Environmental Literature of Sewanee

By Sebastian Evans

Contributing Writer

In this week’s Green Column, we are featuring a sample of environmental literature from Sebastian Evans (C’20):

I studied the woods of the Cumberland Plateau as deeply as I could in the early days of September, late October, and again in mid-December. They all had things in common but distinctions could be made as well. The lush green of September made the woods feel alive with warmth and vibrance, the flood of change of color in fall was inviting and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and the sharp cold cut of December was a reminder of the nature of winter.

I reviewed my notes on each of these seasons, paying close attention to the bridal veil falls trail, a place of great tranquility and peace. This small 0.7 mile section of trail had felt my boots several times in the late months of 2016, but when I arrived after a short holiday in January it looked wanting of wear. I set out again with my field journal and Nalgene, the tools of choice for many an observer on the mountain, on a warm day in mid-February.

Soon enough, the trail began to drop down into a cove of sorts and the elevation change took its toll on my legs and made this particular section of the trail stand out. I slowed at this point, and as a result, senses that had previously been disregarded by my mind came to life once more. I could smell the damp in the air as I dropped into the shade, which felt thick and humid like so many nights of mountain fog.

Most notable of all, however, was a low crashing sound, distant and far away. It bounced and ricocheted among the trees until it was barely audible and its source was far away. My feet pressed into the dirt as I trekked further into the lowland. This part of the forest felt old: the trail was walked little and had been covered with leaf-litter in its unused state. My feet seemed to sink into this part of the wood. The trees were bare with branches like black widow webs and the lianas contorted in their odd shapes and forms like serpents of myth. The sun blotted out behind a hill as I continued, the ever present chaos crashing into my ears, each step bringing it louder and closer as though some mythic beast was roaring at my approach.

Finally, this beast came into view. The water flowed with power and energy, and it had weight that was tangible, that one could feel it from a good 10 yards away. I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw it: the heart of this forest, a retracted and cocooned haven that remained wet and wild. I thought back to the dusty barren trail before and compared it to this sanctuary. Here it seemed nature, or that fleeting idea of ‘nature,’ was still very much alive. The water fell away to the center of the earth, a cave dug out by its power.

I was no longer a hiker, but a witness to what I thought was the beating heart of these woods. I was terrified amongst the strangling vines and skeletal trees, in awe of the water’s purity and might and very much alone. I was disconnected perhaps from the world for just a second or two. I longed to be a part of this ecosystem, to feel like a member, a deer or coyote or turkey vulture perhaps. I longed to participate in the growth of spring, energy of summer, cleansing of autumn, and the long deep sleep of winter. I took a step forward.

Crunch. The sound startled me as my boot pressed and collapsed the object. I glanced down, agitated by this interruption to my nirvana. At my foot, I saw the culprit, the blasphemous presence of a plastic cup, desecrating the shrine that my mind had just created. I gasped in rage against whoever left this corruption here.

I wished to communicate with the falls to tell them that I was sorry, I wished to express to the world my sincerest apologies. In my longing to be a part of this ecosystem, I had forgotten that in our blindness, in our waste of water and resources, we as humans are a part of this ecosystem.   The plastic cup that had been left behind was a symbol, a visual representation perhaps, of our influence on the world.

I stood in shock, I stood in brutal and thick revelation. I wondered if those pious figures of the Bible felt this way, reeling in an awe created by their mind. By our effect on the pollinators like bees or our trampling on flowers or the effect we have on the rain, or even so ‘unnoticable’ as leaving a plastic cup on the trail, we have become a part of this ecosystem the world over.

The surreal and mystic reality that I had created in my mind of a terrifying woodland realm was corrupted by the very species with the capacity to imagine such things. No longer was this a dark and secluded spot, but one that needed protection in my mind, isolation away from the world of man. I was made conscious that I could not so easily point the finger of blame to an individual but instead take the weight and responsibility of their actions myself. As I turned to the trail to leave, the weight I now carried almost exceeded that which I could manage. I let out a sigh, and the only word that came with it: “Heavy”.

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