A Road Toward Compromise
By Katie Powers ’09
“Hey Nate! Ninety-nine cents for two scoops on a waffle cone!”
gas stations: those hubs of bright lights, diesel engines and
sloppy anonymity that so wholly embody this culture. Though we’ve been living outside
for weeks now, calling ourselves environmentalists and balking at the over-consumption
of fossil fuels, our stop at the Tupper Lake Stewart’s feels somewhat
routine. Ice cream, cigarettes, full tanks for two Chevy Suburbans. Though
we advocate a simple and sustainable lifestyle, we are undeniably adept at
using cell phones, driving cars, spending money. We’re 12 reckless, dirty
college students clumsily straddling the line between the woods and the world.
For part of the time we were immersed in the woods, in nature and the
ideals of environmentalism. We came to know the birds, mammals and tiny
plants that shared their woods with us. Gaultheria hispidula:creeping
canadensis:Eastern hemlock. We explored the potential for
changes that would foster a less destructive relationship between people
and the planet. We bathed in the lake, firing up our small barrel sauna
to take off the chill of the water when late fall arrived. There was
no running water, no shower, no flush toilet. Solar panels collected
enough energy for a refrigerator and a few lights. There were hot meals
prepared with organic produce from a North Country farm. We learned to
work with wood, to cook for a dozen, to paddle a guideboat, to crochet.
Our immediate surroundings dictated our lifestyle, and we grew accustomed
to slightly more thoughtful, ecologically conscious patterns of being.
For part of the time we were immersed in nature, and for
part of the time in civilization. We traveled throughout the
Adirondack Park on field trips, enjoying the convenience of having two
SUVs at our disposal. Almost any food we could think of, food
that had traveled thousands of miles, was a mere 15 minutes away: avocados,
bananas, organic coffee, chocolate. Twice a month we had access to cell
phones, buffalo chicken wings and computers with high-speed Internet.
We weren’t roughing
it on the Adirondack Semester; we bought Cheez-Its, listened to iPods and
used cordless drills. We certainly weren’t
living like the average American, either; we went about our
days more deliberately, and with a greater awareness of the
wake left behind by our actions. Those days spent beneath towering hemlocks
allowed us to construct a foundation. Through time spent in direct contact
with nature and direct contact with civilization, we can now start down
the road toward a compromise.
I’ve grown closer to nature, and I’ve learned
a great deal about the work that goes into creating a strong, cohesive
community. But the understanding I’ve worked hardest for, the understanding
that is perhaps most crucial, is the knowledge that we must find a balance.
It was difficult to go from a canoe to a car, and from the
forest to Tupper Lake, but it was through these contradictions that our
purpose became clear. Our time in the woods was challenging because bathing
in the 50-degree lake became enormously uncomfortable, but our time in
civilization was challenging because we were struggling to integrate new
ideas into our everyday lives and experiences.
For me, this semester wasn’t a quest for solitude; it wasn’t
a vacation. It was the first tangible answer, the groundwork for feasible,
imperative change. We won’t solve environmental problems by hiding
in cities, constructing walls of technology between our lives and the natural
world. And we certainly won’t solve them by hiding in the woods, ignoring
the societies in which problems are born. I learned a valuable lesson this
fall, one that I hope I can pass on to friends, neighbors, humankind: we
must inhabit a place that is somewhere in between. We must know and cherish
the nature that we care about and depend on, and we must also know society,
economy, technology. It is through our clumsily straddling the woods and
the world that we are promised the most hopeful future.