wedding in virginia

Really, this weekend was pretty…mediocre, at best, despite the events. Jared & I woke up later than we’d intended on Friday, drove to Virginia, attended the wedding of his cousin, and then we drove back home. The wedding was beautiful. The hotel was comfy. The drive was long. I worked a lot on my sketches which I have to turn in tomorrow. But in reality, the whole weekend was relatively unremarkable. The best part about the weekend was stopping to have lunch with my mom on our way back, but nothing worth mentioning happened — I just got a good hug and caught up on SEE gossip.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but an entirely unremarkable journey was not it. In retrospect, though, it was nice — except for the excessive driving, it was relaxing and quiet, and I got to hang out with Jared.

Now it’s crunch time. Finish up a couple assignments, take some final exams. I’d be stressed and worried, except finals happen every semester, and I’ve come not to care much. At the very least, it means the semester’s nearly over and I’ll be able to go home soon…

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frog jump

Last night, Terrace led me into the frog jump — there was some great movement and energy in the song, and we were groovin to it. This time, though, Terrace jumped with me — we sailed through the air together, feet pulled up under ourselves like mirror images. When we landed, terrace stopped and laughed and put his hands in the air — “I have never jumped with a girl. That was crazy. I thought I was going to die.” Or something along those lines.

Those are the moments I love in dancing. The “holy shit what just happened that was amazing can we do it again” moments. I used to prefer exchanges because I get to dance with so many new people and really push myself with what they ask of me as a follow; however, I’m coming to truly love and appreciate local, weekly dances too. It’s a different kind of variety, really…the variety of really getting to know a fellow dance partner through weekly dances and pushing to see what new things can come out of a familiar movement.

Robert’s a good example of a lead who pushes old movements to be come new ones.  We danced a few times last night, though I’m not sure all of them could be considered lindy hop. There was a lot of kicking, some half-size swing outs, and a whole lot of making shit up…but that’s what’s great about Robert. Yeah, you might not get more than five swingouts from him in a night. But he pushes my ability to follow and to be creative like no other lead in Atlanta — and, almost like a cherry on top, he always repeats the move two or three times in a row. Like he’s daring you to come up with a response as a follow. Giving you the room to figure out what’s going on and to respond. It’s a great quality in a lead — to be creative and innovative, to have fun doing new things, but also to give the follow room to be creative with you.

It’s the push and pull of ideas that Robert creates in his dancing that makes his dancing so much more than fun — he’s constantly asking what you can give to his movements, and then, more than that, he takes what you give and allows it to inspire him in turn. He makes call and response easy. And then we come up with some crazy new shit, often more silly than realistic…

north georgia mountains

The mountain trip was somehow not quite as interesting as the hike around campus, despite being off campus — but it most definitely had its merits. Maybe a little too much driving…but some incredible wildlife (particularly wildflower) diversity along the way.

1. Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail

A beautiful little boardwalk with an incredibly high amount of diversity, located in the Cumberland Plateau of Northwest GA. We saw three species of trilium (bent, trailing, and little sweet betsy) and a woodchuck family, which really kind of rocked. We also saw some great columbine flowers, which are beautiful with all their colors and geometric patterns.

The highlight, though, was the waterfall. It was considerably larger than the one the day before, with twin streams of water fallingfifty or so feet. We crawled up the rocks to stand between the two streams, where everything smelled a little damp and musty and the rocks were slick with moss. I then crawled down the ledges that led to the pool of water below and hiked up the side of the canyon to get a bird’s eye view of the river below — it was like another world.

2. Carter’s Lake

This short wildlife hike was simple and to the point, located in the Ridge & Valley section of Northwest GA. We saw a fourth species of trillium (yellow trillium), as well as the species from earlier. There was a beautiful patch of mayapples, and various other little wildflowers from the day before. It was a simple hike, and we were all focused on food, but I still managed to find six four-leaf clovers…

3. Sosebee Cove

Another short wildlife hike (under .5 miles, but it took 2 hours) located in the Blue Ridge mountains. We saw (you guessed it) more species of trillium to add to our list: nodding, simile,  great white, and catesby. A great find was a showy orchid — it was actually small compared to its name, but it was already blooming, while its brothers and sisters were waiting for the mountainside to warm up.  A unique and spectacular find was the ginseng plant, found only by going off the trail to look at another trillium. And finally, we saw the second largest buckeye tree in the world — it was spectacularly huge and covered in moss; we spent the whole two hours looking for it, but found it right next to the car…go figure. Finally, we saw the most beautiful jack in the pulp I’ve ever seen, with distinct red-purple and green-yellow stripes.

So, in total, we found seven species of trillium, a ginseng plant, a beautiful waterfall, and some pretty showy orchids. The experience felt a little rushed with all the driving, but it was amazing to see such high wildlife diversity over the north part of Georgia.

secret places of learning

How can a field trip which involves hiking around Emory Campus be interesting? We pass by these plants every day, right?

Wrong. Ever walked the circumference of Emory Campus? I walked a large portion yesterday. We started at the Math and Science building and walked around behind the baseball fields, through the woods, down to Clifton near where it intersects with Briarcliff; we then crossed Briarcliff and walked into Wesley Woods and followed the stream under Houston Mill, through Han Woods, and finally exited at the entrance of Lullwater…right by my dorm. This hike, which usually takes me 15 minutes, took about 5 hours. And it was one of the most eye-opening hikes of my life.

Cool things? Too many to really name. But four things jump to the forefront of my mind, in order of increasing awesomeness:

1. Conceptual Art Sucks. After the less-enthusiastic members of our party left and it was down to the teacher, myself, and David, we all became a little more relaxed. As proof, John told a story about some conceptual art on campus. The location for this art (a god-awful statue of concrete bricks which a toddler could build) was being debated a while back — the artist wanted to put it in front of a forest because it would “make a nice backdrop.” John and friends fought this and won, and the statue was eventually downsized and placed in-between two buildings, near a walkway. As revenge for the fight and because it really was an awful statue, John and a friend embedded a piece of paper inside one of the concrete bricks: “Conceptual Art Sucks.” Now, when aliens find our remains in thousands of years, they’ll know we didn’t all have bad taste.

2. Geocache. David found a geocache while we were out hiking; to honor the cache and our field study course, I put in the four necessary colored pencils (red, blue, yellow, and green), and David put in a sketch of a Dwarf Iris. If worse comes to worse, the next person to find the cache can use the materials as a coloring page.

3. Tulip Poplar. John’s favorite tulip poplar on campus recently fell down. It was huge, probably over a hundred years old, and everything about it was majestic. It had been truly magnificent. As it had fallen, though, it created a bridge across the creek — a bridge which was approximately the width of a sidewalk, and very sturdy. In its fall, the tree had created a great place — a meditative seat over the water, wide enough for a nap. David and I walked out to the middle and sat down, myself reminiscent of that scene in Dirty Dancing where Baby and Johnny walk out and practice their balance…our balancing act was much less impressive, as the tree was so wide, but just as much fun. Another fun note: there was a dwarf iris in bloom next to the exposed base of the tree — it was the first dwarf iris John had ever seen in bloom in the wild.

4. The waterfall. Okay, less of a waterfall and more of a trickle down the rocks. But it was…beautiful. Majestic and whimsical and secret all in one. Only a few people know where it is, and I’d guess that fewer still care much about it, but it was wonderful to see. Like a little fairy hideaway in the middle of the forest — too plain to draw much attention and so magical it was mesmerizing. It’s John’s favorite place on campus, and he doesn’t show many people anymore. It was an honor to witness this tiny, nondescript little waterfall…

Other points of interest would be that I learned the difference between true and false solomon’s seal, we saw hundreds of nodding trillium (my favorite), and we saw a beech and oak tree which had fused together and grown that way for a very, very long time…

spring!

So, I was saying that I have “rediscovered” my passion…and this Eastern Redbud — this is what I mean. It is beautiful. Straight up, flat out beautiful. We’re learning about how plants can un-differentiate in biology, and I’m pretty sure that’s what this is. I have no clue how this actually happens, but this is my guess: the bark is scarred / wounded. Out of that scar in the tree trunk, a few cells which used to be bark undifferentiate and become growing stem tissue. At the end of those stems, a bud forms, and the bud transforms into a flower. If the bark is scarred enough…you get this effect. A tree whose limbs appear to be made out of flowers. Beautiful.

To come from winter, dead, leafless and to turn into this — what a change! The tree is exploding with happiness and enthusiasm for the impending summer.

And that’s how I feel about environmental science. Like I’ve been hiding in the dark, jaded and apathetic about what Emory calls an “Environmental Studies” major. Really, it’s a glorified anthropology major which sometimes uses the environment to discuss how it has affected humans. And sometimes it ignores the environment all together. It is entirely…frustrating.

Now, however, things are starting to change. The field trip last weekend has instilled a bit more enthusiasm and optimism in me. Talking with David and being outside helped me realize that it’s not that I have grown dispassionate about Environmental Science as a whole — it is that the Environmental Studies department at Emory is worthless. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. It’s worth something to the law and business and policy majors. But to those who really want to be outside? To those who want to learn the names of trees and plants and animals? Well…simply put, there are better programs out there.

There’s another field trip this weekend. Well, technically two. Tomorrow, I go out with John, David, and one other kid who needs a make-up field trip; we’ll explore Emory campus and see what we find. Saturday & Sunday, I go to the North Georgia Mountains with about half the class; we’ll be focusing on wildflowers and different plant communities. Of course, the N. Georgia field trip doesn’t promise to be as good as last weekend — this field trip actually has other girls on it (so sad!); also, we won’t be canoeing or hiking as much, but rather walking and sketching. Even worse, David will probably not be attending, so I won’t get to talk with him more this weekend, and in all honestly, that makes me a little sad — it is easier to be excited about Environmental Science when I have him to discuss it with and remind me that it’s not all anthropology — there are plants and animals and birds involved, too.

Though the trips this weekend cannot stand up to the swamp, I think they will still be a blast — at the very worst, I’ll be outside for three days. At the best, it will reinforce my newly-rediscovered passion for everything that’s not a man or even man-made…

okefenokee movement

You know those moments that are important? The ones which you know, even as they are happening, that this moment is going to mean something one or two or ten years down the line? That’s what I felt about this past weekend in the Okefenokee Swamp.

I was not terribly excited about going. In fact, I was dreading the weekend — another thing to waste my time with, when I could be doing things so much more productive and worthwhile. I packed my bags reluctantly, but carefully: I was the only girl in a trip of 8 people, and I didn’t want to be the person who took too much stuff or wasn’t prepared. And then I hiked over to the Peavine Parking Deck and prepared myself for a six hour journey with people I wasn’t particularly attached to. I was not excited about this trip…but I guess that in itself is another contributing factor to the spectacular nature of this weekend. Because I do not want to recount the details of every moment of the trip (though, it would be entertaining at the very least), I will try to highlight some of the main points.

1. The casual nature of the trip. I have never been on a more casual trip. It was supposed to be a field trip in which we look at, study, and record what we see. Study the environment. Learn to identify a new plant species. Practice taking field notes. But…it really wasn’t any of that. Instead, we went paddling. And hiking. And we listened to John (the teacher) talk and identify animals, and then we kept walking. No scheduled drawing time or long-winded lectures. Just…hanging out and appreciating nature, really.

2. The learning experience.
Despite the casual nature of the trip, it was still an intense learning experience…in a way. We identified seven different species of carnivorous plants, for example. And we learned how to make a barred owl call. And I learned a bit about constellations and a bit about the differences between swamps and bogs. It was casual learning, but it was the best kind: hands on.

3. The canoeing. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the water. As the local river guide, one student asked me to be his partner, since he’d never been in a canoe without swimming. At the beginning of the day, he was a lily-dipper, and by the end he was a decent paddler. But more than that, it was a great time on the water: calm, flat, casual, relaxing. We saw alligators and ate lunch on a floating platform.

4. The hilarity. Like I said, the trip was me and a bunch of guys. It was…amusing. Eventually, the conversation turned dirty (I was often the initiator of such movements). The whole weekend was hilarious.  A fish jumped in Andrew’s boat and he squealed like a girl. We learned about the International Carnivorous Plant Society, and twenty minutes later met the Chairman Elect of California of said society. Andrew asked which letter corresponded to the full charge of the battery: the “H” or the “C,” and it took us a full minute to realize he was talking about the temperature gauge. We talked about the Gay Hankey Code, and the discussion of a book on outdoor sex. It was a casual adventure, but it was filled with hilarity.

5. New friend. I’ve gone to class all semester with David and seen him around campus for years…but I’ve never talked to him. And over this trip, we realized how much we’d been missing. It started by realizing we had a lot in common: a love for His Dark Materials, a history as a comic / anime nerd, and a certain disdain for both the Emory Community and the Emory Environmental Studies Department. At some point in the discussion, we realized it was 1am and everyone else had gone to bed hours ago. We kept talking the whole weekend — hanging back behind the group to discuss various books and movies or looking up plants and animals on his iPhone, with all its googling capabilities. On the night walk with the class, we looked at the stars and discussed the use of mosquitoes as a delivery system for the cure to the vampire or zombie apocalypse. We talked about current passions, like his archery and my dancing, and our common love of jazz music. We took a walk at 6am, when it was pitch black but the birds were singing, and we discussed our future hopes and plans as we watched the sun rise and listened to the swamp wake up. It sounds romantic and mysterious and too good to be true, as my mom pointed out — but really, I think we were just recognizing a kindred spirit. Someone who could be an honest, truly good friend. I’m lucky to have found him before he graduates in a month, and I look forward to developing my friendship with him.

6. A rediscovery of passion.
It sounds…cliche, really. But it’s true, and it’s mostly David’s fault. Talking with him and, in general, being on this trip, reminded me what I love about environmental science. The identification, the hands on, the daily outdoor experiences. I remembered how excited the idea of green, sustainable architecture makes me, and I rediscovered a love for identifying plants and animals, while simultaneously realizing I’d lost much of the knowledge I’d once had. I actually wanted to get up at 6am to take a walk and see the sun rise and listen to the birds greet us with a passion and beauty that is unrivaled.

***

So all in all, it was a wonderful experience. I feel so relaxed and happy and calm right now. As if the rest of the year will work out, and I’ll research grad schools over the summer and find one that really fits me. And I have a new friend with whom I really connect on an intellectual level, and I’m excited about what the summer has to offer me…

The only downside to this weekend was that it put some things into sharp perspective — that some aspects of my life are meant to end, and that to really move on with my life, I must shake off the old and move towards the new…and honestly, change is hard. Regardless, it is a step in the right direction — it is the first time in a long time that I feel like I am moving towards a goal. Towards Environmental Science as a career, and towards more happiness in my life. It’s been too long that I’ve been stagnant: I’m ready for some movement.