The Trees That Stood the Test of Time

“It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries … God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools.” -John Muir

 

Four years ago around this time of year, I was visiting Sequoia National Park for the first time. It was certainly a life-changing experience for me, an experience that got me interested in the national parks and in learning about sequoia trees.

Giant sequoias are the most fascinating, most miraculous living things I’ve ever seen in real life. The way they are created and the way they live on for thousands of years, facing drought, snow, fire –and today they are still standing, admired by millions.

John Muir described them best. “I never saw a Big Tree that had died a natural death. Barring accidents they seem to be immortal, being exempt from all diseases that afflict and kill other trees,” he wrote in a travel journal. “Unless destroyed by man, they live on indefinitely until burned, smashed by lightning, or cast down by storms, or by the giving way of the ground on which they stand.”

As I’ve grown more interested in science, and specifically in the environment and agriculture, I’ve learned that the greatest threat to sequoia trees is people. But we won’t be chopping them down and using their wood, or carving a hole in them so we can drive through — the threat that we’re creating is climate change.

According to a 2013 article by science journalist Bruce Dorminey, sequoias are being threatened by a combination of increased temperatures and diminished snowpack. Nate Stephenson, an ecologist, was quoted in the article saying: “In 100 years time, we could lose most of the big sequoias.”

It’s pretty baffling to me that something as permanent as a sequoia tree — which has lived through centuries, to see countries rise and fall, to see hundreds of snowfalls and fires and everything in between — could be toppled in just one century, not by something like a lightning strike or a disease, as Muir pondered, but by something humans are causing.

And what would Muir himself think? Recently, I’ve been reading John Muir’s My First Summer in the SierraIt’s an incredible thing to read purely for Muir’s elaborate and beautiful descriptions of nature. He had so much admiration for every little aspect of nature — the wind, the sound of a nearby stream, the movements of squirrels, lizards, and birds. He had such an appreciation for the smallest, most seemingly insignificant things, that someone else might not pay attention to, and I think about all the thoughts he surely had about these grand, enormous sequoia trees that are larger than life.

Reading his accounts also made me think about my own writing, and in science journalism, how I might use the appeal to the senses and to human emotion that Muir uses so effortlessly. Maybe writing about nature in this way could drive people to go see these places and work to save them, and make people more aware of the challenges these places face and the challenges that are ahead.

I often scroll through my Twitter feed and see article after article about a new temperature record being broken, raging wildfires, ocean acidification…the list goes on and on. And I’ve heard about these problems so often that they’ve become so familiar. I feel like I could easily explain them to someone I know. That’s the impact journalism has. Sure, it can seem excessive when you keep hearing about the same things related to climate change, but then you’re aware. And it becomes part of common language. And that’s when change can happen.

There is surely much more at stake than just the giant sequoias when it comes to climate change. Yet, it would be heartbreaking to see these trees that have stood the test of time be broken by something that we caused. It gives me hope knowing that it’s a problem many are researching and working on, and that there are dedicated science journalists there covering it along the way.

 

 

Leaving London 

As I write this blog post on the nine-hour flight back home, I’m once again grateful for my experiences traveling abroad, but more importantly, I’m grateful for the people I got to spend this past week with and the memories we share together.

 

Pic by Michelle 🙂

 

Before this trip, I only knew one other student who would be traveling with me to London for the first time. By the end of this week, I’ve made so many new friends and had so many fun times and laughs with my fellow media students.

But we began the trip on a sad note. The terrorist attacks in Brussels, which happened exactly one year after I arrived in that same airport for my Belgium trip, really shook me up. As I explored the city for the first full day with my new friends, I couldn’t help but think about all the lives lost and the people affected for such senseless reasons. It made me appreciate that I live in a world where people come together in unity after such horrible events, and that together we can overcome these things.

As the week went on, I realized the importance of enjoying the experience of traveling, not just running around from place to place, making sure you hit all the sights, and not stopping to enjoy the atmosphere and the people around you. Several times this week I had to almost pinch myself and tell myself I was in London, a city I’d seen in movies and had only dreamed of visiting.

But more importantly, I was visiting such a great city and getting to see it with such great people. I laughed so much on this trip; it was a good break from the crazy stress of college to be able to see new things and enjoy new friends.

Some of my favorite memories from the trip included:

Our first tube ride and a selfie to commemorate it

Making a pit stop at King’s Cross station to take a picture that every Harry Potter fan needs

Faking British accents while we visited Buckingham Palace

Getting scared by a bunch of pigeons in Oxford

Exploring the fun shops in the Covered Market in Oxford

Crossing Abbey Road (check out my friend Michelle’s blog for confirmation of how excited I was)

And all of the ridiculous inside jokes we made within the span of a week.

I had an incredible time and I am so grateful that I became so close with the group of girls traveling with me. I’m so glad we’ll have these amazing memories to cherish for the rest of our lives.

London Day 5 – A Beatles Fan in London

What a day. It was our last full day in London, but I checked off something that has been on my bucket list for years.

Finally, I crossed Abbey Road, replicating the epic album cover that is one of my favorites and from my favorite band of all time.

But first, we began our day at the British Museum, where I got to view artifacts from something else I’m obsessed with — Ancient Egyptology.

The British Museum

 

It was so incredible to view the Rosetta Stone and think about its significance.

 

The Rosetta Stone

 

But we only had a little over an hour to tour the museum, which is certainly not enough to view the massive collection. I’d love to go back someday, but I did see some pretty cool stuff while I was there.


After the museum, we pretty much made a beeline to Abbey Road, which is a bit out of the way but a must see for diehard fans like me. I pretty much freaked out thinking that I was walking on the site of an epic album cover, and I got to see the recording studio where the Beatles recorded. I’m the kind of overly obsessed Beatles fan who knows every little detail about them. Today, my dream came true. Now I only need to visit Liverpool.

 

The studio is still a working studio so unfortunately you can’t go in 😦

 

And my favorite Beatle is Paul McCartney, who happens to live just a short walk away at 7 Cavendish Avenue (yeah, that’s the extent of my obsession with the Beatles…I know their current addresses).

So I got to see Paul McCartney’s house and freak out a lot.

After that, I had to calm down a bit and then we headed to Shoreditch to do some shopping and see some really cool street art.

 

Shoreditch was great and the weather was beautiful

 

We had our final group dinner at Zaza’s, an Indian restauraunt near our hotel.

It’s hard to believe this was the last full day of our trip and that we’ll be leaving tomorrow. I can’t believe how much fun I’ve had with the great people I’ve been able to spend this week with.

 

 

London Day 4 – Exploring Oxford

We got a break from the bustling city of London today with a side trip to Oxford.

The hour long train ride was a great chance to get a look at some of the English countryside while getting a chance to sit and relax after a week of busy sightseeing.


When we got to Oxford, I was surprised by how cute and quiet the city was. But it felt like it was somewhere I could see myself living.


We met up with our tour guide, who was great and explained the fascinating history of the town and the university. It was especially interesting to hear about how unique Oxford University is and how different it is from American universities. But no matter what, it was incredibly beautiful – especially all the landscaping (and the centuries old buildings).


  

Also, a lot of the buildings in Oxford University were used as inspiration for sets of the Harry Potter movies.

After a tour, most of it in the sprinkling rain, we headed out on our own to explore to various shops in the town. We also ran into a beautiful covered market that I loved.

  

It was mostly a day of shopping and hanging out in Oxford. I got a chance to journal on the train ride and think about all we’ve done on the trip. And when we got back, we had an amazing dinner at a great Turkish place by our hotel.

London Day 3 – Rich History and Unexpected Surprises

Today was certainly a day filled with British history, monarchy, and lots and lots to look at. The history was almost hard to believe, and being surrounded by things that were so old and full of stories was incredibly cool.

We started at the Tower of London and had an entertaining little tour from a yeoman guard. We wandered around the tower for a few hours, viewing different parts and exhibits and taking a look at the Crown Jewels, which reminded me of that great scene in BBC Sherlock where Moriarty steals the Crown Jewels.

After the Tower of London, we shot over in the tube to Westminster Abbey, but before that we got our first glimpse at Big Ben, which is much more massive than I would’ve thought from pictures.

Everyone is quick to tell you that Ben is the bell in the tower, not the clockface.

 

Westminster Abbey was a complete sensory overload but fascinating to see where people like royal monarchs, then others like Geoffrey Chaucer, were laid to rest.

On our way out, we saw a man painting and struck up a conversation. He gave us some cute little prints of his work, which he signed. It was a nice little moment of a nice meeting with a stranger.

Then we went on a roundabout journey to find Buckingham Palace, which was not far, but we happened upon the Royal Horse Guards Parade, a daily occurrence of the guards being inspected that was quite a sight to see of pageantry and yelling.

 

We laughed for probably 10 minutes after this ceremony because all the screaming.

 

Finally, we made it to Buckingham Palace, and by that time my new London pal Michelle and I were well versed in our British accents, likely annoying our fellow travelers but having a lot of fun.

 

Buckingham Palace

 

It’s surreal to see places where so much history has occurred, where so much has gone on before you. And then you turn and see a city that is booming, busy, and modern.

Overall, it was a great day spent with friends, exploring and adventuring on our own and getting more acquainted to this great city.

London Day 2 – A Global Tragedy and a Beautiful City 

One year ago today, I was at the Brussels airport, arriving in Belgium for a week long trip that would be my first amazing experience abroad.

Today, I woke up in my hotel room in London to my roommate telling me there were explosions reported at the Brussels airport.

I was incredibly saddened to hear of the terrible attacks in Brussels this morning. Belgium is a country very close to my heart, the first country I visited outside of the states that I fell in love with quickly. It was surreal to think that if what happened today had happened a year ago, my experience could have been drastically different.

I followed the news on the BBC from my hotel room TV and then headed out to a sunny London morning to visit none other than the BBC Broadcasting House, where I saw a newsroom full of journalists researching and reporting on the attacks.

Although my limited internet access kept me from keeping up with the news, it was in the back of my mind all day. We visited Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, where a floor in the lobby gave me a sweet and simple reminder in the midst of the sad news today.

It was a beautiful, sunny day in London. We walked the cobblestone streets and I couldn’t help but admire just how great this city is.

 

Exploring Covent Garden

 

Russell Square

 

Then a group of my fellow travelers and I set out for our own adventure to Covent Gardens for shopping, eating, and finding our way home on the tube before stopping for a necessary picture at King’s Cross 9 and 3/4 platform.

 

Shops in Covent Garden

Tonight, after a long day of fun, laughter and adventures with friends in a great city, I am thinking of those in Belgium affected by the terrorist attacks today. But I am also resting, and I am thankful for this experience I am getting in a new city and a new country to fall in love with.

London Day 1: Walking the City


After long hours in an airport, a plane, and a bus, my first moments out and about in the city of London were wonderful.

On our bus ride from Heathrow to our hotel on London’s east end, I got a good orientation of what everything was like, but I was itching to just get out and see the city from its sidewalks. Finally, after resting up, our whole group set out on a walk that led us around The City, London’s financial district, which led us to sights such as the Tower Bridge, a glimpse at the Tower of London (which we’ll visit soon), and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Tower Bridge on the Thames River

 

St. Paul’s Cathedral with an iconic telephone booth.

 

The City truly feels like a city. We were warned early on that traffic does not stop for pedestrians or have sympathy for jaywalkers, and saw that as we were out walking. One after the other, red double-decker buses were speeding down the narrow streets. Even still, people heading home from work talked on cell phones and crossed streets with little regard for traffic. It was a little odd to see so much hustle and bustle amidst the elegant buildings that surrounded the streets.


Although I enjoyed the walking, our group of jet-lagged and hungry college students then headed to The Minories, a pub where I had my first taste of English pie.  

Tomorrow we’ll head on one of the parts of the trip I’m most excited for — a tour of the BBC Broadcasting House.

One Week to London

Last year, I went on an incredible trip to Belgium through the University of Illinois College of Media James Scholar program. It was my first trip out of the country and a completely life-changing experience. Going on that trip made me realize how much I want to travel.

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So when the opportunity arose to go on the same James Scholar trip again this year, only to London, I was beyond excited. I’ll be spending one week in the city with fellow College of Media students, visiting the BBC, seeing many of the tourist spots, and taking it all in as an aspiring journalist in the era of digital media.

My college experience has opened my world to so many new things, including my love for science journalism, my excitement about new and social media, and the pursuit of learning new things and meeting new people through my reporting. But being able to study abroad has been an added bonus on top of everything, and something I would’ve never imagined I would be able to do. London will be the largest city I’ve visited yet, so coming from a small town of 1,300 people makes this trip, once again, beyond exciting.

Until my flight leaves on Sunday, I’ll be reading up on London and thinking about the possibility of fulfilling the number one item on my London to-do list: getting that iconic Abbey Road crossing picture that every Beatles fan dreams of. Wish me luck.

 

Sightseeing, Shopping and a Scary Carriage Ride in Brugge – Belgium Day 7

Our last full day in Belgium was very long, but I’m okay with that.

We decided to spend our last day in Brugge, the beautiful and historic town about an hour train ride from Leuven that is more touristy than any other Belgian town I’ve been in.

Brugge is known for chocolate and lace, as well as shopping in general. Just looking at the candy and lace stores was interesting enough, but that didn’t stop me from buying both.

After arriving, we all ate lunch and then decided to pay for a horse and buggy ride through the town. We were a little surprised when we first set off on our ride, as we were going a lot faster than you’d think – which explains why the tour was only thirty minutes long.

Mariah reacting to our fast and scary carriage ride!

But the tour allowed us to see the town and figure out what we wanted to see more once we were finished.

We started on our shopping and I loaded up on chocolate, lace, and souvenirs. Besides these shops, Brugge also has many clothing stores along its main streets.

Our next stop was the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a church that has a vial of blood that they believe is Christ’s. The church was beautiful and we were able to walk up to the vial and see it up close.

When we exited the church, it started to rain, and we quickly found a place to sit down and eat – our last meal in Belgium, with a celebratory dessert!

 

Mariah and I enjoying our dessert!

But the best was yet to come. We walked to the more scenic area of the town at night and were able to get some great pictures.

The falling rain made for an added bonus on my pictures, making the flash against the rain look like stars!

     

 

Great Tour Guides in Brussels and a WWII Bomb – Belgium Day 4

Today was the most interesting day in Belgium so far.

We got on an early train to Brussels, Belgium’s capital, and headed straight for the Grand Place, where we arrived at our first destination, the Museum of the City of Brussels, to view their exhibit called “14-18 Brussels in German time,” which focused on Germany’s occupation of Belgium in WWI.

City Hall on Grand Place

Belgians dealt with the terrible situation they were given through comics, several of which were displayed at the museum. 

Our tour guide, Sarah, was very knowledgeable and absolutely fantastic. She made the tour engaging and incredibly interesting, leading us through what the Belgians went through during this time period.

Following our tour of the museum, we strolled through some of the more well-known parts of Brussels, spotting the famous Mannekin Pis.

Mannekin Pis

We then met with some students from the university and meeting with a few professors for lectures on the Belgian media landscape and the U.S. presence in Belgian media. It’s not hard to see how U.S. media can penetrate Belgian media and other medias around the world.

Then we went to the Bozar, a fine arts museum, to view their portrait gallery called “Faces Then, Faces Now,” which compared portrait paintings from the Renaissance era to photograph portraits now.

I didn’t expect to like it so much since I’m not usually one for art museums, but our tour guide made it very interesting as well as interactive. She got us all thinking and even working to make our own portraits of our fellow travellers, focusing on aspects such as environment, identity, and power.

After a full day, we headed back on the train, only to find out when we arrived that a thousand-pound WWII bomb had been discovered and neutralized near the Leuven train station – the one just feet away from our hotel – while we were gone! It delayed our train back but I am so glad we were not affected and no one was hurt.

All in all, it was an educational day, one that started with learning about WWI and ended with realizing that things from WWII can still affect us today! Only in Europe!