supply the amount of meat consumed by it’s entire community. Therefore, agricultural farming with local fruits and vegetables would supply the most and be most sustainable, for the most amount of people in the Carlisle area. It would be a difficult transition to subsisting off of food originating only in this area, but it could be done.


Overall, our group relied heavily on the internet, but realized that corresponding with locals in Carlisle was more beneficial. Through the internet and phone calls we believe our answers were more accurate and more personal. This project was an exercise in connecting with our bioregion, but we would argue that the use of the internet undermined the goals of this project. For example, we could have talked with Jen Halpin in person when she was on campus, but the internet proved more efficient and faster. At least one of our group members relied mostly on the phone. She made calls to local florists such as George’s Florist which proved to be very helpful. She also made a call to a friend, Billy Weber, who enjoys birding in the Carlisle area as a hobby. Therefore, reaching out to the community made this project richer and much more proactive. After completing the assignment, we felt more knowledgeable and in tune with our bioregion. Many of us, who called and corresponded with the Carlisle community felt more connected to our bioregion and were eager to research more information with hope in visiting local farms in the Carlisle area in the future.  Going the extra mile to obtain the answers to these questions made us appreciate the value of knowledge around our environment and our bioregion.

The bioregional quiz inspired realizations in us all. This project allowed us not only to gain information about the environment, food, flowers, and animals around us, but allowed us to be in contact with the community and locals who are interested in their bioregion as well. In order to feel connected to a place it is important to know about the physical, geographic place, hence, the importance of a “Bioregional Quiz.” Much like bell hooks writes in Belonging: A Culture of Place, in order to care about our surroundings and feel responsible for what happens there, such as conserving the Marcellus Shale, it is pertinent to know the factual data of our bioregion. hooks references Scott Russell Sanders, stating, that one cannot be grounded in life, if one is not grounded in a geographic place. He says that without a geographic center, a home, a place of belonging, one cannot have a spiritual center. One way to develop this connection between our geographic location and our spiritual location is to study the bioregion. Therefore, through hooks’ and Sanders’ words, our group felt a sense of community and connection with Carlisle after the bioregional quiz.


Inspecting the Uninspected

Published September 28, 2010:

We, Breanna Marr, Anna-Lisa Noack, Emily Olman, and Maggie Rees, set out to familiarize ourselves with our bioregion. While none of us grew up in Carlisle, we have all lived in the Dickinson College bubble for several years. Over the course of this project, we discovered how little we knew about the greater Cumberland Valley and beyond.  To our embarrassment, most of us realized that we did not know what a watershed was, let alone which one encompassed Carlisle. None of us knew where the nearest earthquake faults lie or what happens to the paper and plastic we recycle. In addition, we were surprised to discover just how much of the food we consume is not native to this part of the country. The more we thought about it, the more we realized that we didn’t know much about our home bioregions, either.

Why are we so ignorant of our homes, present and past? As young women born and bred in one of the most industrialized nations and with access to one of the most advanced education systems in the world, one would think that we had all these answers. However, our modernized, Internet-and-concrete-sheltered lives have distracted us from the most fundamental earth systems occurring in the very air we breathe, water we drink, and soil upon which we stand.  Having grown up as part of the generation that believes that beef comes from the refrigerated section of the grocery store, we forget that we depend on the cycles of nature. We cover up the soil with concrete and asphalt and carpet and forget about the ground beneath our feet. All our great-grandparents sustained their families by farming. Surely they would have known which winds carry rain and how much clay made up the soil they tilled.

Despite our overwhelming ignorance, we were confident that a simple Google search would be sufficient to provide us with all the information we needed. How wrong we were. Unfortunately, Google does not have much to say about the history of Native Americans in the Cumberland Valley. To complete this project, we had to rely on each others’ strengths: Breanna’s knowledge of watersheds, Emily’s familiarity with edible plants, Maggie’s awareness of local geological formations, and Anna-Lisa’s understanding of our area’s weather patterns. To fill in the still canyon-sized gaps in our knowledge that Internet search engines could not satisfy, we turned to local experts for help. Dickinson College professors Wingert, Peterson, and Niemitz eagerly and thoroughly answered our questions and shared their wisdom with us.

In retrospect, we needed to do this project. So far, most of what we have studied in our Ecofeminism class has been discussed in an abstract, theoretical manner. Until now, we have not focused our learning on strictly local issues, concentrating instead on the cultural dualisms that insidiously infiltrate our lives. It is one thing to talk about Vandana Shiva’s Soil Not Oil, which calls for a soil-based community and economy; it is another thing entirely to actually find a connection with our own land. Having done this exercise, we now have concrete, local examples of what it is we need to connect to and protect. We will be able to apply this knowledge ask these questions of our future homes long after we graduate and move to new bioregions.

Cumberland Valley from Waggoner's Gap (Audubon, 2010).

1)  How far do you have to travel before you reach a different watershed? Can you draw the boundaries of yours?

A watershed, or water parting, is an area of land and water that drains into a body of water, be it a stream, river, lake, etc. Highlands, ridges, and mountains usually form the boundaries between different watersheds. Carlisle, Pennsylvania lies within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. On the most local scale, Carlisle lies within the Lower Susquehanna-Swatara watershed. To leave the Chesapeake Bay watershed from Carlisle, you could head about 70 miles due West to the westernmost border of Bedford county, which marks the boundary between the Chesapeake and Mississippi River watersheds. The Chesapeake Bay watershed encompasses 64,000 square miles, including parts of West Virginia, Delaware, New York, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. About 15,000 streams and rivers feed into the Bay, including the Rappahannock, Potomac, James, York, and Susquehanna Rivers. The Susquehanna alone contributes approximately 50% of the drainage into the Bay, so the agricultural and industrial practices of central Pennsylvania have serious impacts on the Chesapeake. Every bag of fertilizer that farmers spread on their fields and every soap bubble that the people of this watershed wash off their cars run into small, local streams, then into larger rivers, and eventually into the Bay itself. Everything flows downstream.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed (The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 2010).

2) Is the soil under your feet more clay, sand, rock, or silt? Are there contaminates in the soil? How does this affect agriculture and industry in your region?

The most common soil in Cumberland County, PA is known as “Hagerstown” soil. Soil of this type is a fine, silty loam. If geologists classify soils as “loams,” then these soils contain a mixture of sand, silt, and clay. The Hagerstown soils in this area contain high percentages of iron-bearing clay in some areas, which accounts for their orange colouration. This soil was created by millions of years of chemical and physical weathering of the limestone in the valley. Soils made from limestone are often very fertile, and the most common usage of Hagerstown in Cumberland County is agriculture. However, numerous buildings have cropped up on the Hagerstown, taking advantage of the generally flat lay of the land. Because the soil in the valley is underlain by limestone, this infrastructure is at risk of being damaged by sinkholes, which occur when the limestone supporting the soil above is weathered away to the point that the ground collapses. Soil profiles for most areas in the United States can be found online at the USDA’s Web Soil Survey website.

Cumberland County has numerous sources of soil contamination. The application of herbicides and pesticides in farming areas can lead to build up of nitrates, phosphates, and/or bioaccumulative toxins that can leach into ground and surface water. Moreover, road salts spread in winter to keep streets ice-free causes sodium and chlorides to build up in the soils along roadways. Closer to home, Kaufman Hall of Dickinson College, which used to be Reeves-Hoffman crystal factory, along with the soil and groundwater around it are contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), a suspected human carcinogen (Korman, 2009).

3) Before your tribe lived here, what did the previous inhabitants eat and ow did they sustain themselves? How has this changed?

Before European colonists came to Pennsylvania, many tribes of Native Americans resided in North America. The land was their lifeforce, and they used every aspect of it to their advantage. When I was researching tribes in the Cumberland County area, I did not come up with consistent information. I found mention of various individual native Americans but no information about whole tribes. This is surprising because the Cumberland Valley seems to be an area highly associated with Native Americans.  The names “Susquehanna” and “Conodoguinet” are Native American in origin, so it makes sense that tribes would have lived in this area. I found the most information about the Delaware Valley Region’s Lenni Lenape. They ate a lot the same food that we do now. They tilled the land and grew beans, corn, and squash. They were also very much a hunter-gatherer tribe. Shooting or spearing fish, turkeys, deer and other animals Lenni Lenape used every part of the animal. After separating what could be used for meat, the rest was used to make clothing or other tools. Collecting berries also constituted a large part of their diet.

This diet of meat, vegetables, grain, and fruit has not changed much since the time of the Lenni Lenape. What has changed is the source of our food. Most of the food we eat today comes from overseas or the opposite side of the country. The majority of people in the United States do not eat locally as the Lenni Lenape did.

4)  Name five native edible plants in your neighborhood and the season(s) they are available.

Cumberland County boasts numerous edible plants. Local herbalists use five particular plants that are very common and plentiful in the area. Common Chickweed, which sprouts in autumn and continues into the winter, grows in open pastures and in moist soil. They appear in expansive blankets of plants. Common Chickweed is a very healthy leafy vegetable that can be added to salads to increase flavor and nutritional value. The Field Pennycress is found in similar areas as the Common Chickweed. Also used in salads, it carries a much bitterer flavor. In addition, it can add a punch to a sandwich spread. Gatherers can find it in the spring, summer and early fall. Another edible plant in the neighborhood of Cumberland County is the Purple Dead-Nettle plant. It grows throughout the year and may be found flowering during a mild winter. The Winter Cress or Yellow Rocket is a good option when a person needs sustenance while on a hike. Available in the warmer months of the year, it starts grows in the spring into early fall. Finally, chestnut trees produce – you guessed it – the chestnut. Once removed from their spiky shells, these nuts are quite delicious. The seeds have fallen to the ground by late winter and early spring.

Be careful not to prick yourself on the chestnut shell (Martinelli, 2010).

5) From what direction do storm generally come?

We rarely experience extreme weather conditions in Carlisle other than light rains and snow flurries. The wind we most commonly feel in Pennsylvania blows from the North East to the South West from the Atlantic ocean. These winds can often bring light storms and strong gusts of wind. However, severe weather, such as hurricanes during the summer, often originate in the South. A change in temperature of currents and streams in the Atlantic, especially in the Gulf, often results in strong storms that blow up the entire East Coast of the United States. These can bring fast winds that cause debris to fly and construction wreckage and heavy rains that often result in flooding because the soil is unable to absorb all of the water. Rarely are temperature changes, rains, or other weather trends isolated in a specific area. Simply turning on the weather channel and looking at the map of the United States is evidence of our interconnected weather system.

6) Where does your garbage go? Document the process from small community to great.

My garbage accumulates in the trash can beside my desk in my dorm room. Once I accept that I cannot squeeze so much as another Reese’s Peanut Buttercup wrapper inside, I tie up the plastic bag and drop it in the larger school-owned trashcan at the end of my hallway. From there, Lloyd, the housekeeper of my building, hauls the bag down the stairs and outside to an on-campus dumpster. Next, the Dickinson’s garbage hauling service collects the trash from the dumpster and trucks it over to the Cumberland County Landfill in the forested hills outside Shippensburg, PA, along with several tons of other students’ garbage. There, my little bag of tissues and crumpled up granola wrappers mingles with MILLIONS of other little bags of trash, which are all screened for radioactive material before being poured into giant pits, run over several times with heavy equipment, and covered with a layer of soil to prevent them from flying away in the wind. Eventually, the landfill will fill up and be capped and planted with grass. The landfill will be sealed to prevent garbage juices from escaping and contaminating the environment.

7) How many people live in your watershed?

Considering the sheer size and beauty of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it’s hardly a surprise that over 15 million people live within its boundaries. The watershed contains diverse land uses from farming to parklands to heavy industry. Human habitats include rural, suburban, urban, and metropolitan settings, and a myriad of attractions (such as the nation’s capital and the Bay itself) continue to attract thousands of new residents each year. Unfortunately, as the population within the watershed increases, the Bay undergoes more and more stress from pollution. As developers build new homes and neighbourhoods, more forest is cleared, and sediments loaded with nutrients run off the land, further choking the streams and rivers feeding the Bay. The excess nutrients in the Chesapeake lead to eutrophication and what is called the “Dead Zone,” which is an enormous hypoxic zone (meaning that the water is nearly depleted of dissolved oxygen) down the main stem of the Bay.

The dissolved oxygen levels in the Chesapeake Bay (Wheeler, 2009).

This answers only the human part of the question. What about the populations of wild animals in the watershed? Household pets? How many millions of pigs, cows, and, and chickens live on concentrated animal feeding operations and factory farms here? The waste produced by these animals runs off into the waterways, too.

8) Who uses the paper/plastic you recycle from your neighborhood?

Dickinson College gives students the opportunity to recycle paper and plastic that otherwise would simply end up in a land fill. Due to increasing environmental awareness, furniture, especially chairs, are often made of recycled material such as coke caps. According to Professor Wingert, “much of it (plastic we recycle) is made into building material for homes and decks/boardwalks, bags, rugs, outdoor furniture and much more”.  Paper products that are used daily for kitchen and bathroom purposes are frequently made of recycled paper such as paper towels and even toilet paper. Paper cups and colored paper binders that students purchase for classes are often made of recycled paper. However, much of our paper waste is not sorted and ends up in landfills. Usually, paper easily biodegrades, but, when mixed with other pieces of garbage, it does not decompose. Even though paper can read compost, any ink on the paper is difficult to remove. So, the full cycle from seed to tree to log to paper to notebook to wastepaper in the trash can to compost is rarely completed.

9) Where does the sun set on the equinox? How about sunrise on the summer solstice?

A common phrase on path of the sun states that “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.” As it turns out, this piece of handed-down wisdom is not completely true. The sun only rises and sets in due east and west on the spring and fall equinox.  The sun rides through the sky on those days for twelve hours, dividing the day evenly between light and dark. (Sanford Solar Center, 2005). On the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun rises from the northern-most point of its track: the Tropic of Cancer. Because it rises from so much higher in the sky, it takes longer to reach the horizon, giving us the longest day of the year. Each day after the summer solstice, the sun rises bit by tiny bit farther to the south up until the winter solstice, when the sun rises from the Tropic of Capricorn. From there, the cycle restarts, and the sun moves north again.

The Sun in the Sky during the Spring and Fall Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (The Sun in the Sky..., 2010).

10) Where is the nearest earthquake fault? When did it last move?

Because Pennsylvania is located in the middle of the North America tectonic plate, no major fault lines threaten Carlisle with earthquakes. The closest active fault is the Ramapo Fault, which runs along the St. Lawrence Seaway and stretches more than 180 miles through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. It started as a thrust fault in the formation of the Appalachian Mountains. While there have only been a few mild tremors in the past few decades, the Ramapo has probably not seen serious seismic activity in the last 200 million years (Niemitz, 2010). If the Ramapo ever has another powerful earthquake, New Jersey – the most densely populated state in the country – would be endangered.

Dillsburg, PA, located in Cumberland County, has experienced hundreds of micro-quakes within the past couple years. Micro-quakes appear as tiny blips on monitoring equipment and do not produce anything more dramatic in peoples’ homes than the rattling of china (Niemitz, 2010). The causes of these micro-quakes are unknown, but it is possible that the nose of South Mountain causes them as it adjusts and settles (Niemitz, 2010).

11) Right here, how deep do you have to drill before you reach water? Could you drink that water?

Groundwater is an important resource to any town or city.  Here in Carlisle, the town does not use groundwater as a drinking source, even though Cumberland County does have a carbonate rock aquifer beneath it (Swistock, 2007).  Instead, we rely on the Conodoguinet Creek for our drinking water. The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences conducted a report on groundwater in Pennsylvania, from which the majority of this information was gleaned. Pennsylvania has roughly four types of aquifers ranging in depth from 20 to 250 feet.  The specific type of aquifer in Cumberland County is found between 100 and 250 feet beneath the surface.  The water found in this aquifer is very hard, containing approximately 250 mg/litre of dissolved solids, such as calcium and magnesium (Swistock, 2007).  The hardness of normal drinking water from the Conodiguinet Creek in Carlisle is about 173 mg/litre (2008 Annual Water Quality Report, 2008).

12) Which geological features in your watershed are, or were, especially respected by your community, or considered sacred, now or in the past?

Carlisle has numerous geological features drawing in tourists from across the globe.  The Yellow Breeches Creek in Central Pennsylvania attracts fly-fishers from all over the world.  Professor Brian Pedersen states that the Yellow Breeches, famous for its trout fishing, is one of Pennsylvania’s most scenic rivers (2010).  The state and local fly-fishing shops occasionally restock the creek with trout to keep the fishing economy strong and thriving. In another effort to keep the Creek healthy, the same groups also line parts of the Yellow Breeches with limestone to add alkalinity to the water to buffer against acidification of the water from acid precipitation.

Another natural feature of importance in our watershed is the bubbling natural spring located in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania.  Groundwater feeds the spring, so it remains approximately 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.  One of the largest springs in the United States, Boiling Spring feeds to the scenic and recreational Children’s Lake.

There are by no means the only answers. What natural features hold special meaning for you, dear readers?

The Beautiful Children's Lake (Navin, 2010).

Works Cited

  • Audubon Society of Pennsylvania. Photo Gallery. Harrisburg, PA. Site visited: 24 September 2010.
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Save the Bay. Land Use and the Chesapeake Bay: Maps. 2010. Site Visited: 24 September 2010.


  • Martinelli, Candida. Candida Martinelli’s Italophile Site. Site visited: 24 September 2010.
  • Navin, Joan. Children’s Lake, Boiling Springs, PA. Flickr. 2010. Site visited: 24 September 2010.
  • Niemitz, Jeffery. Geology Professor at Dickinson College. Personal interview. Carlisle, PA. 2010.
  • Pedersen, Brian. Dickinson College Professor of Biology and Environmental Science. Personal interview. Carlisle, PA. 24 September 2010.
  • Thlaspi arvense. Feburary 28, 2010. September 25, 2010.
  • The Sun in the Sky on the Spring and Fall Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. Site Visited 28 September, 2010.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Resources Conservation Service. USDA .  Washington, D.C. September 2010. Site visited: 26 September 2010.

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Understanding our Bubble

By, Ramsay, Katelyn, Rebecca and Sam

1.  Where does the pollution in your air come from?

Pennsylvania’s air pollution problems are caused by many different sources – from business and industry, automobiles and from natural sources.

In Pennsylvania, there is a problem with large trucks.  The main problems that we face with these trucks are cutting through residential areas and idling.  They are emitting particulate that aggravates and cause damage to lungs.  Hundreds of these go down our very own High Street (can we say “eww?”):

Cars are also a source of air pollution. Vehicle emissions contribute to health and environmental problems such as urban smog, air toxics, and global warming.  Changes in individual driving habits make a big difference in the amount of pollution a car produces.

Another source of air pollution is factories.  From coal power plants to metal smelter to paper manufacturers, these factories emit millions of tons of waste via air pollution every year.

Thermal inversion in the valley of PA can also be a problem.  Thermal inversion occurs when a layer of warm air traps the underlying cool air, and with it the pollutants from anthropogenic sources (like those mentioned above). Follow this link for a simple demonstration:

2. If you live near the ocean, when is high tide today?

On Saturday September 25 High tide, in Cape May, NJ, will happen twice; once at 9:42am and once at 10:00pm. The following is a graph found at that shows high/low tides, their high, rise and set of both the sun and moon and the moon’s visibility.

Day High/Low Tide Time Height (feet) Sunrise


Moon Time %Moon


Sat. 25 Low




3:13 AM

9:42 AM

3:49 PM

10:00 PM





6:50 AM

6:52 PM



9:01 AM

7:38 PM

Sun. 26 Low




3:44 AM

10:14 AM

4:27 PM

10:34 PM





6:51 AM

6:51 PM



10:02 AM

8:12 PM


You can see in this chart that the difference between high and low tides is between 4-5 ft.  The highest tide in the world is in Fundy Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada. Here the difference between low and high tide can be as much as 40 ft. Follow this link to see a picture:

*For information about the moon cycles and their affect on women’s blood and hormonal cycles see question 9.

3. What primary geological processes or events shaped the land here?

The formation of Pangea and its breaking apart played a major role in the formation of our area geologically. When Pangea broke apart and moved, it created the Appalachian Mountains and rift valleys nearby from the shifting of continental plates. Our limestone bedrock formed from the remains of a shallow sea that was rich in carbonate, and our sandstone bedrock areas developed from deeper seas. Sandstone has not eroded, situating it at mountain tops, while limestone areas have eroded, creating limestone valleys.
I learned this information through discussion with  my roommate, a Geology major, which she passed on to me from courses she has taken that explored our local geology in Carlisle and how it formed.

King’s Gap, South Mountain

4. Name three wild species that were not found here years ago. Name one exotic species that has appeared here in recent years.

Because the question asked for wild species that are relatively new to the area, the concept of invasive species came to mind.  So I Googled invasive species in PA and was brought to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) National Agricultural Library.  There were two species that appeared in the last few years: the Asian Tiger Mosquito, in Allegheny County in 2008 and the Emerald Ash Borer in 2007. When this turned out to not be the best way to find out, I deferred to my Forest Ecology professor, Professor Pedersen, who would likely have this knowledge.  He said that the Trees-of-Heaven (Scientific name: Ailanthus altissimo), the Gypsy Moth and the Chestnut Blight are all relatively new in the last 100 years or so.

5. What minerals are found in the ground here that are or were economically valuable?

Economically valuable resources in Pennsylvania include not only minerals, but also materials produced as a result of the geologic conditions under which the rocks and minerals formed.  For this reason, the nature and distribution of economic resources are related to the geologic history of the area.  Pennsylvania has a rich and diverse geologic history, and as a result, a wealth of economic resources.   Pennsylvania’s resources serve as fuel (like coal, oil, and gas) and construction materials, manufacturing, agriculture, and other industries (such as metals, aggregate, brick, and cement).


Pennsylvania’s most abundant energy resource is coal.  There are two kinds of coal mined:  bituminous (“soft”) and anthracite (“hard”) coal.

As displayed on the map above, Bituminous coal fields take up more than a third of the state of Pennsylvania.

Some of the largest, most modern and productive underground coalmines in the United States are located in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Historically, coal was the fuel of choice for transportation and other steam-powered applications and was essential for the production of steel.  Today, coal is used mostly by utility power plants for the generation of electricity.  Other uses of coal include steel manufacturing, heat and power for industrial plants, and residential and commercial heating.

Bituminous                                                                                           Anthracite

Sandstone and limestone:

Pennsylvania is a major supplier of limestone and sandstone.  Limestone is made into agricultural lime, cement, and other construction materials.  Sandstone is used for construction materials and in the manufacture of glass.  Quarried and crushed sandstone makes fairly durable fill.

Oil and Natural gas:

Oil and natural gas are two of the main energy resources that have become essential commodities. While the earliest uses were for sources of light and heat, modern uses also include lubricating oils, fuels for things like cars, planes, and manufacturing facilities, plastics, vinyl, paint, and synthetic fabric.

More recently, with the advances in technology, Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is being mined for its particularly large quantities of natural gas.  Marcellus Shale can be found under 60% of Pennsylvania’s land mass:

6. Where does your electric power come from and how is it generated?

At Dickinson, we generate some of our own power and we buy power off-campus. On campus there are several, small power generating facilities. There is a Central Energy Plant located in Kaufman Hall that is used for supplying campus with steam and chilled water. Off campus most of our power is provided PPL utilities. Energy is generated by a fuel mix that is “primarily fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) and nuclear energy with smaller portions coming from hydroelectric and other renewable sources” ( We also purchase wind energy to offset our other energy costs. According to the Dickinson website, 100% of our energy is offset by wind resources and we are researching the potential to generate our own wind energy at the College Farm.

*This information was obtained by talking to an ES major and elaborated upon visiting the Dickinson website on Sustainability.

7. After the rain runs off your roof, where does it go?

From the roof, my rainwater in the Center for Sustainable Living runs into rain barrels. However, when those barrels are full and overflow, the water goes to the storm drains, then to LeTort Spring Run, which is a tributary to the Conodoguinet River. From the Conodoguinet, the rainwater flows into the Susquehanna River and follows a route that takes it to the Chesapeake Bay.
At home, in Eastern Pennsylvania, my water mostly drains underground to recharge well aquifers. When the ground is saturated, water runs off into the Saucon Creek, then to the Lehigh River, and finally to the Atlantic Ocean.
I learned the information about my watershed in Carlisle through the Luce Semester in the Environmental Studies department, where we traced our watershed over local topographic maps to illustrate our impact on the Chesapeake from hundreds of miles away.
I’ve been aware of my watershed at home since I was very young because my grandfather and father taught me how to fish, and explained to me where the water that we fished in came from and where it traveled, also explaining where the fish came from and where they went.
8. Where is the nearest wilderness? When is the last time a fire burned through it?

I assumed wilderness to mean forest closest to campus, so I mapped out which forest was closest to Dickinson.   This did not turn out to be effective. My Forest Ecology professor, who is biased as to what is considered a wilderness, said it would be Meeting of the Pines park in Chambersburg.  He considers it wilderness because it had not been cut down by European settlers.  This is a protected ’natural’ area by the state of Pennsylvania and contains 5 species of pine that are normally never all seen in the same place at once.  However, they will start to die off because there has not been a fire in the area for a while (time not known); and the law states that because it is protected, people cannot intervene.  These trees have more successful reproduction when their seeds are heated, and the ash acts as a good fertilizer for the new trees.

9. How many days until the moon is full?

The moon is full this year on September 23, 2010. Again on October 23, 2010: Interestingly, this year the full moon, or the Harvest Moon, arrived on the same night as the autumnal equinox. The closest its came to this in the past was September 23, 1991, and we will not see this phenomenon until year 2029 according to NASA.

The equinox occurs twice a year, when the Earth’s axis is tilted neither towards nor away from the Sun. The term equinox comes from the lasting stems aequus (equal) and nox (night), because during the equinox, the hours in night and day are approximately equal.

The moon’s gravitational forces cause the rise and fall of sea levels (combined with the Sun’s gravitations forces and the Earth’s rotation).  Most places in the ocean experience two high tides and two low tides each day, which is called a semidiurnal tide.

It is believed that women are connected to the moon by our blood, our hormones and our souls.  For instance, when the moon is full, stress becomes a major factor and people become more sensitive to details. An overload of work will add to the frustration and people will deal with their own needs rather than paying attention to others’ needs.  A new moon brings a sense of calmness.  People’s emotions get back to normal, there is an enhanced feeling that anything can be accomplished, and there will be more energy and acceptance of other other’s ideas.

In addition, the Moon has always been the primary symbol for female energy in particular.  The Moon’s cycle around the earth takes approximately twenty-nine days, which is the same amount of time as the average woman’s menstrual cycle.  It is often felt that as the pull of the Moon’s gravity affects the water tides, so does this cycle affect the body of woman.

A woman’s blood and hormonal cycle follow the ebb and flow of the Moon; from new moon to full Moon, estrogen increases leading to ovulation or fertility.  Traditionally, women start bleeding right before the new moon, in the dark of the moon.  However, in modern times, women begin their menstruation during different phases of the moon.  Their bodies are out of sync with the moon and, according to belief, their spirits have forgotten the meaning of “Grandmother Moon.”  Some women believe that one way to get back in harmony with the moon is by performing ceremonies and rituals at different times during the moon cycle and by honoring the time of women menstruation.

The connection between women and the Moon was expressed dating back to the Greek and their Gods.  The Greek deity, Artemis, was the goddess of hunting, wilderness and wild animals.  She was also the goddess of childbirth and the protector of female children.

10. What species once found here are known to have gone extinct?

The Grey Wolf:

Wolves have always been misunderstood as violent creatures    and this has been destructive to their population. They are killed  in order to protect livestock and their habitats are destroyed for  commercial development. Today they exist in only 7 states and  they are extinct in Pennsylvania. They are an endangered  species that is misunderstood and underappreciated for their  majestic beauty.

The Carrier (or Passenger) Pigeon:

According to Clive Ponting, an author for the website, Carrier Pigeons used to populate Northern America in the billions. He says the mass slaughter of these birds was worse than the slaughter of bison. Carrier pigeons were trapped and shipped to developing cities on the east coast because they were a cheap source of meat. Additionally, their habitats were destroyed for farmland. The last carrier pigeon died in captivity in 1914. If you google images of the carrier pigeon, most pictures are merely illustrations.

The Carolina Parakeet (or parrot):

Many of the readers who visit 10,000 Birds are members of the developed world (more than 50% are North American according to our stats), and it’s fairly easy and comforting when we think of endangered parrots to think ‘third world’ – that supposedly ‘third world’ issues like habitat change and rapidly increasing human populations etc are behind many of the problems afflicing the world’s parrots (remember that almost a third of all parrot species are threatened with extinction). It’s simply not true of course. Parrots are disappearing in so-called ‘first world’ countries like Australia (eg the Orange-bellied Parrot) and New Zealand (eg the Kea and Kakapo) for the same reasons, and it’s not so long ago that a now extinct parrot was common in the United States.”

The Carolina Parakeet faced the same hardship as the Carrier Pigeon. It was hunted for sport, for its beautiful feathers, and as a source of food. Additionally, its habitat was destroyed to make way for farmers and agriculture. Some also hypothesize that diseases introduced by yard chickens contributed to their demise. The last known specimens died in the 1950’s in Florida and North Carolina.

11.  What other cities or landscape features on the planet share your latitude?

Our latitude in Carlisle is 40.2 degrees North, and at our latitude, we are the same latitude as cities like Madrid, Spain; Bursa, Turkey; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I found this information by searching through internet maps and using Google Maps learn our latitude and trace our location to other locations at the same latitude.  Latitude is a determinant in climate, and it is interesting to see places that are so culturally different share a similar physical characteristic with our place in the world.

12. What was the dominant land cover plant here, years ago?

Professor Pedersen stated that the area around Carlisle was mostly mixed hardwood forest before the settlers.  The Native Americans burned the forests for deer food, so they could hunt the deer.  It mainly consisted of Oaks, Hickory, Chestnut, etc. and was predominant over most of the North East.  Most of the North East consisted of thick forests before the settlers started clearing it for farm land.


As we researched these topics we made several interesting observations. First of all, depending on whom you talk to at Dickinson, there is either a breadth of knowledge about our bioregion or none at all. It was interesting that we didn’t have easy access to some of this information in such a technology-based age. Access to information is key to understanding the natural environment in which we live and having the ability to play a part in the preservation or fair treatment of it.  However, many people are ignorant of the specific details of their surrounding land and how what they do affects their ability to be healthy and survive. Anthropogenic uses of our resources have negative effects on our environment. Professor Greg Howard’s environmental health class reiterates in detail how the everyday actions of human beings (whether that be driving to work or heating your house during the winter) cause pollution that negatively affects human health.

Lack of access to information also limits the appreciation that we could have for our environment. We cannot have information about how our natural world functions available only through the extensively educated or the select few.  It is the individual community members who should understand their land the most; and it is these people who are responsible for their environment and those who will be impacted most by the degradation of that environment. Ironically, tour guides were very helpful answering some questions because they are asked to learn a wide variety of information to share with prospective students. Yet, within the general population, people tend to be inside their own bubbles of information depending on their major and what groups/organizations they are a part of. However, our bioregion is a bubble we are all a part of and should all seek to understand.

The bioregional quiz illustrates how we, in Carlisle, relate to many other places and the bigger picture of the planet. Specifically, it shows what has influenced where we are currently, such as the geologic processes that have influenced what minerals are currently available to us and have developed industry.

It also shows how we will impact other areas in the future, particularly within our watershed because the water that runs from our rooftops and through our streets ends up in the Chesapeake Bay; meaning we impact another area greatly even though it is hundreds of miles away.  The quiz also reflects how physical characteristics of the place we live in relate us to other places and their people, for example our latitude (which determines the climate we receive) is the same as places like Spain and Turkey, which are very different culturally. Overall, the quiz not only gives us a better idea of our own area, but how our area relates to other places.

Asking these questions from an ecofeminist standpoint, we came across some interesting intersections between learning about our bioregion and tying it into ecofeminist theory. The research on extinct species closely related to some of our topics in class. The vocabulary that was used to talk about endangered or extinct species was remarkably similar to vocabulary used to talk about exploitation of people. The “mass slaughter” of a species makes one think of the genocide of a human population. Additionally, just as we often turn away from genocide (think of Darfur), we easily look past the actions that continue to endanger and kill animal species.

While researching the questions about the next full Moon, we converted it into a Moon appreciation question and wanted to connect it with women. Even though women’s cycles are believed to be with the Moon’s cycles, it is generally not true.  It was also interesting to learn was about the Greek goddess, Artemis.  The connection the worshipers of this goddess made, even thousands of years ago, between the wilderness and women, was amazing and related to our discussions in class about how women are associated with nature.

Learning about how one subject can connect to many different subjects just continues to illustrate how connected different philosophies, studies, humans, animals and regions are.  We could have gone everywhere with these questions (and in some respects, we did!), because that is the beauty of our world – its complexity.

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pass me the eye liner … i mean scalpel

Upon walking into Ecofeminism the first day, I knew immediately that my opinions and views would be tested, critiqued, and expanded every time our class met. Ecofeminism, from what I can gather so far, is a mix of  many different specific interests that have been meshed together with aspects of feminism and environmental studies. It is a broad title for connecting all things “women” with nature. Truth be told, I believe that women are a large component of  the natural cycle (you are born, you live and then you die). However, I am struggling with the concept that men are part of a separate  system of their own; one that dominates over all nature and therefore women.  Whether man or woman we are [humans] destroying nature.  Rosemary Radford Ruether says it best in her article, Ecofeminism, Symbolic and Social Connections of the Oppression of Women and the Dominations of Nature. “We need to think of human consciousness not as separating us as a higher species from the rest of nature, but rather as a gift to enable us to learn how to harmonize our needs with the natural system around us, of which we are a dependent part.”

One way I feel we can help preserve the Earth is to answer the question: what is nature?  This is tough question because everyone has contrasting views about how to categorize and identify nature. Many of these ideas about nature come from presumptions or ideas that may have arisen from school or the media, maybe even your own experience. For me, it is easier to describe what is not nature because I believe so much of the world is natural.


1. Anything man-made: made not from products from the Earth

2. Anything that is a product of a man made “thing.” This could be pollution.

Nature comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors. As a part of nature [we] humans do as well. Our bodies are all unique, but together complete to form a spectrum of individuals.  Our bodies as a whole can be looked at in many different ways. I look at my body in two ways: the interior and exterior. This deconstruction stems from my mother. She is a nurse and has always taught me about my physiology, bringing pictures of the brain to the dinner table and texting me stories about operations. I always think of her as being a smart, brave and strong stomached individual. While sharing these experiences with me she would be simultaneously apply her make up or complain about losing weight.  I always felt this was normal until I came to college. Now, I wonder how could she care about her appearance when she is saving peoples’ lives? Why does it matter if she ate 3 huge cookies when she  is doing a liver transplant? The conclusion I have come to is that the pressure of societal norms is to blame. Depending on the gender roles that you perform or others that you are assigned you stereotypically see yourself  as needing to be a certain way.  When you  show yourself differently then the strived for norm you tend to feel bad about yourself. No matter how great of a person or the amount of good that you do, society  and yourself will always guide your feelings

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A Variety of Influences

What prejudices/presumptions have guided your perceptions about your body, nature, and gender?
The words prejudice and presumption have a negative connotation, calling to mind ideologies which have influenced my perceptions in a destructive manner, but there have also been various ideas that have shaped my thoughts about my body, nature, and gender in a positive manner as well. The portrayals of women in the media do not resemble the “real” women I see everyday in the world. Think of the tan, long-haired, model-esque physiques of the “sexy” “women” in every single issue of Cosmopolitan ( magazine, both on the cover and each page of the publication. Cosmo normalizes this hyper-feminine image of women, leading both men and women alike to presume that being a woman means wearing tight clothing, exposing large amounts of skin and various body parts, removing hair in all places except the head, which of course should display long, flowing locks. If “woman” means shaved legs, long hair on the head, large breasts on display, and tight, exposing clothing, is my body must “incorrect” in portraying femininity?

What makes a woman?

Fortunately at this point in my feminist discovery and further attempts to connect and re-integrate with the natural world (especially in relation to my body), there have been many constructive ideas and practices which have had a positive influence on my perceptions about the relationship between my body, nature, and gender, especially the work of Joanna Macy, Molly Youn

g Brown, and Derrick Jensen. In my life I had never been taught that humans themselves are a part of nature and have the ability to heal the Earth from the damage caused to it by other humans. The messages that women are powerless, emotions are useless, and associating with nature is meaning have lead me to believe that it is silly to realize a connection to the natural systems of the universe.

Joanna Macy's "The Work That Reconnects"

In their book “Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World,” the authors Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown beg to differ. Brown says, “I couldn’t imagine not being emotional about something which threatened the lives of my children and everything I loved […] Emotion might call into question the behavior so elaborately rationalized by thought” (Coming Back to Life 12). As a woman, she establishes the power of emotion in bringing about environmental healing. Derrick Jensen communicates the same in his book “A Language Older Than Words.” He says that all forms of life have a meaningful way of interacting that transgresses species, showing that interaction between “man” and “nature” is only natural.
This integration of ideas is also present in Mies and Shiva’s article “Introduction to Ecofeminism,” in which the authors discuss “life-sustaining networks and processes” that keep human beings alive, processes that will satisfy the needs of humans. Mies and Shiva also call to mind how important it is for humans to understand the interrelatedness of all life and the importance of caring for and supporting all of its forms.
These particular authors have helped shape my role as a female human in the natural processes of the world in a more positive light, showing me that I can have a healthy effect on various systems of the Earth and the beings which inhabit it. I hope my perceptions will continue to evolve this semester, as I leave behind the stale images implanted in my psyche by the media and embrace the more inclusive ideas of Ecofeminism.

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‘We ain’t got nothing on Mother Nature’

As we talk about perceptions of body, nature, and gender, we noticed that we were using a lot of adjectives and that these adjectives seem to be helping form our identities and how we perceived these three subjects.  These adjectives are based on our interactions with others – whether that is family, teachers, peers, or the media, etc…  our brains are packed with preconceived or unconscious notions about what these three topics are, and it takes discussions such as these to open our minds and to think outside the “box.”

Discussing Mies & Shiva, “domination over nature” was expressed as a fact – that we, human beings, have disconnected ourselves from our relationship with nature.  I connect this thought to the question, “what is natural?”  What we see and do in our everyday lives is not natural?  The notion of “normal” has taken precedent over natural – this is one of the two phrases that caught my attention while reading Fausto-Sterling’s “Dueling Dualism.”  Foucault says that we are a “society of normalization.”  We can see this in the way we treat nature – we claim to see something that is not right to us, so we fix it. We can see this in the way we treat our fellow human beings – social institutions about gender, and the like, perpetuate gender inequality.  By viewing “others” (which includes nature) as something or someone that needs to be fixed or managed, we construct these irrational differences that create negative connotations about, mainly, women and nature.  The ever-changing social environment dictates these social institutions that make us believe in a social “norm.” (as a side note, even those who are fighting against a social norm are still, in a way, responding to it. If it were not there, they would not have to be inclined to the act in opposition.  You cannot get away! …Or can you?).  What is always constant, is nature – WE are the ones changing, distorting, and diminishing nature.

So, we can conceptually understand that we are being influenced by society and our normative views of our environment are keeping us separated from nature.  But what does that mean for me?  Should I throw away my clothing and move to the woods to reconnect?  This is not realistic now-a-days, but that is not the end of this conversation – but Social CHANGE is the beginning.  They way we think. The way we treat others (No one is better than the next person. As my grandfather once told me, everyone, including the President and olympians, gets up in the morning and goes to the bathroom).  The way we hold respect for the world around us.  It is possible – being sustainable is the beginning of this change.  We are starting to see that we need a healthy environment – we rely on the resources the earth provides – just like we need each other.

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Faith: Is it relevant?

Faith, fashioning moral values, shapes an individual’s perception of body, gender and nature. I attended a small church in Central Pennsylvania and the community within those walls had a large impact on my perception of my body, gender and nature. In Christianity, one sees their body “as the temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), in other words, one treats one’s body with respect and does not exploit one’s own or someone else’s body. Beauty was no longer about the outward appearance, but was a word to reflect the heart, the essence of the human being. In our world, media, movies, and celebrities have an influence on our idea of the “beautiful” woman.  Daily on magazine covers or on TV, we see the slender, attractive woman on the front cover. Though, I have been at fault for following the trends by exercising to fit the “ideal” image, I know the simple truth that beauty is fleeting and that “inner beauty”, which emerges from the heart is what matters and has the lasting impression.

Nature is valued in the Christian faith, it is seen as God’s creation. It was created first and is to be preserved and not abused. Humans are to live within nature, in a sense, cohabitate. Presently, one can see the devastation of environmental degradation, global warming and irresponsibility in taking care of our world. The Bible has lessons on avoiding the abuse of nature; if one should build a house do not cut from a fruit tree but instead from a tree not bearing fruit, therefore feeding those who are in need and hungry (Deuteronomy 20:19-20).

As discussed in class, it seems self-evident that women, their bodies, and nature are to be preserved and respected, so why then in our society are they exploited and seen as inferior and less valued? Barbara Epstein states, “Ecofeminism argues that patriarchy, the domination of women by men has been associated with the domination of nature. Men have justified their attempts to dominate nature by associating it with women”(Epstein 145). Does faith speak to the specific issue of ecofeminism? In my opinion, man’s “turning” was to soil (work or toiling in the ground), as a source of their identity, which then turned into domination and power over nature. The woman’s “turning” was to the man, as a source of her identity. Both “turnings” were away from God and the source of relationship. That is why relationships struggle today, why power and domination exist, man continues in his quest to be “God” and leaves in his wake the devastation of both man and nature, which is an idea given by William Paul Young, author of the bestselling novel, The Shack.  If ecofeminism does speak of this issue, what changes, if any, can I make to have a “voice” for nature and myself? Women and nature are oppressed and exploited, however faith and its relation to moral values may be the avenue of empowerment for myself to overcome such prejudices of body, gender, and nature.

Masaccio, Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise, 1427

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Will Overpopulation Affect Our Relationship With Nature?

Will Overpopulation Affect Our Relationship With Nature?

Women’s connection with nature is often characterized through the importance of life and reproduction.  Mother Nature is a prime example of how women and nature are connected.  Because nature is characterized through a loving and caring mother, the natural cycle of birth and reproduction is strongly related to women.  In an article read in class, written by Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Plumwood describes the idea that “women’s alignment with nature has been matched by…’natural’ areas in human life as reproduction.” Ecofeminism  relates strongly to the idea that women are connected to the natural world through the ability to reproduce.  The practice of reproduction and birth is a very natural process and through the cycle of reproduction, women are able to feel more connected to nature.

Although, I have a strong interest in the ideals of feminism, I am more strongly linked to environmentalism and problem areas in nature.  One main issue that I find to be most important in our environmental crisis is overpopulation.  With the population booming exponentially, it seems hard to believe that anyone would be promoting reproduction very strongly.  However, it seems to me that a conflict would occur between the idea to stop rapid reproduction and the ecofeminist ideals having to do with reproduction as a way of connecting women to nature.

The conflict I see is that with activists attempting to prevent women from reproducing, women will lose some connection to the environment.  If women are increasingly being convinced to stop reproducing, take contraceptives, and not contribute to the world’s increasing population problem, is it possible that women could lose a part of the natural cycle that we are so connected to?  The question I am asking is this: if in the future, women are asked to stop reproducing, how much of a connection to nature would be lost?  I feel that if women and nature no longer have such a bond through the birth cycle, some relationship might be lost.

An article by Jill Gay brings up another issue regarding the idea of decreasing reproduction.  Jill Gay believes it to be an issue that activists are supporting less reproduction before they support the health and well-being of these women.  I agree that women should have proper nourishment, education, and living standards before they are pushed to use contraceptives and practice other forms of birth control.  The conflict remains; however, that over-population is a serious issue and until something is done to stop the rapid growth of humans, both women and nature will suffer.

So the problem is that women need to maintain a strong relationship with nature while maintaining good health and quality of life.  If we choose to slow reproduction, what will happen to the connection between women and nature?

– Maggie Rees

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Changing Self

Every prejudice and presumption that have been spit at me by the media (TV, magazines, music), my family and friends have affected how I perceive my body, nature, and gender. Whether or not I choose to internalize these norms and values it is impossible to be completely unaffected by the prejudices that I am exposed to. The standard, American presumptions, e.g. girls ought to be pretty, thin, agreeable and polite, have been sold to us by the media and reinforced by our social interactions. Looking back at my different years of school, as early as third grade I was aware that it was better to be thin and to please others. Even now as I travel through college the pressure to be attractive and popular is ever-present. As Julia Serano points out in “Boygasms and Girlgasms” in Whipping Girl, another assumption that has affected the female population is the norm that men are allowed to be sexually promiscuous whereas women are deemed sluts if they do the same. These expectations are acutely felt (especially if one is on the receiving end of that insult) whereas other, further-reaching standards are applied more subtly.

These latent gender standards are not necessarily presented to us in magazines but exist pervasively in our culture. The most influential of these presumptions is the idea of women being subservient to men. I do not feel this pressure overtly, day to day, but I notice it in various venues. In some classroom situations, especially in middle and high school, the boys would dominate the discussion, whether they were actually contributing or merely goofing off (though usually the latter) and so it was easy to keep quiet when most of the teachers’ attention was being focused on the boys. In addition to this I clearly remember “dumbing myself down” so I would be better liked. I have let boys’ aggressiveness shape my perception of my gender, leading me to believe that it is okay to not speak my ideas. This is reinforced by studies that have shown that girls receive less attention  than boys in the classroom. Girls can come into elementary classrooms with an outgoing nature but become more passive as years go by. Giving more attention to boys will not solve the problem of their domination of the classroom, so how might this gender bias be equalized?

However, since coming to a small, liberal arts college, my perceptions about my nature and gender have shifted. It is still hard to throw away the pressure to be physically beautiful, but the multitude of bright, outgoing girls at Dickinson has helped me change the way I perceive my gender. Here, it is assumed everyone will speak up during class (and your grade suffers if you do not). Our Ecofeminism class is an excellent example of women expressing themselves freely, though one must take into consideration the fact that our class is overwhelmingly female.

As our environment changes, so do our perceptions of ourselves: body, nature, gender, and so on. I have seen this as I have grown older, moved through higher levels of education, and traveled to different parts of the world. Wherever one goes they will be affected by prejudice related to their sex. The difficult task is to take these presumptions out of context, discuss and discover what it means to be a female or male.

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Shards of a Rose Window


Am I just another broken shard of a large stained-glass window? Can I let the light filter in to expose the many colors that create the beautiful complete piece of art? I like to think that I am socially and environmentally aware, that I look beyond all those floating shards of cultural prejudices that we grow up with. But at the end of the day, I am not sure that I address or act upon issues that don’t necessarily affect me directly or immediately. 

Prejudices originate from a lack of understanding and the inability to feel empathy across spatial, generational, cultural, and social boundaries. We have been bombarded with cultural ideals of what our bodies are supposed to look like, what our role as a man or a woman is meant to be in society, and how we are to conduct our relationship with nature. I rarely think in binaries or in black and white, but “fitting in” requires some compromising. I am usually one to analyze and to listen intently to social issues and to engage in philanthropy. But I still lead a life that is not sustainable or truly my own because I fashion it in response to social norms. Like Professor Brylinsky said, much of what we spoke about in class was reactionary to what we are culturally exposed to. I used to give little thought to my outer image, to the separation between myself and nature. I never watched television as a child and spent every moment of my day outside. I did not feel effected by gender issues because my parents participated equally in house-work and family commitments and because I found that I could confidently check the “female” box on all my medical forms. Today I pay attention to maintaining my image in society as a “normal” and “conformed” young student at an American college.

We are usually able to isolate problems, address them, and even diagnose them thanks to our high standard of living and technological advancement. It is when we are faced with a multitude of problems that the interconnectedness of these issues becomes apparent. Without addressing all of the problems as part of the whole, development projects in the Third World for example will yield few results. But this is not the mindset I, or most people, have. What does the suffering of an impoverished sex slave in Dar es Salaam have to do with my personal life? I know that my body will age but I focus on making it look ideal today and pay little attention to tending to it for optimal future performance or beauty. Most people I know consider the environment as a secondary concern because environmental sustainability is long-term- it extends beyond the present and change will not occur today. Gender inequality or differences rarely concern me except when I am studying underdeveloped countries. I consider this a distant issue that rarely affects my life unfortunately. We must pick and choose our battles.

We measure development by how much separation, domination, and independence can be created between our lives and our natural environment. We are taught that underdeveloped countries are held captive by the violent forces of nature and that the poor populations living there are primitive, wild, and lead a subsistence lifestyle of the past. The progress that humanity has made is frequently measured by its independence of nature and freedom of necessity. As Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva wrote, “Survival is seen not as the ultimate goal of life but a banality- a fact that can be taken for granted” (Introducation to Ecofeminism, 433). But like these two women also wrote, “Freedom within the realm of necessity can be universalized to all; freedom from necessity can be available to only a few”.

It is not surprising that the majority of the words we came up with in class during our brainstorming exercise described the outer appearance of gender, nature, and our bodies rather than the function or their inter-connection. The human body and the environment are rarely appreciated as vehicles or instruments of creation but rather as ephemeral decaying entities. That which extends beyond my personal life and time on earth may bear little importance for my actions today.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes may be my favorite writer on women and nature. She awakens a sense of inter-connectedness that I rarely dedicate much thought to. Her writing style and the stories she gathers from around the world in her book titled “Women Who Run With the Wolves” provide a sense of empathy that is possible not only between women, but with nature and wildlife. Though seemingly radical, she writes, “a healthy woman is much like a wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet separation from the wildish nature causes a woman’s personality to become meager, thin, ghostly, spectral. We are not meant to be puny with frail hair and inability to leap up, inability to give chase, to birth, to create a life”. Sometimes we need to be hit in the face with a thought-provoking idea before we see the other colors of the stained-glass window.

Leonardo da Vinci sketched the human body with respect for the whole and for the interconnectedness of life.

I find that a kind of value displacement has occurred over the past Century. The wonder and respect we once had of the interconnectedness of our world is visible in the drawings and work of Leonardo da Vinci for example. His sketches show the human body not as a mere physical shape but as a tool, as a microcosm that reflects nature, and as a sacred living entity. I do not mean to be nostalgic; the technology we have today provides us with the opportunity of ameliorated mutual understanding. But, despite being able to see the other colors of the window occasionally, the pieces are shattering into dust. We are unable to see the whole, the interconnected and balanced world that is the home of all humanity, our life-giving earth, and a plethora of differences. Our world is not dead or ephemeral, we just need to shift back to a “regeneration-based awareness” (Charlene Spretnak).

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