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Arb Notes for May 30 - Institutional Memory

May 31, 2011 at 10:55 am
By Griffin Williams '12

Burr Oak on Hillside Prairie 

As I sit here thinking of the seemingly hundreds of things that I must complete over the next two weeks, I realize that I am losing sight of the bigger picture. There is very little that I have done lately that will be lasting. In ten years, my professors will possibly remember my name but no one will recall the thesis in my ten-page paper. Similarly, my surroundings have a sort of volatile sense to them. Even in my three years here at Carleton, three new buildings have been built/repurposed, houses have been torn down, sidewalks reconfigured, and so on. The general shape of campus stays the same (barring that the Cannon River doesn’t return to it’s paleo-valley on the football field) yet the structure is ever changing. New technology, new people, new ideas are constantly justification for the alteration of what exists.

The arboretum, disregarding the relatively short blip in history when it was used for agriculture, works on an entirely different timescale. Ok, fine, I am a geology major so perhaps my sense of time is different then most but the point remains the same. We, as humans, represent a tiny long-term (geologically speaking) effect on the earth. Even within a generation, the arboretum is a place where we can all look for a level of consistency. Of course, the plants grow larger, perhaps the buckthorn advances or retreats, or an area undergoes a shift in diversity but for the most part, the landscape remains unchanged.

The contrast between our manicured, highly altered central campus and the arboretum (still human managed but significantly less) is enormous. When you come back to Carleton for your 25 reunion, I challenge you to look for things you remember. Start on campus, you will probably see the chapel, recognize your old dorm, and point out to your kids the building where you spent all your long studying hours. But look closer, smaller than the largest scale and I think you will find your favorite table gone, offices moved, and at risk of sounding pessimistic, your name forgotten. Then move into the arb. If you spent any time at all there as a student I would guess you feel at home. At risk of you questioning that I am actually a geology major, 25 years later the trees will still be recognizable, your favorite rock will remain unchanged, pits and gullies will be right where you left them, and the soil and grasses will treat you just the same as always when you sit down to watch the sunset.

 

~Griffin Williams '12, for the Cole Student Naturalists

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