The Greater Picture

When I was 17 during the snowboard season, my brother and I woke up while the sun was just peaking out above the wintery pines in our backyard. We slipped on our first layer of clothes, and then stuffed the rest into backpacks. Boards and helmets sliding around the back of the trunk, we pulled out of our driveway and out of the suburban town we live in to get a little weekday escape at the mountain. By the time we arrived, the sun was bright and the sky was clear, and we felt so small standing beneath the mountains and great evergreens. I thought to myself, this is my place, as a wispy breeze made my zipper rattle.

A year later, I felt a similar, but warmer, breeze. The sun was out, beating down, and I was not nearly as clothed as the winter at the mountain. Still, however, I couldn’t help feeling so small. Looking out at the vast sky and fields that stretched to the horizon, I was humbled. I was no longer at my home in New Jersey, but somehow, the flat, endless land of the Eastern Shore of Maryland had helped me feel so at home. Maybe, I thought, this is my place.

This semester has forced me to confront an aspect of my being that I never really felt the need to before: my sense of place. I, like the rest of us, am a citizen of place. We are creatures with the unique ability to appreciate nature and the environment we reside in for not just its resources, but its beauty. The aesthetics that a place creates and shares with a person establishes a unique connection that we often take for granted today. Throughout the semester, we have explored this phenomenon and the way it affects the people of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Many of my classmates live within the Watershed, and have now been forced to confront their daily actions and how they may be negatively impacting the Bay they so depend on. They remark on the connections they share with the Bay and the memories it has created for them. While I deeply admire their sense of place, I can’t help but feel like maybe that is something I have been missing all along. I’ve spent my entire life in the same home in Flemington, NJ, a relatively quiet suburban town. Over the summers, I would travel by plane to England where my mother’s family lives. Each place we would visit painted vivid, colorful memories in my mind that made me feel whole. When I finally got the opportunity to leave my small town and venture out into the world through my studies, I fell in love with Washington College upon stepping on the campus. Finally, I thought, maybe I had found where I would be able to nurture my sense of place.

And then I enrolled in Chesapeake Semester and I spent a few months traveling all around the Watershed, and to Belize and Guatemala. I had countless experiences that invoked a sense of euphoria in me, some of the memories I wrestle with daily to keep myself from thinking I was dreaming them. It was this semester that really made me realize exactly what it was that I was missing about being a citizen of a place. I’ve been surrounded by so many people that have a part of them rooted in the ground they grew up, I thought that was how it had to be. But then I looked back on my life, and how all I ever knew about what I wanted from it was to travel the world and expose myself to experiences completely new to me. I may be able to find myself drawing connections between the mountains by my home, or the river stretching through Chestertown, or the patchwork rolling fields dotted with sheep in England, but I will never be rooted to a place. Therefore, I am not a citizen of place, but a citizen of the world, and the environment as a whole.

One of the most unique things about me as a participant in the Chesapeake Semester Program is that I am not an Environmental Science major like the other students; I am an International Studies major. I care deeply about the way the world works and how our society is constantly dependent on those seemingly so different than ours across the globe. I find it to be incredibly fascinating, and I believe that the single greatest threat we have facing us today as a world is the threat to our environment. As I do not find myself to be a citizen of a specific place, I find that it is my duty to pursue a role in which I can ensure the environment thrives alongside society all around the world, and that the future generations get the same, if not better, opportunities than I did to be exposed to enriching, aesthetic experiences provided to us by mother nature.

During our fourth Journey, we visited, and were visited by, quite a few people from diverse careers and backgrounds. We spent personal time conversing with farmers, and then provoked similar conversations with members of NGOs and other operations. One of the most frequent questions that was always brought up, almost as a way to shift a conversation that seemed to be getting gloom, was what can we do, as citizens of place? The reason the fourth Journey was so important in our curriculum was because it exposed us to direct ways in which government can impact real people with real jobs. We heard farmers talk about the environmental regulations and the impact they had on their farms, or how they were trying to shift their farms in order to stay ahead of them. Trey Hill, the manager of Harbour View Farms, seemed to be the most progressive farmer we talked to and demonstrated for each of us one way to answer our question. He spoke of the new technology that helped limit waste and more efficiently farm and process his crops. He gleamed while he told us about the mixed cover crop he was now planting on his bare fields, and how this was promoting healthier soil, healthier crops, and a healthier environment. Seeing someone plant their roots in a unique place like the Eastern Shore and fully except the civic duty he has, to protect the environment responsible for his riches, seemed unlikely. Trey Hill, however, had found a way to make this work. He was proud of being a citizen of place, and believed that we all have these responsibilities to protect it.

Not coming from a farming background, or even having my roots woven into any ground, Trey Hill’s revolution didn’t resonate with me quite as much as I wish it did. I was, in fact, incredibly enthused to hear him speak so intelligently about the subject. It was fascinating to hear someone put immense amounts of effort into making something that seems so out of date (farming) so progressive.  But I wasn’t a farmer, and never would be. My mind wandered too much to be locked to a single place. So, as the week went on, I listened to the farmers and what they had to say, but wasn’t particularly interested until we visited St. Brigids Farm, a small-scale, grass-fed dairy operation in Kennedyville, Maryland. Judy Gifford, the owner of the farm, was an incredibly unique woman. She had about 60 cows on the property and knew them all by name. Shortly after being introduced to her, she asked us a little about ourselves, and then told us about some of the things she has been doing around the farm and the community. She was fairly open to us about her political opinions, and said how strange it was being the only democrat, often the only woman, sitting around the table with the other farmers in the area. She said she often feels targeted because of this, or like her opinions aren’t valued as much as they should be because she doesn’t do things like the rest of them, and simply isn’t like the rest of them. This struck a chord with me as all she really wanted was to see some change in the world. Like me, she felt as if we were stuck. At one point in our conversation, Judy told us she didn’t see the point in spending time looking for band-aids when the entire system was failing. What we need, she believes, is to simply rethink and rework the system. Judy’s mind, like mine, worked in ways that bypassed the little stuff and cared so much about the greater picture. She wasn’t concerned with laying down a certain type of cover-crop because it may produce better soil, like Trey Hill, she was concerned with the system we have created where in order to eat, we need to be damaging the environment in unimaginable ways. After a ten minute conversation with Judy about all the ways in which the system was damaged, someone sought a change of pace. The student asked the question: what can we do, as citizens of place? She thought for a second, and then her eyes widened, and she smiled a little before the word “vote” pushed its way out from her lips. She shrugged her shoulders, and lightly shook her head. I nodded along, thinking about how the greater picture doesn’t even just have to do with farming, or even the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. What Judy had been saying to us all along, in more words, was that we were born in and thrived off this land. We have a duty to protect it, if not for ourselves and what is left of our lives, then for our children, or our children’s children. The key, as I understood from her speech, was that we need to think broader and wider and with the future in mind.

When we introduced ourselves to Judy, she asked us what we wanted to get out of this experience. I told her I was most interested in learning about people’s relationship with the government and the regulations/laws it produces. Up until this time, I had been fortunate enough to get to experience the governmental side of this equation, and I was hoping our fourth and last Journey in Chesapeake Semester would be able to expose me to the people side of this. As it falls, the people side of the environmental problem on the Eastern Shore of Maryland tends to be accounted for by farmers. Talking to people like Trey Hill, the Davis brothers, Judy Crow, and Judy Gifford, I felt like I had fulfilled that. Now that I had a better understanding of this complex relationship between government and people, I needed to use this to determine my responsibilities and means to protect the environment.

As I have seen through my friends and the people I’ve met, being a citizen of place is often determined by deep connecting experiences like growing up somewhere or being the third-generation farmer on a plot of land. Experiencing the aesthetic qualities of a place help us fuel these connections, which really nourishes our admiration and appreciation for the environment responsible for it. Throughout the semester, I’ve come to realize that, much like Judy Gifford, I am best able to see the greater picture than anything short-term or localized. I find myself able to create connections with anywhere I am, and find myself not a citizen of a specific place, but a citizen of the world in its entirety. As such, I feel that I need to act out my responsibilities in a way that benefits the entire environment and can kindle change. While eating all organic or locally grown food is great, it’s a drop in the ocean where my self seeks to make waves. Spending time learning about the relationship between people and government, as well as talking with Judy Gifford, all proved to me that the most effective way to make waves like this is to be politically involved and act as a connection between government, people, and the environment. As someone who values and appreciates the environment and is a citizen of the world, it is my responsibility to be the voice for the voiceless, and as it stands today, that position is represented by the environment.

Humans are globally degrading the environment at rates unknown to history and, honestly, rates that do not bode well for the future. By giving the environment a voice, I can help make sure that humans maintain these important connections with the land we build our lives on and continue to appreciate and thrive off of it. As it has been responsible for our rise, it will be responsible for our downfall, and the joy that it has brought me through unique aesthetic and euphoric experiences is something that I believe the future generations deserve as well. We are the only species on Earth that can appreciate something simply for its aesthetic qualities, and this is something we should cherish, not take for granted. Abusing and manipulating the land as we do is just one way that we take this for granted. We haven’t yet realized the strength we truly possess, and while some may argue the human race is no match for mother nature, we can surely do enough damage to anger her, and lose the pleasurable aesthetics for the future. I will always feel it is somewhat my responsibility to pick up floating garbage bags in a creek I’m hiking through, or a discarded lighter at the foot of the bush outside my dorm, but with a mind that is constantly seeking a greater picture, I can’t help but feel that is not enough. Thus, I feel my responsibility lies at affecting change both at home, and throughout the world. Fulfilling my civic duty full-forced by volunteering for NGOs, supporting governmental candidates who believe what I believe, promoting and protesting what I find important, staying educated and informed on the issues, and most importantly, as Judy Gifford said, voting, is how I believe I will be able to send change around the world. For decades, the United States has been the leading edge in progressive agendas, and yet somehow, its begun to shift. I seek to fix this issue where it lies with the environmental threats humans pose. By being an effective citizen in government, I can affect more than just how much garbage I can see from my front porch. I can help laws and regulations built to protect the environment be passed and put in place here in the United States. Change in the United States has a greater impact than we often realize, as it is typically the kickstart of a dramatic domino effect. By us promoting environmental issues as a priority and not as a disturbance in our periphery, we can help others do the same.

Rehashing the responsibilities I believe I have, and the means I hope to use to address them, I can’t help but feel my sense of place has been solidified. I am not a citizen of place, but a citizen of the world, and I will always seek out ways to address the greater picture. Whether this is in how I demand change on a grand scale, or how I think about those changes and their global effect, the greater picture is what defines my vision. Before we met with Judy Gifford, Steve Kline from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservancy Partnership came and spoke to our class. He informed us about the Farm Bill, and gave us a sense of how government functions with pressure from the people and NGOs. I hadn’t yet spoken with a farmer who shared my appetite for wide-spread change, but I could tell through how Steve spoke that he, too, believed there were missing links between government, people, and the environment. I couldn’t help thinking, what if I could find a way to be that missing link? As a member of a generation faced with countless global problems, all almost unfeasibly large in scale, we need to, as Judy proposed, stop trying to create band-aids for the system, and just rework it. Obviously, I realize this is much easier said than done, but at the start is realizing who we really are and where we belong, maybe even finding our sense of place. For myself, I’ve taken that step, although it took quite a while, and I’ve confirmed myself as a citizen of the world. Being such, I owe it to the future generations to promote healthy connections between the environment and society, and to do so, I need to accept the responsibilities I have to be politically involved, and use the means granted to me simply for being born in the United States to seek to learn/be informed, invoke change worldwide, and always keep my vision directed to the greater picture.

References (In order mentioned)

Trey Hill, Harbour View Farms, 11/29/17

Judy Gifford, St. Brigids Farm, 12/1/17

Steve Kline, Theodore Roosevelt Conservancy Partnership, 11/30/17


Aesthetics, Appreciation, and Accepting Responsibility

Throughout the past year and a half that I have roamed the streets of Chestertown, adopting its stores and docks as my own, it has become my home. I’ve been able to enjoy the fruits of its tight-knit community: festive town events, warm and robust coffee shops, rich and delicious food. Being away at school in Chestertown, MD, has exposed me to a culture and a part of the country arguably close to my own home, yet so drastically different. Only 134 miles south of my home town of Flemington, NJ, this small town in the middle of nowhere, MD, is full of experiences that are completely new to me. The most strikingly different experience Chestertown has given me is the ability to cherish its unique landscape on the Eastern shore. Perched along a major tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, Chestertown has a beautiful, thriving watermen culture that fosters an ethic responsible for the care they share for the environment. The people living along the Chester River use its resources for recreational purposes as well as commercial purposes. They use the waters to fish, go crabbing, dredge for oysters, all while feeling lucky to be able to relish in the natural beauty the Chester provides them. The way the sun sets on the water and the fields that seem to go on endlessly, uninterrupted, are the things that help these people appreciate and understand the place they call home. Chestertown has helped me experience many of these similar things, and without these, I wouldn’t be able to fully understand the importance my ethic plays in protecting the watershed.

Despite this presumed harmony, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is enduring a crisis. All from around the edges, dangerous pollution is leaking into the Bay with traces at human roots. We are slowly, violently, killing the resource-heavy, beautiful Bay that was so vital to this region’s birth. This phenomenal battle between environment and society has been persisting since the beginning of human existence. The environment seeks to flourish in a way that does not support the dense populations and high standards of living we have as humans, and thus we are constantly trying to manipulate and change it. The problem with the way humans manhandle the natural world is that we are essentially biting the hand that feeds us. The environment is the sole reason we are here on this planet, and it is entirely responsible for our rise as a civilization. We once solely thrived off of the natural resources we were provided by mother nature, and today have entire civilizations built off of it. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is a newer example of these civilizations, but is ever-so perfect. The first settlers that came to live in the watershed were short of death and failure when they adopted the ways in which the native peoples used and managed the resources from the watershed, encouraging their survival. The fishing, crabbing, and oyster dredging that developed in the Chesapeake Bay was such a lucrative and efficient food support system that it soon dominated the lives of settlers in towns scattered all around the watershed. This sparked an industrial revolution and a population boom, continuing into today’s civilization. Since the Jamestown settlement in 1607, human development in the watershed has flourished due to the resources thus explained, and today we still reap the benefits. (Livie) We have only recently begun to understand exactly what ways we are harming the Bay, and while there are many good people that want to care about it, there are many who continue to pollute and decimate what is left.

What so many still fail to understand about the environment is that while humans are incredibly strong and have technologies seemingly unbeatable, the force of nature will always break through. Without a balanced relationship between environment and society, the two cannot coexist and history has proven to us that the human race will always fall on the losing side. During our comparative study in Belize and Guatemala, we studied the Ancient Maya civilization that ruled the vast rainforest from 200 BC – 850 AD. The most captivating part about the history of the Maya is the rapidity of which they rose to and fell from power. They quickly overcame their constraints of the rainforest and flourished off what it offered. They built temples that required unimaginable manpower and dominated the landscape as far as they could see. But around the 9th century AD, the Maya began to collapse. Quickly, their power was depleted, and the civilization was destroyed. This rapid downfall remained largely a mystery to most of the archeological community, until we factored in the way the Maya were cooperating with the environment. The extreme population growth accounts for an intense stress on the natural resources. As resource extraction became more intensive, the environment simply began to fail. It could not handle the dense population and the deforestation this produced. Taking advantage of the environment as they did, the entire system began to collapse until every Maya site was abandoned. (Seidel) Analyzing and accepting this part of the human race’s history is essential to understanding the relationship between environment and society. Essentially, as the natural environment has been responsible for our rise, it will be responsible for our downfall.

Society has only been seeking a better ethic towards the environment for about five decades. 50 years seems like a lot, but relative to the amount of time in which we have been doing harm, it is incredibly small. There have been groups of people who truly understand the connections between nature’s survival and our own, but in the developed world, exemplified in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it is not as prevalent. The pollution entering the Bay on a daily basis is responsible for the death of living creatures every year, and yet we cannot seem to figure out a method to fix it. In order to build a more responsible ethic with regards to the watershed, we need to, as a society, be conscious of our footprint and always seek change and improvement. There is an unwinnable game in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that an overwhelming number of people participate in. Constantly, we are battling between farmers and environmentalists, trying to balance the need for food and need to protect the Bay. This particular game represents how discouraged so many people are about the health of the Bay, as we need farmers to produce our food. Unfortunately, there are farming techniques that are responsible for a majority of the pollution in the Bay, but at the scale we need to produce, it is mostly unavoidable. (Hardesty) With such a dense demand for food, farmers can only manage to produce as they do by using chemicals on their crops. Without them, farmers would not be able to produce at the rates they do while managing to support their own families. It is a sad truth that seems pessimistic, but the first step in searching for a solution is acknowledging the problem, and being conscious of our part in it. As recognized by Aldo Leopold in The Land Ethic, “A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state,” (Leopold, 5). We cannot ultimately stop the human use of the environment, but it can be managed in a way that is more balanced. Understanding where the pollution comes from and how exactly it is affecting the Bay is most important, then we can seek to change that.

One of the most effective and efficient ways to create this change is through political involvement. Seeking change through regulation and law can put an end to problems quickly, but they are never easily done. In order to get to the point where we feel this type of government intervention is necessary, there needs to be push from the public, and that is where our ethical perspective on the Bay needs to change the most. We have acknowledged the pollution coming from the watershed into the Bay, but being a personal hero of the environment by changing the way you eat or picking up garbage in front of your path acts merely as a drop in the ocean when we should be making waves. These waves are regulations that put the environment first and ends pollution before it begins. During our fourth journey, we specifically contemplated these and how they affect farmers around the Bay. Just shy of Chestertown was a small, grass-fed dairy operation run by a woman Judy Gifford. Judy is often viewed as an outcast among her farming peers, and approached us differently than the other farmers we had talked to. Her vision ran on a grand scale and she only wanted to see things in the way they affected the bigger picture. She was unimpressed by the cover crop Eastern Shore farmers have adopted, even if it helps stop sediment pollution. For her, she didn’t understand why we spent so much time creating band-aids for a system that has already failed. The way we, as a society, need to be degrading and harming the environment in order to eat is the true source of the problem, and that is where our minds should be. Thinking on a grand scale, Judy gave us magnificent advice through a single word: vote. By voting, we are demonstrating our power as citizens of this country and this region, and we have the power to use our education to foster change. Doing so is vital to improving our relationship with the Chesapeake Bay watershed and developing a better ethic.

However, this is a lot easier said than done. To ask the population of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to rethink their politics and ways of life in order to protect the water they may or may not be directly on, is asking a lot. To reach the point where the public feels it needs to improve the ethic society has regarding the Bay, we need to feed the connection between environment and people. We know that this connection exists, as the services provided to humans through the environment are both direct and indirect. We harvest resources straight from the Bay, and this helps our general watermen culture and economy flourish. But the Bay houses resources that provide countless economic services we tend to take for granted. For one, the native Bay grasses act as natural erosion control, holding together the sediment and prolonging the life of water-front properties. (Ecosystems). But this begs the question: how can we get people to understand and care about this when protecting the environment is a concept often in the periphery? To take the time to understand and acknowledge the ways the environment helps us, and conversely, how we can help it, would be as easy as exposing the public to the beauty and aesthetics locked within the environment surrounding us. In Wendall Berry’s piece An Entrance to The Woods, he remarks on the aesthetics he is exposed to, adding that “The differences between knowing a place and living in it, between cherishing a place and living responsibly in it… are critical differences, and understanding them has been perhaps the chief necessity of my experience,” (Berry, 729). Being immersed in a place through experience is key, as Berry discovers, in living responsibly in it. Experiencing the aesthetics of the land and water around the watershed is not a privilege many get to have. While beauty is a unique experience humans are fortunate enough to be able to comprehend, it is often bypassed in the environment. It is, in fact, vital to the way we form connections and admirations. By connecting with the Bay, we can appreciate what it does for us. While beauty is a service that may not be able to be quantified economically, it is a way to mature our passion for an ethical relationship with the environment.

Chesapeake Semester has exposed me to the Bay’s watershed in a way I never predicted. During our stay on the skipjacks Annie D. and Elsworth, sailing down the Chester River, we enjoyed beautiful late summer weather. One particular day, the sun was peaking out behind a few clouds and a light breeze kept the heat at bay. A few of us had ventured out to the end of the 12 foot bowsprit and sat down staring out towards the water. We hit a few waves and at times felt like we could reach down and touch the river. Sure, we had lived in Chestertown, MD for over a year, getting to see the Chester River every day, but we had never experienced it like this. The sun beat down on our skin and the breeze licked our faces and we laughed and smiled with happiness from a single experience, even though we knew it was fleeting like most of the other aesthetics we see. But that was the first experience I had during this semester that made me think broader about what the environment was doing for me. It was deeply important for my self-development and understanding and I could not imagine a future where others wouldn’t have these opportunities. Being exposed to the beauty and the aesthetics of a land is what makes it special and makes us appreciate it. After having this sole experience, I challenged my own ethic regarding the watershed and how I had come to be an important citizen within it. The way I sought out a better relationship with the environment was entirely influenced by reaping its aesthetic benefits.

After being immersed in an aesthetic and beautiful environment, human nature pushes us to admire and appreciate it. This appreciation and understanding of the connection between society and environment is what drives our ethic towards it. We can see and feel the value the watershed holds in our lives, which is why we know something needs to change. As Judy Gifford said, a system where we cannot survive unless we are damaging and degrading the environment is broken, and it is time we rethink and rework it. It is a task that seems incredibly daunting, as the balance between our way of life and the survival of the environment has yet to be found. But history has proven that it is necessary for the persistence of our civilization. To hold an ethical relationship with nature is to recognize the dependency of the human race on it. By understanding our impact on the environment and the footprint we make, we can begin to seek change and put a stop to the degradation in its tracks. Through political involvement and being an informed citizen, our impact can be greater and more fruitful. Lying at the start of promoting this environmental revolution is pure experience and exposure to the natural beauty the Chesapeake Bay watershed provides us.


Livie, Kate. “Ajacan, Roanoke, Jamestown”. Lecture given at Washington College, 9/5/17.

Seidel, John. “Maya Apocolypse”. Lecture given at Washington College, 11/2/17.

Hardesty, Michael. “Nutrient Sources and Transport”. Lecture given at Washington College, 10/2/17.

Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A Framework for Assessment. Chapter 2 “Ecosystems and Their Services”. Accessed 10/10/17.

Berry, Wendall. An Entrance to The Woods. 1934. Page 729.

Leopold, Aldo. A Land Ethic. A Sand County Almanac, 1943. Page 5.

The Un-Winnable Game

Since the beginning of the environmental movement in the 1960’s, an ever-growing battle between the needs of a developing nation and those of Mother Earth has been brewing. As the spike of industry has slowed and our society has come to terms with a certain level of ‘acceptable’ pollution, we’ve shifted the focus of our scopes to a new target: agriculture. Agriculture has been a main source of pollution for decades. When humans discovered ways to manipulate growing conditions in order to produce more food, faster, we signed up for an un-winnable game with only two players: environmentalists and farmers. The societal system we favor in America stresses an us versus them mentality, forcing those participating in the game to pick a side. This has turned any who tend to straddle both opinions into outcasts. The game has divided Americans and compromised many other important aspects of our political ideals. In order to play this un-winnable game, the rules are quite simple. One must pick a side, vilify the others, and work only to un-do the developments of the other.

The ongoing quarrel between farmers and environmentalists creates great rifts in our society. Farmers argue that they are only completing their jobs, and that without them, there would be no food for the world, so the idea of limiting their jobs is absurd. But the environmentalist’s rebut would argue that there is no question of whether or not we need farms. Of course we do, however, there are ways to approach farming that are more cautious of the environment. This battle has helped shaped Americans into slightly more environmentally cautious people than they used to be, but it is still an upward battle. Our entire country was founded on the ideas of growth and development. We thrived on industrialization and modernizing the simple practices that sustain life. In fact, we didn’t just modernize them, we manipulated them to be able to breach the carrying capacity of our Earth. We can artificially grow food in artificial conditions and this allows us to support both a growing population and a growing obesity rate.

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But this still doesn’t address the fact that the game we are playing is largely un-winnable. Wendall Berry uses his writings to discuss a level of husbandry in farming that would act as a suitable solution to this problem. It connects the farmer and his land instead of transforming the farmer into a manager of a highly industrialized food production operation. Food making should reflect an intimate connection with the Earth it comes from, but instead, many large-scale farmers use chemicals and machines at the root of their food. As for the consumer, we only get to see the plastic containers we purchase the food in and are thus even further removed. Unfortunately, this emphasizes a problem we have in our society where we don’t necessarily realize the connection between food and a healthy environment. Having nutrient rich soil and a healthy water system will produce better food more sustainable with the future in mind. If we pollute the environment with only production and money in mind, we lose these factors and eventually will damage the very system responsible for our survival. However, to ask farmers to not use chemicals or to downgrade to a less modernized machinery, we are asking them to risk their livelihoods. Our mass production of food allows us to keep prices down, feed the population, and keep farming a worthwhile career. Naturally, our society moves towards ways to manipulate carrying capacity and manipulate the environment. The progression from being hunters and gatherers to the highly industrialized way of creating food we have today is fairly natural. As humans, we push to succeed and to exceed, often taking tolls on the environment along the way. In order to preserve the environment and revert back to the husbandry in farming Berry believes is fundamental, we would have to disrupt this natural human cycle and  convince others to not pursue wealth or power, which is innate to our nature.

There is no easy way to solve this problem in a logical, sustainable way. There are starving humans in the world and to produce less food in a less efficient way would be to compromise the technologies our society has worked so hard to develop. This thought is simply unfeasible to so many Americans, which is why it is easy to place the environment on the back burner. Still, the presence of an environmental ethic in the younger generations is growing, as we are exposed more to the culture and aesthetic of authentic farming and food production. If we ban a certain level of fertilizers to limit run-off into the Chesapeake Bay, are we compromising the production of chicken feed responsible for the production of chicken, that provides vital protein to much of America? Will one side ever be able to win, or will both sides lose in the end? The game we play as a society between food production and care for the environment cannot be won, as there is no feasible compromise. This begs the question, should we, as a society, shift our focus to different, larger issues?


Greater Incentives

Around Thanksgiving, my family finds itself gathered around the fireplace with the TV flashing lights on us from the background. The conversation lingers, and then stops as we hear the soft voice of Sarah McLachlan’s Arms of an Angel ring and our eyes are drawn towards footage of helpless dogs and cats, injured, scared, in need of our help. As Sarah says, they cannot be saved without us. Then, Sarah tells us that if we donate now to the ASPCA we will receive a free t-shirt and photograph as a part of our thank you. This doesn’t just exist as a way to dim our holiday cheer and make us all think about the cruelties of the world, it exists in a very calculated, thought-out way to get us to use our own money to help correct the wrongs of others. This particular cause is not one that is very difficult to gain support for. The great majority of people in our country dislike animal abuse, and love to see happy puppies and kittens. They choose the cutest ones to get our attention on commercials, and as we look down at our dog curled up by the fireplace, we feel something in our chests for the dogs that don’t even have homes.

The concept of “charismatic megafauna” has been exploited for decades. Telling a group of average Americans that if we donate to an environmentalist group now, we could help save the endangered Burying Beetle, isn’t going to be very effective. However, telling average Americans that every time they litter, a sea turtle somewhere gets choked out by a plastic bag, and dies, that is more effective. Human nature is adept to seeing and caring about the things that seem most important to our survival. This includes, typically, any type of megafauna (because of their relationship to humans through the trophic level or domestic level), or any catastophe that occurs all at once. Human eyesight is actually adapted to pick up anything quick-moving or sudden in our periphery and we rarely notice and slow-moving changes. This explains why certain issues become great concerns of the public while equally as dangerous ones go unnoticed. As humans, we can’t help it. We only really care about the things closest to affecting us. Whether it is an animal that looks like something we eat on a daily basis or one we consider a part of our family, or a catastophy that could have happened in our part of the world or to someone we care about, if it is in our periphery, we will care about it.


In Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Rob Nixon describes part of this phenomenon. He addresses the slow violence and the tendency of people to not pay it any attention. For Nixon, slow violence is the gradual affect of one peoples on another that occurs over a long period of time, often environmental. One of the main examples Nixon uses is the developed world’s dumping of toxic waste on the undeveloped world. Slowly, we are commiting violent acts against these countries by polluting their land and exposing them to chemicals that could get them sick. But, the world doesn’t care about this. If America was to drop a bomb on a quiet village in Africa, the world would be in hysterics, but just slowly using that village as a dumping zone is not something we can immediately see the effects from, so we don’t pay attention to it. It goes back to the adaptation we have in our eyesight. Fast moving changes attract our attention as humans because it helps us sense danger. Our anscestors needed to be able to notice when they were being lunged at by a dangerous animal, but they didn’t necesarily need to notice the slow trickle of sap down the trunk of a tree.

Humans are fairly greedy creatures. No other creature on Earth feels the same need to accumulate wealth as humans do. We are pack creatures, yet only like to help each other when it hits home and we feel like we need to. We love our charismatic megafauna and a catastrophy that could have happened to us is one that will get our sympathy. A form of slow violence in the background of our lives is not going to be important to us. We see this in Nixon’s writing, and it is echoed around the world. In the Chesapeake Bay region, we see this with the bay. As it slowly degrades and sea level slowly rises, humans don’t feel a need to act. But when the degradation of the bay led to a degradation of the fish we eat or fish for sport, the oysters and crabs so important to our culture, or any of the many creatures affected by the pollution of the bay that fit into our charismatic megafauna, people began to care. Sea level rise doesn’t mean a lot to a lot of people, but the idea of an increased storm surge that could wipe out Ocean City in the wake of the recent hurricanes America has experienced, this is something that humans want to change. It travels all around the world and we see it with all types of people, even in Belize. Belize has a similar concern with their coral reefs, and they get people to care in the same ways we do in the Chesapeake Bay region.


Expecting the Unexpected

In about 14 hours, I will be loading an over-packed duffel bag and a travel pillow onto the 20 foot bus we’ve been carted around on for several weeks. There are 12 of us students, and two of our instructors. We’ll load our things onto the bus and then take our assumed seats, ready for a ten day journey around the Chesapeake Bay. A few students will complain about camping, only to be sternly reminded it isn’t even real camping; we have showers, running water, and electricity! Then, there will be a few murmurs here and there, slowly dying down until mostly everyone has a pair of earbuds in, and those who don’t nod off to the soft rumble of the tires on the highway.

This is what I have mentally prepared myself for as we approach the start of our second journey. Our first journey consisted of visiting Williamsburg and Jamestown in Virginia, places that were fairly self explanatory. There would be interpreters dressed in colonial costume, buildings built in the fashion, yet much nicer, of the 17th and 18th centuries, and there would be a lot of tourists. Because of this, there was very little unexpected moments or surprises from the first journey, making it easy to prepare for. The struggle with the approaching second journey is that we have been prepared to expect the unexpected.

IMG_7866The two preceding weeks before this journey were centered around climate change science and perception; most interesting was the perception of climate change and subsequent sea level rise on Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Smith Island is the only inhabited island in the region not directly connected to the main land by road. Very literally, the only way to enter or exit the island is to take a boat. Even the school children endure a 45 minute ferry ride to the mainland to go to school twice a day during the week. The idea of making a living and raising a family on an island with a population of 200 was the first unexpected expectation we were given. A lot of the people we are going to meet while staying on Smith Island created a livelihood in a fairly isolated environment, something that can have a greater impact than we realize.

The islanders experience very frequent flooding. So frequent, in fact, that most of the houses are up on stilts and the roads are lined with vertical markers for when the high tide comes in. It isn’t just heavy rain or storm that floods the island, it is the daily, global phenomenon called tides that flood the island. Part of the island has already been completely submerged due to flooding, meaning some of the actual land that makes up this town has been lost. This is all due to sea level rise, which is twice the global average in this region.

But, here is the kicker: the vast majority of Smith Islanders do not believe that the sea level is rising, or in any form of climate change. Here, we have one of the most modern, local, startling examples of the threat that climate change poses to real, live humans, and the humans most threatened don’t believe it. Growing up and being exposed to the knowledge of what once was Global Warming, now Climate Change, I’ve never doubted it. The idea of an entire population, confined to an area, completely doubt it, is startling, to say the least. But what makes this so unexpected is that the people climate change activists are trying to save are the ones denying there is even a problem. We have been primed to expect this unexpected truth, however, it still is somewhat unsettling.

We don’t expect the people who are watching the effects of climate change damage their homes and lives to not believe in it. We would expect them to support new EPA regulations and laws and to take them with open arms. Instead, they place the blame of their drowning island on erosion, and don’t understand why the government isn’t doing anything to stop it. It is an inconvenient, unsettling, unexpected reality that we are going to be thrown into throughout the journey. And, as much as we have been prepared for the likely scenarios and conversations we will have on Smith Island, there is not much one can do to truly expect the unexpected.


Human Nature

Human existence on Planet Earth is something of a controversial topic. We exist as rulers over the land and have created this concept of power that makes us the all-mighty kings of our landscape. We alter and destroy the ground we walk on and pull plants and animals out of their communities to better serve us. We are, as argued by Wendell Berry, monsters, reaching into the great expanses of the Planet, pulling apart the abiotic and biotic habitats as we see fit. We have created a hierarchy among nature that has its own level just for humans, because today, we tower above other animals in the kingdom. We operate as gods among the creatures who share our homes.

It can be argued that our current destructive nature is only a projection of the technological advancements our future holds. This projection is unfortunate, as we can see the overuse of the landscape holds no future for us. So in which idea should we place our faith? The idea that the current human living is most sustainable and reasonable, or that we need to greatly shift our idea of the natural hierarchy if we want to extend our stay here on Earth?

The idea of greatly changing the way we live and sustain our lives here on Earth sounds simply impossible. Human existence is hardly harmonious with the rest of nature: we take and resist the beings and occurrences battling our modern life, but it all creates aspects of our lives we feel are of absolute need. Berry argues that there is a middle ground between being the Power among the Powerless, and living in an egalitarian society with nature. That middle ground, he argues, is where we reside now. It has a dim projection of the future, but the future still exists. We have an intense and intricate culture that makes humans domesticated in a way not seen anywhere else, and that makes us vitally different than the rest of nature. Therefore, we must put our faith of survival in the middle ground, as each other direction is seemingly impossible.

Berry’s “middle ground” forgets vital information about human and animal nature. While it is important to recognize the distinct difference between human culture and animal culture, we must also recognize the similarities. Humans were not placed on this planet artificially, and we evolved like every other organism that shares the Planet. We all manipulate and take advantage of the landscape by using other organisms for food or habitat. Of course, the human use of nature is often overuse of nature, but it still is a necessary part of the biotic and abiotic communities.

When Wendell Berry suggests the idea of living completely harmonious with nature is unreasonable, he is forgetting that the concept of harmony is not necessarily in protest to our current living. We, to an extent, live in harmony with nature. We are environmental engineers, taking advantage of our surroundings, but in many ways, we add to our surroundings as just another species birthed onto this Planet. There are steps we must take to tone back the aggressiveness in which we pursue absolute power, but there is an overarching culture and societal structure among all mammals and innate predators that aims to survive to the best of their ability; it just so happens the abilities of humans are drastically advanced compared to other organisms.


Complicated Living

As humans, we develop lengthy and complicated ethics about our surroundings. Everyday, we are influenced to make decisions that will somehow affect the people and things around us, including the physical environment in which we find refuge. So far, during Chesapeake Semester, we have been forced to confront the daily decisions we make, the ethics reflected in those decisions, and how they represent what we want for the Chesapeake Bay region. As I touched on in my first blog post, this is an especially difficult topic for me to address: I was raised three and a half hours north of Chestertown, MD, and didn’t know a thing about the Bay except for its being the largest estuary in the country. Compared to my peers, my knowledge was lacking. I couldn’t tell you, or frankly, even imagine what the Bay looked like and what the habitats along the watershed hid. The importance of being immersed in an aesthetic in order to truly understand and care for it is something that is not stressed enough. It is hard to care about the jungles being obliterated in Africa when the most vivid aesthetic of a jungle I’ve experienced is Disney’s Tarzan. Growing up in western New Jersey, I was always an hour from the beach and half that to the mountains. The rushing rapids splitting through a mountain to the slow winding tracing the edge of a back road implanted a deep appreciation for the Delaware River into the complicated layers of ethics I struggle with. Not having truly experienced the Chesapeake Bay makes it difficult for my mind to sort out a valid and worthy ethic.

Aldo Leopold describes this unique battle. Leopold, when describing the importance of a land ethic and humans role as a member of a biotic and abiotic community, says: “We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in,” (Leopold 1948). Feeling, understanding, loving, and having faith in are relationships we develop with our landscapes when we are exposed to their aesthetics. This is incredibly important as far as conservation is concerned and represents not only my personal dilemma, but a global, societal, dilemma as well. Peoples across the globe live with a cultural appreciation for the landscape, however, unfortunately, the group of people with the most economic influence in our world live sans that. It is hard to convince someone, who has no direct need, to live in harmony with nature, especially when the economic outcomes of caring for the environment are often negative. What we gain by being immersed in an aesthetic is appreciation for the beauty of biotic and abiotic members indirectly responsible for our existence. Homo sapiens’ existence on Earth is no more a right than the right to have dessert with every meal. Leopold stresses the importance of the Land Pyramid and the community every one of us is involved in, whether or not our jungle is filled with bamboo and leopards or concrete and asphalt.



This brings me back to the struggle I’ve been forced to address during the first six weeks of Chesapeake Semester: the complicated ethics of living and caring for where you reside. The Bay is a vital part of my new home in MD, something I never had to care about in NJ. While I have experienced some of the most breathtaking moments of my natural life during the past six weeks (watching flashes of royal blue bio-luminescence dance across the dark waters at midnight, sitting on the bow of the Elsworth as it struck down on the water of the Chester with each wave) I have yet to be fully immersed in the aesthetic enough to have a valid ethic. I will appreciate the land as I appreciate the land back where I was raised, but the idea that one must love and understand something to truly have an ethic for it still stands. This is what makes our living so complicated: we cannot feel something we did not feel. Leopold stresses this idea. It is fact that we find the majority of influential people dominated by economic greed. And, unfortunately, the only real solution is exposure and immersion in the aesthetics that greed threatens to take away every day.