Field Journal – 9/11/10

9/11/10 – 12:00 PM

Weather: sunny, not too humid, perfect really

So this might be a slightly less “natural” field journal than most, but I think that in some ways recognizing human impacts on the Crum is just as important as examining other aspects of the ecosystem.

Today I went to the deconstruction of the mandala that the Buddhist monk Losang Samten has been creating in McCabe library for the past week. The entire ceremony was beautiful, but the part I’ll focus on here is the procession into the Crum, because that’s the part that’s actually relevant. In case anyone didn’t see it, a mandala is a large circle of intricate artwork created entirely with colored sand. This particular one was a depiction of the wheel of life, and it was absolutely beautiful, both literally and in a more metaphorical sense. Part of the ritual surrounding mandalas is that they are transient – after they are created, the sand is all brushed into a pile in the center. It is then carried to a river, into which it is thrown. Since Crum Creek is the only river at Swarthmore, it was the obvious river to choose. Upon completing the deconstruction, the sand was scooped into a bowl. Then we all walked through Crumhenge and to the bank of the creek where it goes under the train trestle. There was an amazingly large crowd, comprised partially of students and partially of members of the surrounding community. Many had never been into the Crum before, and were quite befuddled by Crumhenge. When we arrived at the riverbank, everyone took a handful of sand and, in unision, tossed it into the crum. Along the whole side of the river, the air was filled momentarily with a blue shimmer. It looked almost like an illustration of a waterfall. After the ceremony, people gradually dispersed, many lingering to enjoy the beautiful weather, and this fortuitous excuse to get out into nature.

There were two modes of human interaction with nature evident in this scene, and their contrast was fascinating. The first, was the ceremony, which basically incorporated nature into a mode of spirituality. The sand was beautiful and meaningful in a deeper sense, but transient and not harmful to the environment. Although it’s a more invasive interaction with nature than, say, sitting in the Crum and writing a field journal, it still has an underlying sense of positivity. It promotes a connection the ecosystem that we are all members of. In my religion and ecology class last semester, we talked a lot about the importance of having such a spiritual connection to nature if we are to truly care about the environment in a more visceral manner. On the flip side, the ceremony was under the train trestle, a symbol of negative human interaction with the Crum. The train is invasive, both visually and auditoraly. It cuts up the already small habitat of the Crum, contributes to pollution levels, and uses fossil fuel. It is dark, metal, and heavily industrial. Moreover, it is covered in graffiti. This spot was selected for the ceremony exclusively because it was the easiest access point. And yet, in many ways, the contrast between the positive connection with nature expressed in the ceremony, and the neglect for nature expressed by the train trestle made the ceremony that much more powerful. Rather than attempting to present a falsely “pristine” view of the Crum, it accepted the forest as it is. At the same time as our feeling of connection with nature was strongest, we were faced with the results of forgetting our unavoidable impact on the world around us. The impact of humans on the Crum has been large and widely varied, but if we are to truly understand the ecosystem, then we must understand and accept all aspects of our impact. Only then can we change the ones we dislike.

Mandala Sand in the Creek

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