March 9, 2018

The Making of a Vermont Fish & WIldlife's Dead Creek Visitor Center

On a Monday morning in April 2016, it was not the first time I turned off of Route 17 onto the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area's (WMA) main driveway. The last time that I was there was the previous Dead Creek Wildlife Day (or Dead Duck Day as we affectionately called it in my childhood home), which quite reliably fell on a cloudy, windy, and often rainy October day. My dad, being an avid bird hunter and fine-carpenter for decades, always set up a duck decoy carving station. There he taught kids, or anyone interested, how to carve. Bringing all his carving tools and a pile of rough cut ducks -- heads unceremoniously in a pile all their own off to one side -- his station was always one of the most popular. Kids would stand at the table for hours trying all the tools with wood chips slowly gathering at their feet. The occasional particularly industrious carvers would bring their carving-in-progress back year after year, each October bringing it a little closer to its potential sea-faring glory.

On this April morning, I showed up at Dead Creek for an entirely different reason. It was my first day of work for Vermont Fish & Wildlife. I was ironically classified as a Specialist, which within the Department often means that you are more of a generalist, having specialties in more than one area. Many of the specialists worked with both the wildlife teams and the fish teams. I also worked as a generalist that specialized in a few things. From April 2016-December 2017 I mowed lawns, chased geese, painted murals, talked to farmers, watched eagle nests, paddled Dead Creek, wrote, researched, lugged stuff around, worked on design and photo editing, and fell indignantly in the sticky Addison mud between our canoe and the shore. I had somehow walked into job that perfectly matched my far reaching skills and experience, and my niche specialization. Since 2009, after college, I have been an ecoartivist, meaning that sometimes I work in art galleries and sometimes work on land conservation, but it always means that I work astraddle the environmental conservation activist art "division."

So, what could Fish & Wildlife, a state-run department with the mission “to protect and conserve our fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the people of Vermont” want with me, someone who has put in considerable effort and time in the arts? As it turned out, I was just what they needed: someone with a specialization in the creative fields of painting, design, graphic design, writing, and communication as well as environmental science, conservation, and climate change.  

For about three years prior to my first day working for the Department, Amy Alfieri, Dead Creek WMA’s manager, and Ali Thomas, outreach’s Education Programs Coordinator, with the help of some others, had been working on plans for a new visitor center. The idea was to create a home for information and education about the Department and the work that it does in Vermont.

 It was also designed to be a free educational resource for tourists, school kids, scout troops, and anyone else interested in Vermont’s wildlife. Being placed at Dead Creek, the state’s most heavily managed water system and WMA, it also highlighted why Dead Creek is so unique. After years of development and renovation to the mid-century ranch house that would house the Center, the project just was not progressing as rapidly as the Department liked. Amy and Ali are in change of multiple projects each and wear many hats. Finishing this project, that did not have an explicit deadline, was just moving too slowly.

So, Amy took it upon herself to hire someone specifically to get the center finished so that it could open to the public. Luckily for me, she chose me to be the one to come in and help. That is what lead up to the first of many beautiful morning drives to work at Dead Creek.

For those who do not know, Dead Creek lays in the flat Champlain valley of Vermont, which runs down the Western side of the state. The valley used to all be under water during the time of the Champlain Sea after the last ice age. Later the ocean was cut off, through uplift, and now only Lake Champlain remains, a long, thin, deep fresh water lake that makes the boundary of Vermont and New York. When coming from the Green Mountains or the Eastern side of the state, like I was that morning, you will pass the blinking light in Addison at the corner of Route 17 and 22A. From here you will go West on 17, and after a short way, will begin down a hill that gives you an expansive view over farm fields that gracefully edge towards the mighty Lake Champlain. Over the thin strip of this southern part of the Lake, the New York Adirondack Mountains stand in all their glory. I think it is next to impossible to ever tire of this view. It truly is a magical view, that is never the same day to day or even hour to hour.

Under Amy’s guidance, I began working.

Writing Panels

First thing that needed to be done was to develop,  research, write, and edit the text for the educational panels that would be hung in the center. Amy and Ali had developed an outline for them so they knew what subjects would be covered and, to different extents, some of the finer points. Writing these was a long process, which involved me working for a while, then giving them over to my superiors for their edits, and then back to me and back to them, and then eventually out to the appropriate people in the Department for their input.

Some of them include some particularly interesting facts about the development of environmental conservation in Vermont. For instance one of the panels tells the history of Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area. Dead Creek was originally a seasonal stream that flooded in the spring, and as it flowed to the Otter Creek and into Lake Champlain over the summer and autumn would dry up. Recognizing the area as a rich natural resource and seeing a possibility to maintain the wetlands all year-round, the Fish & Wildlife Department decided to build a series of dams and embankments to harness the water, and in their view at the time, create rich habitat for waterfowl.

Wetlands are a wonderful resource to be sure, and local and migrating waterfowl flock to the wetland system to this day for its abundance of food and shelter. However, the move to alter this landscape so significantly is absolutely a signature of the times (1950s) and the contemporary views about land management and conservation.

Another amazing thing that they did in the late 50s at Dead Creek was to establish a Canada Goose population. Prior to the development of the dams and embankments, making Dead Creek  year-round series of streams and ponds, Canada Geese visited Vermont on their way south in the autumn and north in the spring, but they didn't nest and bread in Vermont. With an eye towards hunting opportunities, the Department decided that they wanted to introduce the birds to Vermont. So, they collected wild geese and brought them to Dead Creek, housing them in a fenced in area for a number of years until they produced young. The young were released and allowed to migrate like wild birds do. Like all Canada Geese, the young returned to where they were born to begin the next generation, therefore establishing a Vermont resident population. This kind of species introduction is something done only rarely, and usually with a biological justification, but in those days, not considered as harmful.

Although almost all the panels had at least an outline when I arrived on the scene, the four climate change panels did not. These were left to me to design and write. I was thrilled to be tasked with this, given that I love talking to people about climate change, and I was excited to take a closer look at what was happening specifically to Vermont. One resource that I was overjoyed to find and use was the Vermont Climate Assessment. The VCA is similar in form to the National Climate Assessment, which is also a great resource. The VCA explains some of the projections for Vermont like: "Vermont’s temperatures are projected to rise by another 2-3.6° F by 2050 and 5-5.4° F of warming by 2100 according to computer simulation models by the IPCC based on low to high global emissions of greenhouse gases (IPCC– Christensen et al. 2013)." The Assessment also explains some of what has already occurred based on data from the state like: "Average annual temperature in Vermont has increased by 1.3° F since 1960; 45% of this change is since 1990. Winters are warming twice as fast as summers. Warmer temperatures have caused later “first-fall freeze” and earlier “last-spring freeze”. Over the past 40 years, the freezing period has shortened by 4 days each 10 years and the growing season has lengthened by 3.7 days every 10 years." These numbers are really quite alarming, when you let them sink in for a minute. I think that the future projections are a wake up call, but actually not as show-stopping as what has already been recorded. When talking with people about climate change, one of the hardest hurtles to overcome is that the future and uncertainties are hard to really care about, however, proven changes in your own backyard have a much different kind of impact on the psyche. I think it is data like this that can have the largest impact

Sourcing Photos for the Panels

After many, many hours devoted to writing the panels, I switched gears to look for photos to embellish the panels, for surely they would be more interesting with some visuals! I began looking through the numerous Department photo files, which was interesting in its own right. Some historical images were neat to see, but over all, there were many images I wish I had but didn't yet. So the search widened. I contacted the Vermont Historical Society, the Smithsonian, and the Shelburne Museum, among others. And I reached out to some professional photographers as well and we ended up using some of their beautiful photographs as well! Everyone was very helpful even if they didn't have the photos I was looking for.

Here you can see some of the great photos that were shared with us. A beautiful cedar waxwing, an image of John Muir and FDR in Yosemite, and Also Leopold.

Panel Graphic Design

When it came to designing the panels I wanted to give them an appropriate feel for the subject matter. In the beginning I actually looked at some other people's natural history panel graphic design, and found that I didn't like a lot of them. I found many that were stagnant feeling and blocky, which didn't feel right for talking about the natural world. I wanted something that felt more alive, full of life like the waterways and animals of Vermont. So when I sat down to sketch the design of the four climate change panels the first thing I drew was an fluid curve, and the rest evolved out of that.

Other details followed, like the treatment of the photos, the color scheme (which Ali had pre-determined when she picked out the color scheme for the new walls in the visitor center), and other details like the pull-out quotes.

Because I had a lot of things to work on in this position, we determined that I would create the design for the climate change panels and then we would send that to a graphic designer to mock up the rest. We thought that might be faster than me doing them all start to finish.

Here are the final climate change panels.

Painting the Two Canvas Murals

In the visitor center you will see at least two murals. There is one large one that spans the back of the wetland habitat diorama, and there is a smaller one next to it which is hte backdrop for the upland display. What a first-time visitor will probably not know is that the upland mural actually has three versions. Amy wanted it to be possible to change this mural so that it could display different habitats, different seasons, and highlight various animals that lived and were active from place to place. So, as a solution, we decided that one mural would be on the wall, and two others would be on canvas, which we would make possible to hang over the wall mural.

I began with the two canvas murals first, and to do that I enlisted the help of my dad and his workshop. After we made the stretchers I brought them back to my house where I had a fresh roll of canvas awaiting their arrival. The canvas was stretched and then primed.

Meanwhile Amy and I had worked on figuring out what the scenes for the four murals would be, working on highlighting unique elements of the landscape in each one.

When the gesso was dry, I could begin the long process of sketching and painting!
Here is one of the design sketches for the fall beaver pond painting. The pink beaver never did make it into the final version...

Here are the two canvases, getting all gessoed up!
Here is the base for the beaver pond, getting everything in place.

Here is the spring field painting getting worked on.

Editing the Panels

As we worked with the graphic designer we nudged the panels closer and closer to perfection with each go-around. They of course started very basic and jumbled, but as we worked on getting the text to the right length for the dimensions of the panels and the photos placed appropriately , they started to come together. Then we began the finer details of visual proportion, coherency, and readability.

Painting the Murals on the walls of the Visitor Center

As I finished painting the two canvas murals and was done with the heft of my part of the panels I began painting in the Visitor Center. There I created two murals, one for the wetland diorama, and one for the upland display. As we figured out what we would like to depict in the wetland mural, we also had to design the diorama. So I sketched the two together, for obvious reasons, and then helped along the way with the diorama company as they created a 3D version of Dead Creek. Also along the way I found us an realistic turtle replica and painted it, which the diorama people placed "under the water." Much later after the diorama arrived, I also made some baby voles out of sculpy to live in the nest to be forever guarded by their taxidermied mother.

The actual painting of the murals was fun, but of course I love paining and love painting big! I listened to a lot of music and a lot of podcasts, frequently pausing, taking a step back to view the piece and to listen to the creatures living in the attic or watch the weather roll from the New York mountains across the Champlain Valley floor.

One element of the wetland display (diorama, mural, one panel about habitats, and one about animal species) was to show a lot of the native life that lives in and around Dead Creek. With that in mind I wanted to incorporate specific plant and animal species in the mural. It would also have an accompanying identification card so that people could see what the species looked like. This involved talking to Amy about which plants she would like to highlight and then researching them. Painting like this is fun, it adds a whole other layer of complexity and intellectual engagement for me as the artist, but I hope also for the viewer, whether they know it consciously or only subconsciously that the plants are real and geographically accurate.

A couple of the sketches, pre-painting for the murals in the Visitor Center.

Starting to paint on the wall!

The diorama was installed!

Beautiful Dead Animals

There were many other small things to do over the months of working on the Visitor Center. Over this time I went on a few trips that involved animal, yes real-live, but dead, animals. One afternoon I went to pick up the flicker that you can now see in the Visitor Center beautifully displayed as if it were just about to alight on a branch. The flicker was in someone's freezer for a few days before I got there. They had carefully picked it up out of their front lawn where it had run into their living room window and fallen to its death. A sad end for the beautiful bird, but it now sparks awe and wonder in many and hopefully encourages them to learn about and care for its brethren. I also picked up the mink one morning where a woman had picked it up off the road in front of her house where it had been hit by a car. Again, what a lamentable end for such a beauty. When we were just beginning the diorama, I drove down to the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas to pick up a couple small turtles, one painted, and one snapping. We decided in the end not to use one of them in the diorama, but instead to save their shells and add them to the touch drawers for people to explore.

Later in the project I also went to pick up some of the finished taxidermy. What was once dead had been given a second life of sorts. All the taxidermy animals in the Visitor Center have been killed accidentally, like the bear cub that was also hit by a car. Because of this, although I understand the criticisms of "glorifying killing" by displaying dead animals, I think these have an important role to play in education. Kids and adults alike walk in and as if to a magnet are drawn to the beautiful animals. They look at them up close, and initiate conversations about them, open to learning more.

Painting Feet and Other Things

Amy came up to me one day and asked if I could paint some animal tracks around the visitor center. I thought it was a great idea, so began thinking about which animals to choose and where to put them. We wanted to highlight a variety of animals, so in the end I picked mammals with padded feet like a bobcat, and mammals with claws like a bear, and mammals with hoofed feet like a moose, and mammals with webbed feet like an otter, and birds with webbed feet like a goose, and birds without webbing like a raven, and even a frog. It was interesting researching tracks, and it was actually much more complicated than you may initially assume. It is common for tracking books or cards to show one foot print with its shape and size, but finding accurate stride patterns is much more infrequent. Not only that, but any animal -- species or individual -- will have varying strides depending on where they are walking and at what speed they are moving. I also painted the Fish & Wildlife logo on the door, and then, of course, a welcome sign!

Red squirrel.

Coyote, moose, and red squirrel.

Black bear in the bathroom!

There's been a ruffed grouse here...

The walls get titles.

Logo in progress.
Finished logo.
Both sides of the sandwich board before it got screwed together.

Two Identification Cards

There were two identification cards that had to be made: one for the wetland diorama and mural, and one for the animal tracks. These were pretty straight forward to make, but fun to decide how to make them interesting and utilitarian at the same time.

Diorama identification card.

Work Days

Before the grand opening there was a lot of little things that needed doing, so Amy reached out to the Department and enticed volunteers with the promise of pizza. We had a good group that knocked out a lot of work. I helped direct and give advice as the day went along as well as worked on some of my own projects. We had people cleaning the lawn and trimming bushes. The game wardens helped set up the security cameras and related equipment. We had a couple people screw eye-hooks and tie tools down to the biological check station. We had someone help start the dividers for the touch drawers, while someone else started setting up the trapper's lodge. A couple people were making labels for everything with the Center's new laminater. Amy was master organizer with her list of to-dos, and tried to only minimally fret about the panels that were due to arrive by 10am, but kept not showing up. Eventually they did show up though, and it was the moment of truth to open the packages and see the babies in real life for the first time! I had put many hours into their creation and was excited to see how they turned out. Hanging them....level -- with each other, and on their own -- took some working, but by the time we hung the last ones, we had developed a pretty good system.

Game wardens setting up security hardware. 

The trapper's lodge coming together!

Making a biological check station.

Hanging the osprey.

Working on the drawers.

Sprucing up the lilac bushes.
Setting up the touch drawers with eggs and....poop!

Grand Opening

In preparation for the grand opening there was a tent to be set up, chairs to be set up, coffee to be made, and other details attended to, including a thorough cleaning. I also designed a handout that gave an order of events and thank yous on one side, and a brief overview of the displays on the other.

Proud to be finally watching the ribbon sutting. From left to right: Me, Amy, and Ali. 

Sitting in the New Center

After our September 28th opening, the Visitor Center was open six days a week until mid-November. Being new, the staffing of the Center was not quite fully formed, so a few employees, myself included, and one of our regular hunting instructor volunteers sat in the Center to be a resource and talk with visitors. I have held a number of public-facing positions in my career and enjoy speaking with the public and meeting new people. Sitting in this space was unique though, it attracted interesting people and sparked specific conversations.

I had hunters stop in and show me their day's harvest and I talked to a young couple with their new baby girl who, unbeknownst to her, would soon be getting her life-long hunting licence. I also talked to a woman who hated trapping, and a number of people that sneered as they said, "Ew, a fisher," or "Ew, a possum." I talked to a lot of people about our first "Emerging Issues" display, which highlights the Department's multi-year moose study which looks at moose mortality in connections with ticks and other factors. I was not surprised that so many people love moose and are sympathetic to their situation. Then there were countless people who came in and were viably overjoyed to tell me a story about some interaction they had with wildlife, be it a large mystery-bird, a fisher running behind their house, or a bear searching for a snack.

One of the commonest reasons people stopped in was the annual migration of birdwatchers hoping to get a good view of the thousands of snow geese that stop at Dead Creek on their southern migration each year. The snow geese is what is generally best known about Dead Creek, and it is not a mystery why. The refuge (part of the wildlife management area) is managed specifically for migrating waterfowl, and has attracted snow geese for decades. They used to come in numbers some 10,000-strong, but this year the numbers probably peaked at around 4,000, which is more typical now. I remember the first time I saw them; I was in grade school and remember the whole field was white with birds like looking down at clouds from a plane . This spectacle is what draws people from all across Vermont and beyond.

If for nothing else, the Visitor Center is a marvelous new place that sparks wildlife and conservation conversation and provides an invaluable place for education. As if these accomplishments were not enough, the Center will provide, and indeed already has begun to provide, other more specific educational opportunities. A scout troop visited even before its official opening, followed by school groups, elderly groups, conservation workers, and bird watchers. The Department offers a number of school-age-appropriate lessons that can be implemented out of the Center or in the near-by natural areas. Staff are on hand to give introductions to the area and conservation in Vermont.

Closing for the Winter and What Comes Next

The Visitor Center is new, and to a certain extent still a work in progress. It had to close for the winter (except by appointment) because the staffing was not fully figured out and it was unlikely that the visitor numbers would be as high as in warmer months. It is scheduled to open again in April though, which now is right around the corner! Go, check it out, enjoy, ask questions, and treat our Vermont land and waterscapes with love.

Here are just some photos of the final displays, you'll have to visit in person to see it all!

Final climate change wall.

Right side of this cabinet is the emerging issues display about Vermont's moose.

Biological check station and game warden display.

Dedication wall to the great Robert Fuller. 

December 2, 2016

Protect the Sacred

Protect the Sacred

Stand up for your beliefs,
Stand for the downtrodden, the forgotten
Stand for those without a voice, those we cannot hear
Stand for the animals and plants, for the soil and water, rocks and air
Stand strong and purposeful
Root your feet and do not give way, with the elegance and courage of the bison

Soar in the skies with your dreams
Fly above the small-minded
Fly above fear and violence, with your hopes and dreams to guide you
Alight where you can see across the wide wonderful Earth
Where you can see the love that flows through it all
Soar so high that justice and your mind are clear, where your heart is pure
Where you are one with the great spirit
Fly through the air with the power and keen eye of the eagle

Flow like water through life
Never to be defeated
Possibly held up, but never destroyed
Flow with your goal in mind and never forget
Nourish life with your very essence
Course over that which is filthy and cleanse it with your clarity
Strengthen the weak like ripples, and break down hate like a tidal wave
Be as water is, both creator and destroyer
Give birth to life, and help those that have passed to begin again

Bloom as a flower does
Let your petals unfurl towards the sun
Grow as tall as you can
Open yourself to the world with brilliance and clarity of purpose
Bring bright beauty, grace, and joy wherever you go
Be as the flowers are, and remember that life is ephemeral
One day, let yourself fall away, sweet and peacefully

Knowing that you are leaving this place richer than how you found it for your being

Protect the sacred in all that you do 
In all that you are
For you are it as well
And it, you

April 10, 2016

April 5, 2016

Call it as it is.

Something I have been thinking about and has come up with more frequency recently is the importance or shunning of negative emotions such as anger, pain, and sadness in the context of our environmental situation. 

There is a notion proposed and supported by many that as a society, and even individually,  we should not linger on the unpleasant aspects of environmental destruction. I have been told that I shouldn't make my work sad or "depressing" because people already feel helpless about the plight of the natural world. 

"People don't want to feel sad and helpless." 

"There is so much negativity in the world already."

This opinion has come up in the context of art for adult audiences and children of all ages. Although I think there are certain situations where you may not want your audience to feel  negative emotions around the state of the world, they are few. 

Excluding the very young and projects with a fundamental focus of celebration and hope, I do not see the benefit of excluding sadness from the discussion about environmental issues and our situation. We, as a species, as certain cultures, have caused incredible harm on our planet and the other living beings we share it with, let alone what we have done to each other. One might argue that through technological advances, our society has improved the lives of humanity over our species' existence however, the overall impact we have had on the stability and strength of Earth's ecosystems has been disruptive and degrading. 

Our human population has shot up at an astounding rate and within our current framework, improvements in our standard of living requires more and more resources. We have polluted our lands and waters, stripped land of forests and mountains, spilled toxic waste into sensitive ecosystems, systematically killed species for "our safety" and trophies, and other's by mistake,  we have altered the very make-up of our atmosphere, and have initiated the sixth mass extinction. 

We live in the Anthropocene, which really says it all. We are as powerful as a geologic force.

For humanity, we have done amazing things. We have created beautiful art, loved each other, mastered incredibly complicated intellectual subjects, and discovered so much it boggles the mind, but for the rest of life, we have, and continue to through human-caused climate change, decimate our one and only home. And this, is incredibly sad. 

If one allows themselves to really let the fullness of this sink in and meditate on its implication for a while, t is painful and difficult, and can easily leave them with a feeling of helplessness.

When we do stop to think about all this, and feel the heavy truth, it can be very hard. If you let it, it can bring you to tears. I think it should, and I think we should let it.

Far too often people are afraid of feeling the pain and sadness to actually let themselves feel it, or even anything at all. They numb themselves with distractions and apathy, throwing their hands up renouncing their ability to improve our situation. 

This numbing and refusal to allow ourselves to really, fully sit in the depth of sadness that is our situation, is just as dangerous as continuing to burn fossil fuels at present-day rates. If we do not allow ourselves to feel fully, how could we, why would we, ever make the difficult changes to our society to solve our problems?

In The Greatest Danger -- The Deadening of the Heart and Mind chapter from Coming Back to Life a book by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, the authors speak about refusing to feel the sadness and anger about our world's situation and the repercussions from that numbing. Below are a few passages I particularly appreciate:

"We may try to protect ourselves from feeling pain for the world, but that very effort costs us a great deal. We pay a high price in diminished awareness, understanding and authenticity. 

"Repression takes a mammoth toll on our energy and dulls our perceptions of the world around us. It is not a local anesthetic. If we won't feel pain, we won't feel much else either -- loves and losses are less intense, the sky less vivid, pleasures muted. 

"The instinct for self-preservation, recognized as the most powerful drive in the biological realm, is essential to the preservation of our species and the ongoingness of life. In the ancient Hindu chakra system, this drive is identified with the base chakra or muladhara. It represents and feeds our instinctual nature, source of our claim on life itself. 

"To be afraid to look at and respond to that which threatens all life constitutes a blocking of the muladhara, cutting off primal intelligence and energies essential to survival. This chakra not only represents a last line of defense in the protection of life, but it also feeds the erotic currents of our days and years. Opening the base chakra __ and thereby our full will to live __ means opening ourselves to the repressed tears and rage of our pain for the world.

"Silencing our deepest responses to the condition of our world not only fosters a sense of futility, but also mires us in it. Each act of denial, conscious or unconscious, is an abdication of our power to respond. It relegates us to the role of victim, before we even see what we can and want to do.

"Our pain for the world, including the fear, anger, and sorrow we feel on behalf of life on Earth is not only pervasive. It is natural and healthy. It is dysfunctional only to the extent that it is misunderstood and repressed."

So yes, shedding the veils of illusion and looking at our very difficult situation with courage and honesty is incredibly hard. It is hard to be honest with ourselves sometimes. It is hard to open ourselves up to the the feeling of helplessness, guilt, and despair. Yes, that is hard, but no one said we lived in an easy time. No one said righting our wrongs and solving our complicated challenges would come smoothly and naturally, but that should not hold us back. 

Call it as it is, and lets get on with it.

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." 
-- Nelson Mandela

"He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life" 

--Muhammad Ali

March 30, 2016

Climate Optimism

Al Gore, former U.S. Vice President and long time climate activist, made his first Ted Talk ten years ago. Also in 2006, Gore released his book, and the very influential documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Far from being his first work on the global climate crisis, An Inconvenient Truth served as a prominent punctuation in Gore's 40+ year career working to raise awareness about, and find solutions to anthropocentric climate change. You remember the terrifying movie, right?

I remember when I first saw An Inconvenient Truth. Already studying climate change in the middle of falling down the rabbit hole of discovery and finding my career path within the field, the documentary solidified my conviction. It also made me quite deeply sad. It is a scary movie, if you let the information sink in.The truth is all that needed to be said. 

A decade later, Al Gore returned to the Ted stage with a slightly different tone. In February, 2016 Gore gave a talk titled "The case for optimism on climate change." Similar to talks he has given in the past, Gore, who has moved from politics into the business field, covers the tragedies that climate change incites, bringing the viewer up to date with events over the past ten years and giving an overview of the lengthy list of things that climate change is and will affect in our natural environment and human society. In the second half of his most recent talk however, Gore takes a turn and talks about why we should be optimistic about our situation and our future. He talks about the changes to industry, and innovations in technology that will help us break our reliance on fossil fuels. With a stable hold of reality and our dire situation, Gore still has an optimistic view and reminds us that there is reason for hope and continued targeted climate action. 

There is a good message in this talk. Climate change is terrifying, dangerous, and sad. What human's have done to the planet and ourselves is justifiable cause for some deep soul searching, as well as financial investment towards finding a better way of living on Earth. We could allow climate change to be the end of us. We could stick our heads in the sand and wait it out. However, if we allow it, climate change can be our largest spark of inspiration and ingenuity. If we allow it, climate change can be the one issue that we all unite around, know that it affects us all indiscriminately. It is not a partisan or national issue, despite some's effort to frame it as such, it is a universal issue. It is also an issue that has rallied people around the world at formal events and small gatherings, in board rooms and science labs, in places of worship and at city hall. Climate change could be our end, but as Gore points out, there are many signs that humanity is not complacent enough to let it. 

March 24, 2016

Two Young Musicians for a Future in Balance

A beautiful, strong voice far beyond her years, Takiya Blaney speaks for a revolution to improve our relationship with Mother Earth. Ta'Kaiya is from the First Nation tribe of Tla A'min in British Colombia, Canada. She has been active over the past four years as an activist, speaker, and musician. She has won a number of awards for her leadership and inspiring message as an environmental advocate and for honoring her culture and upholding the traditions of the First Nation peoples. 

Here is an example of her message as well as one of her songs at the end. 

This video has better sound for her voice, which is magically haunting.

This young man has also been active for a number of years spreading a similar message. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez ask us all, especially the young people of his generation, to revolutionize our way of life to create a better future. He visions a future where humans are good stewards of the planet where we have clean healthy thriving ecosystems. He ask for climate action from individuals as well as decision makers like the United Nations General Assembly on Climate Change.

Here he is in 2015, at age 15 speaking at the 

Xiuhtezcatl is also a talented musician and along with his little brother, Itzcuauhtl, perform their original hip hop music for a better future and relationship with the Earth. 

Another of their songs, at Bioneers.

And here he is, as a younger boy, speaking about how climate change is already affecting his home in Colorado. 

The pine beetles have wreaked havoc on western North America. Climate change has been a significant part of encouraging this destruction. This is a little more about that, from my project We are all in this together.

Mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) are native to western North America, covering a swath of land from Mexico to British Columbia. With a black exoskeleton, pine beetles only measure about half a centimeter long. Pine beetle’s first three life stages, egg, larva and pupa occur under the bark of a pine tree. During the last life stage, as an adult, they can be seen flying around in the air.

When a female pine beetle burrows into a new tree to lay her eggs, she exposes the tree to blue stain fungus. This fungus inhibits the tree’s natural defense mechanism against more beetles, as well as its ability to transport water and nutrients within the tree. When a tree is infected, pine beetle larva and blue stain fungus spread throughout the tree, eventually inhibiting the tree’s ability to take up water. Eventually the pine tree will die of thirst. From the time the fungus is introduced, it may only take a few weeks for a tree to be incapable of taking up water.

A native to North America, pine beetles are not new to their ecosystems and when conditions are right they infest a new tree, killing it, but continuing its own life cycle. With climate change large areas of pine beetle’s native habitat are warming, experiencing milder winters and hotter summers. This shift in weather affects both pine trees and pine beetles. Unusually warm seasons can stress a tree and make it less robust at fighting off parasites. On the other hand, warmer weather is beneficial for pine beetles, allowing them to reproduce with a higher success rate and giving them more time and opportunity to inhabit more trees. Pine beetles have in fact doubled their reproductive rate. They used to go through one life cycle in a year and can now complete two full cycles each year. In recent years the absence of cold snaps has allowed beetle populations to explode, causing an epidemic in forests dominated by or wholly made up of pine trees.

This explosion of pine beetle populations has resulted in allowing the beetles to expand into more northern territory.  As the beetles moved north, they caused a mass dying off of forests throughout 19 US states, British Columbia and Alberta. Destruction to the forests is on the order of 10 times worse than previously recorded. Around 80 million acres of pines have been decimated and left dead. These tracks of dead trees have repercussions on all other species in the area, including humans. Stands of dead trees cater to raging forest fires. Dead trees are also not as good at holding soil to prevent erosion, slowing water flow and absorbing snow melt into the earth. These forests, which are usually a carbon sink when their trees are healthy, may easily, become a carbon source by releasing stored CO2 and furthering global warming.

Thank you Ta'Kaiya and Xiuhtezcatl,

March 17, 2016

The Sound of Climate Change

This is just a re-post from Check out the great video, like is on the bottom.

In 2013, the composition “A Song of Our Warming Planet” transformed 133 years of global temperature measurements into a haunting melody for the cello. Following its release, A Song of Our Warming Planet was featured by The New York Times, Slate, the Weather Channel, National Public Radio, io9, The Huffington Post and many others on its way to becoming a viral sensation and reaching audiences around the globe.
Now the co-creators, University of Minnesota undergraduate Daniel Crawford and geography professor Scott St. George, are back with a new composition that uses music to highlight the places where climate is changing most rapidly.
Based on surface temperature analysis from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the composition "Planetary Bands, Warming World" uses music to create a visceral encounter with more than a century’s worth of weather data collected across the northern half of the planet. (The specific dataset used as the foundation of the composition was the Combined Land-Surface Air and Sea-Surface Water Temperature Anomalies Zonal annual means.)
Crawford composed the piece featuring performance by students Julian Maddox, Jason Shu, Alastair Witherspoon and Nygel Witherspoon from the University of Minnesota’s School of Music.
As Crawford explains in the video, “Each instrument represents a specific part of the Northern Hemisphere. The cello matches the temperature of the equatorial zone. The viola tracks the mid latitudes. The two violins separately follow temperatures in the high latitudes and in the arctic.” The pitch of each note is tuned to the average annual temperature in each region, so low notes represent cold years and high notes represent warm years.
Crawford and St. George decided to focus on northern latitudes to highlight the exceptional rate of change in the Arctic. St. George says the duo plans to write music representing the southern half of the planet, too, but haven’t done so yet.
Through music, the composition bridges the divide between logic and emotion, St. George says. “We often think of the sciences and the arts as completely separate — almost like opposites, but using music to share these data is just as scientifically valid as plotting lines on a graph,” he says. “Listening to the violin climb almost the entire range of the instrument is incredibly effective at illustrating the magnitude of change — particularly in the Arctic which has warmed more than any other part of the planet.”

View The video!