Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hiking in Amicalola Falls

Last year as a high school senior, I had compiled a list of all the different things that were important to me in a university. Visiting Emory, I fell in love. The stunning campus architecture, combined with the natural wonder of Georgian green space really solidified the notion that Emory could become more a home than school. The visit last week to Amicalola Falls was an opportunity for me to regain that sense of wonder.
Amicalola Falls is about an hour and a half’s drive away from campus. The journey itself was breath-taking. After living in Texas for the past two years, it was a fantastic rush to witness the transition of seasons on a two-lane highway surrounded by trees. We drove up an intimidating hill to park, and climbed down again to hit the forest trail. It was amazing. Climbing higher and higher up, we were fully buried inside that view from the window. Stretching from the different sensations of tree roots and dead leaves on the ground, to the smell of the forest, the sounds and textures of the breeze, everywhere was stunning sensory input. We climbed with a sense of purpose, identifying the plant life and taking moments to simply appreciate the gifts of life and freedom that surrounded us. It was a completely liberating change of pace after focusing so intently on my academics.
College life brings a number of new stresses—independence, responsibilities, social anxieties—that can easily take on an identity of its own, and overwhelm the mindful state. Part of the way we as students make it to an institution like Emory is by having a tendency to focus on the future. We were the kids in high school who studied hard, kept our noses clean, and got involved with the collective goal of higher education. To people with that focus, the concept of a single quiz determining a quarter of a grade in a class spirals into a series of overwhelming inquiry: “What if I don’t do well? What if I fail the course? What if that ruins my GPA? What if I can’t graduate? What if I die alone?” The natural foundations surrounding this campus provide an escape from all that stress. In the middle of the woods, there is nothing but forever. There is no time, there are no deadlines, only complete spiritual calm. In the week that has followed, I’ve attempted to apply elements of that experience to my college life: stopping every now and again to look up and take in the natural beauty that solidified my commitment to this campus a year ago.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Planting trees...

Wed. Oct. 22 was Sustainability Day at Emory. Emory as Place, with wonderful planning by Jess, planted several trees in the ravine next to Cox Hall. Despite two volunteers being sick and unable to attend, and one sick volunteer being present (that would be me), we dug in our heels and shovels, planting two beautiful oak trees in the ravine between Cox Hall, Callaway, and the Anthrophology building.

The ravine has been there since before Emory moved to its Atlanta campus, and was a factor in where the quad of Emory's Atlanta campus should be located. The original architect, Henry Hornbostel, choose an Italian Renaissance style of architecture for the University because he believed the rolling hills of the Georgia Piedmont region reminded him of Italy. The Quadrangle was chosen to be placed between two ravines, one now named Baker Woodlands and the other now in front of Cox Hall. Hornbostel wanted Emory to be a "University on a hill" and since the land was already at one of the highest points in Atlanta (along a ridge), he furthered that image by placing the heart of the campus on a hill between two ravines.
The Cox Hall ravine has seen various impacts through the years, the sides of the ravine have soil erosion that we are trying to keep back with mulch and new plantings. There are sewer pipes and the university's cooling steam system pipes. The stream suffers from soil and pollution runoff.

So Emory as Place decided to plant a couple trees, to help prevent erosion (the tree roots will help keep the soil on the banks and bring rain into the soil) and to add more tree canopy to Emory. Emory as a "no net-loss of canopy" commitment. For every tree that is cut down or removed on campus, another tree will be planted on campus, in our woodlands areas, or trees will be added to our tree bank where we can fund nearby areas to increase their tree canopies to offset our loss. Needless to say trees are a vital part of our everyday lives, maintaining the ecosystem, helping to clean the air and keep down temperatures, and as homes for our lovely Southeast wildlife.

We had a great time shoveling, planting, and mulching. I couldn't have been happier to be playing in the dirt! And now every time I walk past the ravine, I see our tree, growing away. I hope when I return to Emory years from now, the tree I helped to plant will be large, healthy, and beautifully nurturing its environment.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

A day in Lullwater...written Aug. 2008

A warm but breezy day seemed like a good time to visit Emory’s Lullwater preserve off of Clifton Road. With over 130 acres, Lullwater began as a Piedmont forest, became hunting ground for Cherokee and Creek nations, and then became home to the European American settlers. In 1958 Emory acquired the land from Walter Candler (youngest son of Coca Cola investor Asa Candler), including his residence, landscaped grounds, and its artificial lake. Emory has undertaken the task to preserve the land as a recreational site, forest, and home for Emory’s president. Not an easy task, the preserve, which is surrounded by the Emory campus, Yerkes Primate Center, Atlanta Veterans Medical Center, and Druid Hills residential area, faces threats of pollution from uncontainable forces outside the park.
Being the summer, there were few student joggers and Frisbee players enjoying the trails and fields in Lullwater. There were some community members and Emory employees taking advantage of the weather and lush green space. Entering the gates, I marveled at the fact that the first time I entered the park was my sophomore year. And I only visited twice that year. I tried to make up for lost time last year as a junior, and will probably continue into my last year at Emory. Faced with “the end” makes one appreciate a place more than usual, I believe.
My goal was to see the new 210 foot long suspension bridge designed by Sahale LLC and completed May 2008. It was built to connect the Veteran’s Medical Center to the Emory campus. As I walked toward the bridge I couldn’t help noticing the smell of the blooming Magnolia trees, the call of the birds, and the beauty of trees that never cease to make me stop and soak in the view. I saw two hawks chasing each other. Near the lake a profusion of dragonflies were flying about, and possible mating? They were moving too fast for me to tell. I had a run in with a couple yellow jackets and a spider, while I like some bugs not all are as tolerable.
Evidence of Georgia’s drought was present in the drying grass and some yellowing leaves on lower bushes. The water level in the lake was also low. I stood near the lake edge with its stagnant brown water, I wondered what the lake looked like in 1925 when Walter Candler would boat around the lake with family or friends and then go to his horse racing track to spend time with his horses. Would Walter Candler like the changes of Lullwater? How much will Lullwater change in eighty more years?
I stopped wandering about and headed straight for the bridge. Nestled into the trees, the bridge seems to disturb none of the wildlife or surrounding area. I was amazed by its height and length. It’s as tall as the trees and stretches from one bank of the South Fork Peachtree Creek to another. I tentatively stepped onto the bridge because a friend had told me it bounced. It doesn’t bounce high per se, the bridge just adds a little spring to your step. I walked across it several times thinking about the work that went into this bridge. I’m proud of Emory’s decision to build a low-environmental impact bridge that will last for generations.
Few people have heard about Lullwater’s suspension bridge. Although it has already been featured in several publications, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution, many students will return in the fall oblivious to another feature of our treasured Lullwater. It’s a shame that others don’t go out and appreciate the benefits of Emory’s green spaces. Running, hiking, Frisbee games, yoga, meditation, and just spending time outside will improve your physical and mental health, not to mention your spirit. Who can deny the beauty of flowering plants or wildlife in the natural habitat? So take a trip outdoors, embrace the bugs, spring on the bridge, and enjoy the little moments that make a good day.

What Emory means to me...

As a rising senior, faced with the looming threat of “the real world”, I am increasingly reflecting on my years spent at Emory. I had been very close to attending a different college when I learned I was accepted at Emory. I sometimes wonder how different I would be had I not chosen to come here. Perhaps I would have been happy wherever I went to college, but I can’t imagine my undergrad experience anywhere but Emory.
Last semester, after taking a course titled Religion and Ecology, I became involved with an initiative called Emory as Place. Interested in promoting Emory’s history, culture, and values, Emory as Place hosted Placefest and led walks around the green spaces on campus. “How cool is that?” I thought. I’ve always been interested in history, especially of places I consider home. And Emory as Place also had a focus on living sustainably, an idea that had recently sparked my interest while taking an Environmental Studies course.
In short, Emory as Place hired me for their summer internship position. My internship has led me to think about Emory. A lot. In past summers I have sat at home, studied abroad, or worked, but I’ve never been on campus. Now every morning I walk through the quad thinking, either of random lists to do, or how hot Atlanta is in the summer, or I become less self-absorbed and think about how many times a day the many people who interact with Emory, including myself, become caught up in our daily issues, forgetting the context in which we live.
I have moved beyond seeing the campus as a first year student: no-name buildings on random streets, and I see places full of memories. Under that tree was where my hall mate (later my best friend) and I spent an afternoon enjoying the mild autumn weather and discussing everything from classes to guys to futile divining of our life purposes. Every time there’s an event on Asbury circle, with people around outside and music playing, I think, this is it! This is college. These are the moments we remember years later, the creativity and intelligence of our students and the sheer fun it is to be around 6,000 or so of our peers. When will we be around this many people of our age, roughly on the same life path, at the same time? It’s a special environment to appreciate.
I, as most upperclassmen, could share our Emory memories for hours. Yet this summer I am studying the history of Emory before my class came along. In preparing for this internship I read several books about the history of Emory and in my Religion and Ecology course I learned about Emory’s environment, watershed, and the environmental struggles facing the Atlanta community as a whole. It’s eye opening to think of the many classes of students who have come to Emory, students who studied during and after fighting in the Civil War, World Wars, and wars since. At first only male students were admitted, then females were allowed, then Emory ended racial restrictions, and now we have students from countries all over the world traveling to a school that started in humble beginnings as the Georgia Conference Manual Labor School in 1835. We’ve come a long way.
As I continue developing my own memories of Emory during my senior year, I hope to keep reading about the people who first made Emory a place to further enrich my views of this place, my home for four years, and, now, forever a piece of myself. the intern for Emory as Place, a senior in Emory University, and prospective green businesswoman.

A reflection on placefest:

The most exciting event of last year was definitely Placefest. It took months of planning, lots of extra errands and meetings on top of heaping schoolwork, advertising around campus and on Learnlink weeks before, and many, many emails coordinating between various groups. But it all paid off. Julia, Alexa, and I gathered at 8am that morning to set up the kiosks around campus (I wanted to get them up before the first students started walking to class). The kiosks—which supplied information about Emory’s history around campus—were probably the most trouble because they would not stop blowing over. Eventually we worked out an effective system. The table was a little easier to set up and Anna came to help us get the paintings going. By 11am when Bobbi arrived everything was in full swing. We got press coverage from both the Wheel and the Emory Report and tons of students stopped by to write down their favorite place on campus, in exchange for candy and an “Emory” Coca-Cola. Their responses ranged from their dorm room to Lullwater and many were very unique. Students were also excited to paint their picture of Emory on the ever-morphing canvasses. And despite being the middle of Dooley’s week, the Emory as Place booth definitely caught the attention of everyone who came to Wonderful Wednesdays (student activity fair every Wednesday). The day flew by and before I knew it I had to run to CVS to start setting up for our guest speaker. With a little help from Ryan in the computer lab I managed to set up the room not only with power point capabilities, but I was also able to get a video camera to record Chris’ talk. Chris Velasco, founder and co-owner of PLACE-an ethical non-profit construction organization-spoke about what goes into planning of a sustainable living/working facility. I think the most important advice I took away was the benefit that comes from giving everyone an opportunity to have a say in the planning process of any major project. That way, in the end, everyone has a connection to the place. This was the third time I had heard Chris speak and he still swept me off my feet, such a motivational speaker. At one point during the question and answer session I asked him what had motivated him to do the work he did. He told me that you find something you love in life and you just go with it. I think that’s what convinced me to stick around here for another year to keep working with Emory as Place, in hopes that next year I can help make Placefest even better.

--jess, an Emory alum who has been working with Emory as Place since the summer of 2007

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Discover, Inhabit, Sustain

Discover, Inhabit, Sustain is the chosen motto for Emory as Place.

The places we inhabit, our living systems, built environments, human histories and values, shape our identities and actions. Places shape us and in turn we shape, build, and redefine our place. Emory as Place's motto fits into the process of sustaining place.

To sustain a place, one must inhabit it and to inhabit a place, one must discover the place.

Discovering a place includes researching the histories and intricacies of the place's past. Who lived here? Who or what are the roads named for? Does the place have a history of environmentalism? Of activism? These questions and more can lead someone on a deep and long search for the history of place. However to really learn about a place, one must experience it, leave the library and walk in the place.

Being present in the place and inhabiting the environment leads to developing a stake in sustaining it. When we recognize the benefits and beauty of our place, we establish a connection with the place. We create memories in the place. And the combination of history and memory with living in the place gives us a reason to sustain it. Our bond with the place inspires us to work harder and live better for the place. In doing so, the place becomes our place.


Welcome to the Emory as Place blog. Emory as Place is an initiative under Emory University's Office of Sustainability Initiatives. Emory as Place educates students, staff, and faculty about the breadth and diversity of life within the campus and bioregion. Through stories, field experiences and service projects, participants discover skills for connecting to this place and beyond. Dedicated to creative and courageous leadership through intellectual excellence for social change, Emory as Place advocates responsible actions for a thriving world.For this blog we want to share our thoughts on sustainability. Topics related to: what is sustainability, how to live sustainably, and why we should consider living sustainably.So, consider your place, our place, the interconnectedness of place.Do you know where you are?--kate