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Four Years at the Mount

In Honor of Earth Day

April 2015

Through the fence

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

Once there was a little boy who lived in a happy suburban community. The people of this community were polite and friendly. They lived in modest houses that all looked the same, except for small differences between having brick and stone detailing. Their lawns were perfectly groomed with shrubs, trees, and flowers. It was a cheerful place; there were always children playing on the playground or people walking their dogs or simply saying, "Good morning!" to each other in passing.

The little boy's name was Thomas; he had lived in this happy little community for the entire ten years of his life. He liked the houses and the lawns, the playground and the nice people with their friendly dogs, but something never sat right with him. The houses were too much alike and the lawns were a little too manicured. It almost seemed to the boy that his surroundings were made of plastic.

There was one thing that he did love dearly, and that was the small woodland that was just over the fence in his backyard. He liked to watch what he considered to be the untamed wilderness from the window in his room. He would imagine that tropical birds and exotic animals that lay beyond the fence, the kind he had only seen in books. Sometimes, when the breeze would blow through the treetops, he would envision that the trees themselves were dancing. He wondered who might live within the woods; he had read stories of candy houses and honest woodsmen, of dwarves, faeries, and gift-giving witches. Part of him knew that what lay beyond the fence was just trees, but it was exciting to think that there was something that was not perfectly trimmed and sheared.

It was the type of summer where the air is so heavy with humidity you can scarcely breathe; everyone searched for some sort of respite from the stifling heat. One morning, on the hottest and most humid day in summer, Thomas was outside trying to play in the roasting air. He was in his backyard leaning against the back fence, trying to stave off the boredom threatening to overtake him and attempting to stay in what little shade entered his yard from the forest.

He soon noticed that one of the slats in the fence was loose and, if shaken back and forth, it created a hole just big enough that he could pass safely to the other side. He was overwhelmed by excitement at this seemingly clandestine opportunity and was far too curious to stop himself from squeezing through the narrow opening. He landed, not so surreptitiously, in the mixture of leaves and earth on the other side with the trees swaying above him. A wave of unbridled delight rose in his chest as he gazed at the sprawling wilderness that lay before him; he took a deep breath and entered the forest, ready for whatever adventures awaited on the inside.

He slowly made his way through the woods, savoring the untamed wildness around him. He walked just until his house was no longer visible through the trees. He paused and looked up at what sky was visible through the summer leaves. It was so dizzying how clean the air was and how tall the trees were. Thomas found himself sprawled on the ground, soaking up the sunlight that had found its way through the canopy. In the shade of the trees, the temperature was cool; the surrounding trees seemed to have filtered the humid air and by some miracle known only to nature, made it breathable again. The forest was quickly becoming more and more like a peaceful oasis from the suburban desert. Taking a deep breath, he stood and continued picking his way through the underbrush.

As he walked, he marveled at how different it was on the other side of the fence, different from the manicured shrubs and loud playgrounds and heat-radiating blacktops. He wondered exactly how far the wood spread and imagined that it went on for miles and miles, maybe even stretching so far as to reach the ocean. He listened to the birds in the trees as he ambled along, creating a temporary path in the undergrowth. As he passed the trees, he would lay his hand on their cool, moist, mossy surfaces and pondered just how long they had been there and what they had seen; he wondered how many housed dryads, nymphs, or faeries, and if at this very moment they were conversing about this strange boy from the other side of the fence.

He continued on, stumbling every now and then. He knew that even though he had been walking for the better part of two hours, he had not gone very far, but that fact did not bother him because he had no destination in mind. He could walk in this place for hours more; he loved it so much and he had just had that thought when he stumbled and fell in what he first assumed to be a clearing. As he stood up, he thought that he had gone in a circle because the view that met his eyes was just like the one he saw before he went through the fence. Houses, all in neat rows with little perfect shrubs and nicely manicured trees. It took Thomas a while to realize that this was another suburban community that bordered his. The scene before him was a shock to the senses, the "perfect" orderly rows, muffled noise, and concrete heat assaulted him after the peace of the forest. It was like being thrusted from lush seaside to a harsh desert in the span of a second. Thomas turned his back on the suburban desert and walked back into the beautiful safety of the forest.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir

Return to nature

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

When asked to consider the environment, my friend, the environmental science major, would start talking about going green or invite me to come to the next Environmental Club meeting. Donít get me wrong, Iím lucky to have her in my life to yell at me for littering or tell me strange details about the Chesapeake Bay when I just want to go swimming, but my mind doesnít go in that direction. Instead, I reflect on the return to nature that is ever-present in romantic literature.

During the Romantic period (1785-1832), there was a distinct revolution of what it meant to be human in the works as people experienced and rejected the shift towards industrialism. The happenings of the time period resulted in a focus on nature in most romantic literature, especially poetry. Poets focused on what it meant to be human through a focus on all that is natural and all that was simultaneously slipping away from them as they watched London begin to be characterized by modern industrialism. People were desperately clinging to nature and poets focused on it. They realized even as it was happening that their environment was changing. They knew that they were losing the world as they knew it.

Can we say the same?

With Earth Day approaching and recycling bins going into all the dorms around campus, thereís slightly more awareness and conversation than usual, but it canít be enough.

Every day we drive out of small town Emmitsburg and see the way industrialism changed the world that used to exist. No longer is it abnormal to see a shopping center erected where a farm used to sit, or see smoke billowing into the sky on a clear day. But do we write about it the way Romantics did? Do we sing about it or talk about it? I donít think so, and itís not because we donít care; itís because as a society we arenít consciously thinking about it as we live our daily lives. We arenít surprised at the way cities look or upset when we see a plastic cup on the side of the road. We donít muse over seas of daffodils as William Wordsworth does in the famous poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," and we donít hate the way dangerous jobs in crowded cities harm lives the way William Blake does in "The Chimney Sweeper."

Maybe some of us do. Maybe some of us do not walk past a pond without stopping to reflect on the air of peace around it. Maybe some of us pick up trash as we walk along a sidewalk. But there has to be more. The Romantic poets got it rightóin order to evoke change or maintain the environment we have, we have to start to care more. We have to start to feel.

Wordsworth says it best when he says, "All good poetry [is] the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling." Pair this with the idea that these poets focused on nature more frequently than most issues. They cared about losing their environment. They wanted to return to a sincere appreciation of all that is natural, and thatís what we needómore people to care and feel something about the environment.

I donít think that weíre in the same state that London was in the early 19th century; in fact, I think weíre in very different places. However, at the core, weíre not that different.

I donít think we have it all wrong, I just think we can take it a little further.

There are thousands of people and groups working to protect our environment, but as a whole there isnít enough talk about it, not enough care. We need more awareness, more conscious thought about the environment.

Earth Day is coming up and on April 22, weíll celebrate the 45th anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement. Born as a result of the overwhelming presence of industry and air pollution, Earth Day serves each year as a reminder that we have started to care. We, as a society, have made a move in the right direction. No longer is pollution accepted as a sign of prosperity or industrialism viewed as the answer to all of our problems.

That is incredible to consider. Whatís even more incredible is all of the clubs meeting on college campuses and the organizations devoted solely to sustainability. It is all in the works; now we just have to take the final step and make conversation about the environment widely circulated on a daily basis. We do this by getting people to care, to talk about it, to report on it on the evening news, or to write poetry about it, and we do this by starting to feel something about it.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary

Whereís Australia

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

When I was little I didnít understand much about the world. The layout, size, and logistics didnít mean much to me and werenít high on my priority list of things to know at the time. I wasnít even exactly sure what a planet was. I knew I lived on one and that it was called Earth but that basically summed up my knowledge of anything greater than Maryland and greater than the United States up until first grade.

I remember distinctly sitting in my first grade classroom at my little desk in a chair that had tennis

balls on its legs to keep it from scratching the new floor. Surely I was wearing a dress, the only thing fitting for someone who never gave up on the belief that she could be a princess, and Iím sure my long, dirty-blonde hair was braided down my back in the type of perfection only my mother could create. Anna sat to my right with her hands placed perfectly on her desk and Chris sat to my left searching through the mess of papers in his desk to find the worksheet we were working on.

My teacher walked to the front of the room and pulled down the screen then walked to the middle of the room and turned on the overhead projector. She placed the copy of the worksheet we were working on onto the machine and got out her colored markers. The worksheet we were going over had all the planets on it with facts about each of them. We went over them all together in sequence, learning about their position to the sun and their characteristics. We each learned the phrase "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" as a way to remember the order of the planets based off of the first letter in their name. We all marveled about Jupiterís size, went crazy drawing Saturnís rings, and empathized for Pluto being the smallest (at this timeÖ) planet. Being the knowledge-hungry six-year-old I was, I soaked it all up, wanting to know and wanting to understand. I could barely comprehend a world so much larger than me but I tried to imagine it as best as I could. Yet, I couldnít exactly grasp all that my teacher was telling my class. It seemed like there were some things that just werenít matching upÖ

Now, I must admit that I had some strange interests as a child and at this time my main fascination was over platypuses. I thought they were the coolest things that have ever existed because they are mammals but they lay eggs and because they are so tiny. I knew that there were no platypuses in any bodies of water near me and I had been told that they only lived in Australia. The concept of Australia didnít really mean anything to me but I accepted it with the sadness that meant I wouldnít be able to see any platypuses swimming in the bay beside my house, so this nonsense of planets was confusing me.

With scrunched eyebrows and a perplex mind I raised my hand to ask my teacher a question. She called my name and in a hesitant voice I asked, "Well, what planet is Australia on?" My teacher looked at me surprised by my question and answered, "Well Earth, of course." The perplexity must have still been written on my face because she went to the board and pulled down a map of the continents and said, "All of these continents and countries are on the Earth".

At six years old, my mind was blown. All of them? On one planet? How was that even possible?! You see, up until that point I thought that whenever someone went to another country, they were going to another planet and as the nave child that I was, I thought only the United States existed on the earth. Boy was I wrong!

I remember this moment so distinctly because it was a specific time when my world grew in an instant. Before I had been convinced that it was so condensed and so nearby, I had no idea that our world encompassed all of the beautiful countries, nations, and people outside of the United States. In that moment, I was more amazed by our world than I had ever been in the previous six years of my little life.

As I continue to grow up, the earth we call our home planet constantly amazes me. There is so much beauty to be found and it can be seen just outside your window or literally around the world. We are so lucky to live on such an astonishing planet that makes life possible for human kind, animal kind (especially platypuses), and the vast array of plants.

As we celebrate Earth Day, and everyday, let us be grateful for the planet we live on and all that it offers us. My hope for you is that you all have a sense of such amazement with our planet that it is as if you first discovered just how big our world truly is.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen

Nature that nurtures

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

In honor of Earth Day and a renewed focus on the environment, we here at the Emmitsburg News-Journal have decided to place a renewed and creative focus on the vibrant world around us. In that regard, I have decided to take some time and journal about my personal experience with and appreciation of nature. It is my fondest hope that through these stories, you may come to an appreciation for the world around us in the same way.

Breeze Stars

Maybe I am a little weird, but there is something that makes me ludicrously happy about heavy winds. When my brother and I were little, we would run out in clothing that was six sizes too big for us and traipse through our muddy backyard giggling like fiends. Or perhaps it was the time that we decided to take our Razor scooters on a pleasure cruise across our asphalt driveway. Overhead, Hurricane Isabella dumped rain and howled above us, but our joy made us oblivious to the tempest above.

Even now in college, my enthusiasm for the wind has gone almost completely undaunted. After a few days of being sick and forced to remain in the 20ft by 20ft confines of my single, I finally felt well enough to wrap myself in fleece and flannel and make a trip to the Mount Cafť with my friends. Despite the short distance between Terrace and the land of warm food and faux leather booths, I came prepared for the worst that sickness and cold could throw at me. A bundle of tissues was stuffed into my left coat pocket, a massive wool hat with ear flaps was strapped securely around my noggin, and I had chosen my most stalwart companions for the journey. The fellowship of the Cafť was prepared. Had I known what we would have encountered, I would have avoided all the preparations. As we opened the door to the outside world, a cool crisp breeze touched our faces, filling our nostrils with the clean scent of rime. The wind had brushed aside the clouds ahead and revealed a kaleidoscopic field of stars. If you?ve never enjoyed a sliver sky at night I highly suggest that you walk out in the middle of the night, or immediately after a windstorm, and just marvel at what you see. Finally, after days of being trapped inside with nothing but an electric fan, the feel of the wind on what little bits of exposed skin woke me up more than any cup of coffee ever could.

My love affair with the wind continues even now, in the dead of the cold when it cuts through layer after layer of insulating clothing. Perhaps it is the simple reminder of times shared with good friends on the way to get food, or of times spent with my brother. Or maybe, it is the signal of stars and amazing calm.

One Long Thin Line

Once, when I was in high school, someone told me that friends are the family that we choose for ourselves. At the time it was something that I paid as much attention to as my weekly horoscope. However, as time stretched on, the idea of choosing a family for myself has grown in my thoughts as surely as the most stubborn of moss.

The last time that I was truly aware of my decisions and how they impacted the life I made was due almost entirely to nature. My friends and I were returning from a late dinner after an evening spent inside playing board games. As we finished our meals, snow began to fall, coating the trees and the roads of our school like frosting on a gingerbread house. Outside, the lampposts emitted a welcoming golden shimmer through the endless stream of crystal flakes. Around the table we joked about how our friend, John, a good-natured bear of a guy, had face planted in a snowbank the year before. We all laughed as we imagined John making a sound that was something in between the forlorn cry of a walrus and the roar of a lion as his body made a solid ?thunk? sound against the powder. I jokingly remarked that this year I would do it with him. At first he was hesitant, but as we left Patriot Hall and returned to our rooms, the ?thunk? of my body colliding with the nearest pile of snow seemed to reassure him. Within five minutes, all of us were plunging into the snow in some way shape or form, or at the very least, writing messages in the ice.

Finally, as we neared the front entrance of Terrace, I saw it. The most perfect patch of untouched pure white that I had ever seen. ?Guys!? I called out. ?We?ve got to do something with this, some kind of giant snow angel or something.? The group came over and inspected the earth, as hesitant to take one family size drop into the snow as John had been to repeat his graceful plunge. Finally, however, we settled on linking hands and, on the count of three, plunging into the snow and leaving one giant imprint of figures, linked to one another hand in hand.

The rest of that week, no matter how far it was out of my way, I made a point to pass by to see if the massive snow indent we had made still remained. In addition to seeing if the small mark that we had made on the world around us was still there, there was a part of me that wanted and needed to be reminded of one night where the snowfall gave my friends and I a chance to be as one, if only for a short time.

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

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