This entry is part of a series of journal entries on the Sustainability Plan. For Nature and Ecosystems, I write about my own personal connection to and experience with nature.
In my second semester at Harvard, I took a seminar at the Harvard Forest that solidified my interest in the environment, from both academic and personal standpoints. Alongside Professor David Foster, his wealth of knowledge of forest landscapes, and just ten other students, I learned about the Forest and its ecology from the inside, devoting every other weekend to trips to the area located far off campus. Often equipped with snowshoes and an arsenal of winter gear to withstand the New England snow, we hiked through the forest throughout the day, taking our lecture notes in small notebooks. There were no laptops in this lecture hall.
Professor Foster devoted much of the lectures to debriefing us on the usage of the Forest as an ecological research hub for Harvard scientists and students. Many of these research projects explore the effects of climate change on the local ecosystem; for our final projects, we would also investigate a topic relating climate change and New England forests. Though my academic takeaways from the seminar were great, the opportunity to replace the hustle and bustle of urban school-life with the silence of a snow-kissed forest floor was much greater. Sure, the anthropocentric role of the forest was often to act as a carbon sink, but I was reminded of the meditative, relaxing powers of a wilderness landscape.
Though my academic takeaways from the seminar were great, the opportunity to replace the hustle and bustle of urban school-life with the silence of a snow-kissed forest floor was much greater.
As classes I would take on environmental politics and ethics after my freshman year might argue, however, the line between what is “natural” and “wilderness,” and what is “man-made” is blurred. In the eyes of William Cronon, for example, the wilderness as a non-human creation is profoundly flawed in our current, highly developed era—just look at wildlife conservation projects, man-made parks, and the pervasiveness with which humans affect “wild” areas indirectly.
Cronon finds that, “As we gaze into the mirror [the wilderness] holds up for us, we too easily imagine that what we behold is Nature when in fact we see the reflection of our own unexamined longings and desires.” Others, like Lynas in “The God Species,” have written that the connotations we’ve attached to nature and to humans are damaging to our existence on Earth. To him, humans have as much of a right to be on the planet as any other species, and can and do exercise our technological power to protect the biosphere from damage every day.
Confused, unsure, but also inspired about the relationship we have with the outside world, I took a walk along the Charles River. Unlike the Harvard Forest, the River is a prime example of the interface between urban and natural environments. I was just as inspired as I had been my freshman year.
The River, finally defrosted, flowed swiftly and reflected the dulled overcast of the May showers. And, just yards away, cars flowed swiftly on their own path. As I crossed one of the bridges and approached the river bank, eclipsed by trees ringing with the chirps of bugs and birds, I saw a family of geese. One goose tended to their young goslings, who pecked at the ground and wobbled about. The other stood nearer to the path, as if keeping watch. Just parents and their children.
Along the River, asphalt blended into grass and trees, and life was just as bustling as on the streets of downtown Boston. In the wake of reading period, it was a relaxing scene, just as my seminar had been my freshman year. The seminar at the Forest was inspiring because it removed me almost completely from campus life, but my walk along the River reminded me of how I could find “nature”—whatever that means—on campus. Thankful and restful, I settled back into studying, reading to take on finals.
The seminar at the Forest was inspiring because it removed me almost completely from campus life, but my walk along the River reminded me of how I could find “nature”—whatever that means—on campus.