Sunday, May 4, 2008

Seasons Change

Summer nights and long warm days
Are stolen as the old moon falls
My mirror shows another face
Another place to hide it all
Another place to hide it all
And I'm lost, behind
The words I'll never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

Sleeping with a full moon blanket
Sand and feathers for my head
Dreams have never been the answer
And dreams have never made my bed
Dreams have never made my bed

And I'm lost, behind
The words Ill never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

Now I wanna fly above the storm
But you cant grow feathers in the rain
And the naked floor is cold as hell
This naked floor reminds me
Oh the naked floor reminds me

And I'm lost, behind
Words I'll never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

If I should be short on words
And long on things to say
Could you crawl into my world
And take me worlds away
Should I be beside myself
And not even stay

And I'm lost, behind
Words I'll never find
And I'm left behind
As seasons roll on by

-Chris Cornell, "Seasons" Lyrics

A wrap-up to a place journal such as this only makes sense, in my mind, if I'm leaving the place. I've been in Ithaca now since 2005: A mere three years of my life and most of it spent inside studying or trying not to procrastinate. No matter what I do at this point, unless I actually settle here, my sense of this place will never be complete. And I think it's important to understand that nature, like education, should be a place of learning and understanding which should continue on throughout our lives. I guess, in this last entry before this semester ends, I could wrap up what I've seen and been through, but that just seems hollow and fake when I know the seasons will continue to change and come back full circle, when there are so many more places to explore and learn about, when there is not yet an end but a new beginning to another year.

So I think I'll just talk a little about the last couple of days. One thing I have not yet participated in is Slope Day. I always have too much work to do at this time and do not have the stamina to spend an entire day partying with thousands of other students. I do have loads of stamina for other endeavors. Walking, hiking, exploring during this time of year, when everything is exploding with life and color, is much more interesting then being stuck in the middle of a controlled riot. Don't get me wrong: I love music and love new experiences, but I think when I experience Slope Day for the first time it will be next year when I actually have no more classes to be concerned with and my time at Cornell has come to an end. Saying that makes me desperately want to recall my time here as a student but I'm not done yet and that would remove my focus from where it needs to be.

It seems these years that spring has taken a break from the seasons. Often we see winter followed by a near immediate sidestep to summer as temperatures go from freezing to the 70's, 80's and beyond. This time it feels like spring is trying to hold out a bit more. Two weeks ago, during the last week of April, we had a spurt of 80 to 90 degree weather that initiated the instantaneous flowering of nearly every tree on campus and off. I was, of course, biking that day, in a T-shirt and shorts for the first time that season, and taking my time going home. Usually I exit the AG Quad, where I had been napping in the sun on this particular afternoon, and head up Tower Road toward the Dairy Bar. This day I took a minor diversion on Wing Road where the Cherry Trees, I'm guessing (some kind of exotic species), were in full bloom. It was an amazing sight to behold and other students were appreciating it; one had a cell phone out and was trying, hopelessly I'm afraid, to capture the moment. Hundreds of thousands of petals were being pulled off the trees by a light breeze. There were so many floating in the air that they gave up the shape and playful attributes of the swirling wind turning it into a crescendo of pink and red flowing, living paint against the blue sky. I stopped and tried to lock it into my mind. It was an "American Beauty" moment but instead of watching wind play with a simple bag it had inherited the color of the trees. I think I would have liked to share this with other visually but it would only have been complimented by an expensive video camera, a tripod, and lots of patience which, during this time of year, are all quite unaccessible.

During my time here there have always been these images, these feelings, these places that call my attention, that spark my imagination and make me feel more a part of this place. I had to laugh recently, as the temperature dropped into the 60's (the perfect temperature for all things outdoors in my opinion) and one of my fellow NTRES students in the class I write the place journal for, was whining about how cold it was and how disgusted she was at the temperature drop. It was funny because this time last year we had a heavy storm that dropped, if I recall correctly, about two feet of snow where she was now walking, in the sun, shivering. But then that is another point where I differ with many of the students here: I like the seasons. I appreciate the cold and ice for it makes me appreciate the sun and rain as well as the fall and frost. Without one to compliment the other there would be no comparison and much less appreciation. I can give an example. I lived in California for about 3 years while in the military. During this time I was stationed at Edwards AFB in the Mojave desert. Temperatures changed pretty drastically from day to night; a 40 to 50 degree change wasn't uncommon and most summer days got to between 100 and 120 on the concrete of the flightline. There was no snow, no rain, no trees. Just sun and heat and creosote bush with the occasional Joshua tree. When we did have a rainstorm or, during my three years there, one snow "storm" (about 3 inches of yellow snow fell on the desert...yellow because it was removing all the dust from the air) and believe me when I say everyone was excited or amazed or playing in it. Some were even afraid of it and refused to enjoy this little diversion from the everyday norm. Many had never even seen snow. This all showed me how little people think about the world outside their own lives. Those people that loved the heat and clear roads sure did appreciate them more after that snow melted and the world came back to "normal" for them. I feel like Ithaca is the same way.

Here we have a town that lives and breathes the college student. Without them and the capital they bring this would be a much different, some would argue better, some worse, place. Students are in a phase of exploration, often away from home for the first time in their lives for any extended period of time, and experiencing life outside their comfort zone. It definitely makes for an interesting mix of people and opinions. One thing we really didn't talk about too much in class is how one "place" experience affects another. We are a highly mobile, some would argue Nomadic, people these days. That may harm our land ethic on some level or, alternatively it may help us appreciate the area around us more. Humans, I find, are a bunch committed to expressing how miserable they are to everyone in order to vent. I don't think that makes us necessarily miserable but it does alter perceptions. Not many people will complain about the first really warm spring Ithacan day but Goddess forgive if it rains out. To err is human; to bitch about everything you don't like is also human. But in a way that is our form of appreciation. We recognize what we like and want it more and thus express it through our negative perception of weather or place we don't like to contrast with that which we do like. The funny thing is, like in the desert, when we are in the middle of something we do like (I was on the other side, I hate heat like that) we don't much complain or openly appreciate "boy I love this 363rd day of full sun, unlimited visibility and dry air". Maybe that is how we show our content in "place": by shutting up and enjoying it.

Still, if my society and natural resources class has taught me anything its that social interactions and attitudes are complex and difficult to gauge. My interview with my girlfriend in this journal indicates one opinion of place intertwined with many to form the complex social and environmental structure that is Ithaca NY. This, I think, is why I appreciate nature more than people: When I go outside to take solace in the shade of a tree, to smell a flower, to feel the rain pelting on my face, to feel the moist dirt between my fingers and toes, to experience the thrill of a flash of lightning and crack of thunder, to have the wind whistling though hair and by face, to lay in the deep snow and look up at a gray sky...these things don't question who I am, why I exist, what my next step is, how I must live, how I must fit in, or when I will die. These experiences may make me contemplate these things but the nature around me, the place allows me to think and only wraps me in what it is and not what it thinks I should be which all of humanity seems to have an opinion on. Nature just is and exists not solely for our enjoyment but as a reminder of what crazy lives we lead. When you can step back from life and just sit, in the middle of any forest, an listen to nothing human at all, you know there is a difference, if you are quite and noninvasive in this type of environment, between the natural world and that of humans. Cronon was not wrong: Nature does exist in our back yard. McKibben was not wrong: There is some distinct difference between humanity and nature. The trick is to pull yourself out of humanity for a few moments to see what the physical place is that you are living within. If all you hear are babies crying, cellphones ringing, car-alarms screaming, gun-shots firing, jets flying overhead, computers humming, tractor-trailer trucks downshifting, horns honking, and all the other things associated that attack every one of our senses then you are in the wilderness of human. Nobody should argue that humans haven't affected every forest and non-human wilderness that exists yet there is a difference and a serenity associated with nature once you walk outside the boundaries of human "comfort". Ithaca is a place that offers both and those places inbetween. Humans are still taken here by natural events such as being crushed by falling rock in the gorge or being swept away by flash floods. And humans are still being killed by each other here by many other means and ways. Nature inspires the idea of "wilderness" where you have lost some control of the outcome of your life and I know wilderness is now more prevalent in cities and urban areas then in that nature outside of the concrete and pavement that defines our human condition. After all it all comes back to our comfort zone. Many more people may die in the city but many more are also much more uncomfortable by themselves for an hour sitting in the woods with no visual of anything man constructed. Such is the irony we've created in our lives which has been more defined in my mind by my time in class learning about how society "is" and walking around Ithaca where society lives.

In the end, which doesn't exist as of yet, I've found this place to be beautiful and dangerous and come to appreciate it in ways that I hope more people will consider. Ithaca has many of the same problems as all cities of its size concerning tax base, construction, job availability and more, but it has a unique geography and geology that offers those that can appreciate it much more than cities with comparable census-measured attributes. My opinion and understanding of this place will continue to evolve as long as I live here and I don't think ending up here would be the worst thing that could happen to me. As far as place goes this is one that I have enjoyed immensely in this country. Moving to another country has always been an option I've left open and it will continue to be left open so long as the political situation and our dependence on an industrial-military complex continues; I don't like my tax dollars being spent on killing people in other countries and supporting policies of war and environmental degradation. On one hand staying and trying to make a difference is important. On the other hand maybe if I'm a citizen of another country and come here to work I won't feel like such a hypocrite as everything I work toward is undercut by the taxes coming out of my paycheck.

Place is important as is the removal of ignorance and we must not be ignorant of our place in the larger aspect of our world...from a national to global level. Only when these things come together can we really begin to develop a land ethic based on real values that are supported and not brushed off by those in government that are technically supposed to work for us. Ithaca, in that respect, is a microcosm of the larger picture: The college has the power to, more or less, control the town and yet it doesn't do things in the best interest of the town but of the college. Much the same with local, regional, and federal governments: Everybody is unsatisfied and nobody can fully agree...we can only make compromises and have a consensus on what the outcomes are that affect our place rather then using data to do what is right regardless of people and their "feelings" which may or may not represent the best way to move forward.

It's all a big mess. But that's the nature humans have created for themselves. I think it would do us good to imitate or emulate the ecosystems that, with competition, find a way to coexist and work well together. At some point maybe enlightenment will reach our species when we find a way using some form of biomimicry to do just that. Today however, thousands of years away from any similar epiphany, I will enjoy the gray skies, the black-capped chickadees singing their "spring-time" song, the return of spring in all its green glory and fifty degree weather, and the cool hard showers that are accompanying this symphony of change as the seasons roll on.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

While this entry doesn't talk about Ithaca per se it does bring out some of what I've learned while living here and attending my college. I know it's a bit piecemeal but hopefully I get some kind of a point across. The assignment was to talk about how Natural Resource Management is important to Americans today. Let me know what you think.

To understand the importance of natural resource management we must look at how natural resources, in their definition and scope, have changed over time. The natural world, defined by our interaction within it, teaches us that change is a constant we must adapt and grow with. As geologic processes churn and bubble the planet anew, as ecosystems solidify, crash, rebuild or restart, so do our social, physical and emotional and economic connections to it. Time is relative in this relationship: The Earth, a young 4.5 billion years old, formed from the primordial soup of the universe and gave rise to the resources that we manipulate for our anthropocentric aspirations. Our time on Gaia, a name given to our Earth by the Ancient Greeks, has been painfully short in comparison: The modern Homo sapien appeared in fossil records roughly 200,000 years ago in Africa. That species then gave rise to The Enlightenment, also known as “modernity”, which marked the point at which people started to improve themselves by improving nature with the aid of science, industry and technology. The Industrial Revolution, a direct result of The Enlightenment, changed their lives forever as new technology and methods transformed agriculture, manufacturing and transportation. The impact on socioeconomic and cultural conditions were intense then and continue to evolve today.

With industrialization the world was witness to a new ability to control nature as never before in an effort to satisfy anthropocentric needs. The environment became a collection of means for human ends; science unlocked its secrets and allowed us to exploit it more effectively as raw materials were procured for factories, machines and new technologies. The natural environment was thus disenchanted and no longer saturated with spiritual significance as a creation of God or the inspiration of folklore; it was reduced to a store of virgin resources exclusively for the promotion of human economic need. A war, started by our own hand, had been declared on the natural world as industry and technology disfigured a landscape we were all too familiar with: Our homelands. These once awe-inspiring landscapes were destroyed and gave rise to overcrowded cities, factories and mining operations that spewed pollutants into every orifice nature offered up and thus back into our own bodies and lives. There were major backlashes: The Luddites smashed machinery which they perceived as the cause of their unemployment and hardship. Also Romanticism, a revolt against the sociopolitical norms of enlightenment, grew as some, such as John Muir, found arrogance in the need of humans to dominate the natural world and thus crusaded to preserve wilderness in his America. Muir lobbied Congress to pass the act that created Yosemite National Park on October 1, 1890 in order to protect and preserve the unique beauty and biodiversity of that land for all generations to enjoy.

It is fair to say that many theoretical social constructs arguing either for or against the preservation of the natural world were birthed from industrialization and one could argue that natural resource management evolved from these debates in much the same way as Globalization has evolved from Internationalization in terms of economic trade and need. As we step toward the near present we see that time and space have become increasingly important to any debate over the importance of natural resource use as a global community develops from the primordial soup of early industrialization. Before, but not long before, the global issues of Global Climate Change, deforestation of tropical ecosystems, destruction of estuaries, loss of biodiversity and more came to the forefront of American environmental concern, powerful people such as Charles L. Pack, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt and others began to define our need and the importance of natural resource management. Pack and Pinchot, both deeply involved in the profitable business of scientific forest management, had deep philosophical differences with the likes of Muir who was opposed to the idea of commercializing nature. Pack eloquently exposed his philosophy on natural resource management when he was quoted as saying, as the president of the National Conservation Congress of 1913, that “Conservation must convey no suggestion of retarding honest development on fair terms...Conservation does not mean reservation. It means the best use of our resources, with a fair regard to the present and the future. It means, to my mind, production, prosperity and progress.” In the eyes of some social scientists this train of thought was related to the progressive conservation movement where “disuse is misuse”; a philosophy practiced currently in relation to water conservation in the American west and southwest and further explored in Marc Reisners' book “Cadillac Desert”. Specifically it is the complete use of a resource; The use of the raging waters of the Colorado River for electricity production, agriculture and human consumption, tamed by the Glen Canyon Dam, Hoover Dam and many others, to the degree that the river dries out in its own riverbed before it reaches its natural destination; The Gulf of California. It is important to note that while Pack is credited as a forest conservationist and a pioneer in forest conservation he started out as a timberman who gained his fortune clear-cutting vast forests in the American South and British Columbia. While he used this fortune to finance some elements of the early 20th century conservation movement his is not a name that strongly associated with environmentalism, conservation and natural resource management today. Pinchot on the other hand advocated natural resource management through the conservation of our nations virgin resources by planned use and removal. He described his own philosophy as “...the art of producing from the forest whatever it can yield for the service of man.” Pinchot was a progressive Republican who often directed public campaigns on natural resource management issues and who felt that forests could be developed privately in exchange for a fee under set terms. Commercial interestes, however, pressured for quicker exploitation and opposed conservation efforts venomously. The strength of commercial interests led President Theodore Roosevelt to split from the Republican Party in the presidential election of 1912 where he took a stand against the trusts and monopolies that threatened to undermine governmental control. These business entities were formed with the intent to restrain trade and fix prices as whole businesses were monopolized by trusts such as Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, The American Tobacco Company, and the International Mercantile Marine Company. It is important to note that each of these trusts had intimate ties and needs for natural resources; having control over them would be key in monopolizing their industry and controlling trade.

Today natural resource management and discussion of how management should progress is still intimately entwined with American industry, politics, and society. Locally there is an intense debate over “The Commons” and whether resources in any given area should be for public use, privately owned, or under governmental control just as there was during Pack, Pinchot and Muirs' time. Nationally our dependence on oil and our struggling economy are affecting all our lives. These issues and more could be addressed through proper natural resource management techniques that provide incentives for industry to close production loops and invest in new technologies that can sustain our nation and our future. As technology has evolved and given us a greater ability to communicate and trade across borders the basis for internationalization of trade and natural resource management has been blurred by the manifestation of Globalization; integrating national economies through economic, technological and sociopolitical mechanisms. Natural resource management on a national scale is then extremely important for the next step of our socioeconomic evolution as capital market flow and mobile capital transcend traditional national restrictions. Our nations ability to recognize resources and value them appropriately will be key as leaders in ingenuity and technology position themselves to take advantage of a new green global economy. It is possible that a new global golden-green age is upon us once we wean ourselves away from a traditional petrol-based society and use our knowledge, investments, subsidies, and tax incentives to promote a national economy based on human, natural, manufactured, and financial capital. We can step beyond traditional capitalism to mold our economy into a form of capitalism where living systems matter and are managed to radically increase resource productivity through a system that bases commerce on the needs of people instead of business and measures human welfare by the improved quality and flow of desired services delivered instead of simply by dollar flow.

As we walk into the 21st century we find that “Natural Resources” has again changed in scope: It includes all the life-supporting services that have no substitutes, currently have no market value, and can limit future economic development if we continue to ignore their multifaceted value. For example: Until we put a value on and properly manage our forests that provide us fresh air as they convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, fresh water from whole watersheds that filter nutrients and toxins from our taps, and new medicines derived from pharmaceutical companies, cosmetic companies, and others who engage in bioprospecting in order to discover new drugs or products that only nature can provide, we can not consider ourselves responsible managers of our resources: A forest is today much more than just timber. We know that our nation, based on a Capitalist-consumer framework, produces great quantities of waste. Proper waste management could reduce virgin resource use greatly if we make the waste less expensive to reclaim and remove subsidies used to promote virgin resource procurement. In short the salvation and independence of our country from our own restrictions on the free market and trade can come from sharing our ideas and methods of sustainability and through aggressive and modern management that will move our country forward only if we hold a shining light to the poor practices, badly designed business systems, and wasteful patterns of consumption that dirty our future with the hard-nosed dependence and attainment of fossil fuels based on old management techniques.

Common sense and good business practices dictate that reducing waste, increasing efficiency and working within closed-loop systems is very enticing to business and industry: But we cripple our economy by not valuing best-management practices and by not recognizing the value of natural capital (made up of resources, living systems, and ecosystem services), which could boost our economic progress significantly for many generations to come.

In the end it will all come down to our ability to adapt to the changing world or to change the economic system from the inside out. Since the Industrial Revolution we have experimented with natural resource management and watched it evolve as different leaders and differences of opinion have adapted our management to the anthropocentric needs of the day. This will continue on: Change will never stop, our needs as a people will continue to evolve and that which we value as a society will also change as the world continues to become more connected and Globalized economically, socially and environmentally. Our choices will determine where we stand in the new era of the second age of Industrialization. As consumers we each can make individual choices in what we purchase and promote to inject our economy, businesses, industry and technology with a need to promote the valuation of all forms of capital and not just those forms that prop up our economic equation today. With that in mind we should all move forward, promote responsible management practices and cherish our relationship with the natural world that gives us the ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sapsucker Woods

This entry was placed in the winter of 2006. I've been back to Sapsucker Woods many times to walk and enjoy the wildlife. If you don't mind the constant drone from the vehicles on Route 13 or the air-traffic from the nearby airport it can actually be quite pleasing. I also worked for the Lab of Ornithology for a while editing video from around the world from birders. If you get the chance you should visit the building and the paths. They are really quite wonderful.

The Walk

The heat in my apartment was stifling. Even though the thermostat was down to the lowest setting, about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, I was uncomfortable in my own skin. This Saturday had been flying by as the weekends do and besides sleeping I wasn’t getting much done despite my best intentions. After bringing the dog out for a bathroom break I came in feeling refreshed from the cool air that filled my lungs. The weather was nice enough and I decided this might be a fine day to make a visit to the Ornithology lab and Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary to explore some of the trails in that area.

The gear for this ultra-light excursion was minimal. The dog would not come with me as her small stature was meant more for pleasing my wife’s eyes then taking walks in snowy woods. I put her in the bathroom with water, food and toys then bid her a fond “fare-thee-well” and was rewarded with those sad puppy dog eyes that so many speak of. I then made sure I had a sharpened pencil and a small pocket-sized note pad. I put on gloves, sweater, jackets, wool socks and boots. I decided this hike probably wouldn’t require water or food of any sort so left the Nalgene bottle and backpack. I jumped into my small pickup truck, took it out of four-wheel-drive and headed for the Sanctuary.

It was a short trip. Maybe two miles down Warren Road, take a left onto route thirteen, and a right at the signs for Sapsucker Woods roughly a half mile later. I knew the route well having worked for the Macaulay Library during my last semester at Cornell and over winter break. My job consisted mostly of editing video that was sent in from around the world. A large project was underway to put video of birds and all things associated within easy access for all those that would learn of them. I had been on the trail once before but only on a small section during a lunch break with my boss and co-workers. This time I wanted a more extensive overview of what these trails had to offer. I parked my truck in the usual spot for employees. Being Saturday the parking lot was nearly empty affording me easy access to the trailhead. I exited my truck to a strong gust of wind and walked up to the visitor’s entrance of the Lab, also known as the “Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity”, and found a large trail map screwed into a sort of blind. I decided my route and wrote it down. I would start at Timmy’s Walk and cross the Podell Boardwalk to Wilson Trail. From there I would bear left onto the circular Les and Vail Severinghaus Trail until I got to Sapsucker Woods Road where there would be a small wooden gate. Instead of crossing the road I would bear right toward the Dayhoff Boardwalk, cross that, and bear left onto West Trail. Once I came off of West Trail I would make another left back onto Wilson trail, which surrounded Sapsucker Woods Pond, and head for the Sherwood Observation Platform. When past that I would eventually get beyond the Owens Observation Platform and end up back in the parking lot where I started. It seemed a little complex but I remembered the short path I had walked before with my coworkers was well marked. I also knew that with my previous hiking experience this wasn’t much more then an evening stroll and that if for some strange reason I got lost there was a road nearby in any direction I chose to walk.

Once I figured out my route I started off. Before crossing the boardwalk I stopped just past the blind to gander at the geese. The pond is set with some kind of device, maybe a pump, that keeps water flowing in this particular area; you could hear the bubble and trickle of water. This prevents ice from forming leaving open water for birds. Several Canada Geese were browsing and making use of the open water. In a small island at the center of the pond some deer had somehow made their way and were browsing on the lush woody vegetation. The wind was picking up and because I had been working on my route rather then walking my hands and ears were getting cold so I decided to move on. Crossing the boardwalk I immediately became confused. To my left there were footprints and cross-country ski tracks. To my right, past a sign that begged “Please Stay On The Trail” more footprints passed toward the pond. I vaguely remembered walking closer to the pond and so followed the footprints first. A rock was here with a plaque that honored Agustus Allen PhD. I realized that the human tracks with deer tracks mixed in were not leading anywhere but into and toward the water so after a moment I cut back. I came out of the woods to the curiosity of a young couple that was behind me; wondering, I’m sure, why I had disobeyed the sign and strayed from the path. I realized then the correct route was along the way of the cross-country skiers and started to make some progress. I increased the distance between myself and the couple over the Podell Boardwalk. I enjoy hiking alone in peace and know I am bound to see more wildlife if there is less talking and quieter walking. The snow was fresh and at the most depth it had been all year. The boardwalk, covered in snow, sounded hollow and muffled my footsteps as I plodded along. I found it a little odd that in all this fresh snow, fresh as of three days ago, there were so few animal tracks. I made a mental note to be aware of the point at which more tracks occurred. Finally I came to the first intersection and veered onto Les and Vail Severinghaus Trail leaving the couple behind on the Wilson Trail.

I was having a tough time getting purchase with my old boots. The Gore-Tex was still working like a charm but the tread had long since lost its bite. I decided to break my own rule and walk along the cross-country tracks unless I came to spots that were wide enough where I could avoid disturbing them. Although my ears were cold I wanted to be able to hear and see well in the event some animal should show itself. That’s when the first one did. I was trotting at a good pace when I noticed a very slim tree off the path that had a huge bulge. At first I thought it might be some sort of strange knot of wood, maybe a reaction to an infection of some sort. Then it moved. I was delighted to see that I had caught a gray squirrel in mid-climb and it had frozen hoping to hide from me. Realizing that I was laughing at his pitiful choice of a tree (really a young sapling) to hide behind he took off, dropping into the snow and then running up another tree. I continued my walk noting all the bird houses scattered around with small rounded hats of snow upon them. I then came to my second major intersection on the loop. Here I double-checked my route on the convenient trail map posted within a small structure to keep it dry and accessible to all. I bore right and continued along.

The snow was deeper here for whatever reason and I started walking toe-heel to dig my foot in and get more purchase as I walked. I vaguely remembered someone citing this as being the preferred method of the Native Americans for walking: Something else to research at another time. I stopped dead in my tracks at one point as I heard what could only be described as “laughter” but from some sort of animal and most probably a bird. Being a poor birder I had no idea of the species and so waited with hope that it might show itself. Ten minutes or so later I continued on. After only four or five steps there was movement to my left. Another gray squirrel was hanging onto a branch rather tentatively. Finding my eye upon him, he immediately tried to jump, missed the branch oh but just barely, and went somersaulting into the snow with a light “foof!”. I grabbed my sides and burst into laughter. They always seem so graceful bounding through the trees. This one left in a hurry. I’m sure he didn’t want me to see the red-face that accompanied his graceless embarrassment. Once the show had ended I walked on looking for deer and other tracks while scanning with my ears. I decided to give a try at my Barred Owl call. A couple of unsuccessful attempts later I finally came out with a good recreation for a human. I continued trying every ten minutes or so to see if I could get a response. Crossing the Dayhoff Boardwalk I found my way to West Trail and was discouraged to see a massive development through the trees. I had noted a fence and heard dogs barking in the distance earlier but hadn’t thought I would come up on human encroachment so very soon. Walking along they became bigger and more pronounced. They were painted a god-awful brown and tan color and looked like large lumbering monsters through the trees. The tiny fence I had noted earlier came back and separated me from the road directly opposite of the path I walked on. I call it a road but it was more or less a parking lot on some sort of loop. It really did bother me. Going on walks in the woods is almost a religious experience most of the time. It helps me get away from the noise and stress of everyday life. And it was so noisy here. I hadn’t really noticed before but the buzz that I thought was the wind was becoming louder. It was the traffic from route thirteen and the adjacent airport. Whatever hope I had of a peaceful walk in the woods was slowly dissolving.

After walking past the housing development I had warmed up enough to take off my gloves and continued on West Trail until I came to another intersection. Taking a left would lead me to a gate. Right would lead me to the Lab as I could see it through the woods and across the opening that Sapsucker Woods Pond made. Although the sun was starting to come down I didn’t feel like there was any chance of getting lost and turned away from the Lab to go through the gate. A little sign on the woven metal gate and fence asked politely to treat the gate gently and I opened and closed it with great care replacing the metal horseshoe latch. On the other side was a very clean and crisp path created by cross-country skis heading toward the development. Straight ahead was little or nothing. I could see that at least one person on skis had been this way but the snow had covered it up and left only a very light indent of the tracks. That was my path. As I walked along I noted two things. The pink flagging present along the well-traveled path was no longer here. There were also a hell of a lot more animal tracks and I had trouble identifying several of them. The wind had picked up and I could hear the crack and pop of trees around me as they strained against the wind and cold. Sirens blared in the distance but it was forgotten quickly as I was walking west into the sunset, wind biting at my face, eyes locked on something beautiful. The sky was a brilliant blue and toward the bottom, where I could see through the trees, the color turned an orange-pink color that reminded me of orange-crème popsicles I used to eat when I was younger. Walking a little farther I came to a hunter-orange fire hydrant on an unplowed portion of road. I could only guess that this place was earmarked for more development in the not too distant future. It made me a bit sad and I honestly wondered how many people would appreciate, as I did, being right here, right now, with a beautiful sky and wind howling through young trees that brushed together, sometimes violently, making strange rubbing sounds and sometimes clicking loudly in the canopy.

I backtracked to the gate and headed east toward the Lab. To my left on this portion of the West Trail was a dying stand of conifers; probably water-logged in the wetlands that encompassed this area. Several hardwoods had been knocked down by the wind exposing their root structures in a shallow pan that usually indicated the roots were not exploring too deep for moisture. I came to the intersection of Wilson Trail then and took a left onto my last stretch of trek. From here on out I would be on Wilson until I got to the parking lot.

The remainder of my walk was rather uneventful. I stopped at the first pull-off of the trail where a bench stood along with a post whose sign was obviously missing. I looked out again over the opening that this swampy area along with the pond afforded and moved on. There were many more deer tracks now, some out into the wetlands and around the Larch or Tamarack that dotted the landscape. Sparrows flew in and out of the shrubbery and brush upon the border of the water. I came along the path following the cross-country ski tracks, boot tracks, and snow-shoe tracks and walked out onto the Sherwood Observation Platform. Here someone had plopped down on the snow covered bench without wiping it down leaving a perfect butt-print. A smile crept onto my face as I noted it and looked out onto the windows reflecting the sunset, now a deep pink, on the western face of the lab. A small plaque was nailed here. “Dedicated to the Joy of Birdwatching. In Honor of John Sherwood. 1929-1997”. I wondered if I would ever do something that warranted my name on a bench somewhere some day after I was long dead. Strange thought.

There was little more until the parking lot. I came to the head of the Owens Observation Platform but didn’t go onto it as the only view was Kips Barn across the way. There was posted a info-sign that interested me and a strange camouflage tube I had seen in the woods up near the middle of West Trail. It stated that these PVC pipes were Black-Capped Chickadee snags to entice nesting in the area. Apparently they like to hollow out rotten standing wood for their nesting sites. The PVC tubes have a hole drilled in the top and are filled with sawdust for the Chickadee to excavate on its own accord. Interesting. The last bit of curiosity was a final “Please Stay on Trails” sign. Here there were footprints out past the sign and off the trail into the nearby pond and through the ice. I shook my head thinking how accurately this defined the human condition. You may make your own inference as to what that condition is.

Happy with my walk I took back toward my truck and over the last couple of unnamed boardwalks. But before leaving I went back to where I started to complete the circle of the day and also to search for any pamphlets and literature on the trails. I felt foolish for not looking before the walk but thought I would still like to know what was available for future walks. Near the door for visitor access I found the literature and took a few pieces home with me. Finally I jumped in my truck and felt the buzz of civilization as I turned the key. Driving down thirteen toward Warren the sky had turned a deep pink. Behind me there was only black.


The walk was, in general, good for me. I did enjoy it. But I was disappointed in the encroaching development and all the noise. And besides the required deer there was little variety in animals from the tracks I observed. I come from a much smaller state: Massachusetts. The funny thing is that I can drive fifteen minutes and be on a trailhead that leads me on a fifteen mile hike and no noise pollution, which obviously infests this area. If you look on a map of south-central New York it is all just a big grid of paved roads. I couldn’t get lost if I tried and that really bothers me. In western Massachusetts I can traverse sections of the Appalachian Trail, the Yokun Ridge and many other nearby nature reserves without the sound of airplanes taking off or the constant hum of engines and we have an airport and the Massachusetts Pike nearby. At one point it felt like I was back in the Air Force on the flight line. The props were so loud from one plane taxiing that I was just discouraged with my walk. I could even see its running lights through the trees. Maybe there are other places around here that afford more privacy but I can’t imagine where with the roads situated as they are. I think that the Sanctuary is a wonderful idea and is a great source of nature for everyone to experience. I just have to believe that there are much better places out there for a hike or walk.

Taughannock Falls

I often write down my feelings and thoughts on "place" and have generally done so over the years regardless of this assignment. As I was going through old journals I thought it would makes sense to present these writings in this format. This next piece is pretty much self-explanatory and takes us through a short walk to Taughannock Falls: One of the tallest east of the Mississippi. You may note that I've mentioned my girlfriend in previous posts. Here I mention my wife. This was before our divorce in 2006-2007.

Taughannock Falls Walk

A Short Walk

I was interested in a trek to Taughannock State Park to see the Taughannock Falls. After gathering my wife and our small dog in my pickup we headed out down Route 13 and connected up with Route 89 which skirted the edge of Caygua Lake. It is a short drive and my first impression in parking was that the place was highly manicured. The grass was freshly mowed, the parking lot looked new and the buildings were well maintained. Trees were planted and dark mulch was built up about the base; landscaping seemed to be a priority. When we started on the trail to the falls there was a small shelter with rules. The pamphlet boxes were empty and had a Snapple bottle perched on the lid. Trash was inside. In general this area looked “used”. The rules were printed on a large Plexiglas covered page that was at least 2x2 feet. The print was so small it was hardly worth reading.

The wide “path” along the edge of Taughannock Creek is a roughly one mile round trip of well kept crushed gravel that a heavy vehicle could easily drive over. At various spots along the path there is access to the streambed that was mostly empty. The stream ran along the sandstone and limestone shelf that had interesting pitting patterns. At this low level of water flow most of the bed was accessible by foot and we used this opportunity to explore the riparian zones we could reach. The rock, smooth but uneven, was covered in a light dust and there were many footprints clearly imprinted upon it. Fissures filled with water ran horizontal to the shoreline and were not stagnant. This gave me the impression that Taughannock was very popular. If the stream had, with the last steady rain, filled the streambed and there were many footprints and no stagnant water. My conclusion was that the area had been and is well traveled. As we continued the short trek we found little bits of garbage here and there and stopped to read the convenient information boards that lined the common path.

The valley we were in continued to get deeper as we walked toward the falls. At one point I was curious how it was that some of the overhanging rock was able to hold on 400 feet above us. There was quite a bit of overhang and a lot of debris along the edges of the path. This made me more nervous as we walked ever deeper into the valley or gorge and the towering cliffs of brittle shale loomed ever higher and closer. My apprehension of the situation was apparently well justified. In April of 2005 Deborah A. Rowen, A New Jersey resident, was killed when she and four of her family members went off the trail. She was crushed by falling rock and the other members of her family were injured to various degrees. While the family from New Jersey did not stick to the trails we had no delusions of our own mortality and continued the rest of the way by well marked path or streambed.

When we reached the end of the trail and the falls the number of signs increased warning not to stray from the path. A small bridge spanned the river where an observation area was located looking directly at the falls. We trekked to it, took a few pictures and jumped about ten feet off the ground when some of the loose shale broke away, came crashing down into the gorge smashing on the side of the wall near the base and then into the water. The waterfall was impressive but we didn’t stay long.

When we arrived at the parking area we took a short drive across 89 to the other side of the park where a beach, boating/docking area and campsites were located. Once again everything was perfectly mowed, well kept and clean…almost sterile looking but pleasant. The sun was going down at this point and there wasn’t much else to see so we drove home.

Feelings and Observations

I really had a lot of mixed feelings about this place: I hated it and I loved it. The most common wildlife we encountered (other than trees) were native Ithaca residents walking along the path late on a Friday in a college town. There was also a lot of garbage but much less then the foot traffic would have indicated although I suspect most of it was swept away by the “creek” when water levels rose. This place was obviously wild; it takes its share of human lives every year and that impressed me as did the quiet looming intensity of the gorge itself. I was in awe of it walking within its majesty. It reminds me of how very small I am on this planet and how so many of us have had to make the decision to destroy rather then to preserve this rock we are living on to accomplish the level of damage we can see today.

My dissatisfaction is bred from being an explorer and purist hiker. I like discoveries to be as natural and personal as possible. Niagara Falls is amazingly impressive but it doesn’t have the impact of hiking along a stream in the woods with no path and finding a smaller but equally beautiful waterfall that you and maybe only a handful of other people have seen in the last 50 years. Discovery of natural beauty, beauty not manipulated and sterilized by humans, is, within my humble values, the true way to experience and enjoy the outdoors. This experience was most certainly not ideal. Taughannock is impressive, scary and makes anyone with any sense of self-preservation quite wary but it seems about as natural or “pure” as the manicured lawns at the entrance and the driveway to the falls itself. It creates the same kind of nervous curiosity that a grizzly bear in a zoo with only a moat to separate you inspires.

On a trip to Hawaii several years back there were falls you could hike to in a similar fashion. And while I’m sure that there were areas similar to this one the fact was all the trails I ended up on were much more wild and could only be traversed by foot. There were still a lot of people on the paths but there was much more a sense of accomplishment and discovery as you pushed through thin dirt paths and overgrown vegetation to break through to a secluded waterfall you could dive into and explore.

So in the end this waterfall trek was overall pretty nice but too close to civilization to be challenging and exciting. I hear there are other trails that can be explored and have more of a “payoff” in the end and I’ll come back to look for those this summer. As a side note I mentioned to my wife that most parks are having trouble because they rely on donations or federal funding to keep up their looks. This park was in excellent shape and that might say something about the residents and their enjoyment of this park in what it has to offer.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Buzz

Cornell as a school is exhausting, for sure, but sometimes my roommates don't help. Maybe it's the attitude of this college town or something else...I don't know. I had a late night last night since my girlfriend needed to do some work on a project for her job. My roommates had people over to play Magic the Gathering. I used to play, about ten year ago, but haven't really had the time. When they come over they are here until the wee hours of the morning. I went to bed at around 2am and they were still playing along. So I had to drive Karley in at about 7:30am and came back to get some rest. Usually I can't get to sleep right away so I watch some movies or listen to some music. Something. When I finally got to the sleeping point I came into my room and opened all the windows wide. It's beautiful outside with many different birds singing and, while overcast, the sun was out and the temperature was up. With that in mind I decided to turn off the fan and the radio so I could pass out listening to the outside symphony.
Of course it never takes long to get woken up here. I've got two roommates and one has a live-in girlfriend that can get annoying. Instead of waking up to the birds and the wind blowing outside I wake to a baseline and the sounds of a video each provided by each roommate.
To tie it into the theme of this blog, well, it's just amazing to me how people don't care about the weather even as they bitch about it all winter long. One complain after the other about how much the winters suck's all I hear. Then when you get a nice day do they go outside? Do they enjoy the weather? Soak up the warmth and the sun? No. One is stuck playing video-games literally for hours (from the point she wakes up until she goes to school) and the other stays in his self proclaimed "dungeon" where he makes mixes of he 250 gigs of music. Meanwhile I have to wake up to their addictions instead of the birds.
The roommate with the girlfriend...he's a good guy but a paradox in health and living. Both he and his girlfriend have been trying to buy "healthier" which amounts to a visual consumption of anything that says "light" or "free" or "natural" which are all vague terms designed to confuse consumers into thinking their product is "healthy". Yet his girlfriend lives right down the road, less than a half a mile, on nice back roads, and do they ever walk back and forth between their places? I can't recall one instance where they did. I think that equates to a kind of sickness in this world. Ithaca may be ten square miles surrounded by reality but how many people dream of "getting lost" in a place different and beautiful? Ithaca could certainly be that place...especially when the students are gone. But of course many of the locals don't appreciate it the way they should and regress to complaints and worries instead of getting out of their little boxes and enjoying the environment.
Cornell sucks because of that. I've had so little time to enjoy the beauty of this place simply because the college takes up every second of my time. I know it's temporary but I still desire more free time. I'm lucky to have a partner who is of the same feeling.
I gave up some homework time yesterday to get some things with her of great importance. First, and most importantly, we went to Dunkin' Doughnuts and got her a couple of pounds of her favorite coffee. Then we traveled to Lowe's where I picked up some wood to make a dirt sieve and more soil to transplant some tomato's and peppers. I grabbed some pots and a shovel as well to be ready for the spring planting season. We then went to Expensive Mountain Sports (EMS) where we bought her a really decent backpack with a 40-50lb capacity. I used to work at EMS long ago and unfortunately this is one of the few stores where you can buy gear and get a student discount. Believe me when I say I'd rather buy local...but we need the gear and we aren't rich. She has recently impressed my by identifying bird species she heard in the parking lot and by getting happily involved with my interests of hiking and backpacking. She went so far as to purchase a new pair of boots for me for my job in Vermont this summer. She is exceptional in her love of the outdoors and of animals. Beyond that she has made real strides in getting outside more on her own as she loves to walk and run. I have a hard time keeping up with her strong legs. I bought her a headlamp (and some other gadgets) and then groceries later at Wegman's to even out the costs. We are both excited to get some serious backpacking in this summer in the Adirondacks where we've planned a nice little week-long trip together.
This summer may bring many changes to my life. I have a real chance to make strides as a botanist in the field. I'll be alone without family, friends, or girlfriend during this time and I want to make the most of it. But I know that, while roommates talk of what they want to do with their lives I'll be out in the woods and fields doing it while they'll be inside hidden away from their dreams, locked into patterns that seemingly never go anywhere. Maybe that's harsh but it's just an observation that seems, at this point accurate. I don't take any pleasure from it and I wish it was not this way. But what can you do? You cannot change people...especially those that you care about. You can only live as an example and hope that they change themselves.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What does the weather mean?

5 March 2008

In other blogs on other sites where I post journals I've often talked about how the wind, rattling the windows and causing tree-branches to scrape against the side of the house, bring out a sort of primal relaxation that cannot be described. Storms are fascinating in their own right...we talk so much about control in my environmental classes: How to control the economy, how to control society, how to control the status quo...and if we don't control then it is simply understanding or educating ourselves on what it is that we've formed questions about. I know there is a whole science devoted to understanding the weather. Yet weather doesn't fit so well into neat little formulas and theories like, say, physics does. When that wind is howling, when the wind is blowing strong and the lightning is smashing down around us, when there is absolutely nothing we can do about the rising level of a river...these are times when nature, in all her beauty and glory raises her head and dares us to look her in the eye. It is a time when we have no control and can only wait until it passes.
Here in Ithaca we've had some beautiful ice storms and this one was no exception...just exceptional. After the storm initially hit us the power was out for about a day. Not much, but enough to slow us down. More on that later. The beauty and destruction it left behind was awe-inspiring. A large non-native maple sits in the back yard of my apartment. As I was leaving during the middle of this storm to pick my girlfriend up from work (apparently retail doesn't respect the wishes of the storm) I walked out the door of the sun-room and immediately heard an enormous "CRASH!" Although I wasn't sure what had been damaged I did realize that a section of that maple, about as big around as I am, had snapped off from the weight of the ice and wind, and landed either on top of or next to a small shed where all the tools and lawnmower was kept. Now I'm not much for driving around in storms unless there is some form of photography in it. I respect the weather, keep sand in the bed of my truck, drive slow and use my 4WD. Still I'm always amazed at how retail stores in any area will stay open no matter what. Last year, for example, almost a foot and a half of snow had dropped on Ithaca in less than 24 hours. After plowing my way out of the driveway, with snowshoes in hand, I made it to work, walked across the lot with my snowshoes on only to find a stressed out manager and zero customers. I was one of three (of about 20) who found a way to make it into work (or back home). Why are we so damn anxious to sell shit to the point of putting peoples lives in danger? I barely made it into work and I know others who got seriously stuck or worse trying to get in. But I digress.
The next day there was this eerie quiet; nothing electrical hummed or buzzed or rang or dinged or gave the slightest hint of existing. It was a blessed peace that I fear far too many in the developed world can appreciate. I walked outside and it looked like an artist, with a flair for cheesy Christmas stories, had left their mark. Everything was covered in ice at least a quarter-inch thick. The sky had turned blue and the sun was shining through it making the landscape look like some dream created from glass in another world. Of course my girlfriend, a native Ithacan "poo-pooed" it as common...but after a day or two even she had to admit that it was unusual for the ice to stay on the trees for so long. I just did my best to enjoy it while I could. When I was developing my own film for a class project we had a similar ice storm in Middlefield. I went out with my Pentax K1000 and snapped about 15 rolls. Unfortunately someone had screwed up the chemical mixture in the lab and my film remained completely blank. I was heartbroken. Now I have a small digital camera with no money for film developing. Still I took a few shots, as I always do, and will share one or two nice ones with you.
Slowing down is hard to do. In this high-powered world where people are aghast when their airplane is running four hours late (and how long would it have taken you to drive from Florida to Chicago?) I think folks have forgotten how to relax realistically. I even see people who go on "vacation" plan every little minute to fill the day with doing "things" they normally wouldn't do. A good storm slows you down, forces you to sit and wait and think. I find it hilarious that children get punished for running around, out of control, full of energy and a lack of focus. I think that adequately describes most of the adults these days. Too bad we can't send them all to their room. Maybe if they thought about what they had done their lives would be a little better.
In the end the storm moves on and the beauty or destruction left in its wake is removed and tidied up. What precious things.
Now, with no snow on the ground, the branches have been cut and sawed and piled on the road-sides for pick-up on the local roads. Much of it will be made into mulch which I will use to slow weed growth in my garden and around the deck. Some of it will be burned. The landscape will be cleaned and mowed and raked and shoveled and trimmed and planted until nature looks right. And we'll keep rushing along until the next storm slows us down.


Dear oh Deer

03 March 2008

I find myself often reflecting on past events...sometimes it helps to step back and take a look at the strangeness of it all to get some perspective. My second semester here (early 2006), while still living on Warren Ave past the tiny Ithaca Airport I had the luck of taking Ecological Orchard Management at Cornell. Ithaca is, by all counts, an area with a great love of apple orchards and my professor, Ian Merwin, is no exception with that love as he protects the orchards he owns with fences that are nearly 20 feet high. After one particularly stressful night in the Plant Science Building I was putting a group project together with several classmates on an IPM (integrated pest management) management program for a plot of land we were "granted" to virtually experiment with. I didn't go to sleep that night and found myself, in that sort of "I got no sleep last night" trance, walking to my vehicle located in the parking lot across from the Dairy Bar. On a side note: Somehow I got myself into Cornell, I can't stand Corn and I can't digest milk. Oh the Irony...but back to the story at hand.
So I got in my truck and proceeded to leave taking a right out of the parking lot and onto Judd Falls Road. As I accelerated a deer, out of nowhere, walked right into the front of my truck giving me absolutely, at a whopping 15 mph, no chance to stop and avoid the poor beast. I was going so slow that I made the conscious decision not to apply the brakes; they could only further damage the animal if the truck happened to stop directly on top of her or slid with a wheel locked on any body part. I felt the truck roll over her like a soft speed-bump and then it was over. I looked back in my rear-view mirror and there was no deer. She must have gotten up and ran although I still have no idea if she was severely hurt by the experience. It was so surreal and I'll never forget it. I drove home and went into a fitful sleep.
To this day I believe that deer was trying to commit suicide. I have seen deer strikes and unfortunately driven past a moose strike on the 90 in Massachusetts...let me tell you that there is not much more that freaks me out then seeing a steaming pile of blood and meat, after passing several smaller chunks, that is actually taller then my car; I was lucky that time to be on the opposite side of the road. Usually a strike occurs quickly when you have no time to avoid the animal. This particular animal got right in front of my truck and was nearly face to face with the grill before (diving?) proceeding to insert itself under my chassis.
This was all brought back vividly to me on the 3rd of March this year. Deer are, by many accounts, a problem in Ithaca. As humans have removed all their natural predators (maybe a few are left) leaving a dwindling supply of hunters to thin the ranks, the population of these ruminants has exploded. My daily routine as a Cornell student involves walking up Snyder Hill Road past the Dryden town line and up to the apartment I share. This evening, quite dark out and very icy thanks to one of the several storms we had been blessed with (no, no sarcasm, I love ice storms), I noticed red flashing lights up beyond the bend in the road a bit past Peregrine Way. As I arrived to the scene I realized there was a red Saab upside-down in one of the neighbors yards...the little house that sits on the plot happens to be one that my girlfriend likes very much and, as before, the scene was surreal. There were police and a fire-rescue crew prying the doors open to get the people out. I asked what had happened and if I could help. The official story was that the driver, coming down the hill, had tried to avoid a deer when his car skidded out of control, hit the ditch, and flipped.
One thing I'll never get used to in this town are the ditches. I have never seen any place that digs the kind of water-deterring ditches that they do here in central NY. In the past two winters, along the bend adjacent to Sharlene Road, I've seen a car that has slid off the main drag and firmly planted itself into the ditch with the rear end so high in the air that the rear tires are level with my nose. While I'm sure these ditches control erosion to a degree I have to wonder about the sanity of their design. Well luckily the driver who was avoiding the deer had hit one of the more shallow ditches which caused this car to roll instead of stopping instantly which may have caused more damage to the delicate flesh within the car. The officer said they had things under control and I walked away and tried to get a shot of the scene but my camera was and is a piece of junk unable to capture anything in the dark.
The next day I was walking back to the bus stop and realized the amount of damage done. The car, as it was flipping, took out several mailboxes and ripped off both the rear-view mirrors. I also observed that they must have being going very fast or been very drunk to allow this kind of accident. Here's a bit of advice: Hit the deer. Going off the road is not an option for any sane human being. And on the bright side you might get a few pounds of venison. Yum! In this particular wreck there was no deer to be found. I'm sure it just sniffed the air and walked away.
So I've included a couple of pictures of this incident. I apologize for the blurry and fuzzy stuff. And I have come to a couple of conclusions: First, be careful walking or biking on the back roads here in Ithaca and Dryden. People drive like idiots: It's that small-town mentality (throwing beer cans out the window while driving wildly on narrow backroads...Hayduke would be proud) mixed with the big city wealth...the drunks are driving Audi's, BMW's, Lexus's, etc...and are too young and ignorant to know how much power they have in their little hands. Second conclusion is that I need to learn how to hunt. If only I could afford a bow.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Gently...quietly...spring rolls in

Early April on a Sunday. The sun is out and it's least fifty degrees. It's enough to melt the ice in the bird-bath and the wall of ice that's been built up around me from a winter that has felt all too long. Strange as it may seem I love the winter and don't much care for those days of summer that are just all too hot. I'm a man of reason and common sense...or so I'd like to think. My clothes and life-style are functional more than stylish and I feel that is very important: You'll never catch me in baggy pants down past my ass or attached to the latest styles and trends. It's all bullshit. So when it comes to people who complain bitterly about the winter I say to them "build a fire"..."put on more clothes"..."find someone whose warmth warms you"..."take a few shots of vodka". But the summer is brutal. There is no escape from the heat. Not even the hypnotic drone of the air conditioner does much more then add a breeze to the room. Winter allows you to adjust. In the summer there is no way to get less than naked and in Ithaca we live in a place of some notable extremes when it comes to the seasons. I'll take them all. I have no complaints about that.

Except maybe the "flu" season. The Goddess can keep that. I don't recall ever being in one area where everyone was so sick at the same time. I'd like to blame the college students...wiping their noses with their hands, typing on computers, ordering food, handling's nasty and passes on to everyone. I think this is, however, a microcosm compared to the rest of our workforce in this country. If you are sick you still go to work; you can't afford not to. And by doing so you get everyone else sick as a dog. Productivity goes down, medical bills go up...and yet somehow it is justified. Sometimes I'd just like to tell the students to go home, get some sleep, and stop working so damn hard. But Cornell asks you to push your physical and mental limits. I'll try to express this as plainly as possible. I was in the military for 5 years and then worked three jobs at a time before getting to this school. Cornell is by far the most difficult challenge I've ever faced. Maybe it's my age or my time in life. Maybe it's the divorce and bankruptcy last summer. Maybe it's deciding to "invest in my human capital" and staying poor in order to find something better someday. I don't know. I just don't. But I'll tell you what's important to me.

Living life in happiness. Today I worked in my vegetable garden. I weeded the beds, carved out the isles a bit, neatened up the compost area and got all the plastic and other garbage left over from last year sorted out. I worked in the dirt and it felt damn good. I was initially outside with my black Cornell hoodie on but found, after a few pulls with the shovel, that it was not necessary. I removed the hay mulch off the last remaining bed or two and planned in my head where the vegetables would be going this year...hopeful that they would be well taken care of since I've accepted a job as a botanist in Vermont for 12 weeks of summer. My girlfriend and roommates will have to take over the job of making these plants grow. I think they are excited and up for it but you can never tell the way things will turn out. You just have to have some faith that they will.

After getting things more or less prepped for the next phase I went inside and brought my young furry son out (a 1 year old cat named Lucius). He was glued to the window while we were working and I decided that once I could pay more attention to him I would bring him to the garden (enclosed with six foot fence) and let him explore. As I dropped him, to his pleasure, in a large pile of well-decomposed sod, he mewed and playfully began exploring his new world. I sat down with a wary eye and looked...and listened.

Today was the first day I heard the spring peepers. From my garden there is a wetland a bit northeast from here up the road. I'm sure that at some point it will be filled in for development as they always are but for now, with the sun beating on my face, I enjoyed for a time the music. It brings me so much peace. Before it was drained by the town we used to have a small wetland in my field back in Middlefield where I grew up. I would spend hours just wading around in my bare feet, looking for polliwogs and their parents. It was like a little lagoon that captured my imagination. Every night, as I set my head to sleep in the spring they would sing their song loud and strong. It was my lullaby.

From my vantage point I had a view of the road in the distance. People were out running and bicycling. I assume this is their way of enjoying the nice weather but how many people just sit down and listen? This may be a random thought but there are so few people that I feel have that ability. Maybe it's an age thing? I know that after my divorce I realized that no matter how pretty or intelligent a woman is, if she is young (beyond the age of imagination and before the age of adult realization) there is little patience for sitting on the porch, sipping ones' favorite drink, and just listening. Granted that's a blanket statement and as such is not entirely true. Even when older people just forget to slow down and listen to the world around them. I think that's why things go to shit as they do from an environmentalists perspective: Out of sight, out of mind...or in this case out of the range of hearing. So when those peepers are gone from this world who will notice? Only the generation that remembered them. The children might hear stories about those fine little Pseudacris crucifer but they will never again enjoy their song like I did. I'm not a selfish man. I don't want that for myself. I want it for everyone. This is where my thoughts tend toward McKibben as opposed to Cronon. While I understand that even my backyard is a wilderness and even that "wilderness" is an anthropocentric creation the truth is that the spring peeper has not a care in the world for the anthropocentric viewpoint. And once we kill them all off they are no more and we have made "nature" in our view something worth less than it is. Who will sing me my lullaby at night? Maybe that's the point: "nature" is a creation of our society and a modern creation at that. Yet would a masterful painter decide that one color was worth less than another or would that painter create with the fullest extent of the palette so as to create imagery that can bring a tear to your eye? If the Sistine Chapel were painted in baby-blue would it still invoke the emotion it creates on so many? I think not. I know not. The spring peeper is but one of the many colors of nature and as we make it more and more in our image it becomes more and more sterile until we are left only with baby-blue whatever that may be. I can only guarantee it will be a dull and lonely place. And a dangerously unstable place as those sterile environments usually end up being. One might not know that the most dangerous place and likely place to get an infection is in a hospital: They've been using anti-microbial and bacterial cleaning supplies for so long that the microbes have adapted and become much stronger. I wish nature could do the same, but that is not our vision. But I digress...

A chickadee is calling out and wondering why I'm not enjoying the sunshine; "spring-time" she sings for all to hear. I should go out and talk to her and let her know that Cornell requires this of me. In order to increase my natural capital I've given up so much...hiking, bird-watching, gardening, sleeping...but all so I can go out and make sure there are more places for my little froggy and feathery friends. Such is the way we must live in order to move forward and so I look forward to the day when things slow down and I'm not so damn worried about what Monday will bring. Hopefully more sunshine.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Northern Exposure

Back when I used to live in Middlefield Massachusetts, when I was "young" (before the age of 12) we used to get some wicked snowstorms. Our house was located in the center of town and on any particularly snowy day the drifts would push up to the roof; the edge being over 15 feet off the ground. It was so high in fact that you could sled off the roof if you wanted to. I never did but thought about it more than once. The plows would come by and push snow so high up on the side of the road that, in a standard size school bus you couldn't see over the snow bank from the inside of the bus. After I reached my twenties I never saw another snow storm like that again but I still appreciate the memories.
In Ithaca the snow and father winter has been more impressive this year than any other in the three years I've been a resident. I enjoy the snow: It muffles sounds and makes the world quieter. It covers up the garbage we leave about and gives the illusion of a cold purity that only visits for a while during the year. When I'm on my snowshoes or just hiking through woods right after a good snow the animal tracks are always more defined and I've followed them more than once to an interesting end-point. This most recent snow was fantastic. My girlfriend wasn't impressed and assured me there would be more but I dragged her out so I could take some photographs. This time I really just wanted to shoot Cornell: I feel very blessed to attend Cornell University but it is one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life. I know I don't fit in well here as a 33 year old undergrad and I try to make the most of it. That said I wanted to see the college at peace. So often it just stresses me out and I don't get to enjoy the campus. This time wanted my quiet time even if it meant I couldn't get my reading done for a certain Environmental class I'm taking this semester. My Toyota pickup is as old as some of the freshmen: 18. Thanks to a rebuilt engine it still runs. I locked the hubs manually (nothing fancy here) and after wiping off the wet snow easily backed out of my driveway and went down Snyder Hill. It was beautiful. The clouds were low and a pale yellow and pink light was reflecting down on the campus. It was brighter than a clear night with the full moon and the snow had settled on everything. Because I can't afford a fancy camera or tripod I have a crappy little Nikon that is the equivalent of the rangefinder camera of the digital age. I also have a plastic tripod that is all of 2 inches tall. The problem is that without the tripod the flash has to be used or everything looks completely fuzzy. This is interesting if you want some artsy shots but I was looking for the real deal this night. For years I took shots on my fully manual SLR; the Pentax K1000. I would develop my film as well and consider some of my best work to be non-digital. I'm an amateur at worst and a novice at best but I can develop my own film and enjoy the work immensely. If I was forced to use the flash I'd probably just smash the little digital as the results are never good. So to rectify the flash problem I used roof of the cab of my truck as the mounting point. I'm sure I got some strange looks...while there weren't many people on the road the occasional student trudging along in a hoodie and sneakers in the sopping wet snow did pass.
I wonder how many people really can see the beauty that is right in front of them? There is something about a dark night with snow weighing down the trees and tickling the back of your exposed neck that just makes me smile. With Karley sitting dutifully in the truck staying warm I jumped into the bed of the truck and shot my first few pictures. I pulled into the Cornell information booth just a bit down and across the street from the dairy bar. There a blue light was located next to a skeleton of branches and snow. A shot or two later and I found a nice line running down Tower Road: All the street-lamps lit up and frosted, snow falling was absolutely beautiful. Next was Fernow Hall. I put the hazards on and pulled over to the side of the road as close as I could to the sidewalk. The stairs leading up to Fernow were lit up by big globes of light. I framed it with an overhanging tree branch from one of the many oaks that line the road. After feeling satisfied with my shots (to what degree I could be with this camera) I drove up onto the quad. From that vantage point and parked quite illegally, I took shots of Plant Science and Mann Library forcing a few lingering students to walk around the truck which was parked on one of the walkways. After feeling as good as I could we drove off to the clock tower where a fine group was sledding away. Sometimes I feel like my fellow students are just out of touch with everything and don't appreciate the world around them enough. I think those that enjoy sledding the hills around the tower prove that thought wrong and I appreciate that. I get such mixed feelings about nature here. On one hand I just want people to leave it the hell alone and stop littering and degrading everything they see. On the other I just want more people to appreciate the world around them. I guess it would be hard to have both but maybe, just maybe if they appreciated it more they would throw their garbage on the ground less. One can only hope. Oh well.
My last stop was the Sackett foot bridge. Karley explained how her parents used to swim here in the summer and ice-skate in the winter. As I made my way down to the bridge from the truck I overheard voices...students stoned off their asses were trying to find a way down to the path around the lake. They were making a messy job of it but were far enough out of my way to be insignificant. My how things change. My shots taken we drove to the local P&C on East Hill and I got my favorite snack: Peanut M&M's. Yum! Karley was getting a little carsick at this point but we were almost done. We headed home to warmth and dry clothes.
I don't know why the snow is more intense here. Some say it is the lake effect snow off Cayuga. Others mention the topography. Most just look at the overcast gray skies and sigh. Tonight as I write this I can hear the wind pushing against my windows in this little apartment. The heater keeps kicking on to keep this basement apartment warm and what sounds like little sand grains, but is most definitely snow, is tickling the siding. I don't know about the rest of the world but I think we'd be much worse without the seasons. I appreciate each of them much more when I don't have them 365 days of the year. And I can say that with absolute honesty. I was stationed out in the desert in California when I was in the Air Force. 365 days of the same sun gets pretty damn boring. So appreciate this place: You never know how long you'll have it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Snyder Hill

Topography is everything when it comes to weather in this area. Ithaca itself is located in a valley that used to be a glacial lake (Glacial Lake Ithaca) which included a depth that would completely submerge the clock-tower near the Cornell Store. While most people drive to get to their desired destination I have the privilege of walking, riding my bicycle or taking the bus and most often a combination of those two. Riding in to school is a joy: My average time to get into class is roughly 12 minutes meaning it takes about 9 to 10 minutes to get to school from a little over three miles away. It isn't surprising since the trek is primarily downhill. Getting home on the other hand requires patience and not a little bit of sweat which I especially don't mind donating in the winter months.

I live just over the Dryden border about a half mile. On those days when it snows or we have freezing rain I can only bike in if the Dryden road crew has been out. As soon as you get over the Ithaca border and into Dryden you notice two major differences: 1. There is a hell of a lot more snow on the road and 2. There is much less salt used. Personally I'll take the trade-off. I don't mind taking the bus in, which stops at Skyview Lane, requiring me to walk for a bit before the day really starts. And I would much rather not see all that salt on the road as I know it leads to increased salinity in the local streams and smaller bodies of water as well as the preferred habitat for Phragmities (Common Reid) which is destroying the local Cattail population as it takes over the local drainage ditches.

But this thought is more about topography then anything else. I love living up on a hill because I grew up on the top of a hill: In Middlefield there was no way to get to my house from any one of the surrounding towns without driving up a very steep hill. The highest point in my town was somewhere near where the Middlefield Agricultural Fairgrounds is located and parking for the Fair was officially in the field owned by my family behind our house for most of my childhood. There is something different about living near the top of the mountain. The trees grow shorter and the snow falls and drifts deeper and there is a sense of peace that you don't get in the bustling valley city of any-town USA. I welcome it and the clear view of a midnight sky as I roll into the driveway at my latest home. With no engine running and only the sound of my heart pounding and the wildlife wilding as I ride the experience becomes much more personal and interesting than when riding in my motorized noise contraption.

Recently I had gotten off the bus and was walking home during a bit of a snow-fall. It wasn't much, just enough to stick my tongue out and enjoy a flake or two, but it was pretty. With a good amount of snow on the ground already the sounds were muffled and the sky was a varying gray that threatened more to come in any form it pleased. It's days like this that I hate school. What better time then to be outside walking through the woods and exploring with the promise of a winter wonderland at my fingertips! I often wonder how those students that are so dedicated to their cell phones or their studies can ever even appreciate such days. I'm sure a few do. I'm sure it isn't many.

The wind blows harder up here and I like that just fine. It means I'll appreciate the fire and the company that much more when I take my puffy red cheeks and nose indoors, knock the snow off my boots and hang my jacket for the night. What fool believes that good weather brings happiness? You cannot understand happiness without the crack and spit of a fireplace after a long walk in the winter woods sans cell phone, mp3 player, or any other electrical gadget that may remind you of the times. Live like an old man or woman in Florida: I'm sure the complaints still rival any of those in the North. Such is curse of our unsatisfied nature. Give me a world visit but never take away my mountains and hills; the only wheres that I find peace and restful sleep with the wind rattling the windows.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Local Interview

This interview was conducted with my girlfriend Karley; an Ithacan native for over 25 years. We had initially talked about the social and environmental problems she perceived earlier that evening. I then asked her if I could interview her about it and she agreed. This is the result. Please feel free to ask any questions especially if you have trouble understanding what we are saying: I found it challenging transferring the spoken word to written.


Kar: Aren’t you supposed to ask me some questions?

Tor: Yeah, well, first of all what were we talking about in the car?

Kar: …Stupid Cornell students taking over this freaking town.

Tor: Well we were being a little more serious . We were talking about sort of…

Kar: I’m being serious…

Tor: Well alright lets start with the Cornell students and, you know, the interaction with the local people. What is the biggest problem you see with that bullshit and how it affects the town?

Kar: Because this isn’t a town: There’s Cornell and then there’s Ithaca. Cornell students…the whole area, the whole campus… is like its own little world in the sense that most of the students think its (Cornell) a superior world than the rest of the town. I mean a lot of the students talk about Ithaca and how its so tiny, there’s nothing to do. That’s why people move to big cities: They only come here because of the campus and that campus is what makes this town. However it depends on how you look at it and how you want this town to be….what you want this town to be made in to.

Tor: I’m focusing on the environment so how do they…we were sort of talking about community too…how did they fuck up that interaction…I mean you sort of noted that people have trashed the place more so what’s going on there?

Kar:Most of the people that come here…well…ok…a majority of the people that move here are…because this is a college driven town…are college students. They come from a lot of places that are no where near what this community is or was. I mean you’ve got people coming from the city who…it’s loud it’s noisy…don’t care if they litter, they don’t have natural resources of water (you know lakes whatever just in the middle of the city) so they don’t care anything about this town; it’s not their home they’re just here to go to school. Um…(long pause)

Tor: That’s a huge rift…so…I still don’t understand. You also mentioned something about, when we were talking about earlier, Redbud (woods) and how it got turned into a parking lot. It’s sort of like this fight between people who are here, who live here, and people who just come here. And you were talking about how people are just paving shit over all the time…

Kar: Well when people come here, when the students (come here), they don’t know what Ithaca used to be; they don’t know what it used to look like. I mean they know Cornell, they know it as a large campus that is continuously growing in terms of buildings (and) stupid parking lots.

Tor: What did Ithaca used to look like? I mean what do you remember it as? Obviously as we grow older everything changes to some degree or another but obviously it’s gotten a lot worse in your opinion so talk about how its changed.

Kar: (long pause) One there were no-where near as many people and therefore I mean you take a look at, we’ve got, what, two-three Starbucks in the past few years? We’ve got all these buildings, all these modifications that are all modernized? And everything was a lot more simple. I mean you’re cutting down trees to put down sidewalks that they really don’t need…like that whole thing in front of Just a Taste: They cut down all those trees to make the sidewalk bigger just to plant little newer ones.

Tor: Yeah that was pretty fucked up.

Kar: I mean it’s in a way it’s kind of like there saying “well we’re going to put it back so its ok. Just as long as it benefits us and we get money and it’s you know going toward what we want then, uh, we’ll take down the trees; we don’t really need them.”

Tor: This just boggles my mind because to me when I first got here, that whole area, the Commons, part of the draw for me was the fact that it did have trees. Like obviously I come from a smaller town and to me that makes it feel more inviting so I’m not in the majority here but I do look at the students and I say to myself “why is everybody driving, why aren’t more people using public transportation”. Does the town get forced to make these decisions or does it just make these decisions because it wants to draw more people in to make more money to get a bigger tax base? Is the town for Cornell is Cornell for the town? Does it fuck up the environment more or is there any balance here? What the hell is going on because to me it just seems like everybody is just doing their own thing and nobody’s got any plan…

Kar: Well you’ve got two sets of people moving into Ithaca. You’ve got the set of people who some people call the hippies because this is such an organic farm based area and town. But then you also have the people who come in for schools and those people take advantage of those who come in for the natural reasons, for the family reasons. I mean I’ve seen it on TV, I’ve seen it in magazines whatever; this is one of the top family, top places in America to raise a family, start a family, so people go there for that reason. Then you’ve got the marketers, you’ve got the big leaguers who see all those people coming in for those reasons and that…you came here for this but don’t you want to try some of this? Don’t you want to come over here and do this and buy this or invest in that or…?

Tor: I was talking to my professor about this a little bit and he was saying that one of the reasons why he chose Cornell (he actually had tenure at his previous college) and he chose to come to Cornell for a pay cut and he lost his tenure obviously. The reason why he did that is because he loves the outdoors. He’s sort of into hiking and doing what he does; he’s got an interesting background when it comes to that sort of thing and he’s like 3 hours away from the Adirondacks, he’s close to Montréal, and you know Ithaca itself, if you like hunting or hiking or fishing or camping, it’s highly rated for that sort of thing. But I look at that and I say “that’s great” but if a lot of people start thinking that way and thinking “oh this is a good place to raise a family” like your saying you know you’re going to get a lot more people coming in and that’s going to effectively, if there isn’t a plan for the town, screw it up, I would think. I mean you already see it on some level where you have this problem with Redbud (Woods) and their inability to work with the town and do something that made sense and then ended up cutting down something that a lot of people were upset about and just putting in a parking garage basically…

Kar: Well it’s a quick fix for, you know, a problem that could be avoided. I mean it’s kind of like saying “I have an option to take a bus or car-pool or whatever but it’s a little inconvenient so really what would be more convenient is to just put a parking lot there because it’s convenient for me. Oh yeah and I guess it’s convenient for all of you too.” I couldn’t even begin to tell you, I mean let alone when my parents were younger growing up, what wasn’t here when I was younger. That whole, the whole Wal*Mart section, I mean Bed Bath & Beyond, Lowes, Home Depot, I mean all of that’s just come in within the past five-six years so you can imagine what has been built before that.

Tor: It was just a much different town…

Kar: It was. There was not much here and to some people they see open land they see opportunity and they’re like “well it’s not being used anyway it’s just land, it’s just sitting there, it’s just junk.” Instead of keeping it up, tending to it, maybe preserving it or whatever, they’re just like “well what would look better would be…we should just put a building here”.

Tor: So you’re saying basically that its not valuable to anybody whose coming in here one because they didn’t have any issue with the land basically to sort of appreciate it for what it was and two because of that they’re sort of like “well it’s obviously not been touched by, you know, the human hand, so it obviously needs to be improved and for us to live here we need to improve it. So they go about putting their shit wherever they want to…

Kar: Well it’s a matter of what people think is improvement. I mean you could have a place an acre of land that’s just all weeds and invasive plants and whatever and some people would just say “make it better, dig it up, put a CVS put a supermarket, whatever”. And then you have other people who are like “hey man you know get rid of the invasive plants, plant new ones, make it, you know, more like a bird sanctuary like the lab of Ornithology. Yes they created a building there however they’re keeping the grounds and the woods and everything is as untouched and natural as possible, which are choices people have but refuse to do..

Tor: So you’ve been here all of your life: Why is one more important to you than another? In other words you have a choice to make: It’s either for this development we’re looking at in a sense and this “improvement” or doing something like what the lab of Ornithology does in keeping it natural or leaving it alone. This is your town so what’s important to you, what would you want to see done with it? And keeping in mind that doing nothing is doing something. Whatever you think.

Kar: It just seems that to me that if you can get what you need from one place why set up another place that sells almost the exact same stuff. You know what I mean?

Tor: Like what? Give me an example.

Kar: Lowes and Home Depot: You want to put a hardware store in? Fine. What do you need the other one for? Except for it’s a competitor and its money. It’s just consumerism and money. That’s all it is. There’s no need for them to do that. There was none of that before.

Tor: And did you feel like before they came into town it was just fine?

Kar: To me yes: I prefer a smaller town. I don’t want to say I’m old fashioned when it comes to that but there are enough cities elsewhere. If a city is what you want, if that’s where you want to live, go find one that’s already standing.

Tor: Let’s not go into the whole what’s old-fashioned/new-fashioned but really what’s important to you: Obviously when it was a smaller town it was a different community so how do you perceive the community as changed as the environment has changed?

Kar: People are a lot less friendly. You definitely were outside a lot (more). I mean parks, swimming at creeks, at Beebe Lake, this were all stuff that my parents did back then. Even when we were younger that was stuff that we did. We spent a lot of time outside. (Long pause) Eventually you get to see that…take downtown for example: You don’t have a lot of back yards down there. There are a lot of things you can’t do, play, experience if you don’t have a back yard. And I don’t know: I just don’t think that people are very much family oriented anymore because of the fact that they’re too busy shopping or their too busy working or they’re just too busy doing everything anything and anything because it’s there…

Tor: …Except enjoying time with their family…

Kar: …Right, right I mean if there wasn’t a Home Depot to go to, if there wasn’t a mall, if there wasn’t 8 million fast food restaurants to just shove food at your kids instead of sitting down and having a family dinner, if there wasn’t all that stuff here things would be a lot different. The community would be a lot more, not to say united, but intimate I guess. People would know each other more. I mean it’s a small town and I just feel that a lot of the people should be a lot more acquainted with each other.

Tor: Almost by definition and the way Cornell is with these huge course-loads it makes it nearly impossible, even if students wanted to, which I’m not saying most of them do, but if they wanted to, like me for example, to get more involved with the community, you know 90% of your time is doing schoolwork and so how do you change that, how do you get the students who are coming into this community and theoretically, because I have nothing solid to prove this, damaging the community on some level and then leaving because the don’t feel any sense of ownership here…

Kar: So what’s your question?

Tor: So what do you do about that? I mean first of all is a problem you perceive and second of all if it is a problem, which I’m assuming it is on some level, what do you do about it?

Kar: It is a problem because Ithaca is not known for jobs it’s know for their schooling and the environment. So when people come here to get schooling for these good jobs they just live here, do what they want to do, get done with their school, and find a job somewhere else. It’s annoying because people just come and go, this is like their stepping stone so whatever they do it’s only temporary, it’s kind of like all the college students in the um, in their apartments or their frat houses: They’re only going to be there for a while and really who cares if they screw it up because they’re not staying there anyway. They’re just leaving: They don’t have to clean it up they don’t have to take care of, you know, the mess that they’ve made or any of the damages they’ve done. And if they do really, what’s done with it, throw some money get it fixed, pay someone else to fix it up.

Tor: So there’s a huge disassociation with any form of responsibility I guess is what you’re saying.

Kar: Mm Hmm.

Tor: I guess lets shift here a little bit because you talked about the park and how that’s changed from the pollution…

Kar: Oh yeah.

Tor: Um so I guess what I’d like to hear is what was it like and what has it become, in your eyes, over the last fifteen years and maybe longer?

Kar: I can’t even remember when people were allowed to swim there.

Tor: Really…you have stories from your parents or something when people were allowed to swim there?

Kar: Yeah I know that you were, you were, used to (pause) I mean my parents used to say that it didn’t always used to be that nasty and bad and disgusting like, my parents wouldn’t even attempt to stick their hand in there to wash their hands off.

Tor: Lets just be specific: What park are we talking about?

Kar: Stewart.

Tor: Stewart park which is at the very base of Cayuga Lake right?

Kar: Yep..yep. They have signs there now like it’s not an area for swimming because of the pollution. They straight flat out say because of the pollution no swimming.

Tor: I guess what I want to ask about that is I know a lot of people like to blame the (Canada) geese for it (pollution) but obviously I don’t think that it is the whole problem because the geese have always been there so where do you think is the vast majority of the pollution is coming from?

Kar: Ok. There’s been an enormous expansion on Cayuga Lake because this is a town you know for outdoor recreation sports. Canoeing, boating, cross country skiing, down hill skiing, whatever. I mean that’s what Ithaca does. There have been a lot of new houses put on that lake. A lot. Who doesn’t have a boat now really? All the boaters (plus) you’ve got a lot of clubs and bars (and) restaurants on that water front: You’ve got, jeez, you know where I used to live up on west hill? That little like river strip? You follow that down, you take that road down to where, you go kind of behind Wegman’s and I don’t know what kind of factory or something’s back there I mean it’s just nasty. And it’s people, people not throwing their garbage away and getting it into the water, people out on their boats, just throwing garbage in there…

Tor: …Is that what you’re seeing primarily at the park in the water?

Kar: Oh yeah.

Tor: Like what do you see in the water primarily?

Kar: Right now? I mean that stuff…you probably couldn’t even tell. I mean yeah it’s a mixture of garbage: You know beer cans, tons of cigarette butts, um, probably like small plastic bags, potato chip bags, but I mean its gotten to the point sometimes like if you go down there it’s like this filmy gloop: This nasty brown blackish crap. It’s disgusting.

Tor: Doesn’t it seem counterintuitive, my favorite word, to love the lake so much that you want to build houses and go boating and do this stuff and then at the same time be trashing it? What causes that asinine mentality?

Kar: Because people who do that don’t…they don’t move here because it s a nice environment. It’s getting most of the people who do…I mean building on the lake is expensive. You have got to have money if you want to live on the lake and a lot of these houses that are going up now a days are unnecessarily enormous so those type of people with money aren’t too concerned with the environment and you know trade-offs and you know whether or not things are eco-friendly. It’s all about status and money and what you’ve got, what you’ve got to show for. People don’t really care.

Tor: I’m wondering just how much of the build-up of crap that’s at the end of Cayuga Lake is also from whatever industry is farther up north on the lake. I know there’s a lot of farms and I know one of the issues I’ve heard is that there’s a lot of run-off from farms that goes into the lake that’s been building up over many years and reducing water quality but do you think that, I don’t know how much experience you have or knowledge you have on this but, do you think that the majority of the pollution that you see associated with the lake has more to do with the build up of houses and recreation or is it farm associated and industry associated?

Kar: I think it’s a combination of a lot but this summer sometime when the water’s low or if it’s clear you should really come down there because what I have seen mostly throughout the years is even though, like when we were younger you know, we used to try to pick it up and we put it in cups and throw it away or recycle it or whatever but there’s a lot of glass on my grandmothers lake front. A lot of glass. You can not walk around barefoot anymore and there’s seriously been times when you look out and there’s a rake at the bottom just at the bottom of her dock or there’s stuff (that) has blown from storms, windstorms, um it’s just…it’s bad. There’s just a lot of stuff…if you were to drain that I’m sure you’d be surprised at what is in there.

Tor: Probably a few cars and snowmobiles

Kar: I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m sure there’s a lot of that stuff: Probably a lot of boats that either crashed or capsized or whatever. There’s a lot of junk in that (sarcastic laughter) and how does it get there? People. People. People that live on those lakes. Back in the day people didn’t make (so much of an impact). My grandmothers house perfect example. It’s very small because it was supposed to be a cottage. You can always tell the older houses because they are a lot smaller and they look like they are summer houses or cottages or whatever. The lake was primarily used for swimming you know what I mean? That’s what it was. It was rare that people had boats back in the day and people were just a lot more, I don’t know, not to say trained in throwing their stuff away or…

Tor: Well maybe it comes back to that sense of community you were talking about where people knew each other more and obviously if you see somebody you know throwing some crap into the lake you can berate them because you know who they are and uh you know if you sort of got a watch dog on everybody and everybody’s watching out for each other. Some people get slack and you just talk to them and they’re like “oh yeah I don’t want to be polluting my own lake”.

Kar: Well it’s also just that back then people were a lot more courteous to each other and parents taught their children that you just don’t do that. Throw your stuff in the garbage.

Tor: Well alright so let’s get off of (that topic). I think we’ve beaten that one to death and I don’t know…is there anything else that comes to mind that you’ve thought of that you’d like to sort of bring up when it comes to issues in general like this? Concerning the college or environment or it could be something completely different that’s been on your mind.

Kar: (Long pause) I would be curious to see for a year what this, if you could literally pick up the whole Cornell campus and I’m not saying it’s just Cornell because it’s, you know IC’s a pretty big college too, but it’s mainly Cornell, if you were to pick up both campuses and just kind of chuck them elsewhere, just to see what this town and community would look like for a year afterwards…

Tor: What do you think would happen?

Kar: I definitely know it would be a lot cleaner, a lot quieter, people I think that people would be in less of a hurry to be everywhere. There’s traffic up the wazoo when the students are here. Even in the summer; people love the summer because all those people are gone.

Tor: Yeah I agree. I’m a student and when the students are gone I think this town improves, as far as quality overall, exponentially. I love it (when) it’s quieter; it’s more inviting in general (and) you don’t have as many idiots driving around like maniacs.

Kar: I mean it’s just a lot more quiet and peaceful and I think it’s when the students are gone that is why people move to Ithaca. That is the atmosphere that they want or are drawn to.

Tor: All right. I guess the final thought would just be like what do you see for the future of this town (it is your town) and what do want to happen to it, and how do you get it to be what you want it to be?

Kar: It’s unfortunate because look: All of the, I don’t want to say “progress” because to me I don’t think all the building and the construction is progress, (affects) this towns character. I think it’s just going to increase in size in terms of population and probably decrease its green(pause) appeal that everyone moves here for. I don’t know what I could do, to be honest, because Cornell is such a huge political and financially stable system that if you’re not part of it you’re word (and) your concerns (and) your problems don’t matter.

Tor: So what does Cornell have to do be more a part of this community? What would they have to do basically to make this community what it should be in your opinion?

Kar: It’s not realistic but I think they should just keep things as they are. I mean if a buildings falling apart fine. Repair it. There’s no need to make a whole nother building a whole nother wing a whole nother campus site whatever…it just needs to stop growing.

Tor: Do you think if it grew up, you know vertically, instead of out, that would solve any problems at all?

Kar: No because it’s still growing it’s still gaining more people…

Tor: What does the growth do that’s negative, that you see as negative…

Kar: It’s negating what this town was and what people want it to be, like people like me who want it to stay a smaller (not so enormously inhabited town), where things are simple and laid-back. Sometimes Cornell students to me are like a gnat in my ear.

Tor: How so?

Kar: It’s just irritating. Just their presence bothers me because they’re not doing really anything positive they’re just there.

Tor: What do they represent to you?

Kar: A nuisance really that’s it. They’re just there they don’t care about anything or anyone but themselves. I mean environment, land, whatever…they don’t care.

Tor: Do you think it’s because of their…their status? Why don’t they care is what I’m asking.

Kar: Because this is a money driven country if there’s no money in whatever it is that they’re fighting for or is in their favor it doesn’t matter. Because people are lazy they don’t want to work hard so getting back to basics would just be too much work.

Tor: They’ve gotten used to a certain level of living so going back…

Kar: A very easy living where things are just handed to them: I mean I doubt any of them grow any food for themselves. I don’t think they could go a month let a lone a couple of days without their cell phones or their Ipod’s or their laptops or anything that is current with technology. That’s just it; technology has made everyone less personable.

Tor: So let’s tie that back into the environment and the social aspect of Ithaca and Cornell. Because of technology then and this sort of disconnect with being social you’re saying technology makes them less social or less caring and interactive with where they are? Am I being accurate in saying that?

Kar: Um..

Tor: Because what is it about the technology?

Kar: Technology is just making everything so simple: Press a button get this press a button get that press a button this does it for you.

Tor: So how does that destroy social relationship? In other words, I’m making a jump here so shoot me down if I’m being an idiot, but if things are made so simple and your community is falling apart (like people aren’t as close as they used to be) where’s the connection there? Is there a connection between how things are getting simple and how people are not having to work/do anything and, you know, their interaction with their community? I’ve noticed that people don’t know their neighbors name anymore: It’s that closeness that used to be there doesn’t exist.

Kar: It’s as simple as critical thinking skills. Why do I have to think if this thing can do it for me? Why do I have to do anything if it’s going to be done for me? And if it’s a machine that’s doing it then it’s kind of like…I mean people used to work together to do things. If you needed, say you were going to build a swing-set out of wood: ask your neighbor “Hey you want to help me out…I’ll have you over for dinner”. Now it’s just “I need to do this” or “I can pay someone to do it”. Contractors and construction workers, whatever, they can build this thing for me and I don’t care. And even then you don’t even actually speak or talk to the workers. You talk to the one contractor whose in charge of everything. So here people are who just built thing for you…you have no idea who did it (and) probably won’t give a thanks or anything for these peoples hard work…

Tor: …So you could also say that instead of even getting a contractor you could just go online and figure out how to do it. You don’t even have to talk to another human being. But what I want to know is do you think that it somehow affects this sort of new social environment that we’re in…do you think that it effects the environment at all?

Kar: Like physically?

Tor: On whatever level: Does it affect the environment is a general question: do you think that (this new) mentality and lack of personal touch, that lack of intimacy, with people and that dependence on technology is harming? It’s obviously harming communities so how is it harming the environment or is it?

Kar: Because if something goes wrong…(pause) people aren’t going to want to work together to find like just what I said, people don’t want to work, nothing no one wants to do anything for free so volunteering for stuff…it’s hard to find people to volunteer for anything and just working with people: if your not used to working with other people like sharing ideas, brainstorming, physically working together to do whatever it is, solve a problem, build something whatever, if you can’t do that now…when the time comes when you have to, if all technology fails hypothetically, if all technology fails what the hell are you going to do? People are going to lack any sort of friendly social skills…they’re going to have no idea and by that time they’re probably going to be like…because people are so afraid of what everyone thinks “well I can’t ask so and so because I’ve never even spoken to that person before and nope I’ll just try to do it myself” and just people no one wants to work together. I don’t know what it is. I just know it didn’t used to be this way.

Tor: I’m going to make another leap here then: Do you think that if that’s the case, because they don’t know other people, they don’t give a shit about how their affecting the other people’s environment?

Kar: Right: I mean if you are seriously worried about someone’s feelings you’re probably going to think twice or try to figure out a different way to do something that doesn’t hurt their feelings and I guess because people are so used to technology and the easy way out that’s just what their going to do: They’re just not going to make friends. Whatever: he’s not really my friend so I don’t care if I hurt him or not or if he gets mad at me or not…

Tor: …If I shit in his pond or not.

Kar: Yeah.

Tor: All right. Any last thoughts?

Kar: I guess not. I’m not sure if any of that was helpful at all.

Tor: Well it was definitely interesting and you touched base on quite a few things we went over in class so thanks.