Sustainability is:
a balance in environmental, social, and economic consideration of all components of the world's living and non-living systems. To fit into this balance, humanity must achieve resilience, continued learning, and consciousness of our relationship with the Earth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Learning and Memories

“I’m learning all the time. My tombstone will be my diploma.” –Eartha Kitt.

The journey of learning is one that is unending. We are constantly discovering new things about ourselves, our environment, and each other, often in subconscious ways. There is a certain joy that comes with this learning as well; a sense that something new lies behind each door, under each rock, inside of each smile. This joy of newfound wisdom became especially apparent to me during my semester in Iceland. Whether brainstorming solutions to global warming or conquering a new Icelandic word, every lesson is its own little triumph.

These poems and thoughts that follow only capture but moments of all the transformations I have gone through in the past twelve weeks. Though by no means all-encompassing, let these serve as not only my manifesto to sustainability, but to a life of learning and one more fully alive.

Icelandic Skies

“Never fear the darkness. All we need is just the sun in the sky. And the hope of a summer to come with the meaning of love.”

Incredible skies, expanding over the endless landscape
Another valley, another hill, another mountain
Goes on forever

If we’re lucky, we’ll see the sun
Casting shadows on unassuming sheep
Here comes light, heat, long-lost sunglasses

The clouds
Erupting in wisps above dormant volcanoes
Keeping us bathed in different shades of gray

And how can we forget the darkness,
Our attention-seeking friend?
Yes, we feel your presence... at 10:30 in the morning.

On nights of stillness, we see the Aurora’s brushstrokes
I wish I had a frozen river
To skate away on

I’m smaller than a seed
But richer than the ocean
The sky is one of my favorite professors.


“Other people may be there to help us, teach us, guide us along our path, but the lesson to be learned is always ours.”

Just when I thought it was too cold to keep walking
            I put on another layer and pressed on

Just when I thought we’d never reach the night’s destination
            Our shelter appeared like a beacon from God

Just when I thought we’d never be able to do the dishes without running water
            We created a dance of towels, dishwater, wet socks, and smiling faces

Just when I thought I couldn’t climb another hill
            My legs kept moving

Just when I thought I wouldn’t muster the courage to cross a bridge
            I grabbed the hand of a friend and we made it

Just when I thought I had travelled to the most foreign of landscapes
            I never felt more at home than in that land of heat, ice, and stars

Just when I thought I knew myself
            I became reacquainted with who I really want to be


“Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

There was just something about it.

Maybe it was coffee break, sitting snuggly on the beds and taking a break from nothing but the hvasst howling outside.

It could have been the feeling of cold, soggy turf sheets in my hands and the effort of fitting the rocks together until they formed some sort of haphazard and basalty union.

Perhaps it was the knowing faces of our hosts, steeped in an unstoppable desire to bring back what has been lost.

Or possibly it was the simplicity of lying in the birthing bed at night with the storm and the frosty breaths of friends sleeping as my lullaby.

How have we become so lost from our turf, our past, each other?
This, I have realized, is something worth fighting for.


“I have never in my life learned something from any man who agreed with me.” –Dudley Field Malone

We’re a band of ragtag misfits
More like family sometimes than classmates
Movies, secrets, lentils
We’ve shared it all by now

I feel I’ve learned more
From these friends
Than from all lectures and guided tours

They’ve taught me how to be humble
How to laugh and cry and learn at once
How to disagree completely
But love each other anyway

I’ll miss this house full of siblings
With all its noise and music
And someone to always be there
To help my world become a little larger


“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty.”

I’ll be honest. I didn’t know what to expect from Andri.
Was he a lunatic? An outcast? A delusional hippie?

He was someone I would like to become.

I loved his passion for seeking out answers to questions that no one will reply to.

Why sit back and listen to the press, the politicians, and the corporations tell us what’s wrong and what’s right?

We can do better.
We can educate ourselves and then educate others.
We can challenge each other, change minds, cause mischief, make a lasting impact
Change the world.


If there is one thing I’ll take back with me from Iceland, it’s an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I recognize now that there are lessons to be learned in every corner of our lives. Some stare us right in the face, like a museum or a guest speaker. Some are harder to be found, like in the tears we cry when we’re missing someone we love.

On a larger scale, this passion for new knowledge is essential to anyone or any system striving for sustainability. As mentioned in our group definition, humans must achieve resilience, continued learning, and consciousness of our relationship with the earth in order to contribute to a sustainable future.

As Albert Einstein once famously said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” More complex problems require that we call on each other to find an answer. Just as I have used quotes throughout my poems to inspire and teach me, let us use the ideas, opinions, and experiences of all humans to propel ourselves along in this journey to a better future.

-Elise Niemeyer

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