Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Field Wanderings

Smacholdt's picture

Final Site Sit Inspired by Carman Papalia

I was inspired by the blind field shuttle tour that we took in class today and decided to see how far across my site I could walk by myself and with my eyes closed. I got about ten feet. Fifteen feet tops. This just goes to show how different this experience is on your own from being in a group. One thing that surprised me about my own experience was my intuition. I sensed a tree before I ran into it. It wasn’t that I saw it or felt it, but rather I could somehow just tell that it was there.

I then decided to make observations about the “Soundscape” (a phrase that Mr. Papalia used a few times on our class’s tour) of my site. The first sound that registered was the sound of rustling branches. Then church bells, distant dogs barking, and people talking. I heard the consistent rumble of a train and the flow of traffic. Car horns sounded intermittently as did the voices of students walking around campus. Visually Bryn Mawr is very sheltered from the surrounding Philadelphia area but sound-wise it certainly isn’t. Traffic is a constant, noticeable noise. The other sense that intensified when I had my eyes closed was smell. Fried food scents drifted intermittently out of the dining halls. That was really the only smell strong enough for me to smell through my cold nose.

Smacholdt's picture


I went to my site sit this morning. I looked at the cut vegetation and I felt one sensation, COLD. This got me thinking about whether there is any connection between our society’s dislike of the cold (think about how much they overheat the dorms in the winter) and our views towards global climate change. It seems that climate change is helping to speed up the inevitable warming of the planet (

Smacholdt's picture

Humans in the Natural World

 One main connection that I noticed between Monday’s class and my site sits are the presence of humans .We are on a college campus with a densely populated surrounding area, so we have no choice but to come in contact with other people. I’ve been thinking about are the subtle ways that humans have changed the landscape over the past few hundred years. They have build buildings, chopped down trees, planted trees, etc., and they have also influenced the spread of “invasive” species in Morris woods. This is something that I would not have even been aware of, had I not participated in the class. It’s interesting how something as seemingly “natural” as a wooded area, can actually be quite artificial, and greatly influenced by human actions. I feel similarly about the wildflower area. I think that I have the unconscious, and obviously erroneous idea that all plants that I see on campus somehow got there “naturally.” This circles back to the sticky question about what exactly “natural” means. For me, I think that “natural” signifies something that has been unaffected by human activities.

Another idea that I’ve been meditating on since Monday’s class is that of trust. The trust activity made an impression on me because not only did I feel like I really did “get to know my tree,” I was astounded at just how vulnerable I felt without my eyesight in the woods. I can’t imagine doing this trust activity in a more wild environment than Morris Woods. I think I would have been very apprehensive if I hadn’t known that people were just a few feet away.

Smacholdt's picture

Are you Afraid of the Dark?

I decided to try something different today and went to my site at 9 pm instead of 9 am. It was cold and it was dark. (Thank you time change, although it would have been dark at 9 pm, regardless.) I had some reservations about going outside when it was so dark out, but these were tempered by the fact that lamps light our entire campus when the sun goes down. This got me thinking. Why are humans so obsessed with light? I guess that there are the obvious reasons- the sun is our greatest source of light and without it we would have no warmth, no air, and no food. Plants provide us with the latter two things and they could not grow without light. But I think another reason that we are afraid of the dark is because darkness represents the unknown and we are very uncomfortable with the unknown.

This thought process brought me to a show that I remember from years ago called, Are you Afraid of the Dark. The show, as its name suggest, takes place at night, and in the woods. This just got me thinking about how much fear our society still harbors for both nature and the dark. For some reason, setting a scary show outside only adds to its fear factor.


Smacholdt's picture

Some Research

My site looked pretty bleak today after the storm. Leaves were everywhere and the mowed section where the wildflowers were was all the color of dead grass (with the exception of one clump of black-eyed Susans that were either very resilient, or just resisted mowing. I had never explored much beyond the wildflower area, so in walking back to Erdman I made sure to notice other aspects of the landscape. I wondered how the small forest of bamboo got behind Erdman. Since it’s an “invasive species” I assume that it wasn’t planted. I also noticed the creek that flows behind Erdman. It probably waters the bamboo, and the wildflowers when they were there. I also noticed that people had planted plants in tree stumps, and interesting mark of humans in nature.

Back in the warmth of my room (it’s gotten COLD outside!) I scrolled through the Bryn Mawr Grounds page and found some interesting botanical and architectural information (Plus pictures!) It was so interesting to see how Bryn Mawr’s campus looked in the past, how it looks now, as well as blueprints for how it might look in the future.


Smacholdt's picture

Where Have all the Flowers Gone?

I’m finding it a little hard to concentrate this morning because they MOWED my spot. Mowed it! All the wildflowers (and all plants, minus the trees) are shorn to the ground. Devastation! I’m exaggerating, but it was slightly shocking after watching the spot grow for half the semester. It must have been mown yesterday with the rest of campus. Why do grounds mow campus so often?

I usually try to incorporate the readings, or whatever we talked about in class last time in my posting, but I’m finding it a little hard to do so today. I felt frustrated through much of class yesterday both because, though I could see the connections, I felt that feminism and environmentalism were very separate. I’ve always had trouble with both ideas, maybe just because they’re so expansive. I think that “environmental justice” is a clearer descriptor than “eco-feminism.”

But back to my site sit, since I was at a loss for words today I decided to represent my experience pictorially. Above are before and after pictures of my site, and below is a previous description of my site sit after I ran it through, which “reformatted” it. 

Smacholdt's picture

Wildflower Area History

Taking a historically themed tour of Harritan house inspired me to focus on my site with a historical lens. I had success with the Bryn Mawr website (, in finding some useful information on the wildflower restoration area.

It turns out that reason for the wildflowers is simply that Ed Harman, director of grounds and facilities at Bryn Mawr, had a hard time maintaining that area due to the spring that left the area moist. Then, three years ago, one of the first trees planted on the campus (a 250 years old sycamore) died and Harman decided that he needed to improve the area. Harman was inspired to “bring back life to a historic planting.” The grounds committee planted a mix of 30 native wildflowers in the area (this was apparently inspired by the success of the Atlantic City Expressway’s median strip flower-planting program.) Facilities also planted a new sapling inside the stump of the sycamore to symbolize rebirth.

The grounds committee has been experimenting with more wildflowers on campus including behind Haffner, Ward, and around Rhoads Pond. (The same mix of wildflower seed has been planted everywhere.) This allows grounds not to have to mow on dangerous slopes, but to save money on fertilizer. Additionally, wildflowers attract pollinating insects and provide mini ecosystems for wildlife on campus.

I just have one question. How come facilities haven’t been experiencing the terrible trouble with weeds that Michael Pollen describes in his NYT editorial? 

Smacholdt's picture

The Secret Life of Plants?

This clip is from the 1979 documentary, The Secret Life of Plants, directed by Walton Green. I don’t know how I feel about this particular clip (his ideas get more crazy towards the end), but if there is any validity to it, it’s fascinating .

I’m having a hard time getting out of my brain. Call me self-centered, but I have always found that the best way for me to understand something is to apply it to my own experiences. It’s not that I’m not noticing things at my site today- I am. I’ve observed how the colors of the growth around me look duller in the rain. And how browns and oranges are starting to intermingle with greens. I notice the flock of birds that I’ve startled while walking to my spot. But today my mind keeps coming back to one idea.

We talked last class about the possibility that trees are sentient beings. And why not? What if plants can feel things? Can trees communicate? In the most basic chemical way, yes, many can. A forest of Aspen trees is completely connected by hundreds of miles of underground runners. Certain kinds of mushrooms are also one organism, connected underground. Do plants feel emotions like people do? Can they empathize? Do they desire things? I wonder if scientists will ever figure this out. This topic is captivating to me and I would love to learn more about it. 


See video
Smacholdt's picture

“Traditional” Ecology: A Field Guide to Flowers

As I made my observations today I found myself wondering about the scientific classifications of the plants I was seeing. I decided that it would be interesting to be a little more informed about the flowers I was looking at.

Using this site as a reference ( This is what I came up with:

Flower 1: Great Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristata)

Other common names: Blanket Flower, Common Gaillardia

Family: Asteraceae (Sunflower)

Height: 2 to 4 ft.

Blooms: July to September

Leaf Type: smooth

Bloom Size:  2 in. (typical)

Flower Description: Individual flowers, Regular blooms, 8 parts

Notes: stems and leaves hairy; petals have 3 tips


Flower 2: Thin-Leaved Sunflower (Helianthus decapetalus)

Family: Asteraceae (Sunflower)

Height: 2 to 5 ft.

Blooms: August to September

Leaf Type: toothed

Bloom Size:  2 in. (typical)

Flower Description: Individual flowers, Regular blooms, 10 or more parts


Smacholdt's picture

An Exercise in Poetry

I began my first observation this morning at the Conservation/Wildflower Area by simply observing what I could see right in front of me. But as the hour wore on I began to think more about two things- the rheomode that we talked about in class yesterday, and the multitude of sensory input that I was getting, just sitting on a bench by the garden. I decided to try to use the rheomode and to play with the idea of the five senses. I only realized later that by using the five senses to describe my experience I was negating a big part of the rheomode itself by being so anthropocentric. I also noticed that when I’m trying to write in the rheomode, it’s easiest for me to use passive voice. Anyway, a poem in the “rheomodist” style:

Streaming, inviting, bright morning light looks warm

Sounds of moist, chilly dew

Ugly, grating sound of traffic

Vibrant, bright colors of flowers feel beautiful

Open, inviting, exciting, the taste of the view from the platform

Cold, smoldering with damp, the sound of the air

Rough wooden bench smells of mold

Sounding warm and damp like bells- the flowers

Whooshing, swaying, verdant breeze

Tasting the sparkling light

Seeing the hulking lawnmower- an intrusion on the scene?

Flying, fluttering, turning like tops- freedom of birds

Rough and sad concrete platform

Dark, inviting, peaceful shade

Interacting with the bright morning is good for the soul 

Syndicate content