I love the ocean. I also love the mountains. Upon first glance, mountains and oceans really don’t have much in common. And, actually, they are kind of opposites. Mountains reach far into the sky whereas the ocean hides its depths down to the sea floor. By this virtue, mountains have been explored and climbed, most peaks reached at one time or another. On the other hand, there is still so much of the ocean that we may never know; the vastness of the oceans offers mystery and history, the majority of which is beyond human exploration’s reaches.
As opposite as they are, the mountains and the ocean share at least one similarity, and that is the diversity of life they support. Growing up, I spent hours exploring tide pools, jumping from rock to rock on the Atlantic Coast, exploring the treasures of the tide. The little pools of seawater were filled with creatures and plants, keeping my curious mind occupied as the tides slowly came in and then receded again. These microcosms came to mind again not at the beach, but when I was 7,500 feet above sea level in the Alps.
Between my recent time spent in the Swiss Alps and foothills of the Black Forest (as well as studying the biodiversity of the region), I have learned that on and under just one rock, there can be multiple species of mosses, tons of different lichens, various “cushion plants”, and several types of grasses. When examining one specific rock for an assignment, a classmate of mine (also an avid ocean lover) compared it to a tide pool. Yes, one is underwater and the other is found where the air is thin, but they share the same basic principles that come along with a microhabitat. At first glance, it’s just a little water, or it’s just a rock, but looker further, notice the beautiful details of the space filled with life, and so much to discover.
I was lucky enough to spend three incredible days in the Swiss Alps last week, hiking, and studying the climate and vegetation patterns. I have always been an ocean girl, but wow, the mountains are certainly amazing! I think that we can always learn a thing or two when we’re in new places, and especially outdoors. Here are a few of my thoughts and takeaways from the trip:
- Watch your step, but don’t be afraid to look up and around to take in your amazing surroundings.
- Breathe. The air is fresh, the day is clear, take a moment and enjoy it.
- The sun is always shining, whether you can see it or not! Even at night, it shows itself in the form of a star-speckled sky.
- Stay up late and stargaze, wish on a shooting star. Nothing compares with a sky that is glowing with stars.
- As with the ocean, standing beside the mountains makes you feel like the smallest thing on the Earth. It is a big wide world, and it is also a small world in other ways.
- Trust your body and yourself. You are stronger than you think, and are capable of more than you realize.
- Grow where your roots are, and don’t be afraid to be transplanted. Sometimes a strong wind will uproot you and take you to another peak, go with the flow and thrive where you are planted.
- Don’t drink water from a glacial river, aka glacial milk. A brilliant aqua, the ice-cold rivers have tiny particles of rocks and minerals (not great for the digestive system!)
- Tread lightly, and leave no trace.
- Just be. Be happy, be yourself, be outside, be awesome, be humble, be curious.
I have been lucky enough to spend a good portion of my recent class time in the Black Forest! Not only am I outside of a typical classroom setting, I am outdoors, hiking through fall foliage, and back in time for lunch. The “Black Forest” is not quite what I had pictured; it is not a dark, creepy forest one might expect to see in a Halloween movie feature. It is a gorgeous setting full of mixed tree species and hills and valleys that form a picturesque backdrop one might think of as “foothills in Europe”.
As a class, we have been looking at the natural progression of the forest, and how vegetation changes based on location in the forest, in relation to elevation, and based on climatic factors. Although much of the forest is “natural”, there is no part of it that has been untouched by humans. In the last century, the majority of the forest was cut down in order to establish the surrounding area, and to make charcoal. As a result, most of the forest is planted, with some nonnative species. As gorgeous as nature is and can be, it is also important to realize the human impact on the nature, and what we consider to be and identify as “natural”.
They say not to compare new places with places you have been to before, to take in each new place as a new experience and to soak up every little detail. It is hard not to compare, as humans we like to have personal connections and to familiarize ourselves with new places, making “new” a bit less intimidating, but also not quite as special. The beauty of new places is that there is so much to discover and notice. The more time I spend in Germany (and in the Black Forest, which I have now visited three times!), the more familiar it becomes, and its familiarity is it’s own, rather than familiarity because it reminds me of somewhere else. In the words of Jack Johnson, “you remind me of you”.
I had the most active weekend, and it was amazing. It is so easy here to get outside and just DO! With a day trip to Konstanz, Germany on Saturday and a bike trip to France on Sunday, it was a weekend packed with adventure and sunshine.
Slightly limited by proximity of Freiburg to “cool” and quick places to explore, we kept our Saturday day trip relatively local. Lake Konstanz was a two-hour bus ride away, taking us to a gorgeous lake on the border of Germany and Switzerland. The bus stop is in the middle of town with not much to see, other than the quaint and historic town, one of the few in Germany that completely survived WWII. As great as the city was in the hazy morning, we were looking for water. We eventually found the harbor, and then walked an hour to the beach. With views of Switzerland and a lake full of sailboats, the day was perfect. We filled the hours swimming in the clear turquoise water, playing beach volleyball, watching the sailboats, and exploring the city.
The following day, we rode bikes to France! With no particular route in mind, we actually ended up biking in a circle around Freiburg before getting back on track to head to France. We rode due north, and then due west, riding past the Dreisam River, through several orchards and vineyards, around a mountain, and weaving through various small towns. We arrived in Breisach am Rhein around lunchtime, a perfect spot for an outdoor lunch and ice cream! We then rode over the Rhein River and into France, and sat by the Rhin (the French spelling of the river), watching swans and looking out at Germany. After riding through some small French towns, we turned back and followed actual signs back to Freiburg. The view riding back was just as amazing at the idea of going to biking to France… The mountains radiated blue in the distance, and the crisp smell of fall filled the air. We ended up at the top of a hill, surrounded by vineyards, with a view of Freiburg. It was an exhausting trip, we biked more than 50 kilometers, but it was so worth it and it was an excellent adventure!
Since I will be spending the next four months in land-locked Germany, my posts will be a bit more focused towards sustainability, rather than just water.
I have now been in Freiburg im Breisgau for over a week, and so far, I love my new city! It is the most outdoorsy city I have ever visited; the streets are designed for walkers and cyclists, with electric trams running frequently. Surrounded by mountains, not only is Freiburg beautiful, it is designed to respect nature, and all who live in the city.
- In many places, bathrooms and hallways especially, the lights are off when nobody is there, and can be turned on for a certain amount of time before automatically switching off in order to conserve energy.
- Solar panels are everywhere, on individual housing units, on the roofs of student housing, and placed on hills, just soaking up the sun.
- Although water fountains are rare, plastic and glass bottles can be turned in for refunds (great incentive not to throw them out), and trash is sorted into papers, plastics, and organics.
- There is a market in the city center every day (except Sunday), selling local fruits and vegetables, thereby reducing all pollution associated with importing produce
I am here to study the sustainability of this city, looking at how cities can be environmentally friendly as well as livable. Throughout my courses this semester, we will be looking at the aspects of the city that make it so sustainable, as well as spending time in nature exploring the Black Forest and the Swiss Alps. Even in my short time here, it is apparent that the people watch out for the environment, and I can’t wait to learn more about it!
Sort of ironic, running for the oceans, when we do just about everything except actually run when we’re in the oceans. What an amazing cause, though, and a brilliant way to raise money to protect what we love, by participating in a sport *some of us* love. Until July 8th, every mile you log with Runtastic (an app that helps track where you run), a dollar is donated by Adidas to Parley to promote education on ocean conservation. It’s a win-win situation, you get some exercise and the oceans get some funding! So get out there and run!
Sign up to Run for the Oceans
PS- here are a few of my favorite running songs:
- Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay
- Run – Coin
- Turn – The Wombats
- Carry Me – Joywave
- Homemade Dynamite – Lorde
- Move Your Body – Sia
- Meteorite – Years & Years
- Nothing Left – Kygo
- For Elise – Saint Motel
- I’m Born to Run – American Authors
As the weather heats up and the sun starts to come out, the need for sunscreen becomes apparent to protect our sensitive winter skin. Most of us grab whatever sunscreen is available from the dwindling supplies of last summer, or buy whatever is featured and on sale at Target. Some might be surprised to learn that sunscreen, while great of UV protection, is terrible for the environment, especially our waterways. Sunscreen pollution adds to the degradation of coral reefs, and increases levels of chemicals in lakes and oceans. If you must use sunscreen, try to find one that is eco-friendly, and has fewer harmful chemicals (which is also better for your skin!). However, whenever possible, try to use alternative techniques to protect yourself from the sun. Here is a list of ways to avoid sunscreen, and still combat the sun’s rays, as sourced from the Environmental Working Group, an organization that works to encourage a healthy environment and a healthy population….
Copyright © Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org. Reproduced with permission.
May is quickly becoming June, and summer is fast approaching. Here are some of my current favorite happy, sunshiny, summery songs. Some are old, some are new, a few are old and new to me. Enjoy!
- Constellations (Jack Johnson)
- Anna Sun (Walk the Moon)
- Art Exhibit (Young the Giant)
- Pretty Shining People (George Ezra)
- South (Hippo Campus)
- Saturday Sun (Vance Joy)
- Sun is Shining (Axwell Ingrosso)
- Pink Lemonade (James Bay)
- Winds of Change (St. Lucia)
- Ants Marching (Dave Matthews Band)
- Good as Gold (Moon Taxi)
PS- I listen to *mostly* alternative music, which is reflected in this playlist!
Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22nd, every year since 1970. Earth Day was started as part of the Third Wave of Environmental Policy, as a response to pollution and other issues involving the environment. It continues to be a day to raise awareness of conservation and the fragility of our beautiful earth.
Here are five things to do this Earth Day, and good practices for every day:
- Head outside and go for a walk! Stroll around the block, up and down the street, take the dog, get outside and enjoy the fresh air.
- Commit to bringing reusable bags with you when shopping, and use them! Avoiding any plastic is doing a favor for the environment.
- Shop local. Groceries, clothing, etc. Shopping locally reduces excess energy spent on transportation of goods, as well as decreases the use of cardboard boxes, which are environmentally taxing to produce. Supporting nearby businesses also boosts the local economy!
- Take a picnic outside. You have to eat anyway, might as well enjoy some time in nature!
- Go exploring! Find a new hike, go for a bike ride, look more closely at one of your favorite outdoor spots. Take some time to just be in nature.