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.

  1. #1 by Anonymous on April 24, 2012 - 12:32 am

    4026 inches of rain in one year?! That’s 336 feet! Carlisle would be underwater!

  2. #2 by Breanna Marr on October 6, 2010 - 2:28 am

    Sorry, the question I mean is question nine in the middle post… not the first.

  3. #3 by Breanna Marr on October 6, 2010 - 12:00 am

    On question two, which is about sunsets:

    This question tugged on my proverbial heartstrings. Reading it painfully reminded me that I haven’t seen a proper sunset in ages. Sure, I’ve seen the sun sink behind the student housing between Goodyear and the Kaufman building, but I don’t get the same satisfaction from watching the sun set behind an apartment complex as I do watching it set over a distant horizon.
    The same thing goes for sunrises. My sophomore year, a couple friends and I actually left Dickinson at 3:00 in the morning and drove to New Jersey just to see the sun rise over the Atlantic. I know it sounds crazy, but it had just been too long since we’d seen the ocean. Something about the liminial qualities of sunrises, sunsets, and seas mystify me. The lines between land, water, sun, and sky blur, and suddenly I understand what all those impressionists like Monet were on about…
    Check out the first section of the Bioregional Quiz answers that was posted. My group has a question about the directional course of the sun that you’ll probably find interesting.

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