You can learn all about hydrology and ecosystems, you can weed out invasive plants and establish anti-erosion structures along banks, but the most important thing is to know your water, know your stream, your river, your lake, and what better way to bond with your water than to walk along side it and listen to it. The idea of a water walk is more about meditation and observation than action.
The following is a photo journal of my solo bike ride along Plaster Creek to the Grand River in Grand Rapids, MI. Some of the way was paved trail, some dirt, some roads.
Plaster Creek is considered one of the most polluted streams in Michigan, and I have been involved in many trash clean ups and invasive plant removals and rain garden projects in service to the health of the stream. But I had never taken the time to meditate in the sound of its brooks or walk beside it through tangles of invasive oriental bittersweet or admire the array of wild flowers and bird calls or lament of the concrete restraining walls and massive erosion or rejoice in the beauty of the parks it runs through or see it as a whole system not on a map or diagram. Today, I became the creek and the river. I cut through over-grown terrain and navigated through concrete cityscapes. I listened to the sounds of industry and cars blending with bird calls and the soft melody of the creek. Instead of working at one location or enjoying a specific park, I journeyed with the creek. I let it lead me through good and bad. I let it show me how it lives.
A fellow student contacted me with an interesting question. We go to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan and while our campus advertises being environmentally sustainable in many ways, the more you get into the issues you realize that we could be doing much more. My fellow student was working on a class project related to social and sustainability issues on our campus. She noted that many students are not living in a sustainable manner (even just as simply leaving lights on), and she asked if this may be because students simply don’t care about environmental sustainability.
While I can’t speak for each individual, in general I would say that Calvin College students are not apathetic to sustainability specifically.
I think that a lack of information and understanding is the main problem that ends up looking like apathy, but really people just aren’t aware of the issues. To combat this it is important to inform students and Calvin has a lot of programs in place to attempt to do this–such as Kill-a-Watt and Mad Farmer Food Fest and the Faith and International Development Conference and student leadership Sustainability Coordinator positions in the dorms and apartments. A lot of courses also have a sustainability focus. (Specifically in the Geology, Geography, and Environmental Studies Department and Biology Department. I also know of some economics and engineering courses with a sustainability focus. There’s even an environmental writers English course offered some January terms. There’s usually a handful of January courses having an environmental or sustainable focus, including at least one or more options for the required freshman course: “DCM”.). And there are also several student organizations with sustainability aims from food to political issues. My club, the Environmental Stewardship Coalition, addresses a wide range of environmental issues depending on what our participants are interested in.
However, these programs often have the dilemma of attracting people who are already interested in the issues, and while it may enlighten a few “new-comers” to the sustainability world, it is difficult to attract new people because there are so many other opportunities vying for each individual’s time, and they’re most likely to choose to do something they already have an interest in.
I think the most successful way to inform people is not just through programs that preach sustainability but also by personal conversations and individuals living in a sustainable way sharing their knowledge with people they interact with. I don’t think that there is a lack of these people on campus, almost everyone I know is concerned about the environment and interested in sustainability issues. But, I think that we often stay in our own circles, so sustainability-minded people don’t interact much with people that don’t know much about it.
There’s also a bit of a hesitancy when newly introduced to sustainability issues because it goes against our current systems so much. The very basis of our American (and possibly world) economy is market-driven with the only aim to grow profits without any enforced conditions or concern to protect people or the environment. While there have been laws put into place to try to protect people and the environment, there’s still a lot of cutting corners and illegal action because the media and economy promotes money above all else. And there’s a lot of skepticism encouraged by the media and businesses because they want people to buy more and being sustainable means buying less. There’s so much skepticism in the public eye on Climate Change, not because they haven’t heard the scientific facts, but because the oil industry and many other would be threatened if action against climate change was enforced and they have convinced the public that it is a hoax. The public doesn’t believe science, they believe media. But more than media, they believe family and friends, and that’s where we can get in and start changing people’s perspectives.
These profit-driven narratives are so present in people’s lives and worldviews that when introduced to sustainability that pursues balance rather than continuous growth, it is a dramatic shift of perspective that they must undergo to understand sustainability issues and practices. And since sustainability is so different than our current systems, it’s a challenge to live in a sustainable way. I honestly believe that it is impossible to live in a completely sustainable way today because there are so many issues (many hidden by the media and market) and all things are intertwined so tightly. Going vegan or vegetarian may protect a few animals that you may have eaten otherwise, but all of the substitutes and high-protein foods you need to consume instead are still surrounded by unsustainable practices.
I think the second biggest problem is a lack of convenience. Especially when people are used to the current systems, they’re unlikely to put in much effort to change. It’s a rare person that would carry an empty can around until they find a recycling bin if there are no recycling bins and a plethora of easy-access trash cans. Even in my apartment, my roommates stopped using the compost when we moved it to the porch, but when it was right beside the trash in the kitchen they would use it all the time (unless it was already full, because they would not walk all the way out to the compost site to empty it–too much effort, apparently). If sustainability was easier to do, more people would do it, no doubt. And especially if there was a reward (especially an economic reward) more people would do it. That’s why sustainable low-energy appliances have grown popular and common, because it saves money.
I would say that Calvin is on the right track to make students more sustainable, but the college has to stick with it and continue pushing the informative programs (especially in all courses and fields to reach all students) and making sustainable systems more efficient and convenient to get students into sustainable habits.
But I think the issue is beyond Calvin–it’s our economy, it’s our whole world. Until we change the basic systems underlying our lives to be sustainability-driven rather than profit-driven, sustainability is always going to be a challenge and a struggle.
I consider myself a Christian, but above all I believe that Love is the most important thing in the world. But what actually is love? I have been struggling with that question just as everyone throughout all eternity has wrestled with trying to understand this vast, complex feeling. I do not think it is possible to fully understand what love is, but here are a few of my reflections and breakthroughs that have settled me at least for a while.
I will not talk about romantic love here, though one could interpret these imaginings in that way. My intended “love” is the all-encompassing phenomenon that runs through all things, living and not, that all religions believe in, that every person has felt deep in themselves that defines them as an individual but also as a connected member of the universe.
I used to think that the meaning of life should be personal happiness. But I was equating love to happiness. Love is much more complex and painful than happiness.
Happiness is fleeting but sorrow lingers.
To feel great happiness one must accept great pain.
Pain hurts worse than how good happiness feels. But Love is above all.
Love is NOT happiness. If anything, Love is pain and sorrow. Without love we may not experience pain and sorrow because Love is the driving force behind all emotions, all conflicts, all actions.
Love is strong. Love endures all. Love is endless. Love is everlasting and abundant. Love grows and is never depleted. But What is Love? Those who feel it recognize it. But no one has ever truly understood what Love is.
Love is universal, but where one finds it is different for each person.
Personally, I find love inside myself when I’m in nature. When I am in a lush forest or in the mist of mountain peaks, or when I see a bird or a leaf, I am filled with a feeling so strong it is like nothing I feel at any other time. I am filled with a love for nature, for the Earth, which extends to a love of the universe, of God, and of Life.
I had been struggling with the question What is Love? But no one has or ever will find an answer that fully explains what Love is because it is beyond understanding and likely the most complex thing in all of eternity. The question I was trying to ask myself was: where do I personally find/experience/feel love? Because once you answer that question for yourself, your life has meaning and purpose.
For me, I feel love for nature. I cannot share that love with others unless they personally feel the same, because you cannot force someone to truly love. But my love empowers me to action–to protect and care for the environment and the natural places that I feel that intimate bond with. My actions, done with energy and passion from the love that fuels me, may inspire others to act in response or, at least, support me. But it is always myintention to act to protect what I love, no matter the cost, pain, or sorrow because that is how love works. It is never my intention to empower others or change other people, though that may be where someone else’s love lies. That is not my calling, that is not where my love thrives, but it does not mean that my actions and love will not impact other people. It may result that my actions done in love will inspire others to find their love.
The meaning of life is Love, but not in the sense that it will bring personal happiness to the one who discovers it. The paradox is that the person who finds their love and acts on it will likely experience much pain and sorrow along with the occasional happiness. But the energy and meaning of following your Love, is worth all of the struggles that will come with it. Such a life does not make sense to one who has not found their Love, the thing that makes their heart want to beat with a will to live and act no matter the cost. And we must also acknowledge that while Love is universal, the source of Love can change. Even within an individual the thing that you think drives you may change during your life, because Love is a driving force, it is not a specific entity. The question that is most important is not to understand Love, but to find where you can personally tap into this living force and be filled. Love is what life is all about, and those who do not feel it will never be fully satisfied with anything.
Screams chased me down the hall from the living room. I retreated to the bathroom. The door absorbed the vibrations of my parents’ fight that flew through the air, and I turned on the shower to cover up their voices.
Water washed over my head, cleansing my body, but the evil of the house still lingered in my soul, and only a baptism of salty tears could truly purify me.
Through streaked vision, a smudge of black flickered along the shower wall. The black dot sprawled its eight stringy appendages on the slippery, yellowed walls as it struggled to get out of the mist that had ripped through its intricately weaved home. I watched, cheering on the small creature in its inevitable journey. It had nearly reached the ledge of the tub. Two spindly arms tapped the ledge, trying to get some grip, but a drop of condensation rolled down the wall and knocked its legs out from under it. Crumbled, tumbling, sucked toward a vortex of death.
I snatched the spider before it landed in the pounding spray of the shower. His two beady black eyes looked up into my wet, streaked face. “I know you’re not supposed to be inside, but you’ll die outside in the snow.” I raised the frail frame up to the top of the shower wall, a safe distance from the water. Slowly, it uncrinkled its legs and scaled the putrid, pink wall into the corner shadowed by the blacked out lightbulb. “If you stay hidden, they won’t find you,” I whispered. They ruined everything they found.
I stepped into the bathroom and was overwhelmed by the aerosols of Febreeze that barely covered the sour, acidic smell still emanating from the toilet. It was too soon after dinner, and the scent of my sister’s daily visit hadn’t had time to fade. I looked into the mirror at myself. My baggy clothes covered my pale skin, my bruises, my lumps and curves. I turned away from my reflection and shed off my layers of clothes until I stood completely open before the two beady eyes in the corner. Those two eyes did not judge as I washed away the day’s insecurities.
Every day, I found refuge from the chaos by locking myself in the bathroom. Drowning out the screams, the crying, and the bitter silence with hot, pounding water. Whispering secrets to my spider. The more I fed the tiny creature my pain and sorrow and love, the bigger it grew. The stringy, spindly legs stretched. The bouncing, black dot swelled. The two, beady eyes opened wide.
Then, one day, I heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner in my bathroom.
Clinging desperately to the crumbling foundations you so carefully constructed. Falling, spiraling into a dark abyss that sucks the life out of you. The inevitable fate that everything you made will be destroyed. There isn’t even hope for the little, round gems of the future that you so dutifully protected. Everything is swept away.
Tears rolled down my cheeks, but there was no one to see.
Where do you get your best ideas? Where do you go to make sense of the world? Where do you find inspiration? Maybe you’re traveling some place beautiful in nature or to a new city or landmark. Maybe you’re completely alone or maybe there’s lots of people around. But no matter where your place is, there is a commonality among all people’s “thinking” places. These are places where thoughts come freely, where creativity speaks to us.
For me, I’m lying in my cozy bed, the lights are off, I have nothing left to do for the day except sleep, my body relaxes and my mind races. Images from my day flash before my eyes, I start to linger on memories of things that happened, and then, as these subconscious thoughts rise to the surface, I drift into a land of dreams where imagining comes freely. I’ve heard that dreaming is your subconscious processing everything that happened during your day that you didn’t give yourself time to think about. I have really busy days and lots of strange dreams, so maybe there is something to this myth.
My sister has her best ideas while she’s showering. She often ends up writing lists and ideas on the shower walls with her daughter’s bath crayons.
I also do a lot of thinking in the shower, during car rides, and during church services. What’s in common with falling asleep and listening to a sermon and scrubbing shampoo into your hair? You’re trapped in a place with a simple task.
It’s true that some places can be very inspiring or relaxing, but does your creative thoughts flow there? I have more ideas taking a shower on a busy day than I do during a week of leisurely camping. For the mind to be active, the body must be active. I have to experience and learn new things in order to imagine and create my own ideas. But, there is a balance. Busy people often get stressed out because they don’t take the time to listen to their own thoughts and process what is happening around them. When there’s too much to do and too much happening, it becomes nearly impossible to pause and think about one thing for a while.
For busy people, it’s hard to find or make time to sit and meditate. People often think that they need to get away from everything in order to let their mind be free, but I don’t think it is absolutely necessary to leave. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has tried to escape from stress by going for a walk only to come back with less time and no less stress. Meditation and allowing yourself time to think is an important part of relieving stress, but trying to schedule time to do so goes against the very point of doing it in the first place. Listening to your thoughts should be a part of how you live. Self-awareness should be integrated in everything you do. If you process life as it comes, you can prevent it from building up and overwhelming you.
You should take time to think about what needs to be done, but you shouldn’t be repeatedly stressing yourself out about the future. If you focus your thoughts in the moment rather than in the past or the future, you can think about so many other interesting things. That’s the difference between lying awake at night because you’re thinking about what you didn’t get done that day and everything that needs to be done when you wake up versus thinking calmly about whatever comes to mind because all you’re really focused on at the moment is going to sleep. Creative ideas come from the subconscious, so you can’t actively think; you must listen to your underlying thoughts.
My advice is to find parts in your day where your attention is unnecessarily diverted in too many directions and try to focus more on your inner self. When you’re riding or driving in the car, a simple thing like turning the radio off can help you hear your own thoughts. You might notice that the corn is getting higher or that a new store is opening, and at the same time, you can reflect on how you are feeling without blocking it all out with whatever is on the radio. I’ve heard of people listening to books or language lessons in the car, and while it is good information to learn, I think it further proves that people are trying to cram too much into their days.
You don’t have to leave to escape from the business of life, and even if you go somewhere else, you won’t find peace until you learn to listen to your thoughts.
Eeeeeee—BANG! Eeeee—POP! Crackle, crackle, crackle. Momentous firework displays occur annually on the 4th of July all around the United States of America created by artisans of design and explosives. Crowds gather around grills as they chow down on the most Americana food: hotdogs and hamburgers. The sizzling grease and charred lines of the grill add to the authentic taste of beef mingling with a zesty mustard and pickle, blended with the sweet tang of ketchup and tomato, topped off with a creamy cheese and the crunch of iceberg lettuce. Stomachs sloshing with watermelon and beer, fingers picking strings from corn on the cob out from between teeth, people ooo and ahhh at the flashing fireworks until their ears go numb from the explosions. Then, when the last explosive has lit, ascended, and dissipated into smoke, everyone packs up under the sulfuric air and waits in a line of car exhaust as police direct traffic out of parking lots and through four-way stops.
Few people pay attention to the dark clouds that drift away after firework displays when RED, WHITE, and BLUE, PINK, PURPLE, GREEN, ORANGE are lighting up their eyes, and POPS and BANGS numb their ears. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fireworks as much as any other person, but I cannot block out the amount of pollution they create.
It’s hard to give an exact amount for the pollution created as displays and individual fireworks vary and atmospheric conditions also play a large part in the amount of pollution fireworks create. But, it is not hard to agree with NOAA’s 2015 study that showed 42% more air pollution on July 4th in given locations.
Ideally, someone should invent a firework that can create colors and patterns without releasing fine metals and CO2 into the atmosphere; however, there are real alternatives to firework displays that could be more environmentally friendly.
I remember being blown away the first time I saw a musical fountain lights display. The Grand Haven Music Fountain in Michigan has numerous displays every summer. Colored lights illuminate the sprays of water that dance through the night synchronized to music. Such displays can also be found in locations such as Las Vegas.
Now, you may be saying, “Yes, it gets rid of the air pollution, but what about all of that water and the energy for the lights?” Water displacement and pollution is as big an issue as air pollution, so precautions should be taken to make sure that water is not soiled or displaced. The Grand Haven display is built right on the Grand River and pumps water out of the river and back in. The water stays nearby its source and although part of it evaporates in the air, most of the water is returned immediately after the display without pollution. As for energy, as long as production is made with the least energy use possible and that electricity comes from a renewable source, there’s not much more we can ask for anything that involves a lot of lights.
Laser light displays and other types of celebrations and shows are alternative to fireworks, but personally, I think the Musical Fountains are the most magical option.
Camping on all sorts of soils, hiking winding wildernesses, and exploring the National Parks are some of my best and earliest memories. The parks that I’ve visited have become a part of my identity. An image or mention of one of the parks brings back memories or bestows dreams of future travel. This is not just my experience, but the experience of many families, explores, hikers, campers, and people of all sorts who have visited these beautiful parks over the past 100 years.
August 25, 2016 is exactly 100 years after President Woodrow Wilson penned his authority creating the National Park Service. The NPS is calling this year the “Centennial Summer,” and many parks are incorporating special programing for the occasion.
In celebration, here are some interesting facts about the National Parks.
Yellowstone was the first National Park.
America has over 400+ National Parks.
Several parks were established before the 1916 Act, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, and a few others which have been protected and managed as early as 1872 and 1890.
Delaware was the last of the 50 States to get a National Park with the establishment of the First State National Monument in 2013.
The land of Acadia National Park in Maine was almost entirely donated by private residents and some private property still exists within boundaries of the park’s circumference.
307,247,252 people visited the National Parks in 2015.
President Ulysses S. Grant and President Woodrow Wilson:
Both signed acts that started the preservation of land for National Parks.
President Theodore Roosevelt:
Being a big hunter, President Roosevelt grew concerned about the decreasing amount of game animals and other species. During his time as president in the early 1900s, he created the Forest Service, established new National Parks, and preserved many other locations and signed acts for conservation and management. During his time in office, Roosevelt protected around 230,000,000 acres of land.
The late 1800s writer, naturalist, and scientist spent significant time in the Sierra Mountain wilderness that is now Yosemite National Park. Muir’s inspired words drew attention to the beauty of the landscape and encouraged the preservation of the land. The Sierra Club is a remnant that continues Muir’s dreams of protecting the environment.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Olmsted Jr.:
While the Presidents passed the legislation to protect the land and Muir admired and shared the natural beauty, the Olmsteds shaped the land of many of the parks. As two of the major figures in the field of landscape architecture, the Olmsteds shaped the roads and trails of several famous parks: Yosemite, Acadia, Everglades, and the Great Smoky Mountains.
John D. Rockefeller Jr.:
The Rockefeller family enjoyed their cottage on Mount Desert Island and contributed a lot of land to Acadia National Park, including 57 miles of carriage roads and 16 stone bridges constructed of local granite. These carriage roads prevented much of the island from getting cut up with roads. Motor vehicles are prohibited on the carriage roads, providing vast, safe spaces for hikers, bicycles, and horseback riding without the sound and air pollution cars create.
I love all thinks National Parks, but I also enjoy coin collecting. The convergence of my passion with my hobby has me maybe spending more money than I should.
National Parks Quarters
While USA coins have traditionally featured past presidents, political figures, and historic figures and places, they have been branching out more. The series of State Quarters were very popular among the population, but many people have yet to hear about the National Parks quarter series, entitled “America the Beautiful.” The National Parks quarters can be distinguished from the State quarters by a ring border around the picture on the tails side of the coin with the name of the National Park along the top and the State and Year of print along the edges of the border.
Starting in 2010, the mints release five quarter designs—featuring a National Park, Memorial, Forest, Lakeshore, etc.—each year until 2021. The America’s Beautiful National Parks Quarter Dollar Coin Act of 2008 determined one National Park from each state to be featured on the coins. U.S. House Representative, Michael Castle, introduced the idea for the State Quarter series and the National Parks Quarters.
2016 holds the release of: Shawnee National Forest (Illinois), Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (Kentucky), Harpers Ferry National Historic Park (West Virginia), Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), Fort Moultrie/Sumter National Monument (South Carolina).
100th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Set
Congress determined that the US Mints should produce $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins, and half-dollar coins featuring images in honor of the National Parks for 2016. The surcharges for purchase of these coins goes to the National Park Foundation to continue protecting and improving the parks we love.
Both sides of each coin feature iconic images of the Parks’ history. John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt look out from the gold $5 coin. Old Faithful bursts her timely geyser blast from the silver $1. A hiker explores a mountainous landscape and a child discovers a frog on the half-dollar. The National Park Service emblem is engraved on the reverse sides of the coins. And you may wonder who the woman is on the back of the silver dollar. She is a Latina Folklorico dancer, chosen to depict the many cultural experiences one discovers in America’s National Parks. More descriptions can be found on the usmint.gov website.