Taking off the Blindfold

As the hodge-podge of Earth Lodge and GIS students left Atlantic House to take a closer look at the source of water that feeds Westhampton Lake, I was struck by my ignorance. Not only had I never examined the area where Little Westham Creek flows into the lake, it had never even crossed my mind. As a former resident of Moore, I am ashamed that I never took a walk a short way down the road to discover more about my natural surroundings.

Then again, my ignorance is not surprising or rare. The way our world is constructed is human-centric and seems to navigate us away from nature. Try taking the Axe Handle Academy Test like the Earth Lodge students did on the first day of class and realize just how unaware you are about your local environment (http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/curriculum/AxeHandleAcademy/axe/placequiz.htm). Cars whizzing by on the road as the classes made their hike down the road solidifies my point. Humans have even made it dangerous to access nature.

As we continued, discussions about impervious surfaces and increased runoff caught my attention as well. This is another way humans unknowingly impact the environment. Our buildings, sidewalks, and – here it is again – roads, all contribute to increased runoff because nutrients and chemicals in rainwater have less contact with the soil that would absorb them. For example, “In a River Runs Through Us,” one of the articles the class was assigned, the author discusses how nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural areas cause algal blooms once they reach the water. There are also traces of hormones and drugs in the James River that were washed down into the water, rather than soaked up and (hopefully) purified or eliminated underground. Even without chemical equipment, one can see that Westhampton Lake also suffers from runoff.

This summer, as a watershed monitoring intern for my count, I heard a lot about impervious surfaces. My county instituted a local tax on impervious surfaces in order to fund projects that restore water quality. There was backlash about the fee, but it illustrates the point that our environmental situation has become so dire, so ignored that we must force people to pay for its care. Rather than each of us developing a relationship with nature and treating it well, we are constantly redirected to the man-made.

We are separated from our natural surroundings and this shows in how we interact blindly with the water and the earth. When we use resources we do not think about where it is coming from and where it will go. When we construct roads, sidewalks, buildings with roofs, we do not consider how that impacts water flow and water quality. Our walk around Westhampton Lake stressed the point that at least I can take off the blindfold and explore.

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3 Responses to Taking off the Blindfold

  1. dr3zz says:

    Throughout last week, I kept my eyes open. Instead of taking my normal route through X-lot, I traveled down the road as we did for our class. It is astonishing how much things can change, even overnight. Water levels rise and fall, new fauna scurry through, and now I am experiencing the joys of subtle change.

    My reflections as I wander along the back end of the lake revolve around the age-old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it really fall?” How ignorant and human-centric is this question? Before man was on this Earth, tectonic plates shifted, volcanoes erupted, and yes, trees grew and fell. It is an honor that we get to experience the sounds, sights, and smells of our planet, so it is important we take advantage of the opportunity even if for just ten minutes on the way to class.

  2. Hilary says:

    The same thing struck me on our walk. I had some idea that there was a creek that fed into the Westhampton lake on that side from going on runs around there last year, but the intricacy or the environment was lost on me. The significance of that little nameless creek I ran past, as Richmond’s watershed,compared to the relative insignificance of the lake I used to run around twice a week and not a soul on campus doesn’t know the name of is striking. It’s scary how blind we are to this thing that has driven humanity to innovate for so long to both utilize and survive.

    But in a way, it’s also kind of impressive. Our reading for this week’s class about how cities are like creature accept that they grow continuously until they hit a wall which they then overcome and brings about a new age, industrial age, digital age, etc. brought that point home for me. Humans have ‘mastered’ nature to such a degree that we essentially create our own wilderness, our own frontier. Thing of the internet, the digital age, and the frontier that exposes. Besides that, we have such an effect on nature, climate change and whatnot, that we are no longer adapting to nature by finding ways to keep our food out of reach of bears, we’re adapting to the disintegrating ozone by wearing more sunscreen and sunglasses. It’s pretty amazing that we’re adapted so continuously that we must now adapt to what we’ve caused. But also sad. I like to drive my point home with this quote from the William Cronon reading (http://www.williamcronon.net/writing/Trouble_with_Wilderness_Main.html)

    “This, then, is the central paradox: wilderness embodies a dualistic vision in which the human is entirely outside the natural. If we allow ourselves to believe that nature, to be true, must also be wild, then our very presence in nature represents its fall. The place where we are is the place where nature is not. If this is so—if by definition wilderness leaves no place for human beings, save perhaps as contemplative sojourners enjoying their leisurely reverie in God’s natural cathedral—then also by definition it can offer no solution to the environmental and other problems that confront us. To the extent that we celebrate wilderness as the measure with which we judge civilization, we reproduce the dualism that sets humanity and nature at opposite poles. We thereby leave ourselves little hope of discovering what an ethical, sustainable, honorable human place in nature might actually look like.” We’ve created this dualism that didn’t used to exist by both bringing nature closer to us by conquering it in a sense, and holding it at arms length by separating ourselves and our problems from it. It really is amazing…and sad…and scary.

  3. km7uz says:

    It is truly amazing how ignorant we really are. The most recent class readings really opened my eyes to the way we interacted with our environment. Even worse than ignoring nature and destroying it, we reject the man-placed nature around us. Just because man planted a tree does not make it any less magnificent.

    Through this class I have also realized how much I get caught up in my classes, work, extracurriculars, and social life that I never even knew about all the different elements of nature on campus. More than that, I never even thought about it. The idea that the water in the lake had to come from somewhere never even occurred to me.

    It is all really a matter of getting the ideas into our minds. Once we start thinking about our environment, we cant help but to care.

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