Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Purging & Preserving

Since we moved back from Germany, we have been clearing out a lot of our belongings. Not seeing most of our possessions for an entire year really gave us the mental distance that we needed to purge a lot of unnecessary items. Each week, I have been trying to sell or donate at least one item, even if it's just a shirt or a book. We still have a lot of stuff, but now much more of it is things we use or love.

Some of the most difficult things for me to get rid of are items with memories attached. After we got back and unpacked the storage unit, I was finally able to recycle my college notes and materials that weren't relevant to my current work. There were a few gems, though, that I wanted to preserve even if I didn't keep a physical copy. So I have been slowly scanning the pages of old essays, notes, and materials that I think we may want to look at again.

By far my favorite of these are page from my Field Biology class at Cornell. I took this course with Charlie Smith my first semester in Ithaca, and (even though it was a difficult course) it's still one of my favorites. First, because it's where I learned about GIS and, second, because I learned so much about the natural world. Almost twelve years later, I don't remember a lot of the scientific names or species identification that we had to memorize (excepting the more fabulous names, such as Liriodendron tulipifera, the tulip tree, or the fact that the new branches of black birch taste like root beer), but the pages from our weekly species identification expeditions bring back such wonderful memories...

Many days we would all troop outside and use the two hour class for an extended nature walk. Our instructor would stop and talk about a particular tree or bird or insect, and we would look in our field guides and take notes about useful ways to remember a particular species. (Still with me today: Ash trees often can be identified by their paddle-shaped seeds, which we remembered with the phrase, "paddle your ash".)

When possible, I would pick a leaf or branch, label it with my waterproof field pen, and press the leaf between the pages of my field guide. By the end of the class, I had a study guide of the trees on our campus, which today I appreciate as much for its beauty as for its utility.

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