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 MontrĂ©al, 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.

Friday, February 15, 2008

An Introduction

Who am I? Well let's be fair. You aren't going to get to know me no matter how much I type here today. Getting to "know" someone takes more than a simple blog entry. But I think I owe it to any reader as to why I consider myself an environmentalist and conservationist. Since these themes will be prominent over the course of these writings it is key to understand that piece of my background.

I come from a small town called Middlefield Massachusetts. In 1975 I was born in Pittsfield Massachusetts which is one of the last old industrial towns of this century. The town was built around the General Electric Transformers division plant. This is the birthplace of General Electric (originally known as Electric Manufacturing Company). At one time GE employed 13,000 individuals as the town grew to over 50,000. If you add together the years all my relatives worked for GE it would be well over 300 and maybe much more. Here they produced transformers using PCBs as stabilizers and insulators. If you don't know much about the toxicity of PCBs start here Click! for general information and here Click! for a local perspective. This once bustling industrial town, built on one of the worst pollutants of our generation, fell apart when GE folded and moved out resulting in a loss of over 12,400 jobs. Poverty and crime ensued.

Middlefield was and is an enigma as far as towns go. It's small and rocky with more fields and forest than roads. The population started around 400 (barely) in 1975 and is a bustling 500ish today. It produces a yearly agricultural fair (The Middlefield Fair) sponsored mostly by 4-H groups and farms. The highlight of the fair is either the draft-horse pull or the 4x4 truck pull depending upon ones hobbies. Recently, due to a lack of interest, the fair has been on and off year to year. This is what occurs as small farms can no longer afford to exist.

So I grew up walking around Middlefield, through the woods, camping by the streams, playing basketball on dirt driveways and building fires to sit around with friends every chance I got. It was quite the juxtaposition, Middlefield and Pittsfield, and the two were only about 20 minutes away on roads that averaged about 35 mph.

One could always say that I've been an environmentalist and conservationist; i just didn't know it until someone pointed it out to me. To make a long story short I graduated high-school, tried a year in college, dropped out for lack of motivation and money, joined the military and signed up for the G.I. Bill, attended Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield and somehow ended up at Cornell.

My searching really started in the Military. I've always had a strong sense of what is "just" and "moral". I don't get it from my parents (they weren't around enough to be an influence) or any other outside source that I can think of. My grandfather might have had something to do with it since he was an avid fisherman who liked his alone time and often brought me along the banks of local lakes or out in his tin boat on stormy days when nobody else was fishing. Regardless I started seriously looking for myself and at myself around the military years. I knew I wasn't much for the military, I wasn't a "lifer", but I also didn't agree with a lot of their practices including waste disposal and, among other things, letting their jets just piss out their fuel on the tarmac. It seemed like a waste and worse.

One thing the military is efficient at is making you search for religion. When you are near death on a daily basis, even in non-combat squadrons (412 TS Edwards AFB), you tend to look for a higher power. In basic training I sat in with those that taught or shared Islam. Once I got on my first base I went to the Christian Church pretty regularly. But within that church they had a library. And within that library they had many books that were venomous toward every other religion you could think of, video included, considering them all creations of Satan or guaranteed to send you to hell. Well I knew many people of many different colors and backgrounds and I thought this was a pretty damn narrow view of the world. This church put on a pretty good show with song and guitars and I liked the people but it was just not right on so many levels. Finally I just started reading about Buddhism, Taoism, Wicca, etc... and guess what really stuck with me? Wicca. Why? Looking back on it I think the association with our organic world just clicked with me. I was missing that severely and felt depressed in the middle of a desert town with little or no green around me and a ton of pavement. So I started practicing and put "Wicca" as my religion on my dog tags.

Fast forward five years or so. I'm at Berkshire Community College. I'm studying Liberal Arts and realize I don't want to work retail for the rest of my life. During that time I took an Ecology course with Timothy Flanagan who was the head of the Environmental Science Department at that time. I was hooked. I had always been walking around in all this "green" and didn't know how to describe it. Now I had a method. I took my Liberal Arts Degree and started immediately after graduation on my Environmental Science work. To be completely honest this is where my love of conservation and environmentalism began. This is where I found out about General Electric and started realizing how the rest of the world worked or didn't. That "moral" sense, put in quotes because everyone has their own, demanded that if i was going to live on this planet I better damn well respect it. And I had no idea how so many could piss in the same water that so many other had to drink.

So my crusade began. I've had a late start in life but things are moving along. I feel privileged to work amongst some of the greatest young minds and professors that our world has to offer. And I often hope I can, as a non-traditional student, live up to the expectations I set for myself in this situation.

With that in mind this blog, as a class project, is a part of getting to know my local community and environment better. I find it a difficult challenge as I didn't grow up here and with the course load that Cornell demands I have little time to do the hiking I love so much and interacting with the community on environmental and conservation associated issues. Funny how I've had to put my life on hold so I can move my life forward. But here I am. I hope that this blog will be interesting and not too redundant for those that are familiar with this area. I welcome and encourage all input.

Thanks for listening.