Today was the first day of Fall… Not literally, that happened about a week ago, but today was the first day where the air was cool and a Fall breeze was stealing the leaves from the tree. The sun still baked the already yellow grass, but its rays seemed a little weaker today. The transitional period between Summer and Fall is probably my most favorite time of year because of the beauty that is present at all stages of the transition. The red leaves that begin to sprout up among the verdant foliage are the first reminder that the lackadaisical days of Summer don’t last forever. The dark vibrant red color of those first leaves almost suggests that the trees know that it’s time to go and they’ve going out with a flourish.
Huntingdon is currently amid this first stage. The trees that cover the hills around campus are still covered in leaves but if you walk up into the forest around the Peace Chapel you begin to see Fall showing through. As the wind blows through the trees it almost smells sweet as it carries on it the smell of decaying leaves and the promise of apple cider and candy.
The realization that summer had officially ended struck me on my run today. I was up in the Highlands, a neighborhood just north of the college. It was hot, but a cool breeze kept me comfortable as I ate up the miles. As the scents carried on the breeze reached my nose I didn’t feel happiness or the giddiness of a child that anticipates Halloween, I merely felt content. In today’s political climate, a lot can be said for being content. The past few days and months I, and everyone else in the possession of a social media account, have been bombarded with strong statements about this and that and how we should think and what we should believe in. As a nation, and a global society, we are cajoled into not being content. We are constantly asked to question the actions of our leaders and our family members and our friends. It is exhausting.
As I ran through the town I have come to call home over the past four years, I began to truly realize how nice it is to disconnect from social media, even from other people around you, and just go off and appreciate the little things going on. Go for a walk through the woods and check out the forest as its beauty goes from verdant to stark. Go for a run or for a bike ride or, if you are more inclined find a good book and two trees and read in your hammock. I am also a big supporter of hammock naps. Like me, you may find that disconnecting leaves you feeling refreshed and ready to face your issues with a renewed vigor.
I’m not sure what my overall purpose for this post is and I don’t think dwelling on it for any longer than I have will make it any clearer to me. If this blog does nothing else, I hope it makes you think about the way in which society approaches large scale issues. We get so lost in the dialogue and the need to prove ourselves right that we lose sight of what we were arguing for in the first place and the discussion stagnates. Taking a step back and observing the discourse from afar allows for perspective and, hopefully when you rejoin the conversation you can help to move it to a healthier and more productive place.
When people ask me where Juniata College students go out for dinner, coffee, or to relax outside of campus, I usually have a premade list in my head that I tell them, but that list always starts with the same answer: Standing Stone Coffee Company.
Standing Stone is owned by a Juniata graduate, and is only a short walk from campus. It’s a great place to sit, do some homework, or to potentially get a job (as my roommate, Bekah, did). However, they also host these incredible open mic nights in partnership with the college. The open mics can be for everything from just the fun of it, to an open mic night for Genocide Awareness and Action week. Most recently, Standing Stone hosted an open mic night for the International Day of Peace, and it was delightful.
The International Day of Peace open mic ran from 5-6PM in the cozy coffee shop. I was a little late to the event myself, but when I got there, it was amazing. Professors were singing songs about war and peace, students were reading original poems or other works, community members were there, and there was an overall atmosphere of peace in the room.
There was so much variety in the pieces that were read. Some had a somber atmosphere, some were hopeful, some were angry… I got the chance to read a piece that I wrote this summer. My reading was a short little blurb of thoughts about an old man and a pipe, which may not sound like it has anything to do with peace outright, but I like to think people enjoyed it! This was my third time reading my work in front of a crowd here at Juniata (or anywhere really!), and it keeps getting easier and more fun every time. It is something I would definitely recommend to any who are interested in trying!
The open mic wrapped up, and then the evening carried on with free live music from a local artist. Overall, I think it was a wonderful event. This has turned into a bit of a piece about how great Standing Stone is, and about how much I like the open mic nights, but that’s okay. It truly is a great little coffee shop, plus they have excellent food if you ever need a snack or a break from dining hall food. And the open mics are something I never thought I would participate in, but really enjoy. All in all, I’m just very thankful that this partnership exists between small businesses in town and the college. It creates something wonderful for all of us.
Location is key. Who we are is often dictated by where we are, the pressures we face and the opportunities that present themselves to us. Fortunately for a philosophy major like myself, opportunities to channel Thoreau and escape into nature to reflect are many. This is perhaps my favorite perk of living at Juniata; the rolling foothills of the Alleghenies provide as many opportunities to get as lost as one wishes.
Living in a rural area has been a change for me. Where I live at home in Massachusetts might technically be considered exurban, but I’m no civil engineer. It’s safe to say that I would have to drive for several hours before I start seeing cows in pastures on the side of the road. Here, however, cows are nearly as common as cornfields. While some might think this would be a shock to my system, it has in fact proved the opposite. Living in a brand-new environment and facing novel challenges has strengthened my character considerably. Going out of one’s comfort zone–whether it’s taking a class on Business Management as a philosophy major (as if a philosophy student will ever be in charge of a successful business) or joining the SCUBA club as a novice on a week-long trip to Florida–is the most surefire way of developing one’s self.
This summer may have been the best summer of my life. Some version of this clichéd line can be found at the end of any nineties summer coming of age story, but it does accurately sum up my three months in Huntingdon doing research and experiencing just a little bit of what my life might be like after graduate school. The beauty of a summer internship experience is that it allows you to not only get hands-on experience in your desired field of work, but it also helps you to decide if the work you are doing over that summer is what you want to do for the rest of your life. In the last few days, in fact, I was lucky enough to realize that I do want to go into microbiology and bioinformatics. However, this realization also came with a gut wrenching, panic stricken moment because suddenly I was no longer set on going into neuroscience, something I have wanted to study since I was a Junior in high school. With this change of my heart has come several moments of panicking and internally hyperventilating about my future and everything that I must complete for graduate school between now and December 1, 2017.
So, what could have possibly caused my sudden change of heart? What groundbreaking research have I done that has convinced me to completely switch career paths? To be honest my work really hasn’t been that groundbreaking. It has been fun though. I am sure that it is hard to imagine how sitting at a desk for eight hours a day staring at a computer can be considered ‘fun’, believe me I understand where you are coming from. That’s not the part of the job I found glamorous. It was discovering relationships between bacterial species and the gut cells of mice that I found so fascinating. I have had a minor interest in the gut microbiome since I read a book on how the gut microbiome is thought to influence some neurodegenerative disorders, but it was not until my research this summer that I really began to appreciate our microbial gut friends. The project was made even more fun since it was my own project. I oversaw the analysis and it was on me to determine what the results of my analysis meant.
The partnerships that Dr. Lamendella and Justin Wright, my two mentors this summer, have cultivated through their bioinformatics company Wright Labs (a startup company funded in part by Juniata’s Business Incubator) have allowed students like myself to get an almost graduate school level of research experience while still at our undergraduate institution. This opportunity, as I have already pointed out, has been instrumental in the decision of a career path. I am excited to continue working with Dr. Lamendella and Justin through this next year, which will sadly be my last at Juniata. Though I’ll be leaving in a few short months, I know that the work I have done for Wright Labs has set me up well for graduate school and all the research work I have ahead of me.