Friday, December 28, 2007

One Giant Leap

I am watching a movie called, "One Giant Leap" which was on demand on Comcast this morning. It is all about art, nature, culture, future, and the consumer culture. Its great. So far, I am loving it. A quote...

"A lot of our youth, they're affected by some very potent and powerful imagery out there you know, like the NBA, like Michael Jordan, Sony, the golden arches, bk you name it they're there, those symbols they rule, they are dominating our landscape, culturally. So I'm in the business of sharing other dominant cultural imagery as well and saying, 'hey, lets not forget about these things - beacuse they are who we are.' Most people done' even want to be Mali, they don't want to be Polynesians, no they want to be what is coming out of the square in the corner of their lounge. they want to be like Tupac, and Puffy Colmbs and these other people. Because that's more attractive than being Mali. There's millions of dollars poured go into making that so. we ain't got no resources like that, no. we just have cooky fellows like me who just carve sculptures for the rest of their lives, and laugh in the face of the wisdom of society and say, 'hey, i'm going to do it this way.'"

It is a cultural snapshot, with music, quotes from artists and poets, from celebrities and regular people. Beautiful and inspiring. I just ordered it off of the website which sells it, so I can show it to other people.

I first heard this song, not knowing it was part of this project, about 5 or 6 years ago. I'm excited that I was able to find it on you tube. Enjoy. I've posted the lyrics below.

When I look back over the years at the things that brought tears to my eyes
Papa said we have to be wise to live long lives.
Now I recognize what my father said before he died
Vocalize things I've left unsaid
Left my spirit unfed for too long
I'm coming home to my family where I can be strong, be who I plan to be, within me
my ancestry giving me continuity
Would it be remiss to continue in this way?
would you rather I quit?
Come with that other shit making people's hips sway
Lip service I pay but I'm nervous
I pray for all the mothers who get no sleep
Like a lifeline I write rhymes cause my compassion is deep
For the people who fashioned me my soul to keep
And this is who I happen to be
And if I don't see that I'm strong then I won't be

This is what my daddy told me
I wished he'd a hold me a little more than he did
But he taught me my culture and how to live positive
I never wanna shame the blood in my veins
And bring pain to my sweet grandfather's face
In his resting place I make haste to learn and not waste
Everything my forefathers earned in tears
For My Culture

Fall back again,
Crawl from the water,
Water to air,
You'e on you're feet're feet again

(Robbie Williams)

"Hello dad, remember me,
I'm the man you thought I'd never be
I'm the boy who you reduced to tears,
Dad I been lonely for 27 years
Yeah that's right, my names Rob,
I'm the one who landed the popstar's job
I'm the one who you told look don't touch
I'm the kid who wouldn't amount to much
I believe in the senses sight and sound
I have always been too loud
Won't you help me drown it out
I'm what I feel
And what I'm feeling is surreal
I'm a mass of spinning wheels
Always digging in my heels
now I've got the faith to


(Maxi Jazz)

Lace up your boots we're going back to the roots
Speaking to my ghetto youths freak freaking for loot
And nice things better check what your future brings
It's now and your forefathers for the know how
Go now into the world without hatred
Use your head
If the needle is wise be the thread
And weave ancestral wisdom yours by birth
Spreading the Lord's word over this broad earth

Thursday, December 20, 2007

moment of repose

The ride into Keene this morning was long and beautiful - the snow whipped around and fell in huge chunks - groups of snowflakes clinging together, ganging up on the drivers. The trip was, to most, hazardous, but to me, serene. I had no worries about what time I would arrive on campus, and just took the time that I was slowly pushing through the slush to look around. I remember the first week that I came up to Keene, the utter warmth, the bright red sunrise, and now we've gone around the sun a bit. The morning dawns gray, reflecting the falling snow, and erasing the distinction between land and sky.

In both classes today, we had time to unwind and reflect upon the semester. In Language of Nature, we read our semester's work and wrote about our goals, experiences and future aspirations. It was a calm and lovely way to wrap up the semester.

In Foundation of Environmental Education, there was an air of suspended sadness, as if the fun we had together would end after we walked out the door. Each of us read a sentence from our personal philosophy papers while tossing around a colored spool of yarn. By the end, we were all interwoven, and the diversity of our responses was amazing. We each got to keep a piece of the bright, rainbow yarn, and I've begun to make knot patterns out of it so that I ca keep it on my backpack as a keychain and reminder of my first semester.

I think I will be posting some key things form my philosophy paper later, but the sentence I shared was pretty representative of what I learned both in Foundations and in Language of Nature.

My goal as an educator is to fill in the gaps in our education that exclude, omit, or marginalize our place in relationship with nature, and to bring humans and nature back in closer proximity, to inspire passions and encourage responsible action.

I believe this is my purpose, and I am very thankful at the end of this part of the journey that I have come this far, and been so engrossed in the experience.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

weather outside... delightful

A quick update while I plan the rest of my afternoon. I've finished my State of the Systems project with what I hope was great success. We hunkered down and really nailed the presentation, did some last-minute research, etc., and looked prepared, coordinated and on top of things. I even had a classmate come up to me and say they wish they had been in my group. I'm very happy it went off well, and I'm doubly happy that its DONE.

Today I have to make a quick jaunt over to McDonald Lot to take some photos of our prism sampling area, make a map, and play with some of the data that Sam sent me. I'm not looking forward to that at all.

I'm also "assembling" my portfolios for Language of Nature and Foundations of Environmental Education. This is not bad, except I have to edit my Philosophy paper & rewrite my Nature Encounter Essay. I am looking forward to tackling those tonight. (I've already put together what I need to do for Language of Nature except for the paper part, so that's a plus.)

I also have to do laundry today and make another batch of pizzelles to bring up to keene. After last night I'm already only left with 3 dozen! I figure that while I let the laundry go I can edit the papers.... at least that's the plan for now.

This week is my last week of classes for the semester. I'm excited yet, sad. I'm going to miss my Keene buddies! I've made a lot of new friends and I can only hope that some of them are in my classes in the spring.

In other news, I'm getting excited about christmas since there's been no shortage of snow up here... finally, a year where I can look outside and at least pretend that its a "normal" winter! (P.S. check out the picture of the HUGE white pine that I came across while walking around Eliot. Crazy!)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

language of the flowers

I was looking for a poem to read in my language of nature class, and typed in "poems about language" in Google. The first poem that came up was by Shel Silverstein, author of several children's poetry books like "Where the Sidewalk Ends." I think it's a great poem, and it fits well with our class discussion on the origins of language being from nature.

Forgotten Language (by Shel Silverstein)

Once I spoke the language of the flowers
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said
Once I smiled, in secret, at the gossip of the starlings
And shared a conversation with the housefly in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions of the crickets
And joined the crying of each falling, dying flake of snow.
Once I spoke the language of the flowers...
How did it go?
How did it go?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

unencumbered numbered words

Merriam-Webster, today, announced the "word of the year." I was barely paying attention to the local, Maine news as it breezed over the world news, as it was a mere reading of the Google News top headlines for today. But my ears perked up when I heard what the word was. Are you ready? Previous years have featured integrity (2005) quagmire (2004) and who can forget last year's truthiness?

This year's word of the year: w00t

w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"

For those not familiar, this is a term which was borne of video games, specifically the online role-playing ones which take in teens and college students and keep them there for ages. This isn't a word, either, its an abbreviation or shorthand for an exclamation of joy. My gaming roomate says that it originiated in the day of "Quake" and stood for "we owned other team." What makes this one special? People say it randomly, everywhere on the internet. The two 'o's in w00t are actually zeros, a hitchiker from a digital conversation.

Does that it is about technology make it a word that is worth a dictionary like Merriam-Webster honoring it? It could be argued that many other technological words have come into our culture in the past few years that are worth recognizing, and to prevent "new" words from coming into our language is counter productive. I agree that terms like google and blog have now become part of our vocabulary, whether we chose them to be there or not. But their purposes, origins and meaning far outweigh this immature online slang. Even the newscaster who was describing it used it incorrectly about three times, before awkwardly shrugging.

Words that act as a critical lens like quagmire or democracy, or reflect on our lives like truthiness, blog, google or tsunami are welcome to be picked as representatives of the current year. But I fear that letting w00t win this year just opens a Pandora's box. It is a symptom of a culture whose next generation is in danger of being permanently attached to television screens.

I think that by letting this type of slang and abbreviated gaming talk enter our daily discourse, we're somehow losing other pieces of our language, detracting from meaning and eliminating the very purpose and use of our beautiful words which already exist.

"The most important aim of newspeak was to provide a means of speaking that required no thought what-so-ever. It uses abbreviations or clipped conjunctions in order to mask or alter a word's true meaning. For example, words such as Miniluv and joycamp, allow the speaker to speak without actually being forced to think about what they were talking about.. or at least, not as much as if they were required to use complete phrases such as "Ministry of Love" or "Forced Labor Camp". These words just roll right off the lips before the speaker can even contemplate what he is really saying." -George Orwell, 1984

I believe it is the purpose of my life to touch at least as many kids as I can, to prevent them from ending up this way. Wish me luck.

More on this later... for now, sleep!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No Child Left Inside Forum

Yesterday, despite getting only two hours of sleep for various reasons, I went to Concord to go to the 'No Child Left Inside' forum - which featured Richard Louv as the keynote speaker, a panel discussion, and then workgroups to try and create action items to address the problem of kids losing their connection to nature. If you don't recognize the name Louv, he is the one who wrote the book entitled, "Last Child in the Woods : Saving Children from Nature Deficit Disorder" which I applauded earlier.

First of all, I can't express how lucky and happy I was to be able to attend this workshop. I was one of about 200 educators and scientists and important people there that I got to meet. It would be the equivalent of Al Gore coming to your hometown to teach you about global warming personally. I wore my favorite important-looking-suit-outfit which was a long black jacket, a long white shirt and nice pants that came with the jacket. I also put contacts in and makeup on, and wore my boots. I wanted to look professional, and I certainly did.

The keynote address was amazing. Louv talked about his own childhood, and then shifted to why such experiences in nature are so important. He quoted studies which showed that children who have time in nature have less stress, are healthier, have lessened or no symptoms of ADD, score better on their standardized testing in science and take fewer medication than those that don't. He also talked about the reasons why parents don't allow their children outside, including fears of mosquito-borne illness, random stranger kidnappings. and other fears. "Whatever the reason," Louv said," it is too easy to blame this on video games, too easy to find demons." He wanted us to move past the discussion of where we went wrong, and leap to the next step which was action. "The future should be seen as a great opportunity," he said. He compared the last 20 years to a 'creative depression' and that we should be on the dawn of the most creative period that we've ever had. What's important is that we should get the next generation to carry nature in their hearts.

One of the most memorable things he said was that we have to leave the culture of despair behind. We won't be turning around to the 1950s anytime soon, but we can affect change if we try to. People always ask him, "Will we ever be able to go back to the way that it was?" and he responds, "We should be asking: How can we make life better than it ever was?"

Louv said that he's been doing these talks for a while now, and he's seen the awareness of the issue grow, but he was optimistic that New Hampshire, because of its unique attitudes and beliefs, could really be the first one to cross the line into action. He seemed genuinely hopeful that, starting with this extraordinary group of people, we could make this change for future children. We just have to figure out how - which is actually what the workshops in the afternoon are for. I was enthralled by this. My one thing about environmental education so far that I've been worried about is that its easy to point out the way things should be, its not easy to point out how to get there next.

Following his address, they had a panel of speakers, including Louv, an Antioch Environmental Education Director (David Sobel), the NH Dept. of Health Epidemiologist (Dr. Jose T. Montero), The National Youth Education Director for the Sierra Club (Martin LeBlanc), the Science Curriculum and Assessment Consultant (Jan Mclaughlin), and a sustainable developer, Steven Whitman. They got to answer moderated questions, followed by audience questions and comments. I thought that the moderating could have been done a little more smoothly, but overall the discussion was interesting. What was frustrating was that the moderator always directed the question to one panelist, instead of letting them decide who wanted to answer the question. I think that the most lively panelist was Jan McLaughlin, who was the only teacher person there -and since she develops curricula for schools, she really knows the ins and outs of how NH Public schools work, and where change can be made.

At lunch, I got Louv to sign a copy of his book for me. I told him that I was a grad student in environmental education, and he signed my book as follows. If you can't read it, it says, "To Carla, a 'natural' leader" which, is, well, AWESOME.

Because of a lot of different reasons, Louv's book and perspective has now created a movement, and I am behind it 100%. I have a million ideas as to how to implement this, and I really think that I can contribute to this solution and change the world. I'll talk more about the working sessions later - I'm just so excited to be a part of this.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Recycled art

It snowed today, and I was feeling creative. I decided to peruse online and I found a few artists selling their own unique stuff, and also a few websites that use recycled or sustainable materials.

Debby Arem Designs (her shop is on - I came across Debby's gallery while browsing some Etsy shops. She makes jewelry, clipboards, clocks (see left) and everything else out of recycled circuitry and recycled materials. I am very impressed with the quality and creativity here. If you have any technophiles on your Christmas list, or anyone who appreciates something unique, go check it out.

Mandinka Designs (also on - Another outside of the box thinker, this artists uses men's suits to create purses and christmas stockings. They have a really retro feel.

Keys and Memories (on - This one appeals to me a lot! Found art is fantastic, which you have such rich and interesting pieces to work with like old typewriter keys. These are great gifts for anyone who's interested in writing, history, reading - great teacher's gift.

Uncommon Goods
- This is the first site I came across a few years ago. They have a lot of featured artists on their site. I especially like their jewelry, but they have home goods, glassware, gifts, and new artists are featured monthly. Very neat site, easy to get lost in. Again, most are from recycled materials.

Sites and artists like these may be an answer to the excessive consumerism of the Christmas season. We're not creating more waste, we're learning how to use what's already there, and save some stuff from a landfill instead of creating more to put there. A big set of kudos to these creative individuals and companies.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

prisms and sampling and systems oh my!

I have to admit that this grad school thing isn't all happiness and light. This week has been a tough one to get through, and as I write this, I'm in the UNH Library at 10pm trying to finish a rough draft of a paper on PCBs for my class tomorrow morning.

I'm currently working on 4 group projects:
  • The PCB paper, which is really more individual than anything else, but is big.
  • The Plot sampling project (which we took data for on Sunday) which involves a lot of data calculation, and a group-written paper.
  • The Prism sampling project (which we took data for on Monday) which involves a lot of data calculation and a group presentation.
  • The State of The Systems Project on the Long Island Sound, which has 3 papers, 2 presentations and a whole lotta work.
I have to admit that I don't really like group projects, so having four to tackle at once has been a... learning experience. I am getting a hang of the research methods that I will need to use, and the program which organizes all of those references, called RefWorks is my best friend as of late. But I still don't like communicating only over email, and being unclear about what direction we should be heading in.

I'm behind this week because of the data collection for the plot/prism sampling taking 2 days instead of one. I spent all day today and yesterday trying to catch up with my other assignments, but I think I will still end up having work to finish on Thursday night. I need to finish this draft this evening though, because it is due tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Something tells me

Last Thursday, I didn't stay up with Glickin & Caroline as usual. I was feeling somehow that I wanted to go home. The sky was clouding over and getting colder, and I had been very tired all day. I needed my own warm bed for a nap. I decided to use the gas to go home anyway, since it had been a very long day.

On the way back, as the sun was setting a beautiful crimson behind me, I looked ahead at a pink sky being lit up by sunset. To my shock, on a pink background, there was a rainbow.

Every once and a while I stop to think about the possibility of having a sixth sense, or the possibility that I can be in the right place at the right time so often.

Mike, who was also on his way back home, missed this sight completely, by only 5 or 10 minutes. While it was probably not the safest thing in the world to do, I had to take a picture of this, because I have *never* seen a rainbow and a sunset at the same time. Beautiful.

This is, however, the second rainbow I've seen since coming to Antioch. Every once and a while I get reminded that I am doing the right thing.

The rainbow and the nap were definitely worth the gas.


Disease is something that every history class learns about sooner or later. The Plague, the Great Flu Epidemic, Malaria, Yellow Fever and the like. Each pose significant risk, especially during the time period in which they ravaged the populations.

Tree diseases are similar in that some every person studying history should have heard of at least once; like Dutch Elm Disease.

My Community Ecology teacher pointed an American Elm tree out to us on one of our first field trips to putney. It had a trunk diameter of about 12" and was about 70% healthy. "This," he said, "Is actually an American Elm - but it is rare to see one without disease present. They were once the dominant hardwood around here, but were almost completely destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease."

Dutch Elm Disease is a fungal disease that was accidentally introduced to the United States in 1931, carried over in shipments of Elm from England to be used in furniture factories. The Elm Beetle picks up the fungus and spreads it to other trees, and ajacent trees can spread it to others by their shared roots. This once majestic tree was almost wiped out from our want of pretty furniture.

What's interesting is that I never thought I'd see another Elm that wasn't in a park or on a city street. But today when we did our prism sampling for community ecology, we found two - LARGE ones!

Our immediate first thought was, "What on earth kind of tree is that?!" followed by, "That can't be an elm... can it?"

Silly how delightful I felt knowing that we just found a rare species in the middle of the woods, in its natural habitat - but it was also that they were still hanging on, healthy, and that they would probably come back, despite our meddling. Awesome.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tidal two-step

For Foundations of Environmental Education, I was given an assignment to visit and critique a museum or zoo exhibit, to see whether or not it would have an impact on the general public in raising their ecological literacy or environmental values. I chose to visit the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire, which is part of Odiorne State Park. The Seacoast Science Center is an environmental education center in the park which integrates historical and ecological learning about the area, and hands-on programs for children of many age levels.

One notable exhibit was located on a corner of the hallway, was L-shaped and featured two large screens, recessed into a display that was flat so that you looked down upon them. The screen on the right showed a map of the Great Bay Estuary system, including Portsmouth Harbor, the rivers that input into the system, and the open ocean. On the right of the screen were several colorful buttons which could be activated by touching the screen. The question above the buttons was, “Where would you like rainwater to enter?” The choices were each points along the watershed such as Portsmouth Harbor, Odiorne Point, Great Bay, The Oyster River, and the Upper and Lower Piscataqua rivers.

When you touched one of these points, the map created a red area which represented a high concentration of rainwater. The map then showed the tidal movements and distribution of that rainwater. In each scenario, though most were slightly different from each other, the rainwater danced in and out of the inlet, never all being washed out to sea because of tide timing and strength. The rainwater stayed mostly where it was. I was surprised by this. In the Portsmouth Harbor Scenario, where I thought for certain it would all be drawn out to sea, the opposite was true. The rainwater was sucked into the estuary on the next high tide.

The display was based on a complex computer model developed by Dartmouth College, but it was impressive. As the tides cycled and you watch the red rain disperse but still stay centrally located.

The open-ended questions at the end would allow for some kind of group discussion or interaction. I wished I was there with someone else so I could have showed them this exhibit!

The screen on the right had a similar demonstration, only it was more zoomed in on the Great Bay area. On this map, you could point your finger anywhere in the watershed, as many times as you wanted, and a yellow dot would show up and track up and down with the tides where the “pollutant” you just put in the area eventually ends up. Again it reinforced the idea that these systems are complicated, and the idea that all water leads to the sea can be misleading. Especially the idea that things will just "go away" if you dump them into a river or stream.

I think I learned the most from this exhibit out of all the ones in the center (I am a little biased because I have a degree in Marine Biology) but I think it was a good way to illustrate a point. While the exhibit didn't directly say “Don't throw bad things into the waters around here,” it could easily lend itself to that connection. It was interesting, interactive and indirectly brought home a point about water pollution in the area. I think that was very well done.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Are you Funkin kidding me?

I love halloween, I love autumn and I especially love carving pumpkins, it's a great memory for me. I even was a jack-o-lantern for Halloween one year (see picture to the left!)

However, I was in Joanne's Fabrics the other day, looking for some last-minute Halloween stuff for my costume, and I came across what I thought were decorative pumpkins (I.e. ones for your living room that won't attract flies after a week)... but I was wrong.

I read a little further and found out what they were. They were "Funkins" fake, plastic, carvable pumpkins. That's right, fake pumpkins. Apparently, someone thought that there was a need for a fake pumpkin that you can carve just like real pumpkins, but will last forever and not be such a mess. I went home to look up more about them and here's what I learned from their Frequently Asked Questions page.

Funkins are made of patented low–density polyurethane foam and are painted with polyurethane paint.

Oh, this sounds terrific for the environment. Instead of biodegradable material - like a real pumpkin which can be composted, fed to farm animals, left for squirrels - we have more chemical compounds that will last forever in a landfill. How bad is it to breathe this stuff when you're cutting and scraping it, I wonder?

The walls of Funkins are about one half of one inch thick (varies with size of Funkin). And Funkins are already hollow. This makes them just as easy to carve as real pumpkins (without the gutting and the mess) and very realistic looking.

Are we that oversensitive that we don't want to touch the "goo" inside pumpkins anymore?!

Never use real flames inside Funkins, this could result in fire or the release of harmful gas. There are plenty of options available for lighting Funkins and pumpkins that are safer than real flames such as the Funkins Pumpkin Light and the Funkins Battery Operated Tealight.

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. Not only are they fake, they're going to poison me to death if I put a candle in it. I am not making this up - the italisized text comes direction from So, now, they've got you buying their lighting products, too, to put inside their toxic plastic pumpkins. More landfill refuse.

I have a lot of problems here, but even the fact that you can buy them online defeats the purpose. As a kid, every October, we would go out to the country with my family and get a pumpkin from the "pumpkin farm." It was a whole sensory experience, and I remember the leaves being crispy, the smell of the fields, the hayrides, cider, maple candies, sunset and the colors of the leaves and pumpkins, the feeling of my little boots squishing in the mud. I loved that - and it became a family event to carve them too.

In today's hectic family lives, we've already lost so many family activities. Eliminating the trip to a special "pumpkin farm" in the country, by having a sterile, plastic pumpkin come in a box in the mail (probably packed in Styrofoam) robs children of the whole experience! They don't even smell like pumpkins. They may look good to your neighbors on your porch, but it's a sad faximile of what should be an interaction with nature and even a lesson about farming, harvests and seasons.

I'm sorry but I think that Funkins are one of the worst ideas I've ever heard of. For those of you not convinced, think about this. A typical, medium sized pumpkin (real one) costs between $7-10 usually depending on weight and where you get it. The prices for a typical funkin are between $30 and $40 each. What normal family can afford that?

I just don't understand why people would want this. Sometimes, fake replacements for things have a good reason. There are fake floorings that are identical looking to rare rainforest woods, and prevent their over harvesting by providing a feasible alternative. But, there has to be a good reason first. After twenty minutes of searching I couldn't find one website dedicated to why we should stop carving pumpkins, or one reason why its "greener" not to. These replacement pumpkins aren't made of anything natural, and we're doing more harm than good here. They're not safer (obviously, between the fireballs and poison gas) nor less expensive, or more fun somehow. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. Please. I want there to be farmers growing pumpkins around by the time that I have kids, that's all I ask.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the human element

I am reading a rhetorical analysis (literary criticism) of Rachel Carson's silent spring. It is from chapter 5 of the book "And No Birds Sing" by Craig Waddel. I came across the following passage that sparked my thoughts.

"Silent Spring offers an alternative to technological psychosis yet does not require readers to reject science. Carson uses scientifically validated information to weave humanity into the vast tapestry of life on earth.
She does not insist that all life is the same but leaves considerable room within which a reader can negotiate a place for human needs and desires that is just a bit more special than that occupied by other life. She does not urge people to return to a previous age of innocence but to move forward out of the 'stone age of science.'
She offers a revised view of progress that accounts for multiple perspectives, inculding, but not limited to technological solutions to environmental dilemmas. She does not just give us good and evil. Instead, she waves a terministic screen that accounts for a complex interconnection between humans and other earth life."

I thought that the point above can be summed up in this video. (Ironically, it is a commercial for Dow Chemical.)

I found the juxtaposition there quite interesting. Dow Chemical is known for being polluting and one of the types of companies that Rachel Carson would be fighting were she alive today. But in a way, for PRs sake, at least, Dow has embraced the idea that there is a "complex interconnection" between humans and the earth - and that we have to acknowledge that. Also, the idea that technology and earth can be in harmony is a radical proposal from a chemical company.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

home is where the soil is

Usually, when people talk about "new forms of life" appearing in their apartments, they're referring to a plate left in the sink too long which begins to grow a new layer of fuzz. But today, I discovered a new kind of life on my porch, which I totally didn't expect to see.

I was sitting outside because it was a beautiful windy day, the type which flips the leaves backwards and allows the falling leaves to dance wildly in the air before surrendering to gravity. I was doing my readings (attached to a clipboard so they woudn't fly away) and I happened to look down at the porch itself. It's made of wood, with small cracks in between the panels of wood. We had a bird feeder out that had a run-in with a storm, and the seed dispersed everywhere. Because of lack of a broom and general laziness, we never really bothered to clean up the seed. (It's natural anyway, right?)

So today, to my surprise I see sunflower sprouts in the cracks! They accumulated a little bit of soil from sand and seed husks to make a home for themselves. They look regularly spaced, too, which is purely coincidental but neat just the same. My only regret is that it is not summer so I could see them grow - I think that the next frost may wipe them out.

I looked at them and I thought about what I'd been learning about community succession - its all about opportunity, and being in the right place at the right time. These guys had the right combination of lazy roommates, randomly occurring conditions, plentiful rain and sunlight, and low traffic so they wouldn't get trampled. Yet they and a few other sprouts are content right where they are. That's succession for you.

a gift could be an enemy

I've been doing a lot of reading for one of my classes on the idea of environmental justice - or rather, environmental injustice. Just like reading Silent Spring, I was surprised by my own ignorance on the topic. The idea is that there is an inherent inequity both racially, economically and culturally, that allows minority groups to be exploited environmentally. Think of this as the ultimate and finite end to the "Not in My Backyard" argument. Hazardous waste has to go somewhere, and groups or towns that cannot afford to fight it, or do not have enough education to know the effects, or do not have enough socioeconomic power to oppose it, have the worst of the worst environmental pollution and degradation dumped in their own backyard.

I just read a few articles arguing that environmental justice and multicultural education should be integrated into environmental education, and I agree fully. I was left with a whole lot of thinking after reading one particular article about white privilege. It wasn't your typical article on racism as it did not point a finger at people who are white and blame everything on them, but it was a self reflection on the daily privileges that a white person is afforded in the country. The author, a white woman, said that this was very difficult to write, and I think I understand why. Some of the privileges that the author listed were things like:
  • I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • I can be reasonably sure that if I ask to talk to "the person in charge" I will be facing a person of my race.
  • I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
There were a total of about fifty of these types of assumptions. What she was attempting to do was to speak of the taboo of privilege. She made a very good point that most everyone in our culture understands that minorities are put a disadvantage, but most are wholly reluctant to admit that their own race is put at an advantage as a result, which would be quite logical if it were not so threatening of an idea to our own egos.

Think about it. If anything, the subject is unsettling because it deflates the sense that we've earned our positions (wherever we stand financially, socially, culturally, popularly) and it makes me, personally, wonder if I got to where I am on my own merit, or as a symptom of this system of privilege. I think our egos may be the strongest reason that were are in such denial of this. Because for me to face that it was not purely a result of my own hard work that got me here is very tough.

On the flip side, this really explains the perpetuation of this system of preference and advancement. If I don't have to worry about daily interactions and constantly have to apologize for, explain or try to live above the notions of my own race, then think of how much more I can succeed in life. When people are constantly having to prove their worth or potential, energy is wasted on that which someone who is privileged could use to further their own status.

Also, when we address issues of environmental justice, where a minority group is being exploited, we need to address the issues head on and through the cultural means present. It is not enough to say that we should strive towards living in a sustainable environment through education - most of that education will never reach these types of communities. Perhaps recognizing some of our own privileges we are afforded will get us to that point.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

simply effective

And then there are pieces of information that are presented in such a creative way, that I can't not talk about them. Check out this WWF (World Wildlife Federation) ad which uses the sun to convey a really neat message about global climate change.

Kudos to whomever thought this one up.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

swallowing Silent Spring, part 2

For a while, I have been cautious of embracing the idea of eating only organic foods. I viewed it as a marketing ploy to somehow convince people that the fruits from farm A are better for you than the ones at farm B, and that you will be healthier as a result of choosing more expensive "organic" foods from farm A. There is a lot of muddiness with the organic certification process as well, and a lot of gray area in the definition. But the definition is as follows:

Organic foods are produced according to certain production standards. For crops, it means they were grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, human waste or sewage sludge, and that they were processed without ionizing radiation or food additives.

Now, needless to say I am a grad student without a lot of money, and I'm forced to make pretty frugal decisions when it comes to what I eat and where I live. So buying organic didn't seem to be "worth it" to me. But the section of Silent Spring that I just read may have changed my mind.

Throughout the book, Carson's been describing an effect known to biologists as bio-accumulation. Essentially, when a bug contains a little pesticide, and a bird eats a lot of bugs, they end up with an even higher concentration in them than if they had been exposed to it themselves. I couldn't help but make the mental correlation from the plants and crops that we grow with these chemicals and bio-accumulation in our own bodies. If it happens to robins, snakes, foxes... why would we magically think that we're not ingesting, and storing poisons in our tissues?

Again, I know that this is written in the 1960s, and we have learned a lot then. But I think I need to do more research on where my food comes from and what's done to it before I eat it. Rachel Carson's describing an effect of a particularly notorious pesticide, DDT.
"To find a diet free from DDT and related chemicals, it seems one must go to a remote and pr imitative land, still lacking the amenities of civilization. When scientist investigated the native diet of Eskimos in Alaska, it was found to be free from insecticide... When some of the Eskimos themselves were checked by analysis of fat samples, small residues of DDT were found. The reason for this was clear. The fat samples were taken from people who had left their native villages to enter the United States Public Health Service Hospital in Anchorage for surgery. There, the ways of civilization prevailed and the meals in this hospital were found to contain as much DDT as those in the most populous city. For their brief stay in civilization, the Eskimos were rewarded with a taint of poison."
I have to say that this will probably become a side research topic for me to look into. I'm curious as to what our current science and technology has to say about the chemicals in our foods. Could this be contributing to the increase in strange nervous system diseases, SIDS, autism? Are we being silently affected by what we eat?

For another great blog post on this, check this one out (not written by me).
Everyday toxins

I am not one to normally react to things like this, but it makes logical sense, really. I have to say, though, that I'm not to thrilled about deciding what to eat for breakfast this morning.

Monday, October 15, 2007

swallowing Silent Spring, part 1

This week, I am reading Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, a landmark book in the environmentalism movement. I'm approaching halfway, but it is a little difficult to read. It isn't written in terms I can't understand, in fact it is quite clear. But is really shocking to me to read about such horrible things going on in our environmental past.

The book is framed around the use of chemical pesticides, and their devastating effects on humans, plants, livestock, birds, and whole ecosystems. What is most striking to me is the level of carelessness that was (is?) used when these pesticides are used. I know this is from 1962, and a lot (I hope) has changed since then. But I find myself having to take breaks from reading it just to absorb its gravity.

I'm also taken aback by the governmental involvement in the "management" of certain pests or plant species. I thought our government now was making stupid decisions for the environment. I can't imagine being alive when this was written.

For example, in 1959 in Detroit, the US Department of Agriculture somehow decided that there were too many Japanese beetles in the area, and decided to implement a spraying program to get rid of them. At this time, they sprayed 27,000 acres of southeastern Michigan, including suburbs of Detroit. They dusted the air with pellets of aldrin, "one of the most dangerous of all the chlorinated hydrocarbons."
"...the pellets of insecticide fell on beetles and humans alike, showers of 'harmless' poison descending on people supping or going to work and on children out form school for the lunch hour. Housewives swept the granules from porches and sidewalks... the little white pellets of aldrin, no bigger than a pin head were lodged by the millions... when the snow and rain came, every puddle became a possible death potion" pg. 87
The pubic in this case, were advised that the actions were completely harmless. After dead birds and squirrels started showing up in people's yards, after cats and dogs were poisoned, after people began to have strange respiratory illnesses, the government still maintained that it was all harmless.
"Despite the insistence of the City-County Health Commissioner that the birds must have been killed by 'some other kind of spraying' and that the outbreak of throat and chest irritations that followed the exposure to aldrin must have been due to 'something else,' the local Health Department received a constant stream of complaints." pg. 89
What this makes me think of quite crisply is the local spraying to eliminate West Nile Virus. This is touted as being completely harmless to humans, pets, wildlife, but I wonder if we will find out that we, too, have been mislead about the safety of those operations.

I'm going to leave on that thought, and focus on a different bit of homework for the moment, then come back to silent spring after I feel a little less... nauseous.

One blue bead for man, an entire strand for everything else

“Time is like a handful of sand- the tighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers”

There are some times when looking at a list of words or dates just won't make information stick. I have been finding that this is true of the geologic time scale. For those unfamiliar with what that is, it's basically a historical calendar of what's happened in the last 600 million years. Paleontologists have broken up this vast amount of time into "Eras" and "Periods" of various significance, marked by distinct changes in life on earth. For example, the Jurassic era was between 144 and 213 million years ago and included the rise of the dinosaurs. There is a whole list of them. They also have confusing and long names, like Permian, Ordovician, Oligocene, Carboniferous, Cambrian... etc.

For my earth science exam this Friday, I have to know the geologic time scale, so that when my teacher asks, 50 million years ago, what period was it, I have to know that it was during the Cenozoic era and the Tertiary period. So, in the face of a daunting amount of information, dates and names, I decided to go tactile/visual. I made a necklace with a series of beads which represent the different eras and epochs.

I can't claim that I came up with this idea, only that I actually put it together. A friend in my community ecology class inspired me by telling me about her friend who had done it to learn them.

In the picture, everything on the bottom fork of the 'v' are the geologic period. The bright blue bead represents the last 2 million years, the Quartenary period. I had each bead equal 10 million years exept fot hat one. But if you look at the blue bead compared to the rest of our geologic history, you can see that we've barely been on the planet at all.

After the Quartenary is the Tertiary (brown), Cretaceous (light green), Jurassic (dark green), Triassic (light blue), Permian (bright orange), Carboniferous (shiny black - like carbon.), Devonian (gold), Silurian (silver), Ordovician (pink) and Cambrian (blue). Each boundary is marked by a silver bead to divide them, and each has the appropriate number of beads in it to show how long each period was. I.e. the Carboniferous period has 9 beads to represent 90 million years.

If you look at the other part of the 'v' in the necklace, you'll notice there aren't any silver dividing beads. That's because this is a section of what happened within the Cenozoic only (so it's like zooming in on the first two colors of the other side). The epochs within the Cenozoic are represented by beads that are 1 million year each, except, again, for the Holocene, which represents only 100,000 years. Within the Cenozoic were the Holocene (purple) Pleistocene (blue), Pliocene (green), Miocene (tan), Oligocene (clear), Eocene (brown), Paleocene (pale yellow).

I plan to wear this necklace all week, and practice memorizing the different eras, and counting how long each of them were. I hope that this will help solidify the information in my head better than just staring at a chart.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Map project - Miller Place NY

In Foundations class on Friday, my assignment was to make a map of a place that is special to me, that resonates with who I am and gives me definition. I chose to do the beach at Miller Place where my mom lives as the focus of my map.

I took pebbles from the beach there and glued them to the bottom where the waves were coming in, and got quite creative with the map. When I get a moment, I'll edit the entry to show you a picture of how it came out.

In class, we got to see everyone else's maps, too. I noticed a lot of common themes in the maps, especially that most of them contained a body of water somewhere in the map. I wonder if that's a subconscious connection for most people to serenity and peace... An interesting commonality, none the less. I enjoyed doing this project, too, because I got to think of all of the senses when describing my place.

I think I took a different road than most people on this project by picking a place that has been special to me recently instead of when I was a child. I remember my childhood with absolute fondness, but I had a hard time picking out a single spot to do a map of for this assignment. So, instead I chose a place where I now feel peaceful, serene and in touch with nature, a beach house at my mom's place in Miller Place, NY on Long Island. I chose this place because it has an element of mystery, peace, religion, secrecy and nature all intertwined in it. There are secret lives of animals that I never see roaming around at night, each day the ocean offers up different treasures from below to look at, touch or keep. I made my map tactile, too, so that I could remember and associate the smooth rocks with the place.

What I learned while doing this project for myself was that a lot of the things that I cherished finding along the beach were actually not natural objects. Beach glass, for example, is smooth, polished bits of broken glass that have been shaped by the waves and rocks. But beach glass starts off as an old beer bottle, a window, a dish... all trash that has somehow made it into the ocean. And by the quantity of beach glass that I've found over the years, I can only imagine that there must be a near constant source of glass into the ocean somewhere. I occasional find worn bricks, porcelain, tile all which are beautiful in their own right, but are actually pollution... it made me reflect on the idea that I had always associated these things with being natural and a part of the beach.

Monday, October 8, 2007

children in trees

I've been reading a book called "Last Child in the Woods" which is about a lot of things I've believed for a while about how I'd like to raise my hypothetical, future children. (I have to qualify that lest some of my readers think that there is any possibility of children in my near future... which there is not)

I really encourage all parents (and future, hypothetical parents, too) read this book. There's a link to it on the right hand side of my page. It isn't about hippies telling people how to live or how to raise their children without using toilet paper (thankyouverymuch Sheryl Crow) but it's a practical look at how children are being raised today - in less and less contact with the natural world, and the consequences to children in their adulthood.

If you're an adult now, think about your childhood. When you were young did you play in the woods, or up the street from where you live? Were you allowed to explore, build forts, bring home animals, use your imagination? Was there a place outside somewhere that you knew better than the back of your hand? Do you remember the seasons, or playing outside in the winter, summer, fall, and the special things that went with those times? I do.

You don't have to be rich either, to experience a rich childhood outdoors. Most people found places near them, and playing outside is free most of the time. I played in my backyard, up the street, behind people's houses. The picture above is of me climbing one of the maple trees in my front yard. When they could, my parents took me to the beach on Long Island, and we had picnics at Green Lakes, a small lake a few towns over.

Every season we did something different outside - collected leaves, carved pumpkins, played with "helicopters" (maple tree seed pods), made boats for the backyard when it flooded in the spring, dug in the dirt, read in the hammock suspended in the backyard tree, planted things, collected shells, painted rocks with water so they looked just as pretty as on the beach... I could write a whole book on the things that we did for free as a kid outside.

Now, think of the typical eight year old that you know now. Maybe its your own child, who makes a bee-line right from the bus after school to instant message their friends on the computer, or perhaps they walk through the door already texting someone on their cell phone. Their head down, looking at something small and blinking, they miss everything going by, they miss the rainbow in the sky and the bird sitting in the trees. Take them outside, and they're bored. Children today are punished by loss of TV time. Children of the past were punished by being kept indoors while all their friends played outside.

What I love about this book is that it isn't an apocalyptic story about how all of our future generation will end up as zombies or hyper neurotic adults. It is a simple discussion, reflection and instruction on how to get kids into nature, and how to make sure that nature experiences are a part of every child's formative years - by allowing for unstructured play, involving children in outdoor activities beyond just a plain sports field, and many other subtle things that are often missed these days. I think this is more important than our society realizes...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

talking about the weather

On Friday in Earth Systems science, we talked a lot about weather processes. I learned a little bit about this in 9th grade Earth Science, but I don't think I fully understood it at the time. (I remember being very confused). This time around, however, I really understand what my teacher is talking about. I followed what he was saying about what causes and affects the currents, air masses, fronts and even the jet stream, and why certain storms go in certain directions. I'm glad I'm learning this, because if I'm going to be outside as part of my career, it pays to know what's going on with the weather at all times.

Speaking of weather, I would like to point out something. Today is October 6th. Today, I woke up and went to do Tai Chi for an hour with the archery people at UNH. When I got out of Tai Chi at around noon, I walked out to my car. Being the environmentalist that I am, I decided to walk to the coffee shop in town instead of drive. So I threw my laptop bag over my shoulder and started walking. The sun was warming and very bright - I picked up a few fall leaves on the way and then sat outside while I drank my chai. When I walked back to my car, I was downright warm - the sun was in full force and I believe it was in the mid eighties for temperature. So, I did what any responsible grad student would do. I decided to abandon my to-do list for the day, changed into my bathing suit and shorts, and went directly to the beach.

The beach was beautiful, and the water was incredibly clear and warm. I repeat, warm. I went swimming in it for over an hour, then laid on the beach and read a book for another half hour in the sun. It was fantastic. At the same time a harvest/fall fest was going on in Dover, here I was on the beach listening to the waves crash. That is one fantastic October day!

Friday, October 5, 2007

There is nothing I would rather wake up and see

Last night, I stayed over at Glikin & Caroline's place on Spofford Lake and I have to say, the morning view there just floored me. I woke up at 7:02am as the sun rose over the ridge of hills, bounced off the lake, and allowed my eyelids to flutter open. I was sleeping in an open room that has windows lining the entire side and front of it. The cabin faces east, so the sun was the first thing I saw this morning when I woke up.

I went outside, did some tai chi and took some pictures. It was absolutely beautiful there, and I am so lucky they are letting me stay there on Thursday nights from now on. I can't wait to explore the area more, but for now, it has been a wonderful experience.

I'm going to add a link to an album of Spofford Lake that I'll be adding to because I have so many gorgeous pictures of the area already to show.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Freewrite - Cricket symphonies

I hear you, but cannot find you. Your pleasant pitch almost blends with the squeak of machinery behind me, but your tone is crisper, clearer and certainly more pleasant. You stop periodically as if to catch you breath, though I know you're not whistling, but rather rubbing legs or wings together. How steady, calm, and harmonious you sound - so sure and unfaltering. A cousin joins from a neighboring shrub, a slightly different voice and pitch. Softly, you rise into a glowing chord, joined by the tinny vibrato of the katydid. Another player adds short chirps that seem to click with joy. Like pit musicians tuning their strings, your chorus rises, the symphony as a whole instead of your solitary self.

I can hear you all simultaneously and yet also apart. I can hear you overpower and drown the machines with your bright songs. Long, peaceful notes punctuated by pleasant, short memories, underscored by a deep rhythm. The rustling leaves add a tad of percussion to the mix as I enjoy this ' found orchestra' while sitting in an amphitheater built for one. I wonder if I've interrupted a session by listening in .

The tune carries on in perpetual practice or perhaps performance. This is your occupation, the songs that carry on the wind. Ever practicing, ever perfecting the movements and codas, the timing and pauses until you've made an exquisite symphony for me, for no one, for everyone.

Without you, the song could not be as whole.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Big trees!

Today I went walking through College Woods in Durham (part of the UNH Campus) to do my first solo observation paper.

When I walked into College woods, I noticed a few things. First, there were stumps on the ground. They were highly rotted, but there just the same. Perhaps logging had been going on? I then looked at the rest of the tree canopy - lots of very old trees. I read online that all of College Woods was cut at least once. They used to use the wood to make the buildings on campus. Morrill Hall still has some of the wood - and that was put up in 1903.

I then came across one birch that is just an un-naturally large size! It was bigger than most of the huge white pines I've seen, and very tall AND wide. I don't think I've ever seen a softwood that big in my entire life. It made an impression on me. I took a photo with my hand in it so you could get the scale of how massive the trunk was.

The pine trees, for the most part, seemed older, too. They were fatter and taller than ones I'd previously encountered. There were some with huge basal scars and I first thought of fire. But then I remembered the logging stumps and thought it could be from some of the logging activity that had gone on. There were also stone walls crisscrossing the path that I was on, so it is also possible that there was pasture activity at some point as well. What a complicated site!

The second site I chose was an obvious one, a blow down site (where trees have been knocked over by wind). Several huge white pines had fallen in the same direction, and pulled up the dirt with their roots. That tells me that they fell while still alive and it had to have been quite a wind.

I did more research on properties that UNH owns, and I now have a lot of ideas about doing my next observation paper.... I didn't know there was so much preserved forest land out here!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

through the lenses

On Wednesday, I called up my mom to chat about an upcoming visit this weekend, and she told me about her evening. She left work an hour early, prompted by the summer-like heat wave, and decided that she wanted to enjoy the last throes of summer while she still could. She came home and walked down to the beach near her house, walked along the beach and swam about a mile down the beach with the current helping her along. She drifted, floated and watched the sun setting. As she turned and swam back in the opposite direction, she watched a big, fat, orange harvest moon swell over the water and rise high into the sky as she swam back. The colors, and the beauty of watching both the sun set and moon rise was an absolutely spiritual experience for her, and she yearned for her camera at the time so she could have showed me how beautiful it was.

Interestingly enough, the idea of trying to capture nature or a scene - but never being able to truly do so - was the topic of my Language of Nature discussions today. The Picturesque movement that I talked about before was simply that artists tried to "frame" nature within their canvas. They tried to capture (or sometimes create) the quintessential representation of the landscape, while not truly reflecting it in its entirety. The picture to the right is from a park on the seacoast... it is a metal sculpture of a painter with a frame with an empty middle, and standing in the right place, you can get the 'picture' of the landscape without fully absorbing it.

Every morning that I drive into Keene and every afternoon that I drive home I am struck with the same situation that my mom described. I have a camera, but despite the pictures I take, I can't really describe the whole picture, the whole beauty of my drive in a frame of sorts. It took me a few weeks, but I've stopped trying to capture the drive's beauty.

The chorus to John Mayer's song "3x5" says this well:

didn't have a camera by my side this time
hoping I would see the world from both my eyes
maybe I will tell you all about it
when I'm in the mood
to loose my way with words
but let me say
you should have seen that sunrise
with your own eyes
it brought me back to life...

To experience it, you'll just have to take the same route early in the morning sometime to feel it. Nature to me is not only for your eyes or for your camera to capture. Its about rolling my windows down while driving and smelling the pine trees, swamps, flowers and fallen leaves - its hearing the birds, locusts and rustling of trees in the wind... It is an experience that can never be captured in a picture alone - so I've given up trying, and have resolved to spend more time enjoying the journey instead of trying to photographically represent it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

From canvas to National Park

This morning, I decided to begin some of my homework in a relaxed way, and cross off what I could before getting into the intense and thick readings, or the papers that I will have to write. One of my pieces of homework from the Language of Nature was simply a link to a presentation about nature's relationship to art and God through history.

The first juxtaposition that I found interesting was that the woods were often portrayed in paintings as dark, scary, and unknown. God was not found in nature and to revere nature as beautiful was a competition to spirituality. Eventually, things changed and light began to represent God's presence in paintings. Forests eventually lightened their understories and shafts of light may illuminate something in particular, reminding you that God is present in that natural setting, and revering God's natural beauty that was created by him was acceptable and desirable.

I learned some fascinating things from the presentation about how art reflected the attitudes and ideas that man had about God and nature and changed with those shifting ideas. I was surprised to learn that the painters who painted real places were very much responsible for their eventual preservation.

Places like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Niagara Falls were not places that people were able to visit directly, but by painters highlighting their awe-inspiring beauty, people felt compelled to make sure that those landscapes were not ruined. The same was true for several animals, and the point was made that the turkey was almost made the United State's official bird - which would have certainly lead to the extinction of the eagle.

I have to say that I really want to visit some of the National Parks out west even more now...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Metamorphic meanderings...

Turned in my first observation paper today, and I felt pretty good about it. I am still struggling a bit with the tree and non-woody plant identification, though I expected that since I haven't had much practice. I am anxious to see what my Community Ecology teacher has to say about the paper. We had a lecture today on niches and factors in competition. It was hard for me to focus on and take notes because I feel like I already know what he's talking about from Ecology at UNH or just from being a real bio geek. You can't talk about anything going on at the shoreline without understanding competition, predation, coevolution, etc. I did learn that some plants have nasty chemicals in their leaves which, when they fall, inhibit the germination of other seeds anywhere near the base of the plant. Sneaky way to make sure that you are the only tree around...

This afternoon, though, in Earth Systems Science, we took a field trip to visit various road outcrops and actually an abandoned old pigmatite mine. Most of what we saw were metamorphic rocks, bent, melted, twisted and recrystallized into other rocks. As we learned more about what processes caused those types of formations, I realized that, collecting "rocks" as a kid, I never really connected fully with the overall processes like igneous intrusions, metamorphic rocks, etc, because the rocks I had were on such a small scale. It was great to have some familiarity with them (and the three different types of rocks in general) so that I could try to grasp the bigger picture things that were going on.

I got to see contact zones and intrusions and varying crystal structures based on the rate of cooling, erosional factors... throwing me back into the world of rocks. It was a great outing because we got to visit several different sites, and the pigmatite mines were VERY cool. There they have a specific kind of granite that is rare, and also contains huge pieces of mica (and even a little garnet).

The second site we went to was awesome, too, because there was a huge stone bridge built over a stream, and the builders left a huge jut of rock and used it as part of the bridge. It was beautiful to see the natural and the man-shaped structures side by side (all of the rocks used in the bridge were obviously local stones of the same types.

On the way home, in traffic, I caught myself observing the road cuts and looking at the different types of rocks there. I love my life!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Foundations of EE - freewrite, outside

(For this assignment, we walked outside and were asked to journal about a specific place we found on the grounds, it was essentially an outdoor free-write.)

Behind me, the hum of power and sweat of asphalt, the griding noise of stones crushed underfoot and a car passing by. As I let my eyes unfocus and let me ears adjust I hear more - I hear crickets, the click of a dog's fingernails on stone, the brief rustle of leaves or snap of a dry twig. As I lift my notebook to write, a small cricket leaps off the page that he temporarily inhabited. When my eyes adjust to the symphony of green, it allows me to see yet more colors. A yellow goldenrod flower, a flash of red on a berry. An orange leaf, turning a little before its brothers. A deep red from the sumac, and a pale yellow leaves of a hop hornbeam.

I catch myself defining, categorizing, so I stop to breathe.

I adjust to the stillness, and I can see the motion. Leaves shivering gently in a breeze I am barely aware of. Grass springing back up where I once laid my hand. Bugs foraging climbing jungles of grass and mountains of stone. Doves fly overhead casually, as if nothing is new to them. Unseen, worms move earth and trees grow and bend. Leaves open, leaves color, leaves fall; constantly renewing. A leaf sinks to the ground and allows me to see all the others above. Silhouettes of tree branches frame my words on a page. More not seeing allows me to see tiny pale yellow flowers, and the perfections of a curled leaf.

I see death which allows me to observe life.
An insect buzzes with the same indifference to my presence as the dove, and visits each yellow flower, repeating the same functions at each. A chipmunk reveals himself and hesitantly beings a a journey divided into three foot bursts. A dragonfly circles swiftly with intent but his purpose is not something I can know...

Beautiful morning... pumpkin chai

There are some mornings that fill me with a sense of wonder. Some mornings are just perfect like that. Today, for the first time, I physically noticed that the seasons had changed a bit since last week. I left my apartment this morning and it was darker, and the sun peeked out at a different milestone in the trip. Days are getting shorter, shadows longer. It was foggy on the way up this morning, but it is always sunny when I get to Keene. The air was cool and I could see evidence of dew and perhaps frost from the night before.

Arriving at Keene early (as always) I decided to stop in for a chai. I got the strange urge for pumpkin - and I asked him to put a shot of the pumpkin flavor in my chai. It was marvelous and was autumn in a coffee cup.

The sun's rays were still low when I went in there this morning, and I took this picture of the front door, which faces the rising sun. What a beautiful way to start a day.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What I learned today...

When a mountain is composed of materials that don't easily erode, and it is in a range with mountains that do erode easily, the mountain will be taller than all the others around it. That type of mountain is called a monadnock. Mount Monadnock in Keene shares its name because it is such a mountain.

I learned that there are a lot of fossil hot spots in New England, and I kind of want to visit them now! I also learned that dinosaur footprints are far more common fossils than their bones.

I learned you don't have to go far from home to find interesting wildlife and places to wander - and on the flip side that if the place is accesible, then there's a darn good chance that other humans have been there first, and they've usually left evidence behind, like a mattress bridge or a fort too big for any child to be playing in...

recycled reflections?

As I have been going up to Antioch, I can't help but feel that the environmentalist spirit has entered my heart again. I was very, very cynical (and still remain partially so) after George Bush was elected again in 2004, and I kind of turned away from being on top of the Environmental News because I found it to be too depressing, too overwhelming to attack, and definitely too big for me to make a difference in. But my attitudes are shifting a little bit, because I'm surrounded by people who do believe we can make a difference. Since I've started attending Antioch, I've made a few changes in my life that I wonder about.
  • I picked up some of those canvas bags and I've been bringing them with me to the convenience stores and grocery stores instead of letting them give me plastic bags. It feels good, and it creates less trash for me.
  • I've been recycling more attentively. When I have a glass bottle of tea, I find somewhere to recycle it instead of trashing it in a dumpster.
  • I've been trying to eat "local" produce and food, but that is really hard being that there is hardly any labeling on the food I buy to this respect. Hannaford is great for that, but they're more expensive of course.
  • I've been buying packages of things that have less waste in them.
  • I've been recycling in my apartment *despite* there being no program to do so. (I'm brining my recycling to the UNH campus to add to theirs... sneaky, I know, but how else should I do it?)
What I'm specifically wondering - though maybe it doesn't matter - is whether I'm doing that because I think I should or it is right to, or because I want to look as if I am doing the right thing to my fellow Antiochians. Now, to my favor, most of what I do at home is not seen by them, so in that respect I am probably safe. But I think about it just the same.

observations in a little patch of Dover forest...

Kellee and I decided that, since we live in Dover, that it would be more convenient to find a place to do our observations close to home. We ended up going into the woods behind our apartment complexes. Despite initial discouragement because there were lots of signs of man's presence there, we eventually found a spot that was perfect.

The goal was to find a place where there are two portions of forest that are next to each other that are very different, and to try and determine the reason. The first part of the forest was dominated by very large and old White Pines, if I had to guess I would say 50-80 years old each. The understory and forest floor was littered with pine needles, and there was very little light, and not much light came through. The only other types of trees growing were very tiny beech and red oak trees, and a few wildflowers. (see picture to the left). There were also a curious amount of downed paper birch trees, all of which seemed to have been felled at the same time, which we did not have an immediate understanding of the reason for it.

In stark contrast to this was the site down a slight slope to this patch. There, ferns dominated the under story, the soil was wetter underfoot, and there were no conifers to be found- only tall silver maples, red oaks filled the canopy. This area of the woods was also lighter, and there was even grass growing. It was apparent that the area was likely often saturated with water - the grasses were recently all bent in one direction, and there was debris clinging to tree stumps, which makes me think that there was definitely flowing water ate one point. We found a frog, too, which also was a strong indication that there was water nearby.

I haven't been able to write up the observation paper quite yet as I ran out of time today, but I am confident that it was a good site to choose just based on the contrast we saw.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Putney field trip

Friday I stayed over at Antioch because of a morning field trip excursion to Putney Vermont. Admittedly, despite being woken up by a cat louder than a rooster, I got more sleep than I had any previous thursday night. I woke up and drove to Putney, with kind of sketchy directions given to me last night after having a few beers. So I got to the town just fine, but I didn't know where I had to go.

A few windy roads later, I didn't care that I was lost, because I saw some *beautiful* spiderwebs hanging out in fields from the morning dew and fog. So beautiful, I can't even describe. But I couldn't stop to photograph them, I had to go to the site. Later I passed schist (see picture) with oxidized iron ore in it, gleaming brilliantly in the morning sun.

Our class walked around forests and glacial delta deposits, digging up dirt and feeling it, tromping around in forests and looking at dominant species. One of the most memorable moments was coming to clay deposits - which had rivers of pure clay - exactly what you would use to "throw" a pot. I played with this in my hand for several minutes, forming a ball, and wondering about the awesome power of glacial waters and deltas that allowed the sediment to sort so perfectly.

The picture to the right is of a glacial runoff stream - the sediments there were dropped by melting glaciers and the stream was carved out by water melting in rushing rapids - slowed, of course, today, but it is still obvious that there is glacial history.

I didn't want to leave this powerful place - but I had to return to Keene for my later classes. I think I may return to Putney with my camera on another morning - it was so beautiful I cannot accurately describe it.

I took a few pictures on the field trip - of a few trees I'd never seen. I saw both an adult, natural sycamore tree, and an American Elm. The Elm is almost non-existant in New England because of Dutch Elm disease, so it was awesome to see one. My picture of the Elm wasn't fantastic, but the one on the left here is the Sycamore - it looks totally "wrong" in the forest it was in - a big, smooth white trunk and a height that dwarfed everything else in the canopy. Very cool.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Language of Nature - freewrite, first day of class

I am thinking of Karme Choling, such a strange and spiritual place, the first night I felt a little lost. Why go to bed in a place so wondrous with natural starlight and beauty - a tingly feeling of being alive? So I laid in my bed for about five minutes before becoming completely restless. I got up, took my camera and stepped outside.

Lighting flashed silently from afar, the only light to temporarily illuminate the grounds, highlighting the fields and mountains surrounding it. I walked around and watched the storm, still silent form its distance. I came to a field of wildflowers and let my eyes adjust.

What greeted me was an uncountable number of lightning bugs both in the air and on the plants, going about the business of advertising and attracting a mate. Part billboard, part telegraph their simple actions always made me smile as a child, but the synchronizations of the masses of them was something I could barely comprehend, like the stars.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Who am I?

A little introduction as to who I am and what I'm doing writing this. I was recently accepted to Antioch University of New England in Keene, NH to pursue a master's degree in Environmental Education. At our orientation, one speaker caught my attention when he said that our time here would be so short that we should do everything we can to savor it - and not let the experience of being here and learning slip through our fingers.

I plan to use this forum to post a journal of my experiences at Antioch, to post questions and thoughts and assignments so that I can really cherish and savor the time that I have at Antioch, and so I can get a true sense of what I've experienced and learned.

I chose environmental education because I've always been curious about nature and the world around me, from when I was at the seashore bringing my parents whatever cool organism I had uncovered in the sand, to more recently when I corrected and educated my coworkers about environmental news topics like e. coli contamination and the Avian Bird Flu. I wanted a formal way of sharing this knowledge with others - in my interview I spoke about that moment when a light bulb lights up in a child or adult's eyes when they finally understand - that is what I am out to do. I love to break down complicated topics into parcels that can be understood by anyone, and it has been my passion to educate others through writing or through telling them about it.

I invite you to check in here every once and a while as I put my experiences out there - and thank you for stopping by.