Friday, June 17, 2016

Sensing place

If you took my previous experiences growing up in rural Vermont, attending college in a larger town outside of Boston, and visiting various parts of Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, along with brief visits to the Twin Cities and Door County, WI and put all of these places together, that’s what Menomonie feels like to me.  There are hills and cows and farms like in Vermont, but the town is much larger than the one I grew up in and closer to other towns, like in Massachusetts, though my interactions with people and the architecture and streets remind me of places and people I’ve met where my parents grew up in Ohio and Illinois.  I kind of feel like I’ve met everyone before and that I’ve already been here, even though it is an entirely new place.  

I do not think I had fully understood the level of pollution in the lakes here or just how important the work we set out to do is for the community.  I guess it takes actually seeing and inhabiting a landscape to internalize the implications of phosphorus pollution.  At the meet and greet at the Raw Deal yesterday, someone told me they hope the blooms are bad this year so we can see them and understand the gravity and extent of the problem.  Hearing this made me feel very humbled by the experiences I have had so far and by the job ahead.  On one hand, the other students and I represent “bright young minds” from across the country, seeing this place with fresh eyes and eager to apply the skills we have learned in classrooms that often seem removed from real communities and problems.  But I also recognize that we are here to learn from Menomonie and its people as much as we seek to educate the community with our projects.  

To that end, the work we have done so far represents a combination of academic things I have learned in the classroom and integrating with the community in a way that reminds me of going to events in my hometown, especially when I was involved in different community projects in high school.  I suppose in my expectations of our work, I thought more about the big picture of implementing water quality solutions and less about the fact that I would need to spend a lot of time learning new software, data analysis skills, and sociological ideas to do so.  I have spent much of the week learning about Social Network Analysis, and branch of sociology with which I have little experience, and it is much more technical, scientific, and mathematical than what I have done before, but I have already learned so much.  I am excited to continue working with the other students and mentors!

On Wednesday I decided to take my borrowed bike out for a ride, heading out towards Devil’s Punchbowl, which we had visited on the first day here.  In a car, I hadn’t really noticed the hills, but on a bike without many gears, I was surprised.  I certainly did not expect to have trouble getting up hills in Wisconsin.  I meandered down Paradise Valley Road, past Devil’s Punchbowl and the strawberry farm, seeing where the road went.  Soon I ended up in Irvington, but I figured if I took enough right turns I would get back to Menomonie, since making loops is more fun than going out and back and I have made a general rule that I don’t get lost while exploring. Following the ATV routes, I was struck by how similar the landscape looks to Vermont, the only thing missing was the constant backdrop of the mountains.  The view from the top of the last steep hill was pretty spectacular.  Though I took a guess about which way to go, as the road meandered downhill I was soon rewarded with a glimpse of the Stout clock tower and Menomonie in the distance, a moment of adrenaline and triumph at learning the landscape after a hectic first few days.  

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