a quiet post

Hello everyone,

It has been a long time. I am here and aching to write. Yet as I sit down and catch my breath from the holiday rush, a 3000 mile road trip, writing a proposal that moves me along in my education, and start a new job as lab coordinator for CU’s Principles of Ecology lab, I am at a loss as to what to write. So I will just type this…

…Happy New Year and may all your crazy dreams and desires become real after the appropriate amount of effort has been put in to achieve them.

Chat soon.

Advertisements

find your runner’s high

We run because it concentrates the sweetness of living. We continue to live to demonstrate that your violence is dead.

I have never understood the use of violence to achieve a goal. I am pro-Irish and pro-Palestinian. I am vehemently anti-violence and I will never understand its use as a tool of leverage. I will never accept collateral damage. Never accept the death of an innocent eight year-old watching the beauty of human spirit and accomplishment. And if that child happened to be in Syria, Somalia, or Afghanistan instead of Boston, USA, I still would not accept it.

I have heard the reports of heroism, compassion, sadness, anger and confusion that is the aftermath of the events at the Boston Marathon. I have heard the defiance and resilience of Bostonians and Americans and I am proud to be a member of their tribe. I stand with their resolve and respect their paths of mourning and healing. And I will pause there…

…because I want to also illuminate all the other acts of courage, splinters of anger, fists raised in defiance, unwavering resolve to carry on, that happens every day around the World. The innocent bystanders caught off by flying shrapnel and maimed because of the inarticulate perpetrators of violent acts. I want the events in Boston to bring us together, all of us. To focus a light on the extreme nature of killing in the name of achieving. Humans have a lock on letting ideology, whether “home grown” or “international”, function as a justification for murder. I think we can do better.

I challenge you to run with that as your energy drink.

the presense of misunderstanding

Misunderstanding can be a gentle and learned teacher…

The other day I was running one of my standard favorites. Being Spring, the sky was clear, the temperature was low and the wind had kicked up to announce the movement of an upslope storm. As I climbed up the path, I approached a woman walking alone. Employing my usual practice, I yelled “on your left” many meters ahead of time so as not to frighten her. She turned with a start and a smile. “I am sorry if I scared you”, I blurted. Her response was “The wind has me…”. And thus the misunderstanding was born.

This past weekend I taught a workshop on evolution to a group of middle school and high school teachers. It was the first time I have taught to the people I see as my mentors. Yes, I was nervous. And yes, it went well. I was confident, relaxed and generally having fun. The response was positive with a number of teachers approaching me afterward to see if they could get my Powerpoint presentation to use in their classes. Public speaking is something that scares the shit out of me. And thus I have practiced it. A few years ago I jumped into a number of open mic sessions at a local poetry bookstore. I have practiced my presentations for general biology labs for undergraduates and reaped the benefits of not feeling incapacitated by fear. And I have stood in front of seventh graders over the course of the past year and talked about science; a subject I was never sure I could master.

The difference this weekend, standing in front of tenured teachers who had come to refresh their understanding of evolution, was that I was focused. I was focused on them as the experts and me as the tour guide. My role was to work with them, to discuss, to inquire, and to educate. The focus I had was on knowing there was no right or wrong in this discussion. I reveled in being present in what I was doing and didn’t much worry about what I wasn’t. There was a sense of comfort in not being perfect. In knowing I could explain any misunderstood or unclear concepts. And they responded with attention and appreciation.

While running to the high point of my run, I mulled over what I had thought I heard. I was sure the words she shared were “the wind has me present”. I felt so alive by this artistry. What a lovely way to express the immediacy of nature and its effect on our lives. Yes, the wind has us present, and thus it should.

As I ran down, I was so curious to know what she had really said. Well, mostly. Part of me wanted to accept it as it was. Part of me wanted to know if my story teller had invented something. As I approached her, this time face to face, I asked, “did you say the wind has me present?” She smiled big. “No! I said the wind has me flustered. But I love your version.”

That “flustered” and “present” are layers in the same story of my life is such a healing reality. That we can distinguish between the two is an art to be cultivated. Most of us will be nervous under certain circumstances. And most of us will be confident under certain circumstances. What struck me as liberating was seeing the space in between those two bookends and appreciating that growth happens when we jump into that uncertainty and expose weaknesses and fears that we can work on.

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.

how to be cool

Recently, while visiting a friend and her 13 year old, the same age I help teach science to, he said to me, “it must be so cool to be a scientist”. His comment caught me off guard. And the reason it knocked me off stride was that is was so astute. He could not have been more correct.

Last night I watched a NOVA special on ants. The renowned myrmecologist E.O.Wilson was the featured scientist. It would not be a stretch to call Dr. Wilson one of, if not THE, most important ecologists of our time. While his primary focus is on ants, his list of publications, books and investigations, on a wide variety of social and ecological subjects, is astounding. It would be a serious understatement to describe him as a genius. I tell you that, to tell you this: E.O. Wilson is a child at heart.

OK, to be honest I have never met the man. Yet, while watching him talk about ants; their incredible social structure, absolute dominance of most terrestrial environments, and the lessons we could learn, I was enthralled by his juvenile curiosity about the world around him. And herein lies the link to the comment about how cool it is being a scientist.

The foundation of the whole experience of being a scientist rests in the joy of being a child, of discovering the world around us and examining its components. It is a celebration of not knowing and the willingness to plunge head long into trying to find out. It is about synthesizing, deconstructing, learning, screwing things up, starting over, and moving forward, at whatever speed.

There are a number of times I have wanted to say to the children I teach, “enjoy this time and let it influence you”. What holds me back is the understanding that the message is more for me and my generation. My students are doing this naturally, even if it does not include paying attention in science class.

Adults, I sense, have forgotten the pleasure and fun in simple investigation. Of finding out what the obstacles to digging to China might be, of poking a stick into an ant colony, of microwaving Peeps. We can all be scientists, and science need not even be part of the equation. All it takes is a curiosity about something. Pick up a book by a new author, try a new roast of coffee, sign up to teach middle schoolers how to play the guitar. There is plenty to learn, and plenty to teach. We all have the coolness of being in us.

nature’s groupie…

This post is a bit out of order, as a few are still germinating in the memory of my iPad. Regardless, I wanted to get it out in the open.

When I told friends of my trip to the Southwest, I often used the term vision quest. OK, poetic license is available to everyone right? The response was a little unexpected, though I guess not surprising given that I live in Boulder. “Dude, are you doing peyote?!” For the record, no. This morning, however, I did mix and consume an amazing concoction.

The brew consisted of an 8 mile run on the Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon. The effects hit faster than that of DMT. Though I started in one place, I was transported to a point on the map that was other-worldly. It was a place where I was greeted with towering hoodoos, barren soil, Bristlecone pines placed at the perfect distance from each other. A place where my presence was noticed by Red-tail hawks and Steller’s Jays. Where the elevated voices of a young couple “discussing” was out of place. Where the embracing smile of septuagenarians was the only sugar needed to fend off the approach of fatigue.

It was a place where the energy of all four dimensions vibrated in unison. Where pulse and wind dance to the same frequency. It was a place where time condensed into a laser, cut through everything external, ricocheted off my spine and emerged as the simple vision of landscape. And damn was it a trip.

I will leave you with words better able to catch the essence of time stopping. This is from Paul Gruchow’s The Necessity of Empty Places. “…a moment when time stops, when centuries fall away, and you briefly glimpse the glory of forever.”