Livable futures field school students reflect on their experiences in the bayou.
Of Planting and Trusting
by Vince Bella
Undergraduate students are often expected to seek out new life experiences by trying things that they never thought that they would be able to do. These ventures are often spontaneous and outside of the students’ comfort zones, which for me usually includes a preference to stay out of the mud and extreme heat. Although I may never have thought I’d ever be planting cut-grass in the bayous of Louisiana, I am grateful for the chance to try something wildly different from the routines of traditional classrooms.
As an English major training to be a high school teacher, I rarely am required to think about the effects of land loss in wetlands; I also don’t usually have to get muddy for my classes. However, spending a day wading through waist-deep water (and trying in vain to ignore the sulfuric stench) taught me some valuable lessons that I can easily connect to my future career. School-teachers are, in fact, not very different from gardeners—both are in the businesses of planting and trusting. What stood out to me most about the work that I did in the wetlands—beyond the fact that getting muddy isn’t always a bad thing—is that I likely won’t ever see the results of my labor. There is a slim chance that I will ever return to these exact plots of cut-grass and see the larger plants that they eventually grow into; I just have to trust that my work was good and that the plants will continue to grow without my aid. A metaphorized version of these lessons is a large part of the reason I want to teach young people. I will “plant” my knowledge of literature and life in the minds of my students, but after the school year concludes they will no longer be my students. I will have to trust that the students will continue to grow without my support—and, after my experiences in Louisiana, I have no doubt that they will.
Reflections on Planting Grasses in the Marsh
by Genevieve Wagner
Today was muddy and messy, but so much fun. We planted grasses, including cutgrass and bulrush, that will strengthen the coastal marshes on the New Orleans coast. It was a strange but cool experience to be in these marshes. They reminded me of marshes or swamps I’d drive past while on childhood road trips out towards the east coast. While passing, I’d always wonder: What’s inside there? How deep is it? If you got really stuck in the mud, could you get sucked into the depths of the marsh, forever? All of these questions were answered during our planting journey.
After taking a 20-minute boat ride, we stopped on the coast of a lush marsh and began planting grasses in the water. We planted cutgrass close to the coast and bulrush about 20 feet out from shore. Wrapping around the coast of the marsh, we trudged on our knees and sank our hands into the soft murky ground to plant a bulb of grasses every 5 feet or so. At the beginning, I wondered what creatures or absurdities we’d encounter in the water; the worry of sinking below the mud and water bobbed tenaciously in the back of my mind. Yet, the whole process was relaxing and refreshing, and I felt myself get more and more comfortable with being submerged in the mud and warm water for hours at a time.
At the end of our excursion through marsh and water, I felt a greater connection to nature. The beauty of the space we were working in humbled me, as I found myself in awe of the strength and cyclical nature of the marsh. The way each water beetle, splotch of sea-weed, and bulb of grass worked in harmony with one another further engrained the importance of protecting these coastal marshes.