Thoughts from Waubesa Wetlands

The sun on the first day of ecology lab embraced our group and warmly encouraged us to step out of the classroom and into the wild and unknown, if only for 3 hours a week. In the last ecology lab of the semester, our group returned to its original site, Waubesa Wetlands, to address the changes in vegetation, weather, and how our own understanding and opinions this semester have changed along with the seasons.

This actually took place a couple weeks ago, and, as my blog absence has suggested, my lack of writing is due to the flurry and hubbub that takes place at the end of each semester. Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to the point where my only response to what I have to get done this weekend is, “I don’t want to think about it.”

Although writing here has been difficult to maintain over the past month or so, I have made a couple presentations about my blog now, and from these, I know that I’ll keep it up as I think it has aided in my own understanding of environmentally-related subjects and encouraged me to advocate for increased environmental knowledge and action among my readers. Anyway, sorry again for my absence. Can’t wait to catch up on here with all the interesting things I’ve learned.

Back to Waubesa.

Samuel and Lisa’s idea for taking us back there was very rhetorical as it related to our maturation coinciding with the seasonal changes in the wetlands. Where on the first day we shyly followed Samuel into the grass to get our bare feet dirty in the peat, on the last we shivered in the wind and boldly shared our insights and memorable moments from the semester. We stood in the leafless, browned wetland to discuss what we’d learned or how our opinions had evolved in light of Cal’s quirky lessons, our hands-on labs, and or our application of these lessons in other parts of our lives. I scribbled notes of peoples’ memories as quickly as I could, but without relaying them all back, it was a powerful time to see how each lab had affected us differently and showed us each something new that we could take away and apply to our other studies.

The theme of the semester, as introduced by Samuel on the first day, remained the fact that humans are a part of nature just as “natural things” are that we may refer to as nature itself. While a telephone pole in the wetland may not seem “natural,” it was placed there as a result of a human choice, and us humans are just as important (or unimportant) to nature as a beaver or bird or tree. So, what made us feel like we were important enough to disrupt this environment by adding this pole? Would our actions have been different if we’d considered the rest of the environment before choosing this location, type of wood, type of wiring, etc. Humans are a part of nature and must not view themselves as “above” or somehow removed from it.

We also talked about how people are reached through what Cal likes to call “Bogmat moments.” This term came about when Cal literally fell shoulder-deep into a hole in his backyard wetland. When he asked a student a few years after his class what she remembered, this Bog moment was the only thing she could recollect. Given that lesson, Cal’s tendency to jump on tables, orchestrate symphonies (students) in patterns similar to heating molecules (translation, vibration, and rotation), share long stories of his travels, studies, and tendency to befriend wild animals, are now all in attempt to create these memorable moments that will remind his students why this is important and why he’s dedicated his life to teaching and researching it.

Although there were many, a major bogmat moment for me was when Cal talked about community land-use politics related to development and environmental stewardship and education. He spoke about his efforts in his hometown, the Town of Dunn. He said in a letter to the class,

Most people say at sometime in their life, “They need to do something about this!” By doing so they confess that there is someone other than themselves who is really responsible. While this sometimes may be the case, it most often is not. In a democracy, our talk about the “they” – the people who are expected to act on our behalf – often are no one else but ourselves. If proper stewardship of land and Town resources are to be accomplished, we must see ourselves as ‘they.’ In democratic governments, we are ‘they.’ Unless we understand and believe this, the land and the Town’s resources will steadily deteriorate. Recognizing that we are they means that we will be ready to tack action whenever we see something that needs doing.

I found this really powerful and a great example of a person who put individual action and applied it to political will and created great change in many people. Jack Kloppenberg once said in class that he was advised by a friend, “you in the north don’t have the opportunity to be naive.” And it’s true. We don’t. We have a voice, an education, access to nutrition, shelter, clothing, funding, and information.

Basically, I have been very motivated by my professors and peers in the past few weeks to USE what I have learned and feel very fortunate to have this education. Because of these lessons (and many others), I have gained a deeper understanding and obligation to doing my part even when it’s inconvenient, controversial, or scary. I hope that something I write on here may encourage others to do their part (in whatever form they want it to be in) as well. More on this later.

Anyway, it’s been a difficult but rewarding semester. I am still unpacking the discussions I have had and desperately writing them down in hopes that I won’t forget them!

It’s time to get back to work, but I couldn’t call myself a green blog unless I brought up the fact that the UN Climate talks at Copenhagen began today to finish what Kyoto started. I will be updating this blog with the major stories and am actually somewhat overwhelmed with unpacking all the political, scientific, naysayer, supporter, impassioned talk going on.

So, today I will begin with a series of important links. Chose whichever interest you, or look it up online, but this is an exciting current event that you won’t want to miss!

1. Day one round up here

2. Grist (always a favorite) has a series of easy to read, easy to understand discussions of important Copenhagen details. I recommend checking them out

3. The New York Times had a nice bunch on the Business News section, but I liked this basic summary video for newbies to the situation.

4. This important editorial was published in 56 newspapers and 20 languages today (sadly, only the Maimi Herald stepped up in the US). But overall, I approve.

Finally, in Bill McKibben’s article, “The physics of Copenhagen: Why Politics as Usual May Mean the End of Civilization” he gives a summary of why treating climate change as a normal political issue is completely lacking and inadequate in order to make the necessary changes. He says:

We’re no longer capable of “preventing” global warming, only (maybe) preventing it on such a large scale that it takes down all our civilizations. {…}

So here’s the thing: When Barack Obama goes to Copenhagen, he will treat global warming as another political problem, offering a promise of something like a 17 percent cut in our greenhouse gas emissions from their 2005 levels by 2020. This works out to a 4 percent cut from 1990 levels, the standard baseline for measurement, and yet scientists have calculated that the major industrialized nations need to cut their emissions by 40 percent to have any hope of getting us on a path back towards safety.

While his message was political (and scary), the fact I took away was that while Copenhagen and political action is necessary, we are they again in this situation and must use our powers in this democracy to beg our politicians, friends, neighbors and selves to do what we/they can to make up for where the government lacks.

Copenhagen is important, but so are we.

Nervous yet optimistically yours,


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3 thoughts on “Thoughts from Waubesa Wetlands

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