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.