Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” – Terry Williams
From the first day we spent together in the classroom, one of the main themes we have discussed and experienced first hand through various field trips, guest lectures, and our own personal reflections, is the concept of connectivity. We spent the first lecture in class talking about the ideas of place and region, and jumped right into the definitions and meanings of a watershed. During these lectures and discussions, I was particularly drawn to the idea that watersheds vary in size, and can be as localized as the bathtub in your bathroom, or as vast as the oceans. But what was most interesting to me was learning about how watersheds are a way for us to both define boundaries, and understand how connected this campus, this city, this state, this country, and so on, are with each other. For instance, before this course, I never really thought about where the water in the Westhampton Lake came from, or where the water in the lake drains to, and this was a common thought throughout our class as seen in the majority of our first blog posts. In Geography of the James River Watershed, we not only have learned the facts about the hydrologic cycle, riparian zones, conservation buffers, and so on, but we have gained a better understanding of how all of these elements are connected, and how they add to the ecological health and success of watersheds, and natural habitats in general.
Looking over my past few blog post entries, I can easily see how the themes of my posts relate to this idea of connectivity. In my last reflection post (Spring has Come), I commented about the area where the small creek feeds into the lake and the houses that are perched on the upslope of the hill meet, and how that strongly resembles the riparian zones that we talked extensively about in class. I could imagine the runoff of water coming down the hill during times of heavy rain and during storms, and how this area of sand, rocks, and trees can act as a buffer in its ability to help filter some of the waste and substances that are picked up along the way during a storm. A similar theme was also prevalent in my first blog post (Lake Walk) at the beginning of the year, when I reflected on the fact that I had never actually ventured to the point past K lot where the small stream flows into the lake, even though I have been living on this campus for three semesters. I was able to appreciate how our campus is much more connected to the nearby neighborhoods and the city of Richmond than I previously thought.
My second to last post (Volunteering on the James) this year was about my experiences volunteering with Ralph White near the section of the James River by the 14th street bridge. A group of lodgers and I spent the afternoon picking up garbage and cleaning a small island on the James that also acted as a homeless camp. While we were clearing the island of trash and debris, Ralph and a couple of local boaters talked to us about the uniqueness of the James and what it means and represents for the city. Ralph explained that the James has the power to bring people of all age, race, gender, and social class together, simply for the enjoyment of the water, and that by keeping the river healthy and accessible to everyone, it can continue in this tradition and bring about even more enjoyment for future generations. Ralph was saying that the river is a way for everyone in the city to connect with each other and share what is has to offer. The James is a great resource that allows locals to connect with nature, and temporarily “get away,” even in a bustling city environment such as Richmond. A similar concept is seen in Thomas Perry’s post (Reflection 2) when he talks about his reflection spot near the Frisbee golf course, and how the course resembles the James River Park system in that it allows golfers to enjoy the nature and small patch of woods that we are lucky to have on campus, and connect with their environment. This concept of “being away,” but at the same time staying connected with your environment also brought me back to the articles we read regarding designing small parks. In this article, we learned about some of the benefits of small parks, especially in urban environments, such as the protection of some types of species of plants and animals, and how small parks can act as “stepping stones” for species dispersal.
My last blog post (William Byrd Center Volunteering) was about my experiences volunteering for the William Byrd Community Center’s urban farmlet, where a few lodgers and I helped set up composting bins, spent time weeding invasive grass species, and prepared gardens for the springtime. I was immediately inspired when I discovered that the William Byrd Center put on a farmers market in the summertime once a week, and how they help out low-income families and allow the use of food stamps at their market so that these families can have access to fresh produce and can eat healthy foods. This farmers market, which is run by volunteers, is a great example of how the William Byrd Center is reaching out to the community and providing more of a connection throughout the city by allowing people to take advantage of this urban farmlet.
Another interesting way the concept of connectivity presented itself in our classroom was the guest lecture by Jakob Helmboldt, the bicycle and trails coordinator for the city of Richmond. His proposed plans on making the city of Richmond a more bike-friendly city would allow for more connections throughout the city, because it would allow more inhabitants of Richmond an easier and more affordable way to travel throughout the city. Not only would it be safer and more cost effective if more and more people would ride their bikes to work everyday, but it would also be extremely healthy for the environment. I would bet that if there were more bike trails surrounding our campus to areas of Richmond such as downtown and the James River, students and members of the community alike would surely take advantage of those resources, which would provide more connections throughout the city.
In order to help promote awareness and connectivity throughout our campus, my group for the Earth Lodge final project (Kenta, Taylor, Lauren, and I) are designing interpretive signs to be placed around the lake which will provide information about tree species on campus, the species of fauna found around areas of the lake, and information about the watershed of the Westhampton Lake. We are hoping that the implementation of these signs will increase the students, the faculty, and visitors awareness and understanding of what is around them as they walk through campus, and will hopefully serve as a way to better educate everyone about their immediate environment, which according to Dr. Forsythe, might help members of the school and the greater community to take better care of our campus, and want to get more actively involved in helping maintain the health of our campus.
I feel as though the concepts and skills that I have learned and gained in this course have carried over and will continue to influence my approach to many others aspects of my life. I strive to take more time to simply sit down, take in, and reflect upon what is around me, and question how certain elements of my environment are connected. I also have discovered a greater passion to go out into the community and learn first hand about my immediate environment and what I can do to make a greater positive impact through service. This course has given me a greater appreciation of how this campus, this community, and this city are all connected and part of a greater whole, and I hope to uncover more of these connections throughout the rest of my time here.