A Community Going to Waste

I can’t remember most of my first visit to the University of Richmond. But I do remember the gaping soggy hole that was the Westhampton lake in the summer of 2011. I knew it was a lake, but there’s just something about seeing that crater that kept me from really intellectualizing the whole body-of-water on campus thing.

I didn’t come back to the University again until revisit day in April of 2012, and then I got the full effect a lake on campus gives a doe-eyed and slightly overwhelmed high school senior trying to decide where to spend the next four years of her life. You see, I like scenery. The aesthetics of a school were an important factor to me. And that mirror of water reflecting a blue sky and the brick architecture of the Tyler Haynes commons left quite an impression. While obviously not the only reason I came, it definitely played a part.

I spent many of my first nights here sitting on the banks of that lake, listening to the ducks and hoping to find friends and a community I could call home. It’s only now that I realize the significance of those thoughts. I wasn’t yet aware that I was already a part of a community. Even a small college feels rather anonymous if you went to a high school with less than one hundred people in each class. So, as I sat on the benches by the lake, I felt the weight of anonymity with a fair amount of anxiety. Little did I know I was sitting by the very thing that connect us all.

The most significant thing I took from the last three Earth Lodge classes for me was the quote by geographer John Wesley Powell, that a watershed is “”that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.” As a strong believer in the supremacy of logic, this narrates perfectly the comfort that the lake gave me, even in my ignorance to it’s true significance.
Sitting outside and listening to nature made me feel the comfort of being part of something, even if I couldn’t put a name to it yet. I grew into the community without realizing what it really meant and how it existed. I made friends and no longer needed the comfort of a quiet meditation by the lake. But I still go from time to time.

In the past year, I would wonder in passing where all the spilled alcohol, abandoned solo cups and discarded cigarettes end up, thinking idly that it must be the lake, but that thought has never truly taken root. Until recently. Suddenly I find myself looking in horror into the murky depths of the lake as I spy yellow bikes and trash. It’s suddenly like perhaps the very thing most collegians here take for granted is the thing they should most want to preserve. The Westhampton lake links the campus together, literally the center of our University of Richmond community. A community is a terrible thing to waste.

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4 Responses to A Community Going to Waste

  1. Garrett says:

    I quite enjoy the concept of the lake providing a sense of community that you focus on. It had slipped my mind that Powell’s quote also applied to our little lake. But if you think about it, it really does. Students walk by it everyday, some choose to run or bike its path, yet others sit on a bench or in the gazebo to do homework, while still others love to do “upside-down lake.” It also brings in people from surrounding neighborhoods who come to jog around the lake, walk their dogs, or even feed the ducks with their children. If you think about it, we all interact with the lake on a regular basis. It really does, in a sense, build a community. And it really is sad how some people take it for granted by not picking up after their dogs, throw trash off the bridge, or somehow manage to put a green bike 10 feet away from the shore. Things like that can really be damaging to our lake, not to mention it’s just plain disrespectful. But also it can be damaging to our community as well…

  2. Hilary says:

    I didn’t think of this before, but watersheds really do create a community–like a tangible community. I know that’s what I said, but I was watching the Lion King and it really drove the point home. Water sources, way back when societies didn’t have all that fancy aqueduct stuff, created a bond in a community. It’s where all the animals go to drink. In ancient Rome, even though they did in fact have aqueducts, had the community of the baths. Bodies of water are and were integral parts of the community. Geography itself was. But with all the adaptations that humanity has made, we’ve altered it so much we just adapt to ourselves. Bodies of water don’t need to be a central part of a society. They still are fairly frequently, but still.

    Going off on the don’t pollute our pretty lake thing I said before, I wanted to mention: I didn’t really get what sustainability was until this week. I mean I knew what it meant. But I never really thoroughly got that it means to live in a way that you can sustain forever. So if a farmer has a wheat crop for years and years and then strips the land so it can’t be used form years and years and years, he’s not sustainable. It’s both simpler and more complex than I thought. I was thinking about how we use resources that will obviously eventually run out. What a bad decision. Especially since there are energy sources that won’t. Sure, economically it makes sense right now, but what about in a hundred years? Twenty years? So silly. If you live sustainably, when we run out of oil, you can laugh at all the people who don’t have running water or cars or preserved food. Laugh right in their ‘economical’ faces. HA.

  3. hc6kf says:

    I really liked how you mentioned aesthetics playing a role in your choosing Richmond, particularly because I remember the almost universal answer given when people say why they came “I visited and it just grabbed me.” I think the lake plays a very important role in the culture of our campus and the kind of people we draw, and as we (hopefully) adopt better management practices this effect will only intensify. The lake occupies the role of ‘iconic centerpiece’ on our campus, and you pointed that out perfectly. People go there to reflect, hang out, and just generally do what college kids do. But we feel differently about it because we get to do it near a lake. Maybe thats why people try so hard not to think about how dirty it is; they would have to concede that one of the most special things on campus might not be perfect.

  4. TRL says:

    This essay has a great, engaging first paragraph. I also really like the reference to Powell and how you came back in the comments to tackle the issue of watershed boundaries forming a community again. Great passion too. Well done.

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