I have to admit I was a little skeptical when we first started this nature blog at the beginning of the semester. I already spent lots of time outdoors but I didn’t know what would come from consciously watching and documenting the environment around me. Austinites have been blessed this semester with weather ranging from below freezing to the upper 90s. Reflecting on my photos I’ve taken for this blog through out this semester, shocked me. I was at amazed at how the environments I watched changed with the weather.
Starting in late august or early October, I decided I wanted to monitor the environments I am surrounded with the most around campus: Blunn Creek Nature Preserve and the miniature forest behind the St. Edward’s University Apartments. As someone who tries to live sustainably, I focus most of my projects towards environmental conservation. Parks to me, are like miniature nature preserves, and I hope to obtain the means to visit all the nature preserves through the U.S.
Unfortunately this semester I watched Blunn Creek and the forest get considerably more littered and neglected. The plants in Blunn Creek may have not been classically attractive, but I don’t think the whole preserve deserved to be treated with such utter disregard. In Blunn Creek, a relatively muted colored forest, one can easily walk through and observe the bright artificially colored trash throughout it. Beer cans left from troubled teens or adults also are prevalent.
The most gruesome environmental travesty I witnessed took place in October at Austin City Limits Festival. Austin experienced torrential rain the day before the festival. This rainfall mixed with the high amount of traffic at the park completely wiped out any of the grass, and replaced it with an endless mud puddle. The mud caked my shoes and possibly my eyelids. With this almost quicksand like terrain sucking me in, in combination with the littered beer cans, food etc. I found myself confused as to how zilker park would ever return to it’s former glory.
I continued seeing negative aspects of how humans affect the environment, most considerably the trash accumulation at Blunn Creek and the forest. I am actually really surprised that “litter” is not included on our class word map of the most popular words used in other classmates’ blogs. Hopefully this means the rest of Travis County isn’t nearly as littered as my observations lead me to believe. Perhaps Blunn Creek is the sole travesty of nature preserves within austin.
The three largest words on the map (meaning they were mentioned the most) are water, nature and creek. I’ve spent a lot of my time this semester observing water within the creek at Blunn Creek. In October the water was completely dried up in some areas leftover from the summer drought. November and early December blessed us with enough rain to sustain these small creeks. All of the animals and plants in Blunn Creek depend on rainfall for life. The most obvious species in Blunn Creek are the rabbits and squirrels. In the past year I have also seen coyotes, a fox, tarantulas, snakes, and a couple deer. I didn’t realize until this semester that these other species used to be more common all throughout Austin before being forced to move as human development continues. Can human development and pre existing ecosystem ever coexist? Or must environmental degradation always be the result?
I also was able to compare two seemingly very similar environments between Blunn Creek Nature Preserve and the forest behind my apartment complex. It became more obvious as the semester went on that people inherently cared more about the environmental health of the nature preserve. While there still was litter throughout this park, I also saw workers and some volunteers cleaning up trash by the streams and fields. In blunn creek I even observed efforts to grow local plants in Blunn Creek in order to fight the invading invasive species. This was not the story of the forest. Since it is not technically a “preserve” many will leave all sorts of things scattered through the forest. In the panorama photo below, you can see a shopping cart, a 6 foot tall piece of cardboard , multiple plastic bags and cups. If we as a society want to be more sustainable and protect the environment, we must apply this thinking to all environments not just those specifically named a nature preserve.
This dilemma reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac when he says “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise”. In my interactions, I know that most people will fight to protect the biotic community. A few individuals may transgress by littering, using too much water, or by owning gas guzzling cars. But overall people now think more sustainably and work for conservation efforts-even if they just decide to start recycling or grow some of their own vegetables.
My experience this semester has been transformed by writing a blog for the Travis County Almanac, taking an Environmental Science course, and interning for Environment Texas. My intern experience really makes me see the world in a new light-where renewable energy sources are growing exponentially. It is my hope that people start to look at the environment as something we belong to and not something we own to use for our own purposes. This draws a parallel to Leopold’s teaching in the early 1900s when he urged people to coexist with nature. Fortunately it is not too late to reverse the horrible process of anthropogenic climate change but it is certainly time to act. Our politicians are starting to listen to our cries as they consider passing the EPA’s Clean Power Plan next June. Obama also just signed an environmental agreement with China to reduce our combined carbon emissions in the next twenty years.
Throughout my time spent observing nature, I’ve found I have gradually become more appreciative of nature and the beauty it provides. Let’s hope my generation will be the generation to finally address climate issues and the 6th mass extinction so future generations to come can fully appreciate all Earth has to offer.