Last semester, I went on a field trip with my Environmental Humanities class to Muddy Run Recreational Reservoir in Lancaster County, PA. We went canoeing, tested the water quality, and did the “Macro Shuffle” to find macro-invertebrates in a nearby stream. My friend Nikki and I found a fairly large crayfish during our shuffling. Finding that crayfish as a 21-year-old college senior had more of an effect on me than I thought it would. I can vividly remember catching crayfish in the creek down the road from my house with my friends or my cousins on holidays in middle school and early high school. Like most middle schoolers, I was naïve to many of the environmental issues that we face in today’s society. I was familiar with the injustices of animal cruelty (I wrote a paper on Ringling Brothers circus in eighth grade) and the importance of not littering, but I cannot recall my knowledge going much further than that. As a college senior pursuing a degree in Environmental Studies, I am more aware of a large scope of environmental problems. Sometimes, learning about all of the stress humans are placing on the environment stresses me out and I have a hard time remaining hopeful as I go through my Twitter timeline and read story after story on Keystone XL, songbird decline, Conservatives being…conservative, etc. What I learned from my field trip to Muddy Run was something much bigger than how to test water quality or what macro organisms are sensitive to pollution, I learned, or perhaps was reminded, of how important it is to get back out into nature.
It is so easy to get bogged down and have a defeatist attitude about our planet and the way we are choosing to be stewards of our ecosystems, but getting back into nature reminds me of what I’m fighting for. It reminds me of how I would like my children to be able to go to the creek down the street from my house and catch a crayfish. Since going on our field trip, I’ve been taking walks through White Clay Creek State Park as often as I can. I loved the freedom of not knowing what time it was on our field trip and not compulsively checking my phone to see if I have any text messages. Part of getting back into nature isn’t just going to a park and taking a walk, I think it is connecting with nature without distractions, similar to when our Chesapeake Bay Foundation guide asked us to close our eyes on the water and observe our surroundings. When I go on my walks, I do not bring my phone so I can have an hour or two of freedom from the stress of college life and the craziness that comes after turning 21.
I usually turn around when I reach a certain bridge at White Clay, but tonight I realized a small wooden plank foot path leading farther into the forest. I went down this path, and listened for the birds. I was delighted to see a female Hairy Woodpecker looking for food in a tree trunk. She was seemingly unaware of the water quality below her; I noticed a nice shiny top coat of some kind of pollutant, most likely from mining, on the water. It was then that I realized that my “get back into nature” idea is somewhat of a cycle. When I get bogged down by all of the problems we have created, I go for a hike and allow myself to be submerged under the tree tops. When I see a filmy cover on the creek water, I am motivated once again to go back out into the world and fight for species like the Hairy Woodpecker. And, I’m sure, when fighting the good fight has me down again, I will go back into White Clay to repeat the cycle.