The Rubbery Peat Floor of Brown’s Bog

I was hesitant to volunteer for the “experiment” Professor Bourne proposed, especially after he asked for individuals with good jumping ability. However, after I saw the effect that bouncing humans could make on the trees above, I wished I would have volunteered. I had never seen the rubbery texture of the ground that we saw at Brown’s Bog. Due to the ground being made of peat (which consists of dead plant material deposits, usually mosses), it has a quality of elasticity so when people jump on it, it shakes the tree branches above. These dead moss deposits must have been building up in many layers for many years for this effect to take place. I remember thinking about how such a soft and squishy ground could be detrimental to the trees. Couldn’t they fall over? I imagined it would be hard for their roots to hold them in place in such a medium. I noticed that usually when I have concerns like this for the flora and fauna, I am concerned because human activity has created a problem that threatens them in some way, but I realized that in this case, the squishy ground was natural and had been in existence for such a long period of time. Somehow, many trees are still able to grow in the area. I suppose this is something about nature that I don’t fully understand yet, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Human Adaptability: A Reflection on Thoreau’s “Economy”

To me, the most influential line in the chapter “Economy” is this: “Man is an animal who more than any other can adapt himself to all climates and circumstances” (located on page 60 in my copy of Walden). Thoreau shares this viewpoint after discussing baker’s yeast and how he has removed it from his diet. He claims he has “gladly omitted” using it ever since he “scalded” his yeast one day. Thoreau does share a very detailed account of his diet and the reasoning behind his dietary choices, and I think that is why the quote I mentioned above stood out to me so much. It is such a broad statement about humanity’s adaptability, and I am sure that Thoreau was not only thinking about adapting away from using yeast when he wrote that line. The statement seems to have much greater implications about how humans have effectively colonized the world and have now changed the climate (although Thoreau’s time period prevented him from witnessing the majority of that effect).

Stylistically, this passage of “Economy” is rich with detail and includes some imagery about the yeast bottle bursting in Thoreau’s pocket and disapproving housewives reacting to his omission of yeast. The language used is generally simple, but references to Christianity, Hinduism/India, and Arabia are also inserted into the text every few paragraphs. I am not sure if Thoreau has traveled to these regions, or has only studied them, but he seems to value making references to them. Perhaps the yeast in this passage is a sort of metaphor for human societal standards, and Thoreau choosing not to use yeast reflects the fact that he is not participating in society in the same way the majority of the villagers do.

“The Ponds” – Does human society really know anything about nature?

There is a particular passage in the chapter “The Ponds” that surrounds the sentence “The pond rises and falls, but whether regularly or not, and within what period, nobody knows, though, as usual, many pretend to know” (this is on page 171 in my copy of the book). This sentence, and some of the paragraphs preceding and following it, provides an example of how Thoreau views nature and society’s interaction with it. His attitude seems to be that nature is somewhat mysterious, unpredictable, and unknown to humans. He also argues that humans pretend to understand nature, and possibly have even convinced themselves that they understand nature, even though they do not. From this passage, I have also noticed that Thoreau tends to use many commas and lengthy sentences as part of his style. I personally like this because it sometimes sounds more natural to me, like speech would be. I believe I also use commas and longer sentences somewhat heavily in my own writing occasionally. As for my response to Thoreau’s perspective on nature and society, I disagree to a certain extent because I believe humans do know some things about the natural world through scientific study. I wonder if Thoreau’s time period influenced this particular thought, and if he would think differently now after so many scientific advancements have been achieved.

Leaving Traces at Johnson’s Woods

I was surprised and relieved by the lack of litter I saw during the class walk at Johnson’s Woods. I volunteer at the Melissa Shultz Nature Preserve in Wooster, and spent hours picking up trash there on Saturday, so I had the impression that similar preserves in the area might be just as polluted. Johnson’s Woods must be well maintained, or must attract more respectful visitors, which I hesitate to believe due to the graffiti present on most of the Beech trees we saw on our walk. Our class discussion touched on the idea that including a boardwalk in Johnson’s Woods makes the preserve more accessible, even to vandals. While that may be true, I have seen tree and rock carvings in many less accessible natural areas that I have experienced, such as Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest. There, vandals had somehow hung off of cliffs to carve their initials into nearly sheer rock faces. Even without a boardwalk, Johnson’s Beech trees would still be scratched and tainted by humans. In many instances, I have seen Western culture (and potentially all human culture) assert human ownership of nature, and I believe tree graffiti is one example of this.

On the topic of accessibility, I believe the boardwalk allows for the disabled, the very young, the very old, and those who are otherwise not able-bodied to share the unusual experience of exploring an Ohio old-growth forest. Nature, even in the form of this small fragment habitat, offers mental and physical health benefits that could be especially helpful to the elderly or disabled. I have learned that patients in hospital rooms with trees out the window heal from injuries faster than those with a view of a building, and I believe this idea can be related and extrapolated to accessibility in Johnson’s Woods. The natural light, fresh air, and fairly quiet and peaceful environment should be available to people of varying age and ability. The boardwalk indicates human presence, yes, but it promotes the protection and well-being of both humans and the natural habitat. The perfectly “natural” and “untouched” boardwalk-less Woods that some people may dream of is impossible. Perfectionism is not a sustainable or effective way of thought when it comes to conservation. We must simply do what we can to be respectful visitors and leave no trace ourselves.