We are Not Alone

In nine semesters of the Burlington City & Lake Semester program, we have studied and engaged with countless issues in our city. When these real-world questions come into focus, students often quickly identify two opposing sets of values. It would be easy if there were always clear “good guys” and “bad guys,” but students discover that this is rarely the case. The challenge (and, as those in BCL know well, the fun) comes from trying to reconcile two sets of values that each have merit. For example, which is more important, a vibrant economy or a robust safety net? A rapid transition to a carbon-neutral economy or equitable access to new technology? Affordable housing or a growing tax base? Public safety or individual rights? The answer, in nearly every case, is that it’s not either/or. We need both.

One thing that many of these issues have in common, however, is that they pit one set of human values against another set of human values. Over the past few weeks, we were reminded that humans are not the only residents of Burlington. Humans are not our only neighbors.

What does it mean then, if discussions about “who belongs” also include raccoons, flying squirrels, and spiny softshell turtles? How do debates about land use change if we include the “land use” of meadow voles? With the help of a variety of community partners, we have widened our perspective, and reminded ourselves that we are not alone.

At ECHO, students learned about the effort to raise neonate spiny softshell turtles …
…and made some new friends!
With master tracker, Sophie Mazowita, students explored Kieslich Park.
Seeing the world through Sophie’s eyes, evidence of animal life is everywhere. In a pile of wood shavings, we found unique scat — evidence that flying squirrels are in Burlington!

Our experiences with the natural world has made me realize how closely it intertwined with humans. There’s so many types of animals and plants right near the town. For example we found flying squirrel scat at the park we visited, I didn’t even know we had flying squirrels in Vermont at all. It’s also so weird to me that so many huge wildlife environments are only a few blocks away from downtown.

– Sophia

When I was looking back on my journal from the past couple of weeks, one comment I wrote about our nature walk and animal tracking at Kieslich Park stuck out to me. I said, “It ( our walk) made me realize that I need to be more aware of my surroundings and remember that I’m not alone.” I didn’t know about all the different animals that have been spotted around the Burlington area before Sophie showed us the Burlington Mammal Tracking Project. I also didn’t know about how the turtles were in trouble and I didn’t know how we could help them. It has made me feel more connected to the wildlife and nature in Burlington. 

– Camryn

While we were with Sophie looking for tracks, I was aware of moments when I felt the urge to grab my phone, but then I hesitated. There was so much to take in, just being present. It gave me time to think about how we and nature coexist.

– Nash

I feel more people should experience nature so they understand how important it is.

– Yacin
A few students reminisced about the time they shared with Sophie at Crow’s Path.
As we were wrapping up, a praying mantis reminded us that it was lunch time.

One insight I’ve gained over the past couple days is that whether we like it or not we share our city with other species. This means that whenever we change the landscape around us it also affects our non-human neighbors as well. I hadn’t really thought about how much animals and wildlife has had to adapt in order to live in cities. This new insight has helped me think more about what our actions should be and how hey should change in order to acknowledge these animals and habitats.

– Kai

A place is much different than a space. A space is a pin-drop on a map. A space, is an office building located off the highway. A space is a measurable geographic location. But a place is much more than that. A place is a connection. A place is your grandmother’s backyard with fruit platters on the table with her love sprinkled on top. A place is what gives a space meaning.

– Isaac

I can now see how each system connects to the other and how each animal influences each other and us. Each species is important, and there are things we can do to help them. We need to all support each other and support each system to function how it needs to.

– Sara

I appreciated being able to discover more of the fauna and flora of Burlington.  I understood that nature in this state is very important and that they do their best to preserve it. I was delighted to have the opportunity to do all these activities, I loved being able to learn more about the turtles and the diversity of species in Burlington.

– Angèle
At Delta Park, BCL9 students helped restore turtle habitat. 
The project was led by UVM Assistant Professor and wildlife biologist, Brittany Mosher, and graduate student, Desini Acosta, who explained the history of the beach.

It was really fun to learn how to help the animals and really get to work on how we can help. What I was most proud of today is that everyone go right to work and started to help. It’s sad how not a lot of people know that the land we were on was a turtle habitat and I hope we will be able to help them with the work we did today. 

– Hadley

It’s important to undo the damage we’ve done to animal ecosystems. For example, the ice from Lake Champlain used to naturally clear the overgrown plants that allowed turtles to crawl to the water easier after birth. But now, people like Destini and her friends have to go once a week over the summer to ensure all the plants stay at a normal size because the lake no longer completely freezes. I learned this and immediately thought of how self centered humans are. While we complain about no more ice skating on the fully frozen lake, the turtles are losing places to plant their eggs and continue on with life. 

We, as humans, have to realize that our actions have immense consequences on wildlife, not just in Burlington, but all over the planet. As we selfishly ignore the issues of climate change and urbanization, we kill millions of animals in the process. We are no more important than the wildlife that surrounds us. They deserve to live on a healthy planet. 

– Vivian

I think its interesting how animals are really all around us, even with us being in a pretty large city. I also had never thought about how taking away vegetation could benefit animals. In my mind thats kind of backwards thinking, animals need the plants to survive and protect them but actually for these turtles they need the open space to thrive. 

– Scout

We need thriving ecosystems which require keeping the ecosystems in balance. You need all the aspects and if you lose one part you lose the others. As Kristine Tomkins says in her TED Talk, “unless all the members of the community are present and flourishing, it’s impossible for us to leave behind fully functioning ecosystems.” In lots of places this goal means striving to return species to places they were native. Burlington is a city full of wild wildlife. And being in an urban environment adds a little bit of a challenge to it. “Moose, deer, black bear, coyote, fisher, fox and other species need room to roam in order to thrive” We need to create the space and infrastructure to support that. If we can support humans we can also support the animals we coexist with.

– Rosie

My new insight is that it’s a lot of work to clear the beach for turtles. I hope the turtles come back to Delta park. 

– Cosmo
We used weed wrenches to remove willow roots…
…and our muscles to move logs.
We didn’t see any turtles that morning, but we got to connect with other reptiles!
Gratitude to UVM, the Lake Champlain Land Trust, Burlington Wildways, and ECHO for a rich and impactful experience.

I feel like all of these experiences have made me realize how deeply connected everything is. An example of what I’m trying to say is how some turtle species have their sex decided by their temperature and how climate change is already making some species’ eggs 90% female. Another thing is what we learned today about how since the lake doesn’t fully freeze over anymore, that beachside is being overgrown by plants that would usually die from the ice pushing up the beachside. It’s very interesting learning  all of these affects that I would never guess would happen.

– Hank

“The choice is not between if we transform or not anymore,” said Edward R. Carr, a professor of international development at Clark University and an author of the report. “The choice is, do we choose transformations we like? Or do we get transformed by the world in which we live because of what we’ve done to it?” (New York Times) Is the reason we are trying to fix problems because we know we caused the problem? When we went to go fix turtle habitats, someone talked about how…years ago it was so much cleaner and now it’s all destroyed because of us. So now we were going to the beach and fixing it up to…the habitat turtles like, so we could fix our problem. What I’m left thinking is what is the fastest but safest way we could solve the world’s problems that we caused. And how long would it take.

– Tai

When we look at history and the direction that the Earth and climate change is going, we see many mistakes. In this article it says that we need to accept these mistakes and take responsibility for them. We must do this but we almost must learn from those mistakes. Use those mistakes and take steps to correct them. In bold letters in the article, Slow Hope, it says, “We might keep making mistakes. But we will also keep learning from our mistakes.” It is so important that if we are going to move on from our mistakes, we must learn from them… This article is not just about a man that helped create an eco-friendly campus. It is about resilience and creativity and learning from past mistakes and to create solutions to the climate crisis. This is a lesson that we need to learn and use to help our beloved planet. 

– Lilia

We as a community we have to come together and put it on ourselves to make a change. [In Beyond Hope, Derrick Jensen writes that] “There is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us…” All that we can change our our problems we created for our community. The world won’t change itself. We need to take action. We need to stop for a second and look around to make sure what we are doing has a positive impact on our world and community. We need to realize that not every mistake can be reversed and that sometimes instead of working to change what we have done we need to figure out how to stop it and work with what we have. We need to stop hurting our world and balance out our needs and our world’s needs.

– Reid

Believing in a better world without striving to make it better is indeed meaningless. Action without hope is equally meaningless. Hope with action is the only thing that can save us. 

– Scout
One of our neighbors…

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