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Confronting Mortality

Ariel Skye's picture

A light dusting of snow coupled by a pale grey sky blanched my world. Deep burgundies and greens were muted by the layers of white that blurred autumn’s bold outlines of gold and red. Sitting by the duck pond in winter allowed me to exist in a timeless space. I could imagine sitting on the same bench in the early 1900s, gazing into the same scene. The same snow falling onto the same trees. The same progression of ice overtaking the pond’s contracting, liquid center.

Before I found myself on a bench facing the duck pond, I looked up a photograph of the duck pond in 1955 on the tri-college digital library ( The image depicts dozens of people ice skating on the pond, as onlookers stand in tight groups at it’s edge.

I closed my eyes and tried to envision the sound of skates hitting the ice (or, sometimes tragically, limbs hitting the ice). I tried to smell the chocolate and whipped cream emitting from the skate house. But a sound of a car skidding on the road quickly ripped me out of my reverie. My eyes opened. There were no people on the ice. No cold hands grasping mugs of hot chocolate. Winter of 2015 seemed to me to be much more lonely than the winter of 1955. But why? Why do we feel so alone and insignificant in nature, especially in the absence of other human beings?

I began to muse about how I experience nature when I’m by myself. I often feel very lonely, even insignificant, which is a humbling experience. This reminded me of the Campbell reading which explored one compelling intersection of post-structuralism and environmental studies--decentralizing the human experience from the value and meaning of the earth. I think that when humans go out and explore the natural world, they often find themselves grappling with their own mortality. In Marian’s post about their adventures around Bryn Mawr’s campus, they said that “thinking about this reminded me how truly small I am, and how truly small humans are”. Humans want to believe that they are so important--we find it hard to envision a future world without us in it. But being in nature forces us to reflect on natural cycles, such as the change of seasons, or our own cycle from cradle to grave.