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Hanging Out with Nature's Friends

smartinez's picture

Selena Martinez


Paper #9


Hanging Out with Nature’s Friends


There was a certain connotation of melancholy and ghosts that I associated with the idea of visiting Morris Woods. My feet paused behind a fallen tree as my eyes took in the scenery and within seconds I fled back towards Bryn Mawr civilization. But today I returned. The man made paths, buildings and flower beds on campus allows for a spacious feel and sense of organization, but Morris Woods surrounds a person engulfing them closer towards nature with hidden surprises around every corner. The difference between civilization on campus and Morris Woods is the difference in how one interprets civilization.

Civilization does not begin and end with only man made constructions and human populated areas. The definition of civilization according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary is, “a relatively high level of cultural and technological development”, followed by an additional definition, “a cultural characteristic of a particular time or place.” Within Morris Woods lies the cemetery that holds valuable history and various species ranging from plants to animals. Each are participants of this environment adding to circle of life. In Morris Woods: Living History Rachel Ohrenschall mentions, “… we need to learn to interact with the woods in a mutually beneficial way. In the end our survival as a species depends on it.” The addition of Morris Woods in 1958 allows for two types of civilizations to meet, Bryn Mawr students and those that dwell within the woods.

Before one enters Morris Woods a blockade is approached. Unlike many traditional forests that have some sort of trail at the entrance, English House hides the way in. With no specific directions one is left to figure out not only how to enter, but if this is the correct location to begin with. Beneath the feet are winding roots, fall leaves, large stones peaking from the ground which serve as small reminders to watch where one chooses to step next. The trees stand tall stretching towards the heavens fighting against the wind to not break like some of the other fallen comrades next to them. Their height is intimidating reminding visitors how long they’ve been there through the new heights they’ve reached. The deer pause from their daily routine to see who has come into their home. And just past the bench and the memorial stone, rows of previous inhabitants lay becoming one with nature’s soil.

Morris Woods provides a representation of the environment’s civilization and how similar it actually is to the civilizations humans are a part of. The complicated paths to reach the forest are similar to the paths Bryn Mawr students take each day with various obstacles in the way. Not all obstacles are ones designed to hinder the students’ journey. The winding roots, fall leaves and large stones may slow ones pace down to be careful, but they also serve as check points to see how far one has come, a sign of progress. The trees towering above hold history within their height. Sometimes serving as witnesses to certain affairs engraved within their bark. Like the trees, Bryn Mawr students advance through the years engraving knowledge and new experiences within their participation in the community. The deer, the birds, the insects, the plants, the trees, invasive or native flourish through this land creating this civilization. 

And then there is Harriton Family Cemetery, the only human inhabitants that hold this place as their home for the rest of eternity. In Morris Woods: Living History Rachel Ohrenschall writes, “The family cemetery portrays the cultural mores of the time, containing the remains of family members, friends of the family and, most startlingly different from our time, the remains of Harrison’s house slaves.” While walking past each stone, just like the trees a sense of history is enclosed within the grave giving a sense of life coming full circle. And yet regardless of the fact that they have passed away, they remain active in nature through decomposition and enrichment of the soil further adding to the environment. In a similar way Bryn Mawr students will continue to impact future civilizations even after their time here on Earth is complete.

A metaphorical connection exists between the inhabitants of Bryn Mawr campus and Morris Woods. Its purchase serves as a symbolic bridge allowing access into a bit of both worlds. This is important for Bryn Mawr students to further the idea and remove the limitation to what exactly creates a civilization. Each species tells its own story and lives its own life, but they all fall hand in hand creating this web of existence.

Work Cited

"Civilization." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

"Morris Woods: Living History – The Bi-College News." Morris Woods: Living History – The Bi-College News. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.








Anne Dalke's picture

You work here the metaphorical link between nature and culture, using the complex history and ecosystem of Morris Woods as a metaphor for the lives of Bryn Mawr students: “The complicated paths to reach the forest are similar to the paths Bryn Mawr students take each day with various obstacles in the way…Like the trees, Bryn Mawr students advance through the years engraving knowledge and new experiences within their participation in the community.”

These are poetic meditations, and it’s a pleasure to read them. But then, as you observe, “there is Harriton Family Cemetery.” Given the conversations we’ve been having about the construction of history, I find it surprising that you choose to elide the complex and troubling history of both the woods and the college. You quote Rachel Ohrenschall’s saying that the inclusion of “the remains of Harrison’s house slaves” is “startlingly different from our time.” To me, the burial of slaves on our campus marks vividly (much too vividly) some of the ghosts of the racial history of Bryn Mawr, as described, for example, in Florence Goff and Karen Tidmarsh’s talk about Examining Our History: Inclusion/Exclusion at Bryn Mawr. Given the recent Lessons of a Flag Flap, I would say that past is not yet past…