This is a letter I wrote to the Miami Student newspaper in March, 2015 before the installation of “Cornucopia, Utopia, Dystopia”.
Today I walked into Upham Hall. I took the entrance near Bishop Woods. I saw the throngs bustling along. I saw people focused on their cell phones and engrossed in their conversations. I saw an empty bench facing the Upham Arch looking solemnly across the large manicured lawn. It reminds me of an empty pew in an old church. I find it ironic that the Bishop Woods sit behind this pew.
Of course, my mind goes to the recent debate over how the Bishop Woods should be treated and I think of the many baptisms of “the Bishop”. I think of its origins. I think of the shack that the poet in residence Percy MacKaye lived in at the center of Bishop Woods while he penned “The Trees of Miami”. I think of the many times Miami University Presidents have named the goals of preserving the natural beauty of the area. Ellen Blevens quoted President Shriver as saying “We wanted the paths, as long as they were inconspicuous and didn’t disrupt too much plant life.”
I think of purpose in what we do and what the Bishop Woods preach to us at Miami, and what our handling of the woods would tell of us. I see the Botany Graduate Students with undergraduates in tow periodically on campus, sharing the life history and characteristics of the campus plants. They focus on the native trees in a dendrology course or impress upon students the way natural growth and succession would work. Bishop woods is the last asylum for this type of community on campus.
Now, I think of how far I have to walk to find a natural area on campus. I think of the logistics to get a group of students out to any natural area even the Bishop woods, as close as it is, perhaps fifteen minutes of class time between meeting in class and walking there, maybe more, but worth it. These students do see the woods. They see it intimately and in all its minute and immense glory. Bishop woods is a place for learning about a subject that, on this campus can only be taught in Bishop Woods.
Let us compare the value of these woods to more sidewalks, seating and mowable areas. I see the throngs walk past the woods, on their phones and engrossed in conversation. They do not see the woods. They are not looking for a place to sit in the woods. I challenge those in charge to weigh the costs of paying for installation and maintenance of seating areas and mowing of the proposed grasses into perpetuity, against the lost learning objectives. Take the time to consider the portion of the syllabus dedicated to these topics and multiply by the students enrolled in all these classes. I challenge them to survey the seating that sits empty around campus on beautiful days like today. What do we need? What do the students need? What values do we hold in our hearts? Where do the needs of our unique students lie?
Here is the link to the online page.