September 22, 2010

A Tree Grows In Ithaca

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The Ithaca area is set in around some of the most interesting landscapes in New York. If you are not motivated enough to get outside and explore the amazing natural wonders that surround us, you should sign up for a Cornell Outdoor Education (COE) class.

As a student at Cornell, you are required to take at least two Physical Education courses during your four years.  This does not have to be a chore.  There are more than 100 course available, in every activity you could imagine, from Swedish massage to sea kayaking to skeet shooting.  Most of the “outdoorsy” ones are offered through COE.  Anyone can take a PE class at Cornell; you don’t have to be affiliated with the University in any way to take advantage of the opportunity.

Many of the PE courses cost money, usually over $100, but they are by far much less expensive than if you were to do the activity through another venue.  Students should not let the cost dissuade them from taking as many PE classes as they can.  This is your one time in life when it is beyond easy to try new things.  You should explore something new like rock climbing or canoe camping.  Use college as an opportunity to try things that you never would have been able to do before (and no, that party last night doesn’t count).  If you enjoy the experience a lot, you can even become an employee of COE and teach a course yourself.

I myself was drawn to the tree climbing class.  Yes, there are tree climbing classes offered as PE credit at Cornell!  The class, which meets once a week from 1:30 to 6:30 every Friday, seemed like the perfect way to get outside and appreciate the Ithaca outdoors.  On the first day, I met my guides and the rest of my class in the basement of Bartels Hall, which is the headquarters of COE.  After getting to know each other and picking up our gear, we headed out to one of the COE vans, this one named ‘Elmer.’  All eleven of us packed into the van and drove to an upstream location near Fall Creek off of Monkey Run Road.  We walked through the floodplain on a overgrown trail along the river to a grove of sycamores trees.  Sycamores have beautiful white, gray, and brown patchy patterned bark, which looks a lot like black and white army camo.  More importantly, they have lots of branches which start right next to the ground; trees ideal for tree climbing.

It was an unusually sunny day after the previous three days of clouds threatening rain.  The sun shone down from the opposite direction of the storm clouds, highlighting the contrast between the trees and the sky.  We got on our harnesses and helmets and learned how to tie in to the ropes which our guides set up in the trees for us.  We all got to climb the trees multiple times, and got to admire the river and wooded flood plain from on high.  Eventually we got to belay each other, meaning that we controlled the rope from the base of the tree while our classmates climbed.  It was an amazing experience, and I can not wait until next week when we will use ascenders to climb.  They let you climb up to the first branches of trees that do not have branches until fifty or even one hundred feet up.

My point is that I would never have had this experience without taking advantage of the unparalleled resources that Cornell has to offer.  I can not wait to explore more fun and wonderful places outdoors around beautiful Ithaca

Original Author: Zac Peterson