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A time to reflect

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

 

     My experience in New Orleans went above and beyond the expectations I had before our trip. As I sit here in the CSUCI library on a Thursday night frantically working on unfinished work mini flashbacks  pop into my head as if I were back in New Orleans. These flashback are of course with friends. Friends that share the exact memories, friends that helped me rally when energy levels were low, and more importantly friends with which I have stronger connections now than ever before. I relish in the random memories that uncover throughout the day. These memories will surely aid me in the next couple weeks of my school work. Although the memories I gained over the course of this trip will fade in time, the people I met and interviewed are burned into my soul and have forever changed my view on New Orleans.

     The most memorable part of our trip was hacking my way through blackberry bush with two of my colleagues. Equipped with a machete, 100 meter transect tape, clipboard, and datasheets, we successfully gathered important vegetation data that could one day aid in our response to wetland loss. I am proud to be a part of our 2015 ESRM 492: NOLA Service Learning trip and would highly recommend it to future students no matter their discipline of study.

Thank you for the enlightening trip.

Cheer,

Alex Greene

Reflections on our trip to New Orleans

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

This trip was everything I expected it to be…and much more than I could put into words. At first I was a little skeptical about both how it would go generally and how the specific mix of activities we had planned would immerse us into it the city and landscapes. But the activities and content Dr. Anderson provided us was unbelievable. The culture, art, history, social and ecological aspects of Louisiana; we got to experience it all. Everyday was non-stop and best that way. There were so many things to experience that it seemed we would finish one lecture or tour and immediately begin one just as interesting and relivant to the city and Hurricane Katrina every day for two non-stop weeks.

The city, suburbs and swamp were all amazing. Running swamp transects for the Woodlands Conservancy was challenging and what seemed like a never ending process. But at the end of the day it truly felt as though we had collected some good, essential data. The materials and stories we explored were moving. While the Cajun cuisine was some of the best in my life (I’ll miss having it every night), it was the human element and the interactions with the people who were affected by this tragedy in our own nation that made the biggest impact on me. Between learning about wetland loss and the human element that led to defects in the levee system that was to protect the town from floodwaters, it was amazing to understand just how multi-causal the disaster of a decade ago actually was. I also can’t help but wonder just how much climate change will effect Louisiana’ s Gulf Coast. Much of that landscape will be underwater in my lifetime unless something drastic and incredible is done very quickly. It felt great to be a Service Learning student shown the appreciation we were given for just our small contributions to understanding and improving this region. I would recommend this trip to anyone who has the chance to go. Being a part of this experience has made me a more aware person and someone more willing to actively help others. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

-Robert Whitfield

A New Perspective 

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

It’s hard to properly reflect on the last week spent down in New Orleans. This trip opened my eyes to such a variety of cultural and environmental concerns that it’ll take some time before I can truly understand the meaning of what I’ve experienced. What I can say is this: my time spent in Louisiana was unlike anything that I’ve experienced before and the lessons I derive from it are sure to stay with me for a long time to come.

Perhaps most noticeable from our travels was how immediately our Southern Californian culture became apparent. From the expectation of good coffee to our surprise at existing in truly flat landscape, it became evident that we all came from an amazingly similar background and were about to experience something entirely different from what our upbringing provided us. The culture of New Orleans is an interesting mix of varying traditions that somehow weaves itself into a tapestry of uniqueness and tradition. This culture is something Americans should take pride in and make a conscious effort to preserve.

Also interesting was the relationship the people of Louisiana have with their natural environment. It’s often easy for we Californians to judge others for their treatment of the land. We rarely take into consideration the circumstances and associations that we experience in the comparatively mild California landscape. I quite honestly can’t blame the people in New Orleans for dismissing the subtle beauties of their local wetlands. Even the “hardiest” of our crew were overwhelmed by the heat, humidity, and discomfort associated with the swamp in a comparatively mild Spring season. How then to instill a sense of affection for an environment commonly described as “smelly” and “gross?” Sadly, I don’t have the answer. Fortunately, these wetlands also provide an opportunity for environmental protection based solely of humanitarian reasoning by protecting the city and its people from nature’s most ferocious storms. I stand as a deep ecologist, and ideally I wish the people of New Orleans would learn to appreciate the intrinsic value of their swampy neighbors through agencies such as the Woodlands Conservancy and their outreach programs. Until that day comes, let’s promote and educate the public about how these regions directly benefit them and through the restoration of these wetlands provide a natural buffer that preserves the integrity, history, and jazz-filled flair that makes the city of New Orleans such a delightful and unique experience.

-Kevin Gaston

3/25/15

Reflection Time

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

After having a few days to reflect upon a wonderful experience, I can clearly see so many memories that will stay with me forever. We did and saw and created so many things in such a short space of time. The music, the cool and interesting people, the swamp, all of the learning…there were so many experiences I will simply never forget. Sharing this experience with my intelligent and open-minded peers made all of it even that much more enjoyable. I never thought it would be possible to fit all of what we did into to ten days. But if there was one guy that could do it, we had him with us. Thanks Dr. Anderson!

When I first heard about this trip, I was thought about how this trip could help me as a learning experience. I thought about how it might eventually help me in the future as I pursue a career in the field. But by a few days into the trip I realized how our work out in Louisiana is about much, much more than just us.  I realized how our work actually touches the lives of many others and how gratifying that actually feels. I learned so much and was able to help others at the same time. I laughed and had fun as well. I would highly recommended this trip to anybody!

-Thomas Mirzakhanian

Remembering NOLA: Spring 2015 CSUCI Service Learning

Posted from Camarillo, California, United States.

Our time in Louisiana was insufficient and the need to continue our Service Learning is still lingering in my mind as I picture elderberry recruits. The smell of gas in the air, and the feeling of NOLA’s humidity is now reminisced by us all. The sound of trumpets and street performers still buzzes in my head. Those pesky mosquitos ate us alive in the swamp.  The tasty Po’Boy that brought a smile to everyone’s face after a long day in the field. These were all great NOLA experiences and will be a part of the story of my life that I hope to pass to my children and grandchildren. But most of all, the smiles and good vibes of those who showed great appreciation for our help will never be forgotten.

Upon arrival I was nervous and scanned the land just as a raptor looks for its prey. I kept calm, and as the days went by I soon began to feel like I was a part of NOLA. The first few days we set out to learn about the history of NOLA and got to learn why Hurricane Katrina was such a disaster through local individuals who shared their stories and knowledge of this unparalleled event. We did all this in order to help us understand why we are here.  And in so doing our explorations seemed to have sparked a light that pushed us to work as hard and as best we could.

Every time we hit the 100m mark (the terminus) of a transect, I paused and looked around. The feeling of being so small out in the wilderness made me feel alive, awakening my senses. Human civilization was all around us, yet being inside that fractured but enclosing forest made the nearby humanity feel nonexistent.  We worked hard at cutting our way through those transect sites and always had some kind of painful encounter with three meter high blackberry bushes as of honor. Woodlands Trail and the Delacroix Preserve were two of our work sites. While the comparative high ground of Woodlands Trail had some areas that were flooded, Delacroix afforded us no mercy and was completely flooded. In spite of all that water, Delacroix offered more of a view of what I think the swamps of NOLA looked like in the past. Both sites were beautiful in their own way and by studying them we can help them survive the test of time for our well being and the well being of our planet.

Irvin Mayfield gave a wonderful performance. Tevin, a Service Learning classmate of mine, still brings a smile to my face as I recall him showing up the ladies on the dance floor at the Royal Sonestra. Paul Sanchez left us with the clear feeling our hard work was appreciated and his stories had everyone going all night. Overall, words cannot describe how thankful I am for have been given this opportunity. I’ve spent most of my college life working to pay the bills, attending school without any sort of internship experience. This program made it possible for me to experience a taste of just that. I know I will continue to engage in such efforts for many years to come.

Remember,

“In Wildness is the preservation of the world”

-Henry David Thoreau

Thank you to everyone who made this possible for us and thank you Dr. Sean Anderson for making this adventure remind us of why we are fighting an uphill battle and keeping the hope alive.

Jonathan Fausto, CSUCI Senior ESRM student.

-Cornbread!

I Got the Blues for New Orleans

Posted from Camarillo, California, United States.

The 10 days that were spent in New Orleans were nothing but good times with great people. Unfortunately, it has been 4 days since I was last in NOLA and seem to be cherishing every minute that I had there as it stretches into memory. From Jackson Square in the French quarter where you could walk for days looking at all the art and listening to the unique cultural and musical gumbo that is played there to the swampy forested wetlands where we laid out transects and identified plant species to characterize the health of the swamp ecosystem.

The culture that NOLA brings to the United States is unique in my experience. It is filled with people from all different origins. The food (which is spicier then I was expecting) is a culinary gumbo, unique to the New Orleans/coastal Louisiana area. We sampled a range of eatings from the Po’ Boys to crayfish (aka crawkfish) boils we gleefully gulped down. The food in New Orleans will give any traveler the spicy kick they are needing and sensory backdrop to their NOLA experience. Another important aspect to the city life is the music. John Boutte and Irvin Mayfield showed us what it really means to jazz it up New Orleans style. As they (and so many others) played, their soul sung out with multitudes of experiences accumulated over years of triumph and tragedy living in NOLA.

From the city to the swamps the experience was amazing. Professor Anderson worked us hard in the swamps. Cutting down blackberry and identifying every plant in each little transect. After days of doing this in combination with sleep deprivation I realized that what I was doing for NOLA was crucial to keeping this city alive. We the students of CSUCI are one of few groups that are actively monitoring bottomland hardwood forests since Hurricane Katrina. Understanding the health of these wetlands is key as these swamps are the last natural wind and storm surge buffer to prevent natural disasters from destroying all that human life and culture in NOLA (not to mention the intrinsic value of such systems).  The people of New Orleans were all very thankful for what we did and that touched the deepest parts of my heart. Knowing that what we did over our Spring Break can and will contribute in some way to potentially helping save the city and many other people in the surrounding areas made all the difference. I would go back and do it all over again. This trip was the most rewarding experience I have had in my college life.

Thank you Dr. Sean Anderson for bringing me along on this fun adventure and introducing me to everyone that you knew in NOLA. This trip was honestly a fun and memorable service learning experience.

 

CORNBREAD

 

ERIK STOREY

In Reflection…

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

I cannot believe that I almost didn’t go to New Orleans!!! I was on the fence about joining the NOLA trip in my last semester before I graduate. I commute from Orange County and barely have enough time to fit everything in as it is, let alone go on a two and a half week Service Learning trip during my Spring Break.  A Spring Break wherein I could have been spending my time completing precious homework, finishing the last of my field work, and catching up on my hours at my workplace(s). Against my better judgment, I decided to apply for the trip and let Dr. Anderson’s decision determine if I should go on the trip. Here I am four months later reminiscing on the absolute most amazing experience of my entire life.

I have visited other states and countries before, done service/volunteer work before, and participated in research and data collection before. But nothing in my entire life could have prepared me for the experience that was New Orleans. Going in to the trip my practical knowledge of what I would be encountering in and around New Orleans consisted of; 1) bring lots of bug spray, 2) bring pants that will hold up to blackberry bushes, and 3) get a lot of sleep before you come because you’re not going to get any while you’re there (and if you like sleep, it’s going to suck). Of those three things, my biggest concern was that I would be tired and not be able to perform in the field. I didn’t think too much about the bugs or blackberry because I was honestly too preoccupied worrying about not getting enough sleep. As it turned out, I actually never even realized how tired I was until I returned home to California. I’m actually embarrassed now that this was even a concern of mine. The work we were doing and experiences that we were having in Louisiana were so non-stop, so fun, so rewarding, and so emotionally and intellectually stimulating I didn’t have time to feel tired. So it turned out that my first two “concerns” were indeed true (so painfully true) and factor that I was most concerned about turned out to be a non-issue…figures!

I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I loved every second of it. I will never be able to recreate a trip with the amount of camaraderie, joy, fun, hard work, and cultural immersion. We were doing work that at first glance might have seemed trivial to some or something that was barely making a dent in the ominous future that New Orleans now faces, but it is really making a difference in the big picture. We were able to see the fruits of our labor while planting a community garden in Buras. We saw the smile on Carol’s face (the man whose property was home to our food garden), the relief he felt knowing that he wouldn’t have to plant a garden alone with his bum leg (torn up in the wake of Katrina), and joy at the thought he and his neighbors would have fresh vegetables in the future to help ease the strain on his budget (a budget that lord knows is limited after losing everything he owned when the levee broke).

I am so humbled and grateful to have been a part of this trip. The live music and delicious food after long days of hard work in the swamp, the fun times with professors and students alike, the relationships that were built between CSUCI and the people of New Orleans, getting to cook traditional New Orleans food with produce purchased directly from the people of New Orleans themselves, being able to connect with students from another university (Tulane) who may never get the opportunity to do the work like we were doing at Woodlands Trail again, and all of the other amazing experiences that we had on this trip all rolled together. I can’t even imagine that I almost missed this opportunity.

Missing Louisiana is an Understatement

Posted from Camarillo, California, United States.

Over the course of my academic career I have had numerous opportunities to travel and visit culturally and environmentally significant locations. All had a significant impact me, but none were like New Orleans. As I reflect on the trip, I am overwhelmed with emotions. We were able to participate in numerous activities that both benefited the people and places of Louisiana while simultaneously deeply impacting our own perspectives. I was 12 years old when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I remember hearing snippets of news reports and information about the destruction and chaotic state of the region in the wake of the flooding, but not enough to fully understand. Up until the time I enrolled in this class, I still had that same limited knowledge of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. My eyes were opened to a disturbing reality once I began to comprehend what had actually occurred in Louisiana preceding and following the storm. As the winds and rain faded into memory, the people were left with nothing and relatively little emergency assistance. Levees burst, homes were knocked off of their foundations, lives lost, and families torn apart. Entire neighborhoods were flattened. Debris mixed with untold volumes of family memories, littering the ground. This year arks the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Visiting the coast revealed to me truth about the storm and subsequent recovery of the people, neighborhoods, environment, and culture of New Orleans and southern Louisiana. Evidence of Katrina remained apparent as we drove through coastal cities. You could hear it in the voices of locals as they described the effect these event had (and are still having) on their daily lives. Talking to Carol Arsenoe as we planted our community garden in Buras struck me the most. His home (and entire town) lies directly between two levees: one holding back the waters of the Mississippi River, the other the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. When asked why he returned to such a vulnerable, low lying area that will surely be in the path of destruction again, he replied simply: “This is my home. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” It hit me then that what we were doing was truly service. We were serving the people of Louisiana who more often than not have a deep connection with their land and cities. It is all we can do to protect it and save it for future generations.

The swamp, I realized, is one of the most unique ecosystems I have had the privilege of understanding and experiencing. It was all I imagined it would be and more. The species that inhabit these humid, warm, and inundated regions are unique (to say the least), different from anything I have seen before. It was breathtaking! When all was quiet, the forest’s peacefulness would manifest as a calm that would wash over me. Clearing my mind of numbers and science, I could feel at peace with the environment and think past the hard labor to better know what I was doing was imperative to preserve that gorgeous ecosystem. In addition, the comradery among my fellow students was strengthened on this trip. Previous friendships grew stronger and new friendships blossomed. These are people I will know and remember for the rest of my life. Our joint respect and passion for service, research, and learning was palpable.

The harsh reality is that this swampland may well disappear within our lifetime. It saddens me to think that my grandchildren might not be able see this beautiful swamp. The opportunity we had to travel to this region of our country was a once in a lifetime experience. Though our visit was short, I feel I experienced much of what New Orleans and the region had to offer, though that doesn’t hinder my thirst to explore the region more. I will never forget my time in New Orleans. And with that…CORNBREAD!

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

Posted from Cerritos, California, United States.

When you really get up close and deeply examine a topic from a scientific perspective, I have found that (along with the data collected) you establish a deep connection with that subject. And when that subject is a place, a connection can be felt to the whole environment; its plants, animals, people and culture. This is true about my time spent in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Crescent City has a certain romance to it. It has a vibe. The people who call it home are so passionate about their city by the river. The English Turn Forest that we crisscrossed with transect tape and spent so many hours breaking down to the last Sambucus canadensis is alive. When one is still and patient one can hear it breathe.

But the city is a beautiful disaster, a place of paradox and a place of dilemma. A common theme in the history of humanity is our futile attempts to dominate natural systems instead of constructing our existence in harmony with those processes. Southeastern Louisiana is a great example of our folly in this regard. There are those that would claim New Orleans should be abandoned, that it is not worth saving and we should move to higher ground. By this reasoning, should we relinquish our homes in California because an earthquake might bring them crumbling down around us, or because a fire might reduce them to ashes? We are so quick to judge those folks for living in a city beneath the sea. It will not be easy to save this forest or save this city. But just because something isn’t easy, just because something is unpopular, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. The worst thing we can do is nothing at all.

As much as I have learned about New Orleans, about plants and snakes and music and food, I have learned even more about myself. There are a few moments that stick in my mind, but one was particularly moving. We planted a garden in Buras, on Carol Arsenoe’s property.  Carol revealed that our spring visit was the most exciting time of the year for him. This man and his family, in a humble home by the river, was touched by what we did for him. In that moment I realized that the Service Learning trip that we had embarked upon was so much more than some field experience for ourselves to further our own education and career. It was a chance to contribute to something much bigger than ourselves. Where before I saw our garden as a small overall contribution, a tiny plot with a few peppers and corn and tomatoes, I knew then that for at least one man and his community, it meant the world. These folks in Louisiana love their home enough to return and rebuild even after losing everything. Their passion and tenacity is inspirational, and we owe them (at the very least) our respect.

What is the takeaway here? I have learned that as a student of Environmental Science and as a human being there is the potential to work for something greater than myself. I have learned that however easy it is to be cynical and pessimistic about our species and the choices we have made, the human spirit can still surprise you in a beautiful way– if only you can open your eyes and let it.