More than a calendar

I remember sitting on my mom’s couch and having the whole family tell me that the documentary I was watching was boring and weird.  But to me, this was an edge-of-my-seat exploration of one of the coolest hobbies that exists: keeping bees. I learned about colony collapse disorder, climate change, pollination, and of course honey (sweet, sweet honey). From that day on, I sometimes snuck in time to do internet research about beekeeping, look at beekeeping blogs, and just be generally nerdy about the whole thing. Unfortunately, at the time I was deep into my biology studies and had little extra time to devote to learning beekeeping. I told one of my professors how interesting I thought bees were and how I would want to become a beekeeper in the future. A few weeks later, he called me to his office to give me a gift… it was the most beautiful beekeeping calendar with up-close shots of bees and honey comb. This calendar went up above my desk to help me get through my immunology and microbiology studies, but beekeeping would have to wait until I had time for a hobby.

Alex and BeeGirlFast forward a year to the first few weeks in the Environmental Education Master’s program here at SOU. A beautiful, wonderful member of last year’s cohort met me for coffee and to share about her year-long internship experience…..with a Beekeeper! She didn’t just learn about beekeeping, she had the chance to learn about non-profit business and to be active in the conservation of bees and their habitat. The amazing organization she works with is called Bee Girl (http://www.beegirl.org/).  Bee Girl specializes in beekeeping education and honeybee conservation and has a mission to “inspire and empower communities to conserve bees and their habitat”. I was lucky enough to meet Sarah Red-Laird, the founder and executive director of the Bee Girl organization and she invited me to be a part of the Bee Girl team as an intern for the 2014-2015 school year. Can you guess what I said?

Alex and HONEYMy life will never be the same. What inspires me? The smell of wax and honey on a warm day, the buzz of fifty-thousand bees, the tickle of their hairy little legs when the land on me, and don’t forget the taste of fresh honeycomb straight from the hive. The honey bee is one of the most remarkable creatures on the planet and they have a big job to do! Bees pollinate many of the plants that are important to wildlife and to humans. Through their pollination services, bees are directly responsible for 30 percent of our diet. They are so important and amazing. I feel blessed to be a part of the beekeeping community and to have the opportunity, through Bee Girl, to be educating the public about the issues faced by my fuzzy little friends.

What does my beekeeping have to do with my studies in environmental education? Not only do I get a chance to keep bees and be involved with some of the most important pollinators on the planet; I am also working with children, adults, community groups and new beekeepers. I am educating the public on important environmental issues such as habitat conservation, sustainable farming, and local beekeeping. I have discovered that I can combine my passion for environmental education and my love of bees into something that makes me happy. Maybe beekeeping is meant to be my hobby. Or maybe in the future as a classroom teacher, I will be able to use this experience and to expose my students to new and interesting ideas. Who knows, I might even end up with bees in a school garden similar to what they have done at Ruch K-8 school (http://www.ruchschool.org/) . I’m happy and I love what I spend my time doing. Anyone can do this. If you love hiking, farming, the ocean, art, birding, geology, goats, kittens… (I don’t care what you love just as long as you embrace it) then work hard to find out where it fits into your life. If it makes you happy, then make it more than just a beautiful calendar on the wall.

Alex and Bees!

A Professional Theory

Why did we pick our profession over all others? This is a question that has been rattling around in my head for the last few weeks. We all begin life with nearly infinite possibilities, and over the years we narrow them down until we find ourselves in a single career. Is it something that we choose, or are we destined to our careers? It’s a question that I’m sure has sent many a philosopher into thought upon thought.  But how often do we, as everyday red-blooded Americans, think about the” why” behind our choice?

If you are anything like me you don’t think about the why of it very often. And when you do, your brain starts to hurt and you have to lie down for a bit. I’ve always seen this question as a challenge, and I must defend my choice. I’ll launch into long-winded dissertations about how the wonder of nature inspired me to share it with others, how this planet is ours and we need to care for it, or that seeing the “aha moment” in my students eyes is why I chose Environmental Education. However, I’ve developed a universal theory that is much simpler than all that.

On Friday February 27th one of my classes took a snowshoeing trip to Crater Lake National Park. The park was covered in snow, the visibility was minimal, and the wind was bitter cold. In the midst of these harsh winter conditions my theory began to take shape. We went on a 2mile hike with a Park Ranger and learned a little bit about how the plants, animals, and even the lake are impacted by the forces of winter. As we trekked along on our snowshoes, stomping down hard so as not to slide down the slopes, I started putting some pieces of my theory together.

Our hike provided gorgeous views of snow covered meadows bounded by glistening Mountain Hemlock. Even when we were hiking through clouds the views were still beautiful, if in a more ominous way. The first piece of my theory clicked into place, as I realized that there are few other professions that would allow me to call a day of snowshoeing “professional development”.

As we walked on, our guide told us about the different adaptations that plants and animals have to survive the harsh winters at Crater Lake. Did you know that Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels lower their body temperature to 39 degrees when they hibernate?! I even got to wrestle a young limber Mountain Hemlock to the ground to demonstrate how they can bend under the weight of snow and not break. Piece two was added to my growing theory. Knowledge of the natural world is what inspires me to learn more and make myself a better person. If I wasn’t always learning something new about the natural world, I would be terribly bored.

After the hike we gathered in the second story of one of the few open buildings at Crater Lake to discuss the performance of our guide. Our discussion took us through how you develop a theme, challenges of teaching during winter, how to read audiences, and how to keep a presentation fresh. The theory grew further during this talk. Discussing the art of teaching and learning how to convey your thoughts speaks to the communicator in me as well as the perfectionist. If you are going to do something you love, then you better do it right.

These three things were swirling around in my head as we pulled out of the parking lot. Maybe as we pulled out the driver stopped too suddenly or that last brain-cell finally decided to fire, but whatever it was my grand unifying theory of why we pick our professions came to me in a flash. When I looked at the simplicity of my theory I couldn’t believe how obvious it was, but here it is. We pick our careers for the sheer fun of them! For me, the only way the day could have been better is if I had a group of my own to present to. Every part of that day made me come alive with joy. I started to realize that all of the things surrounding Environmental Education are fun for me. Even sitting in meetings trying to determine what kind of t-shirts we should have are fun.

Hopefully that’s how you feel when you think about your career. Whether you be an electrical engineer, social worker, architect, or professional stay at home parent we all do these crazy things because they are fun for us. I’m sure the day I described above would be boring to some, but a day running computer simulations on the tensile strength of steel or flying a plane from city to city would not hold the same allure for me as I’m sure it does for industrial engineers and pilots respectively. So I wrote this blog to honor not overthinking things for once. The next time someone asks you why you do what you do, or you’re in the midst of an existential crisis I hope you look deep inside of yourself, hold your head up high, and answer with “I do it because it’s fun!” And for those of you who are still searching for a career or honestly can’t answer with “because it’s fun” I urge you to search for your fun, whatever it may be. Life is far too short not to have fun in your career. And that’s my professional theory.

Humbled by Giants

Last weekend, my grandma and I escaped the fog that had blanketed the Rogue Valley for days, venturing beyond Cave Junction, to where the road winds down the diverse rock formations and forests lining the Smith River. We were headed for the coast that I’d had a long overdue reunion with the weekend prior on a field trip. I’d wanted to go back as soon as I’d left and took the opportunity to do so, while at the same time share many of the things I have learned over the course my time here in Oregon.

Our first stop was a short botanical trail that led to an unadvertised wonder.

darlingtonia
Darlingtonia

The scene on our arrival could not have been more perfect as the sun broke through and illuminated the delicate features of the sprawling cobra lilies occupying the fen. We both stood in awe. This was only my third encounter with the unique plants and my grandma remarked on how she’d never in her life seen anything quite like it. Energized, we continued on toward the sea, where the noble Coast Redwood trees live. I have been infatuated with the giants since I was first humbled by their presence and could hardly contain my excitement.

But this was abruptly stifled as my grandma said that the last time she’d visited a redwood forest, she’d felt that “once you’d seen one, you’d seen them all.” I nearly swerved off the road as I gasped and searched for a way to respond to such a blow. I composed myself as I resolved that no one who had truly encountered the trees could utter such a thing. I knew then that before we could reach the sand I was aching to dig my toes into, we had to spend time in the forest.

herping
an ensatina

I took the split off of the 199 that takes you just barely into California and the Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park. I was headed for the Simpson Reed Trail I’d been on a few months earlier. It was short, but I was hopeful that it would be enough. Within our first few minutes on the trail, I was already babbling away about fire resistance, finding amphibians, and chewing on redwood sorrel. Although my grandma wouldn’t touch the slimy creature I’d discovered, she did humor me and try the tangy sorrel leaves. The tallest of the trees scattered the sunlight in warm rays that lit up ancient looking ferns and soft mosses; it was as though the forest were putting forth its best ‘face’ for my grandma. And in less than a mile’s walk, it worked.

When we got back into the car, she turned to me and said,

“Chelsea, thank you. That was truly magnificent. I was wrong, I understand.”

redwoodsI could have cried. It wasn’t just that she now understood my love for the trees, or even was on her way to developing a love for the forest herself, but the reminder that people don’t need to be convinced of the importance of preserving such natural wonders. More than sharing knowledge and facts, environmental education is about love. Drawn to the enthusiasm you can shamelessly share for what you are passionate about, people’s eyes are more open to see and respect that connection, and they may even begin to develop a passion of their own.

The rest of the day was just as magical. Back across the border into Oregon we spotted a few late southern Gray Whale migrants from Cape Ferrelo and explored the colorful rocky intertidal zone of Harris Beach.

the fluke of a gray whale
the fluke of a gray whale

So absorbed in exploring the coast, I’d forgotten that I’d mentioned earlier on our redwood forest hike that the largest trees in Jedidiah Smith State Park were along Howland Hill Road, which wound from Crescent City to Hiouchi.

As the late afternoon sun sparkled on the ocean’s calm surface and I began to entertain ideas of never leaving, my grandma again took me by surprise.

“Chelsea, do you think we’d have time to go back the long way along that road from Crescent City?”

My heart nearly burst.

to the Coast

Last weekend, most of Cohort 7 (plus Mandy from Cohort 5!) spent two days exploring the redwoods and the Oregon coast on a field trip for our Natural History class. The course focuses on the Klamath a knot, the unique and diverse bioregion we call home here at SEEC, and includes weekly field trips with the occasional marvelous weekend adventure.

Chaney wrote up another story, illustrated with photos of salamanders and redwoods and tide pools, so check it out here to learn more about what we learned about, and to get inspired for an adventure of your own!

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Winter Wonder – Crater Lake

The weather’s looking unseasonably warm and clear this weekend. Need some inspiration to get out and explore? Look no further.

Before heading home to Tennessee for the holidays, Cohort 7’s Chaney Swiney spent a day snowshoeing on the southwest rim of Crater Lake. He wrote about his day, illustrated with numerous photos of the winter scenery, so click here to check it out! And, when you get the chance, get up to Crater Lake and see the winter splendor with your own eyes. Though snow levels are well below average, it’s still worth your visit.

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Llao Rock and Mount Thielsen, just after sunrise

An Unexpected Journey

If I had to make a list of the top ten words that describe me, “adventurous” would not be one of them. I’m the kind of person who prefers a quiet night at home with good friends and a bad movie over an excursion to a local rock climbing area. You could even go so far as to say that I’m boring. In fact, I think most of us might describe ourselves that way if we took a realistic look at our lives. We spend hours completing one mind-numbing task after another until we are released to watch television in the comfort of home. It is a very hobbity existence where nothing terribly exciting happens and adventures are for elves and men. Yes, I’m a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and much like Bilbo Baggins I enjoy nothing more than doing nothing. But a few days ago adventure came knocking at my door, not in the form of a quest giving wizard, but powerful all the same.

On Tuesday January the 6th I received an email from Klamath Bird Observatory asking if I would be able to take part in a shorebird survey that Thursday in Coos Bay. My initial reaction was to scrounge for anything that would keep me from having to venture outside of my hobbit hole.

Do I have class on Wednesday or Thursday?

No.

Do I work?

No.

What about a meeting? Surely I have one of those scheduled!

No.

My schedule was woefully clear and something distinctly Tookish woke up in me. Why shouldn’t I take full advantage of this opportunity and do something that I love in a new place. I might see some really cool things and it might even be fun. Before I knew it I had responded to the email, copied down some directions from the computer, packed my binoculars and scope, and was ready to set out on my unexpected journey the following afternoon.

I don’t know if you have ever gone on a trip last minute like this, but I always get a distinct feeling of excitement when I mount up in my Honda Accord and set out into the unknown. And for me this truly was the unknown. I had no idea what awaited me as I left Ashland and set out on the great concrete serpent known as “the 5”.

Continue reading An Unexpected Journey

Let there always be wild places

At the start of the new year my family lost someone very dear to us under tragic circumstances. He wasn’t someone I knew very closely, but he was someone who I really liked and someone I looked up to.  He and I shared a deep love for wild places, and both of us chose careers following that passion.

After a couple of days moping around the apartment I had to get out, so Jeremy and I took a walk down to North Mountain Park. We followed a wilding trail that curved along a baseball field on one side, and a small but dense woodland marked as protected habitat on the other. As the trail softened to wood chips and split around various artistic and child-geared structures, we chose the path that most closed followed Bear Creek as it flows through Ashland.

The time came for Jeremy to leave for work, but I elected to stay behind. I found a quiet spot next to the creek and sat a while, thinking. A spotted towhee, a familiar face from home, called out from the opposite bank, flashing a hint of black and orange as he popped in and out of the brush. I thought about how, even so far away from the familiar of home, I felt connected by the mountains that ran almost parallel to my own Rockies, the deer and coyotes that moved through both of my backyards, the birds that sing both in Oregon and Colorado.

I listened to the whisper of water over riffles. I watched a clump of fur drift lazily downstream and wondered how its owner had become separated from it, likely snagging brush as it made to cross the shallow stream. Deer? Dog? Perhaps coyote? I thought of the salmon that had recently fought their way upstream to spawn here, and all the time I thought I had, the stories I would have loved to hear.

I considered the tiny little salmon waiting in the stream bottom, the streaks of brown feathers darting in and out of thick brush, the call of a flicker, the small hoof prints in the soft mud. I thought about all of the creatures of fur, feathers, and scales that had come here before me, and those that would pass this way long after I was gone. I was reminded of the nature of energy, how it is neither created nor destroyed, just ever-changing. Finally, I let myself cry.

I could have sat there by the creek forever, but the air was turning chill and the sun was ducking in and out of the cloud cover. I stood somewhat stiffly, breathing in the cool January air. As I turned to make my way slowly back home, I felt full and whole.

As I came up to the top of the hill overlooking the baseball field a red-tailed hawk soared overhead, making constant minute adjustments to hit a nearby thermal just right. As she circled higher and higher, I felt truly blessed to live in such a place where my kind and hers could live side by side.

Let there always be wild places, however small and humble, for they are not just for the wildlife that they protect, but for all of us. Sometimes it’s for quiet, sometimes for play, sometimes for beauty, and sometimes for when life pushes you back on your heels.  For whatever reason we find ourselves there, these are places that help us to feel connected, to feel alive, and to feel at peace.

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in memory of Cousin Larry

Discovering natural wonders with the Siskiyou Environmental Education Center (SEEC)

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