Thursday, December 13, 2007

Photos of Smith Island, MD

To see pics from our trip to Smith Island, visit my Flickr account here.  I feel that the set of pictures showing the piles of trash demonstrate how we need to take a stand to protect our environment.  It's upsetting how a place so in-tune with nature and the sea around them could neglect their surroundings and the earth.

'Ewell' love Smith Island!

During our Fall Break trip, some of us got the opportunity to visit Smith Island, as some other bloggers have noted.  The island consists of three towns, Ewell, Tylerton, and Rhodes Point.  To get on the mainland, it takes a forty-five minute ferry ride, which costs about twenty dollars round-trip.  This is why most inhabitants of the island, go to mainland as little as possible, making the most out of it when they do.  One thing that was so shocking to me was the education system for the children.  Because of the number of students, there is only an elementary school on the island.  This means that after grade eight, students must take the long boat ride every morning and afternoon to commute to school.  The ferry ride is part of public education so it fortunately does not cost to ride.  If a student wants to take part in any extra-curricular activity after school, they must stay with someone on the mainland because the ferry leaves a certain time every afternoon and it only goes once.  

Church and religion are very important parts for the people on the island.  There is a Methodist church in each of the three towns on Smith Island.  There is, however, only one minister, who we were lucky to meet and talk with.  He makes his rounds to each church every Sunday morning to preach in each town.
Another great part of the island is its famous Smith Island Cake, which was delicious.  It's a cake made up of ten or so very thin layers filled with flavored creme and sometimes even candy pieces like peanut butter cups or candy bars.  Here's a recipe for a version of the cake via Oprah so it has to be good.  If you make it, be sure to share how it came out, or maybe even share some of the cake!
Going to Smith Island was a great experience and I recommend it to everyone.  It was interesting meeting people who live there and learning how their lives differ, and are strikingly similar to ours.  More pics to come!

P.s. - I'm very sorry about the title.  I just felt someone had to do it.  I can practically hear the eye-rolling through the computer.   

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Sea Around Us

I had heard the name Rachel Carson used before, but I had never taken the time to understand who she was. When I started reading "Courage for the Earth", the essays that were in the book helped me to realize what it was that Rachel Carson stood for and how her legacy remains today.

When I first opened "The Sea Around Us" I was afraid that it would be like any other required reading for a class and I would not enjoy it, but I was mistaken. The way that Rachel Carson wrote about the environment with such passion helped me to really enjoy every page.

I especially loved reading the chapters about the ocean and how it works. My family and I spend the summers at the beach, there is no other place in the world I would rather be. Reading about the ocean with both the beauty and the strength that Carson writes of it with captured my attention. I've always known what the ocean has meant to me, but reading about what it means for our planet and all of our lives was so interesting to me.

As a math major, I had never thought about all of these environmental problems in our world today, and didn't think that there was much that I could do to fix them. After reading more about things that I love and learning more about how I can help out, I know that I will try to spread the knowledge that I have acquired from Rachel Carson with others.

Learning from the Alternative Fall Break

I was unable to attend the alternative fall break trip that the other half of my class went on. I was not surprised when they came back to hear stories about fun experiences and new friendships that were made. Classmates were willing to tell all about their adventures and what they had learned. Hearing about all of the different environments that the students had seen helped me get into this green initiative myself more.

I enjoyed learning about environmental problems from my classmates who were able to see some of these conditions firsthand. While I was not there to experience it, hearing these stories made it a lot more real for myself. When I was able to hear some of Rachel Carson's works applied to things that were being seen my other students, it made it a lot more easy for me to understand what we were working for.

Going Green

I've always heard people talk about "going green" and how it is so important to protect our environment, but I've never understood all of that until now. After reading Rachel Carson's thoughts in "The Sea Around Us", it is now clear to me how much of the world around us is changing and the effect that it is having on us. Realizing this made me more interested in taking action to help build awareness in this environmental cause.

They always say that taking action can begin in your own backyard, but it is always so difficult to find where to begin. I was very happy to be able to take part in researching new ways in which Shippensburg University can help in the cause of "going green." With plans being made for new residence halls, this was the perfect opportunity for the University to help out in this environmental cause. It was also the perfect opportunity for some of my classmates and I to help out in this cause by do some researching that the University could use to help their decisions.

We were able to look at many different aspects of the new residence halls in order to create a proposal of how these new residence halls could be designed. We even looked at things that students could be doing now to help out. We sent out surveys of what students were looking for in their residence halls and took them all into account, while still keeping this "going green" idea in our heads. It worked out quite nicely and everyone came up with some really good ideas! I'm really looking forward to presenting our ideas to the University to see what they think!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Through the Lens

Before the trip even began, I shared the same apprehension as a few of my peers about what we would be doing, where we would be going, and how serious our professors were about bringing shoes we would throw out from the muck.  Yet at the same time, I knew this was going to be a unique experience, and I brought my camera along as a second set of eyes to record the adventure. There were a few close calls in the marshes and kayaking where it almost seemed like a bad idea to bring technology, but in the end no harm was done.  Since the adventure has been fairly well documented by others, I won't reiterate the details, but rather the changes I observed through the footage I viewed afterwards.

We began our quest to Wallops Island as a group of strangers.  Most of us had friends or classmates we knew going, but as a group, we were new faces to each other.  Some were excited to go, others curious about what lay ahead, and some, like myself, who were questioning whether this was truly a better alternative to sleeping in and earning some cash. After all, it was the first true break since the year began, and we wouldn't see another rest from our studies until Thanksgiving! Yet nobody backed out, and we all loaded the vans.

As we traveled to the Baltimore Aquarium and then down to Wallops Island for the night, people gradually got into the attitude of the trip and began to enjoy themselves. We arrived rather late, so the only glimpse we got of the Marine Science Consortium was what the flickering parking lot light would reveal to us before we rested.

Saturday was an experience everyone had to enjoy, myself included.  That morning the group I was with set up a Rachel Carson display board to answer questions about her life and legacy. We also had the opportunity to take a hay ride, where we came across a hog-nosed snake. Harmless in nature, for those who don't know, this snake when frightened will flip over on its back. If it is still scared, it will vomit (having a rather strong aversion to snakes, I could sympathize). Later that afternoon we were greeted with fair weather as my group kayaked and got the chance to catch fish with a net. We caught a shrimp. Yes, one shrimp.

Sunday is when everything changed. We were up early, and the looks on our faces were not exactly blissful when we one-by-one remembered this beautiful morning included a laborious trudge through waist-deep mud. Once we arrived and started our hunt for trash, that feeling was intensified by the fact that there was little to be found in the shallow regions by the parking lot.  Deeper we journeyed, slowly submerging ourselves in something we could only categorize as 'natural,' and the plants rose higher and higher the closer to water we came (I am not a tall man by any means, and at one point I remember disappearing from view and wondering if I'd be found).

Then... the nets.

Resting on a sandy bank was a mountain of the stuff, used in clam beds further offshore. Glancing back at the murky depths from whence we had come, it was sprawling out on both sides, seemingly endless.  As if a light switch had been flipped, people sprang into action.  Hands soared out to grab any netting they could reach, and there was plenty to reach, indeed.  The larger the pile of nets got, the less tedious it seemed to be, and in fact people were having fun, laughing, and in some cases intentionally mucking themselves or each other while gathering the garbage.  There we were, covered in marshland hauling loads of netting and other garbage larger than ourselves, out of a landscape none of us prior to the start of the year could have expected to be in. 

Our friends back home were sleeping in their beds while we dove through the dirt trying to find the next piece of garbage, and suddenly we became the lucky ones. Joking and laughing in an environment with its own identity; a raw exposure to life in its most natural state. We respected the marsh, and we removed that which others left behind, and enjoyed it in a way I could not imagine before entering.  We live in a rural area rich in nature, yet there we interacted with the earth in a way I could only compare to that feeling when one is finger painting and no longer cares about getting their hands dirty.

I felt good about making a positive impact by cleaning the marsh that day. But the marsh had its impact on me as well. People travel from home to car to class or work and back again, moving from one box to another, and maybe we forget sometimes that it's places like the marsh that we come from, that we are family to. Even now, while I write this blog, I am drinking the water that man did not create, that has traveled farther than any one person could in their life,  just to end up in my glass. And it will continue to travel long after I am gone, forever binding man to the sea. Rachel Carson knew. And now we know. 

The rest of the trip (to the oyster vessels and the farm in Pennsylvania) solidified that connection. The apprehensive faces seen in the beginning were changed. Expressions of respect, comfort, smiles, and even guilt for previously disregarding something so directly intrinsic to our existence took their place. Most of all, it was fun. We got muddy as promised, found more trash than we thought possible, and came back as friends. We bonded with one other and the earth in a way no classroom could mimic. Some, before the trip, were looking for an excuse not to go; now we are all looking for an excuse to go back.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Looking back on our trip to Wallops Island I could honestly say I was not looking forward to going on the trip. Our trip was over fall break at Shippensburg University. Over break I was planing on working a little, and most of all relaxing. The trip had very little of that, but it realy wasn't in a bad way. We left Friday afternoon for Wallops Island Marine Science Consortium Research Center. Along the way we took a detour to Baltimore's inner harbor where we took a tour of the Baltimore Aquarium. This was the first time I had ever been to the aquarium. The stop was to help us "connect" with nature before we got to the research center. It was fascinating. The exhibits were amazing and any type of animals species you could think of. The only down fall was the time we had at the aquarium, because of budget constraints.
Once we arrived at Wallops Island the work began. We had numerous activities and service projects that we did through out the next four days. Monday morning we kayaked in the Chesapeake Bay and explored the beach. In the afternoon we volunteered at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and clean a 140 year old lighthouse in preparation for its anniversary the next day.
On Sunday we went to Tom's Cove located at the end of Chincoteague Island. We all got ankle deep in mud for two hours and clean a marsh that serves a a buffer zone for the ocean and the mainland. During the clean up we found hundreds of oyster netting that broke away from privately owned oyster beds and washed ashore. The netting as a serious impact on the animals that life in that marsh area, and it was amazing how much netting we cleaned up.
On Monday morning we went to Smith Island and explored the culture and they way they people on the island live which is unique from any other society that i have seen in the modern United States. I have posted and elaborated earlier on this day in a previous post.
On our return trip home we wanted to bring what we learned and are experience full circle. We Stopped at a farm in St. Thomas PA where we were given a tour of the farm and a lecture on best management practices.