Arbor Day(s) or Combite 2013

2013-04-20 09.12.34

Today (April 20-2013) we began with 2013 Arbor Day activities. The first group of students from this year’s class (Issues in World History: African Diaspora) planted the first trees along Willard Dr. SE— about 40 of them. We ended our planting with a celebratory trip to Carole Lee Donuts!  The Blacksburg Town‘s office of recreation makes this possible.

This link for last year’s Arbor Day activities.

As with other years, I offered students a rationale for their involvement.

The objective is to give back to the community at large as an enjoyable and practical way of learning about World History and the African Diaspora.

This hands-on instruction intends to engage students’ learning with some of the industrialization’s unintended effects: its impact on the forests (why most trees around are young?), and the spark of the (romantic) movement for reforestation on industrializing nations (i.e., National Parks).

Yet, the most important goal is to get students involved in local communities as a historical lesson that highlights the ethos of many Black communities across the diaspora, and help them appreciate the differences and similarities between our present experience and the way people thought and lived in the past.

The assumption is that our present-day attitudes toward community differ substantially from that of many people in the past (and from people living in other parts of the contemporary world).  Western World’s main cultural currents emphasize individual needs rather than community cooperation. But the historical record seems to show that most people in the past view their existences in more fragile terms, and thus relied on a more collective ethos for survival (networks are more powerful than individuals). Several scholars, including Patrick Manning, have suggested that the African Diaspora have broadly shared a spirit of cooperation, collectivity, and equality. These traits are evident in the performance of Afro-Diasporans cultural events, early political organizations, and even on its commonly simple (if any) social hierarchy.

A good example of this collective ethos is the combite (convite in Spanish), dokpwe or fagina. These terms refer to communal and reciprocal forms of labor. The first term is still common in Haiti (in the D.R. It has taken a more festive meaning); the second in West Africa; and the third among Central American Mayans. These traditions have often brought all able-persons to work on a job that would eventually benefit the entire community. Workers would often perform their work, not in isolation but in groups or gangs. The Haitian combite has a reputation for its feast-like nature marked by upbeat singing as men would work the land for cultivation and women would prepare food for many. At the conclusion of a day’s work in a combite people would join in a party of celebration. As with the dokpwe and fagina, Haitians in these communities would derive a powerful sense of belonging through this type of collaboration.

Maureen Warner Lewis tells us about the combite:


Maureen Warner-Lewis, Central Africa in the Caribbean: Transcending Time, Transforming Cultures (Kingston: Univ. of the West Indies Press, 2003), 65.

Walter Goldschmidt provides this explanation about the Dahomey society and the dokpwe:

Dahomean Dokpwe

Walter Goldschmidt, Exploring the Ways of Mankind (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 197), 313.

So, by planting trees for the Blacksburg community without expecting a direct compensation, I aim for students to appreciate these traditional practices in the African Diaspora. Understanding the ethos of cooperation underlying these practices also helps to perceive the historically persistent call for Pan-Africanism, or cooperation among Afro-Diasporans across national boundaries (i.e., W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey).

This concept of society is perhaps similar to the way we understand the ecosystem in the natural world–of a society built on broad dynamic cooperation and reciprocity rather than on defining limits of freedom. Our Arbor Day activity, then, endeavors to bring students closer to appreciating the historical and cultural gap that separates us from the people we are studying, and perhaps, fit them with the necessary critical-thinking tools to become independent thinkers in the society in which they now lives.

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39 thoughts on “Arbor Day(s) or Combite 2013

  1. Marcy H. Schnitzer

    Thoughts raised by this lesson in “convites”:

    The critical piece of this activity will be how students begin to think and critique the individual ethos. I have found in my classes that for most this is a piece of information. To think themselves outside of individualism, and thereby into a different mode of being (typically in the context of East v. West ethical views), is too difficult for most. I often use the analogy, how does a fish know what water is? So in the context of your class, this seems a fitting culmination, to think about the class as a community, or convite. This of course depends upon how the activity is unpacked and discussed in class.

    Second – my own critique relates to the single event nature of the project. I have a question about how and whether students learn from one day of service. Are students able to think of service as an ongoing commitment or relationship with community? What is community? Do they see themselves as outside givers or members? “I did a good thing!” vs. I see myself in a broader context. I see myself as part of the problem/solution. I begin to see the world in shades of gray – I planted a tree, now what? I find this hard to get across without frustrating students who are (rightly) happy with their accomplishment.

    Third – is there a risk of “essentializing” the African diaspora as communal? I ask because I wonder if I run the same risk via east/west distinctions.

    Hope this is not too skeptical!

    1. johng90

      I loved this activity. For understandable reasons, very few classes allow you to actually get out and do something, especially something productive in the community. It was a lot of fun to get out and work with my hands to do something helpful. Every small thing like this is necessary to counter the world trend of taking from our environment and not giving anything back.

    2. masona7

      To see yourself as only an individual is almost impossible today, in my opinion. We are always part of something, and we always identify with it whether it’s a conscious effort or not (like that mentioned by Mrs. Schnitzer). This identifier, whatever it may be at the time, is what really fuels projects like the Arbor Day activity and it creates a greater sense of accomplishment when you have others along side you. This may have been an assigned portion to the course but it was far beyond any assignment, it was an opportunity instead. I think this ties directly into the second question posed. The identifying with something more gives an outlet but you do get a selfish sort of inner pride from good deeds, everyone does and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is the fruit of our labor and what keeps us continuing to do things like this project; if we didn’t have the inner motive/feeling then we wouldn’t continue with work like this because there would be no satisfaction in it. Lastly, if I understand the question correctly, the African Diaspora and a communal drive behind it is more about awareness than anything else. That aspect of historical development has had so much agency removed from the people that they are constantly seen as victims instead of survivors, and their accomplishments go unnoticed because of the veil cast. Learning about the diaspora is essential to creating the distinctions, which are not a bad thing necessarily . Those distinctions keep us from having a narrow scope, and makes us realize that there is more than one perspective out there; and that is what is necessary in order to eliminate ignorance, prejudice, predispositions, etc.

    3. glenvan2013

      Arbor day is really about recognizing the community you belong to and communities you may not realize are there. I really enjoyed this activity because I love to get my hands dirty. My only regret from it is that it did not last all day. This was but a taste of what we could have done but hopefully our impact will take hold in the future.

      I believe that one day of service is not enough to teach someone about community or impacts, but it can be a place to start or continue. As with all things in education, we can learn or get started in one environment but actually understanding and incooprporation will only happen on the students own time. What I think is best achieved from an activity like this is that immersion and accessibility to service. Once we recognize that working with the community can happen on a daily basis, that is where students truly learn.

      As with anything also, we should recognize people, societies, and communities for who they are. It is easy to fall into the trap of classification and assumptions, however if we make genuine efforts to empathize with people and think about situations from multiple lenses, the risks of stereotyping dramatically drops. As such while we can easily classify communities in the Africa diaspora as communal, this may not always be the case and as students and human beings we should always be open to different ideas.

  2. vjosh92

    I enjoyed Arbor Day and felt that I was making a difference by planting trees with a bunch of wonderful people. It was a good feeling to give back to the environment and as historians it is important to realize that the future is equally as important as the past. By planting these trees we have made the earth a better place for the generation to come. I had a great time on Saturday and am glad to have had the opportunity to do something good for the town of Blacksburg.

  3. Krista Durham

    I personally really enjoyed this activity. Although I was originally not looking forward to waking up early on a Saturday morning, I loved being able to be involved in something the Blacksburg community has come together to accomplish. I am excited to come back in a few years and see those trees still standing there.

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  6. chrisnj2013

    I thought the Arbor Day activity was a great way to get together and give back to the community. It gave us a chance to work collectively in groups and get to know each other better while doing service that will have future benefits. This helps put us out of the individual ethos and into the broader context to realize that we are members of the Blacksburg community. By planting trees I felt a greater sense of connection to the Blacksburg community because I was choosing to become more involved through volunteering, which will benefit community members by attracting more wildlife.

  7. Rebecca Williams

    The thought often crosses my mind considering the focus on “individual” versus “community,” and I always wonder about the attitudes of people today compared to those over the course of history, varying from culture to culture, having to do with these focuses. I think that an activity like this is so beneficial for a class like ours to come together to do because of the feeling we get coming away from it – yes, this may be fleeting at times – but I truly do think that a lot of good can come from it. Personally, I take experiences like these and store them away in my mind, remembering the sense of gladness it gave me to think of how many people would enjoy the newly-forested area once it grew tall. I think that, while singular experiences like these may seem simply like fleeting senses of do-good-ing, they stick with a person or group of people and change their attitudes for the better in the long run.

  8. lamador11

    I really enjoyed planting trees on Thursday at the old landfill. The fact that by planting these trees in area that used to be a dumping ground we are helping give back to Mother Nature by building habitats for our wildlife. This will help maintain the existence of our beloved wildlife. Trees benefit everybody positively by producing oxygen and maintain CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The trees will also make the plot of the land behind the baseball field a more admiring site to view than dead shrubs. Besides these trees being appreciated by countless generations but the sense of doing good for the community is an awarding experience. For planting trees with fellow community members gives a sense of hope for the good in humanity. To collectively do something for the benefit of our Earth and our fellow citizens is something more people,including myself, took part in.

  9. Katelyn Sturgill

    I fell in love with Blacksburg and its environment almost instantly when I stepped on campus for the first time as a small girl, little did I know at the time that I would be able to one day become apart what I consider the best school in this country. I was more than happy to give back to this wonderful town that I now call home. Arbor day was just one of the many opportunities I am glad to have been apart of this year in giving back to the Blacksburg area. Arbor day was quite different from the other activities I have been involved in, such as Big Event or service projects with the RLC. Even though planting the trees on the side of the hill was somewhat challenging, the experience of knowing that these trees would be there for future generations was rewarding and made it well worth the few hours of hard work. Planting trees is such a simple way to help out the community and I shall being doing it in my years to come here at Tech.

  10. johng6

    In response to Marcy H. Schnitzer’s second question I believe that while these single event times of performing community service does help that one specific place because of the actions performed, it does not effect the people performing the service especially if it not voluntary community service.

    When I compare this past Saturday when I planted trees for a required part of my class to when I spent a my own money to go to the Dominican Republic for a week to help a coastal community along with some of my friends they are not even close to the same thing. When I was in the Dominican republic I lived with the community that I was serving, I spent my time and money to be there not because someone else required me to go but because I wanted to. I came out of that week with a real sense of how just a few people can make a change, and I learned that it felt amazing to serve people and actually see the effect you have on their lives. whether its building a community building next to a small dirt base ball field in the Dominican Republic with the local children constantly asking for you to come play baseball with them, or cleaning out a flooded and destroyed house in New Orleans after Katrina, or building a house for a family in Mexico who just had their first child. Service where you can see the difference not only helps others but also changes yourself.

    I realize this was probably poorly formatted but I kind of just vomited my life experiences onto the keyboard…

  11. johng90

    I loved this activity. For understandable reasons, very few classes allow you to actually get out and do something, especially something productive in the community. It was a lot of fun to get out and work with my hands to do something helpful. Every small thing like this is necessary to counter the world trend of taking from our environment and not giving anything back.

  12. Allison Munter

    I have never really celebrated Arbor Day before, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to get together with other students to plant trees. This is not something I am sure that I would do by myself, and having others around focused on providing a future for the New River Valley was a fun experience. As we were trying not to fall down the hill, I could really feel us connecting as a group through this shared activity while helping the community at the same time. Planting the trees was both challenging and rewarding, and I feel like I have a greater appreciation for the environmental projects that I see around the area. I sincerely hope that the saplings we planted are able to become a stable part of the community in Blacksburg . Virginia Tech and the surrounding towns have given me so much during my three years as a student here, and I am only too happy to be able to help give something back. I am sure that I will remember this experience for a long time, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to participate in this event.

  13. Carmen Bolt

    I am very happy to have been able to participate in the Arbor Day Project with other members of the Critical Issues classes. As much as we students (myself included) hate to admit it, sometimes we can get bogged down in work/get our priorities mixed up, and forget to look for ways to take the opportunity to give back to a community. Blacksburg has housed us and our crazy college madness, and we should always be looking for ways to improve and aid our “habitat”, so to speak. Similarly, participating in activities such as this one offer awesome opportunities to get to know people on a different level—one outside of the classroom sphere. People are much more inclined to loosen up and be much more candid, and once everyone begins to open up a bit, it initiates conversations at a much more personal level. Within the couple hours we spent out on a hill planting trees, I learned more about my classmates than I had throughout the course of an entire semester. So, apart from the services we provided, this project was beneficial in a number of ways, and it makes me want to look for other opportunities to participate and open the door for other, equally beneficial experiences. Of course, as Ms. Schnitzer inquired in her second question, does this immediate reaction necessarily mean I see myself in the broader context, rather than just thinking “I did a good thing”? I would respond yes. Just as this class has taught us to look at the interconnectedness of relationships throughout the African Diaspora, this project begs us to look at giving back to the environment and community as a dualistic relationship. We (humans) take a lot from nature, and therefore it is our responsibility to work to return something and give back something to nature, in order for this relationship to continue.

  14. jordano2

    This project was very heart warming and gave me a great sense of accomplishment. The Blacksburg community has been my home for 2 years and will continue to be for at least 3 more years, anyway that I can give back and leave a permanent mark on the town is a great thing. Planting trees not only benefits the community but it lasts for a very long time and helps the environment. It was a great project all the way around and it was a great way to bond with a lot of people in my class, and just make a lot of new friends.

  15. ccasey3

    I planted trees on Saturday morning, which was our third day as a class of planting trees. Although I have planted trees before, this time was especially difficult. Although our experience was in the present day, it was hard not to relate it back to the African Diaspora and especially the abolition movement. What I mean is, the abolition movement was an extremely fragile time in American history, at any point the people in power could have given up on giving Black Americans rights, and our world would be very different today. Similar to our landscaping, at any time we could have given up on the trees and they would have had no chance at survival. Although many would argue we as planters did not take near the same risk as the abolitions in their time and to that I would agree. However, do not think we came out of this unscathed. Although it may have been because of my antics the night before, but my pants definitely felt the repercussions from stumbling on the difficult terrain.

  16. Emily Cribb

    I enjoyed the fact that we were able to help out in planting trees along the golf course although it was rather cold outside it made the day interesting. This is not something that I would normally do, so making a change in my routine was good. Also I think that it will be cool to come back in a few years and look at some of the trees we planted and know that I helped plant some of them.

  17. Keli Anderson

    Many people can say they went to Virginia Tech but how many can say they left a lasting impression. Yes, some of you are in sororities and fraternities and maybe those composites will stay on the wall for a while but what does that actually do? Nothing. Participating in Arbor day for the first time really made me feel connected to the community. The trees we planted on the old landfill will be there in 20 years when I come back for football game and I can proudly tell my kids that I was the one who planted them. It’s those lasting impressions on the community that makes me feel like my time here at Tech was worthwhile. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the stresses of school work and as much as I might have hated having to get up at 8:30am on a saturday morning I’m really glad I did, I enjoyed every minute of it.

  18. Jeremy Burge

    Although I did not plant trees with the 3 main groups, I had an awesome time going afterwards with Professor Hidalgo to check on the trees previously planted. I do not have the chance to explore or get out much, but I was really excited to see some of the places where the trees were planted. The dog park and softball fields were so nice, it is hard to believe there used to be a landfill there. Also, Professor Hidalgo and I saw another huge park with a skate park, tennis courts, and more baseball fields. It was real nice getting to talk to Professor Hidalgo about random things while taking care of the planted trees and make sure they were doing alright. I can’t wait to come back in a few years and hopefully to see these trees starting to grow! It was nice to get the story of working in the groups that Professor Hidalgo talked to me about how they did similar activities and work in Africa.

  19. jordano2

    Futhermore going off of my last post, I loved that fact that I may be able to bring my family back to Blacksburg in 20 years and get to show them that I helped to plant all of the trees in the outfield. My partner and I tried to plant a lot of ours in center field so that they would be the easiest to remember and spot. I think it is also awesome that the area where we planted used to be a garbage dump of sorts. With all the destruction that the human race causes to the environment it is nice to see and be a part of people benefiting the earth and making such a drastic change. The project was also a phenomenal way to get to know people. Doing physical activities together with people is always a great bonding experience, such as sports or projects and this one was no different. Everyone helped one another carrying trees, mulch, and water to each other up the steep hill. It truly was a team effort and our team was extremely successful. At the end pf the day it gave me a sense of pride for our team and a new hope for people, realizing that when we put our minds to it we can actually make a benefiting difference to the Earth and our community instead of constantly hurting it.

  20. abbyreilly01

    I am bummed that I was unable to actually participate in the planting of the trees. Especially at the Tom’s Creek location. At first, I did not understand the importance of such an assignment. After seeing the erosion on the hill at Tom’s Creek, and realizing that it used to be a landfill, and talking with Professor Hidalgo, I understand the importance of such a project to the environment and to the community. One issue of importance is hopefully this new area will become a place for deer, which are overpopulated in the area, to go where they will not disturb humans, and a place where humans will not disturb the life processes of the deer. In regards to the future, I hope I can stay involved in such community projects in my next two years here at Virginia Tech. Projects, such as these are rewarding in so many ways!

    -Abigail Reilly

  21. virginiaphil

    Planting trees for Arbor Day may have been one of the most enriching experiences that I have had as a Virginia Tech undergrad. I have done numerous different community service activities, however I was never required through any of my courses to go out of my way and make the community a better place. Through this activity I found that I learned more about the community of Blacksburg then ever before. It was amazing to see both local Blacksburg residents as well as students of Virginia Tech to come together for a common cause. Not only did we plant trees to help not only beautify, but help the Blacksburg community, we also showed what it means to care about the place that we live in. I was extremely proud to do this activity and would not pass up the chance to do it again .

  22. Krista Durham

    Planting trees for Arbor was certainly an unexpected assignment for a History class. Although leading up to the assignment I couldn’t quite grasp the reasoning behind it, after participating I felt I better understood. Being able to create History that will be around for years to come is so rewarding.

    It was also a great opportunity to be involved in and give back to the Blacksburg community that has supported Virginia Tech and its thousands for college students over the years. It truly made me feel like a part of the Blacksburg community when I helped plant the trees.

    This experience reminds me of what our visitors in class today called “Service Learning”. It is one of those instances where hands on, physical action can teach you lessons you could never learn from a lecture.

  23. Drew (@dwhgriff)

    I liked this activity because it gave us a chance to make a lasting physical impact on history. Most Academic or professional accomplishments we make in out lives will fade away in at most a few years, but hopefully these tress will stand as a solid physical testament to good work that we have done and be around for many years after we all are gone. Also the community building activity that this was will hopefully tie us all a little bit closer now and in the future, a tight knit community is a strong one as was demonstrated throughout the many outposts of the African Diaspora.

  24. allisonmunter

    When Dr. Hidalgo first told us that we had an Arbor Day assignment, I was pretty confused. I understand the point of community service, but I had never had a school project that focused on planting trees and helping the environment. I was still a little skeptical when I arrived at Tom’s Creek Park, but when Dr. Hidalgo explained the importance of community cooperation and we began to work together, I feel like I got a better understanding of the ethos of African communities much more than if we had just discussed it in a classroom setting. It was nice to see how our work and service could turn out to be fun as a group instead of focusing on the individual. At the beginning of the day I did not know many of the students who came to the park, but during the short time we spent together I feel like we established a relationship through the shared experience of Arbor Day. This assignment really helped me appreciate the practices of the African diaspora, and I feel much closer to the people and groups that we have been studying. While I still am not exceptionally close to my classmates who I met through the project, I do feel as though we are more of a community because we engaged in this service activity. One day of service was enough to introduce the concept on convite, but it is hard to visualize yourself as part of a solution to a larger problem without an extended project that continues to give back to the community. Dr. Schnitzer asks if there is a risk of essentializing the African diaspora as communal, and I think for some people that risk exists. I feel as though I first studied the diaspora through individual leaders, and this semester has led me to bring both the individual and the community together to create a larger picture of the African people and culture. Also, I believe that the communal structure is very similar to western cultures that I have studied. We may think of ourselves as individuals, but for thousands of years humans have worked together to benefit the entire community with a single leader sometimes emerging to provide a specific focus or promote a principle that they feel carries significance.

  25. svaile15

    In the past I have never celebrated Arbor Day in the correct fashion. Although I am a lover of the earth and an environmentalist, I have never actually planted a tree before. When I first heard about this opportunity in the beginning of the semester, I became very excited and looked forward to volunteering. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a baby tree looked like- I actually thought it would look more like a seed than a root! I learned more about applying yourself to better the environment, and more about how important community service is. With more people avidly participating, the world could return to its youthful, green state it once was. I am thankful for the opportunity to celebrate Arbor Day with a professor who is passionate about the environment and who loves being outdoors. And, the donuts were the cherry on top to a wonderful event!

  26. Andrew J. Rooney

    Before this project, I had no idea what arbor day really was. At first, I thought that it was quite unusual for us to be plating trees for a history class. Although simplified and symbolic, it was easy to connect the community service we did to the actions of people in the early phases of the African diaspora. When an individual does an community service, everybody benefits and that will be especially true for the trees that we planted. I feel like in today’s society, community service are working for the greater good is not as prevalent as it used to be. It was good to come together as a group and achieve a goal as one. Although we had different goals than the individuals of the African diaspora we achieved our goals with the same methods. Because of this, this was a very good learning experience for classroom purposes and it was something that we did that gave back to the community.

  27. rjones192013

    I can honestly say that I truly enjoyed participating in planting tress. For me it was a new type of experience. I had never even imagined of planting a tree before this day. I felt like I was helping out a community which I live in which made it meaningful to me. Everybody who participated with me on the day stated how they wished they could come back and see how our trees had grown. I feel we all embody a sense of community here in Blacksburg as well as Hokies rather than just volunteering to help. I think many of us grew in character by realizing that the place that has encompassed and gathered us all here for many different reasons there are underlying aspects that relate us together. One being the environment. The beauty enjoyed by students as well as residents has value in all of our hearts. Knowing that what we were doing would have a lasting long term impact was very important in my eyes. Us planting trees on a dumping ground shows how anything can be revived r even renovated with the right type of attitude. Even if the impact had by everyone who helped out is great or minuscule on a scale I feel it was influential because it helped to improve the quality of the environment as well as improve the character which we all hold within.

  28. Sean Plunkett

    I found this project to be very unique compared to projects in other classes I have been a part of, as well as gratifying- to not only our African Diaspora classes, but also to the Blacksburg community as a whole. I can say personally, as well as for the small group I was apart of during the early Saturday morning of April the 27th, we felt privileged and honored to give back to a community of a future Blacksburg whose present community members support us so regularly. It was satisfying to know that with what trees we were able to plant, that much more oxygen and forestry will be available to those who come to play at the park. With all of the trees and forestry surrounding the Blacksburg area, it is very easy to take for granted the necessity these trees provide for us on a day to day basis. In my group of 7, including Professor Hidalgo, we were each able to plant 4-6 trees each (on an artificial hill) which made the process of digging arduous and a struggle, yet made the end result all the more satisfying. The lasting impact of these trees, even if gone unnoticed by most, will positively increase the community, and possibly the individuals of Blacksburg as a whole. The Arbor Day project that we were apart of instilled in each of us the emphasis of “we” before “I” and “us” before “self”- which strongly characterized the African Diaspora and its members each and everyday. I am truly appreciative of our chance to engage in an outdoor, community service type event, and will carry the lessons, mindset, and attitude learned from this project throughout the rest of my life.

  29. boggsellen

    I fully enjoyed the Arbor Day activity. No other class has presented a project like this to me; it’s always about the curriculum and assigned work for that particular class. In a sense, that makes each class I take an individual being–and Dr. Hidalgo’s class went beyond itself as an individual class and gave us an opportunity to be an active part in the Blacksburg community. I also enjoyed meeting other people from the 12:30 section, which extended the group of people I associate with this class. Planting trees with these people helped me foster a better sense of community within that group along with performing a service for Blacksburg. It was great to get outside and do something beneficial for others, and I look forward to visiting that spot again to see our trees.

  30. Kat Bosley (@kbosley)

    My participation in this Arbor Day project resulted in a greater significance than I had predicted. Alongside members of my class, while meeting fellow students from the other African Diaspora history class, a sense of community presented itself. Not only was this an opportunity to give back to the Blacksburg community, a community in which many students of Virginia Tech have taken advantage of, overlooking the world outside of Virginia Tech. By planting trees we not only gave back to the environment that has somewhat ‘raised’ us but we also learned about Blacksburg itself. From the history of the land to conversations of community improvement, I felt that I became more of my surroundings. Awkward at first but later bonding through candid conversations, involving the physical labor and what we had learnt from the class itself, my peers and I came together. What is most significant from this experience was how the interconnectedness presented itself. We are not just students who happen to be taking this class. We are not just students of Virginia Tech. We are not just temporary Blacksburg residents. We are a hybrid of so many different cultures that come together as one. Through these relationships something greater may occur, seen in this Arbor Day activity by benefiting the land on which we tread.

  31. Justin Kuhn

    I remember exactly what Professor Hidalgo had said to me and my classmates before we began to plant numerous trees behind the hence at a baseball fiend that had been polluted due to it previous being a dumping zone. He told us that our kids may be playing here if we remained in Blacksburg, perhaps even our grandchildren would be here with these trees. IT got me thinking to myself, “Well, I most certainly do want the best environment for my kids to grow up in. I want them to be in a luscious green, clean place- a place where they would even raise their kids”. With the kinds of events we were to participate in over the course of this semester in this class, I had never felt more involved with my community that I have at any other time in my life. I grew up in a large city, where trees are found nowhere else other than in a box of mulch on the sidewalks, and each tree is planted symmetrically alongside the roads. My city is far from green– its filled with industry, smog, etc. Would I happily raise my kids there? No. I’d much rather have them see the blissful, green nature that we all had seen so long ago. I’d rather them live in this area, with the well-kept baseball field, and the new trees behind that fence. Arbor Day has allowed me to extend my endeavor to make industrial areas a littler greener, a little more attractive to future generations. Making the world a better place is an enormous challenge, but we all must start somewhere. And Blacksburg is where I had started. Thanks, Professor, for making this happen.

  32. liz5419

    I agree with Professor Schnitzer that this activity could be difficult to establish convite due to the short term nature of the project. It’s great that people feel good about planting trees and giving back to the community, but I understand her concern that people may just feel “good” because of planting some trees and not actually develop a sense of legitimate connection to the community of Blacksburg and each other. I think it is a great idea to incorporate community service into the class as some students may not get the opportunity otherwise. As long as students use this event as a means of realizing their impact and connection to the community of Blacksburg I think it serves a valuable purpose other than just benefitting the environment by planting trees. Trying to get our Western society to get beyond the emphasis on the individual is a indeed a difficult task. If not this specific event, I do think the way our class was structured embraced the idea of convite. In our group projects and assignments in class it was necessary for us to work together as a community of students to help each other learn. After reading the comments it seems as though the arbor day activities are working toward the goal that Professor Hidalgo is seeking. Even if just a spark is created to get students to consider what it means to be part of a community and the importance of embracing their role in it, I’d consider it a success. I definitely enjoyed participating and was glad to be a part of this movement in Blacksburg, so I certainly hope this tradition continues.

  33. Brian Muller

    It was a complete joy to participate in the Arbor Day tree-planting activity at Tom’s Creek. The physical nature of the work was a welcome alternative to the intellectual but sedentary nature of classwork. I enjoyed getting to know my classmates better outside the walls of institutional learning. Professor Hidalgo leads by example, inspiring us, and challenging us to leave our comfort zone and think critically. Sometimes the best way to foster such analysis is to create a quiet space or tackle a methodical task like tree-planting. With the peace of the outdoors and the simplicity of the labor, our thoughts wander to places they are perhaps unable to reach during the regular humdrum of our scheduled existences. The purpose of our task transcended the afternoon’s exertions. Each tree planted represents the roots we put into our communities–an ownership, a responsibility, an investment. While I live in Christiansburg, I have felt an ever-deeper connection to the greater-Blacksburg community during my time at Virginia Tech. Having observed the Tom’s Creek park and taken part in an effort to sustain it by enhancing the surrounding wild areas, I felt convicted that Christiansburg needs places like this. And yet, there is an even greater calling. As humans, we belong to a Global community. With it comes the awesome responsibility of being stewards of the Earth. Historically, humans tend to leave deep scars in the Earth. We consume without replenishing. Nearly square inch of the globe now shows the signs of a human presence. This approach has worked more or less for thousands and thousands of years. However, as we reach critical mass, resources threaten to become scarce or gone entirely. A change of thinking must precede any change of living. And yet, sometimes our thinking can be changed by the doing. The Arbor Day project is an example of this. I hope this project continues and similar projects are created in the future.

  34. rmb286

    I enjoyed getting out and planting a few trees. As some one who loves nature I feel that it is very important to preserve it. Doing small acts like this not only help nature but the people who live in the area. Often when we strip the land of resources it forces the wild animals to adapt to urban life. They can cause problem from eating from gardens or flower beds. There is also the possibility that it can endanger human lives as larger animals invade homes or get hit by vehicles. People should seek to help their community with projects like Arbor Day. However, if this class project was meant to try to get people involved I fear it is not going to succeed at this goal. I know it is hard to get a class project that will really impact people a persons perspective but if it is what you seek you need to find something that they can see the impact immediately. If you can’t do one with immediate effects try a shock tactic where they may have seen picture but never seen it in real lives.

  35. Lauren Sands

    I participated in the Arbor Day project on May Day, Wednesday May 1, 2013. Although Brittany Dodson and I were unable to plant any trees, we were able to cover the roots of the recently transplanted trees and proceed to water them. Before this project, I had a passive understanding of erosion and the effects it can have on land. I understood that erosion could lead to deadly mudslides but actively making an effort to cease such a natural force was more powerful than merely reading about it. I am now more interested in nature conservation and I hope I have the chance to plant more baby trees in the future. It was interesting to see a sparse hillside with newly planted trees scattered across it, thanks to the efforts of college students. I hope to follow up in a few weeks or months and see how they grow and sustain in the summer weather.

  36. Brittany Dodson

    Last week, I participated in the Arbor Day project alongside my good friend Lauren Sands. We arrived at the Toms Creek Park only with the knowledge that we were going to “plant trees to prevent erosion. Shortly after our arrival, Dr. Hidalgo went into to greater detail about how this project would not only help us help the environment, but also would help us pretend we were in the place of the field laborers in the countries amongst the Caribbean Sea. He told us of how the workers would dress in nice clothes and work in the fields until it was too hot to continue on. He also told of their siestas and parties that would that would start at a time that would seem ridiculous to people of our generation. These people had to do whatever they could to support themselves and their families.
    In regards to actually planting the trees, we did not plant any because our classmates who had come to the park earlier had already planted them all. We watered them and would cover up any visible roots. There was not protective covering provided, so some of the trees did not receive that extra protection. Hidalgo told us how the area that we were on was once a landfill. Walking up the steep hill, you could actually see where erosion was taking place. It was very obvious. We were also told that some of our trees may not survive if the roots continue to be exposed or deer could possibly chew on the saplings that were not protected. In conclusion, this project not only helped us help the environment, but it also put us into the shoes of the people we are learning about a trying to understand.


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