my ted talk

In my experience, fieldwork is not a social activity. Sure, the morning coffee and evening beer is a great time to share observations and questions, but the bulk of the work requires solitary effort. During my work in the Australian forests I spend many hours walking in silence, listening to the sounds, smelling the Eucalyptus, and having rather extensive conversations in my head about topics as broad as the Australian ecology. A lot of the time is spent daydreaming about what ifs. This past trip found me daydreaming about, and chewing on, the kernel of what my TED talk would be (not that I have been offered one).

As is often the case with my writing and public speaking, I start my planning by considering how best to leave an impact. I work on the opening sentence, the body language, the delivery. My TED talk started with, “I have a problem with the business model that…” And that was as far as I got while opening pitfall traps and changing data logger batteries.

The message I would like to get across is that we all have some sort of day-to-day, year-to-year, decade-to-decade, and occasionally life changing experience. I believe we can create community by sharing those experiences, however small. The art of perception is what we give to our neighbors. Their art is listening and distilling what they feel is important to their lives, then sharing with whomever they interact with. It creates a circle of communication and requires direct interaction and humility.

Direct interaction and humility are epitomized by our relationship to nature. I happen to subscribe to the idea that one of the things that binds all of us (read as organisms) together is, in fact, our surrounding natural environment. How we interact with and are influenced by our experiences in nature is something to be shared and learned from.

One of the ways I interact with nature is to seek to understand how it works. A by-product of this is my belief that science is one of the universal languages. The language of observation. The language of unraveling the mysteries of our world. The language of inquiry. The language of curiosity. When spoken and shared, science can level any playing field. It is the process of teaching, of learning, of learning to teach, and teaching to learn. If we are still enough, and listen carefully, we will hear this language spoken by dogs, cats, humans, ants, bees, sharks, buzzards, cacti…you get the idea.

So, after many hours of planning my TED talk, here is where I have landed: I am on stage, behind a small counter with a large espresso machine. Cups are neatly stacked on top of the machine and a grinder full of coffee proudly announces the café is open. Each seat in the audience has been fitted with an electronic device that allows people to order a coffee of their liking. I get the orders, along with a seat number. I make the coffee, deliver it, perhaps sit next to my new friend and give my talk in this fashion. The title of my talk is The art of sharing nature. My opening is, “I have a problem with the business model that separates and elevates my education and experience from, and over, yours. I have an issue with the cult of personality…”

I will send all of you tickets when this happens. Get your coffee order in early.