Oakwood Rambles

Rebecca Rolnick

Rebecca is a freshman who majors in Conservation Biology and plans to minor in Environmental Writing and Rhetoric. In the future she hopes to do work that protects biodiversity and connects people with nature.

“I pause here only to gather my thoughts, but I am surprised at how much I have already observed.”

The cracks are filled with life.

I have been sitting here for only a few minutes when I start to notice the movements all around: an ant scurries from one line in the concrete to the next, as a harvestman makes its way under the shadow of the picnic table. A black cricket clings to the wall behind me. For the first time, I notice the fluffy tamarack that lives here. A wispy wind-dispersed seed drifts by inches from my face, and a white butterfly floats by. The seed will soon land, and the butterfly was recently a caterpillar, but for this moment they are denizens of the sky.

I’m sitting cross-legged on one of the big rocks at the back patio of Centennial Hall. The sunlight is white and bright. It was very cool and comfortable walking to chem lecture this morning. Now it is warming up, and it feels like it will become hot and sticky by this afternoon. The wind is awake this morning, and the breeze is soft and warm. Just sitting here for a few minutes I already feel more relaxed and at peace. I pause here only to gather my thoughts, but I am surprised at how much I have already observed.

Now the first leaf of fall–or the first one I have witnessed falling–flies from the oak tree on the hill bordering the cemetery. It tumbles through the air and lands almost vertically with a “chuk!” in the back lawn. Crickets chorus from the brush, amid the louder rushing of the interstate, invisible beyond the hill. A minute ago the big black cricket was walking along the dirt on the edge of the wall. I want to catch it, but it is gone now. I often hear crickets singing loudly around campus, in the same spots day after day—guarding their territory? Is this one the same kind?

Another white fairy-seed floats by. I am starting to sweat, and the heat becomes a bit uncomfortable as I sit here. Time to move. Up the hill into the cemetery.

As I go I can see, for a moment, the hills in the distance. A reddish building with two towers catches my eye; maybe an old church. The “Hills of Onondaga.” We are indeed still people of the Hills. Is that still Syracuse out there, among the hills in that Tree City of ours? Or does Syracuse extend beyond the city limits?  The forested landscape obscures any man-made boundaries.

It seems cliche for an ESF student to choose the Oakwood Cemetery as a nature study area. But for me this is a new place, one I am excited to explore, to make my “home,” like the park near my house with its familiar creek and trails.

Now I am sitting with my back to an oak, still right by Centennial Hall, next to the tall grave marked “Phillips Bunnell.” A tiny red aphid scuttles up my arm, my arm hairs an
obstacle course.

Out of the corner of my eye I notice a woodchuck, just 10 to 20 feet to my left, near the scrubby patch of shrubs and vines that rests on the crest of the hill. Its tail is black. It, too, is rambling, nose scuffling the ground. It suddenly freezes, front right paw in the air. Did it notice me? I follow its gaze to see another student, earbuds in, walking briskly into the cemetery from the farther path. The woodchuck’s nose twitches nervously. The student keeps walking, oblivious, and the woodchuck jumps into the brush. A small bird flies into the leaves above that, too quick for me to identify, and then I lose sight of it in the density–surely its intention, for predators must find it harder to see, too.

Another wave of wind rolls in. The forest leaves float on the swell, creating a surge of their own music. Just as I have that thought, another student walks by, right past where the woodchuck was. His harmonica chimes in cheerily. The clouds cover the sun, providing a bit more shade. A blue jay calls down the hill.

The shadows of the trees become more and less distinct as the cloud overhead passes under the sun; it is a large one made of many wispy clumps. The grass is dry and browned, but greener closer to the base of the tree.  Does the shade keep it from drying out?

After the aforementioned aphid, an ant crawled up my leg, and now a spider smaller than a grain of rice. I like that. To be like this tree supporting me–it sustaining so many different creatures. Although unfortunately, unlike the tree, I cannot be their permanent home, for I will soon be on another path.

The spider is perched on the shoelace of my hiking boot now. It wipes its eyes with two tiny legs, then hops gracefully and almost instantaneously onto the loop of the lace, across an inch-wide gap! Now it is investigating the edges of the black rubber treads near the bottom and I am reminded to step lightly on this Earth.

I wiggle my toe and the spider’s whole world shifts. Can you imagine if you were on a mountain, and it suddenly rocked side to side? I suppose a spider must be used to this, as a tiny creature making its life in the corners of a giant world. Or am I simply a giant trying to make a life in a world of tiny things I don’t understand? Or on the scale of the whole Earth, are we both equally miniscule, exploring and interacting, struggling to coexist?

But right now it doesn’t feel like we are trying, like it’s complicated or weary or hard. For this moment, we simply inter-are*.


*The word “interbeing” was coined by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, representing the idea that all life is interconnected and inter-dependent; everything “inter-is.”


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