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Natural Deficit Disorder

Shengjia-Ashley's picture

Chaos left unanswered

It is very difficult for me to write the last site sit. The rain is seeking into my hair; my head is aching with reflections of how this semester had been for me. I couldn’t help to take retrospective examination of myself and my site. The exuberance beech trees I see from “Carpenter beach” have only a few leaves left now. People loved to lie on the beach at the beginning of the semester haven’t returned for a long time. The grass stayed relatively the same: well-trimmed. My mind is not well-trimmed but muddy and clustering like the fallen leaves in the corners and sides of the trials.

The voices of the ecologists were arguing in my head. Are human doomed by human’s encroaching the earth? Or is the environmental crisis just an imagination of some ecologists? How should we represent the world? Can we compose an understandable literature without human as a subject? Or is human an inseparable part of the ecology? What shaped the actions of human in the nature environment? Is it the fear of nature or the control of the landscape? How should we speak green? Radically or simply let it be and enjoy what we have now…

 Many questions are still left unanswered. Many topics are still open in the untamed space of imaginations. Even though the class is coming to an end, I don’t think I can simply left the chaos of the different world views, opinions and imagination in the readings we have done. There is much I can ponder on for years.

Shengjia-Ashley's picture

The leaning tree and vine swinging

The botanical and geological exploration of Bryn Mawr campus I experienced with three “Sarahs”, Wanhong and Emily was quite interesting.

We started with a group of 5, Emily Tong, Sarah Macholdt, Sarah Cummingham and Wanghong  Zou. We talked about our experience of our two different Ecological Imaging classes so far. We went on the geological exploration first. We identifyied the rocks, went to the Mills creek… Fast forward, fast forward. And we met three other ecological imaginers basking in the sun in front of the English house, which was when the trip got more interesting.

The eight of us first argued about whether the leaning beech tree in front of the English house would fell down at any point. One of us tried to push the tree down, but didn’t succeed, of course. Finally, we looked up high in the sky and found out the top of the tree was more branches on the opposite side of the direction the tree was leaning to. So the tree was in fact in perfect balance! I wonder if the tree had known about the laws of physics that it decided to grown in such special “gesture”.

Then our interest shifted to the vines that were grown on the beech tree. One of us did “vine swinging”!! A dangerous thing to do, I must say. The vine broke, and fell down an inch beside her! Sarah Cummingham said the tree was expressing its anger. I say we don’t have the skills of Tashan to do vine swinging. We had overestimated the strength of the vine. Eventually Sarah decided to take the broken vine home and make an art creation out of it. (Have you finished it, Sarah?)

Shengjia-Ashley's picture

Look for something different

Today I sat on the lawn behind Carpenter library, looking at the grass searching for “intruders” - other species of plants that was not grass. Perhaps because I didn’t have the knowledge of a biologist, the only two different species I can found on the land dominated by grass were clover and a kind of vine I cannot name of.

I learned from “ecological imaging 313” group that though some plant look very alike, they taste different, they smell different and they could be poisonous and nonpoisonous. Should I bow down to smell the grass if any of them has a different scent? Maybe I should, but I didn’t.

Do I want to find something different among the grass. I am not sure. The green is intended to grow nothing but grass. But what if all green grows nothing but grass? Would it be too simple, too plain, too dull? Yet, I don’t want to see chaos on the green. I don’t expect to see tomatoes, squashes and roses crowded together. That is too complex, too messy, too confusing.

Bryn Mawr going co-ed? To me, that would be just like transferring a peaceful grass field to an extravagant garden. Eveything that was good about a grass field will be lost. I do not want that.

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$12.5 for an hour of reflection or more

The sun is casting its last hour of glory on the roof of Rockefeller and Goodhart. The warmth of sunshine is back this weekend. So am I back on the lawn behind carpenter. The benches we- Ecological Imagining group - sat on shivering on Tuesday was still somewhat in a circle. Yet the conversation is gone. The air is quite without the think-aloud reading of Kincaid’s “Alien Soil.” I could hear rustles from far away, is it the wind in the trees? Or is it the water on the rock beds?

What am I doing on the bench? Reflecting. Am I productive in the value system where only what can be counted counts? Definitely not. I am spending an hour, $12.5 tuition (calculated by my friend) writing a short passage. Yet the conversation we had takes time to digest, reflect, and ruminate – one of the intangible thing I am doing simultaneously. And the intangible appreciation for nature and cosmology view of the universe Bryn Mawr college is teaching me every minute of the day can not easily prized with a number.

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This week I decided to move my on campus site to the student garden. It is not the BMC Green Club gardening time, just a chilly Sunday afternoon. The weather was extremely cold. A big proportion of the mud ground is exposed, for only about one-third of the vegetation in the garden survived both the frosts and Sandy. I could neither sit on the cold bench nor stand like a scarecrow in the garden but keep walking in circles on the narrow aisles between the beds. I kept my feet off the bed in case the club already planted seeds and kept my body away from the cardboard fences because as a child I was injured by a metal-framed cardboard that fell on my leg on a windy day. I walked carefully because both the seeds and my body are fragile. Frugality - not only the frugality of human but also the frugality of the environment - creates the gap between human and the nature surroundings. It only takes a meteoroid to devastate the ecosystem of the earth and eliminate the dinosaurs. It also only takes the “intelligence” of one earth specie to irresistibly change the climate that determines the fate of millions of other species. Without seeing rows of trees being cut down, people just go on wasting paper every day without even thinking it is the flesh of the trees. Without reading the radical essays of the environmentalists, people will not hesitate to take the “usefuls”: water, wood, mineral from earth and toss back the “unusefuls” garbage, wastes, contaminates.

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Digging in the mud

Walking with eyes looking at the ground can gain you a lucky penny or the knowledge and history that are hidden in the rocks and ground. Redness of a rock is caused by ion. The sparkles on the rock are pieces of magnesium. The soil we walk on may travelled with the stream for a long time. The tree we see every day may come from lands miles away.

I wonder what is the history of my on-campus site. I wish rocks could tell me a story, but the only rocks I found are pebbles of limestone. I wish to dig underground like an Archaeologist, but the school would not allow me to ruin the well-weeded platform.

Have I ever tried digging in the mud? Never.

I have sat under fluorescent lights and breathed recycled air for too long, it is time to start digging.

On Saturday, I went on a volunteering trip with Bryn Mawr College Gardening group to weaver’s way farm. Like a 6 years-old child, I got so excited when encountering creatures that resides in the mud for the first time that other people may have seen hundreds of times.I never did gardening before and had no idea digging the ground and plugging out plants could be so thrilling. I discovered a penis-like mushroom that grows underground (I never knew mushrooms grow underground as well), encountered a baby snake in the mud (there are snakes in the farms! Scary! ) and caught a mud salamander (I never saw a creature like this! However, someone in the group told me the salamander is frequently seen in her garden!) What else have I been missing out?

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Wild Garden

“You can’t plant in the spring and leave in the summer.” Bruce Grill said at the Harriton House when introducing us to the cluttered community garden (October 2012). “The plants grow everywhere”, Bruce continued. The plants were everywhere indeed. The tomatoes and the squash were mingled together in a corner and some sort of red flowers were hiding among tall grass, which people define as “weeds”. However, isn’t the community garden a great example of “wild gardens” Michael Pollan is talking about in his essay Weeds are Us? People spend too much effort into cultivating an “ideal” garden that always turns out to be too artificial. And no matter how hard people try, nature will always find a way to creep into the fences and make its own wonders. Even on the well-weeded and well-trimmed grass on my site, I find many “intruders”: several cluster of clovers, one dandelion, and other clusters of unknown species.  These aliens managed to escape from the sharp razor that “beheads” the field grass that surrounds them and survive the dreadful potions that are designed to kill “weeds”. Human can’t defy nature. The nature in these clovers and dandelion dictated them to reside on the grass and people can do little about this. “The bees goes whenever they pleases.” said Bruce. I think it is the same thing with gardening. The “weeds” decide to grow in the gardens whenever they please, people can’t simply arrange a garden. 

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“Grasses, or more technically graminoids, are monocotyledonous, usually herbaceous plants with narrow leaves growing from the base.” This is the only definition on Wikipedia for the plain grass people walk on everyday. And this is not the exclusive definition for the plain grasses, either. “Grass” and “Graminoids” are shared names for other long-leaf plants like cereal, bamboo and marsh. I thought plain grasses have different names of its own besides just “grass”, like lawn grass or field grass, but both terms have not yet been included in Wikipedia. And I can’t find any synonym for grass in Merriam Webster Dictionary either. So maybe it is just grass. (This paragraph may be difficult to read because grass is just grass!)

Why doesn’t grass have other names? That is what I have been anguishing about while sitting on the grasses on a wet day. (If I can somehow turn my observation of grass into a poem, I will have something to post. But grass is not a poetic term! What should I do?)

Okay, now my observation of the grass on the platform in front of Carpenter Library written in scientific-narrative way:

The grasses have long, narrow leaves. Most of the leaves are green. A few are yellow or embroidered with a yellow fringe. The leaves should have pointy-heads, but the grasses I observed are so well trimmed that I cannot see any pointy-heads. (I wonder if the grasses like the regular “beheading”) The end.

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The circus music flowed from Thomas, yet I am reluctant to join the mass.

The sun embraced me with warmth, yet I am bleak skin beneath.

The grass under my feet was similar, yet unfamiliar.

The moon last night was bright, yet was not right.

The squirrels were leaping back and forth home.

I am sitting on a bench, gazing the blue blue sky. 

In her graphs, Bechdel didn't hightlight the animals and their motions. But I think animals and their ANIMATION are important part of the ecosystem and should be noted.

Reading Fun Home made me very very homesick.

Somewhat Like Alison, I also have a "sissy" dad. He has a driver's license but he never drives, because he doesn't trust his own driving skills. He locks and checks the door and windows before the family goes to bed, because he is afraid of burglary. He only goes to work 3 days a week and work at home other days, because he fears getting into a traffic accident while commuting. I never liked staying at home, for my father always sits on the dinner table and reads all the news involving accidental death to me.

My dad is "death-phobic". Yet, I still adore him and miss his companion.

Shengjia-Ashley's picture

Natural Deficit Disorder

Why am I the only one in class who adopted an indoor campus site at first? I must admit I have long been “suffering “ from “natural deficit disorder” coined by Richard Louv in his book: Last Child in the woods 2005. I remembered how I causally read that book and didn’t buy his words at all. I have been so comfortable residing within the concrete walls of human creations that I rarely try to look up to the sky.


Sitting on the bench on the plain grass platform behind Thomas Great Hall on Friday night, so how, maybe out of boredom, I looked up the sky. The star were amazing, more beautiful than the night sky I watched in document films, and more approachable. How much more I am missing?

New site I chose

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