2018 Year in Review and Looking Forward to 2019

Whoa, it’s already 2019! It sure did sneak up on me there. I think that probably happens every year for everyone, but man, 2018 really flew by for me.

A lot happened for me this year. But most excitedley, I found my life partner at the start of 2018. It took some patience and a lot of persistence, but we found a path to each other and just two weeks ago, moved in together. I’m really excited for each and every day with her and can’t wait to see where we are at the end of 2019.

As far as the rest of the year, well, let’s review my resolutions to see what I was up to.

  1. The fitness trifecta!
  • First, increase my weight to more than 200lbs. I’ve flirted with it for some time, but I’ve fluctuated from 185-195 for the last year. It’s time to cross that barrier in a healthy way that will let me age gracefully. Ideally I’d like to settle in around 215-220lbs.

I did it! I just weighed myself 10 minutes ago and I made it all the way to 203lbs! And while that was a goal of mine, I’m not overly happy with how it came, namely, around my stomach. I suppose it’s time to sculpt that weight into something I’m happier with.

  • Second, run a sub 5 minute mile again. I nearly did it in 2014 with a time around 5:10-5:15, but because of a stress fracture in my shin I wasn’t able to quite complete it. I ran a 4:50 mile in high school and to date I view this as my peak physical/athletic accomplishment. Surely I can do better at 34/35.

Absolute fail. I tore some cartilage in my wrist back in June and for about a month I jumped on the treadmill 3-4 days/week and worked hard on my mile time and got it down around 5:50. But that last minute or so is the hardest and was not in an danger of disappearing.

  • Third, increase my vertical jump by 4″. I’m at 24″ right now, which is up from 22″ from earlier last year. I can dunk a basketball, but I really want to throw down like I’ve always wanted to. Get ready to be posterized!

Fail. I don’t have any idea what my vertical is right now, but I imagine it hasn’t changed much and if anything, droppped an inch or so. I never committed to this, first because of injuries and then just generally apathy towards this goal. I suppose it was never that important to me.

For 2019, I resolve to do 40 pushups and 40 crunches each day. I’ve already started this morning, so I’m off to a great start.

  1. The birding trifecta!
  • First, get 5 new life birds in the United States. Rosy Finches and Sage Grouse have teased me long enough! Prairie chickens, I’m looking right at you! Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you Whooping Crane!

Check! 8 new species and here they are: Gunnison’s Sage Grouse, Red-Breasted Sapsucker, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, California Thrasher, Rufous-Crowned Sparrow, Sagebrush Sparrow, Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch, Brown-Capped Rosy-Finch.

  • Second, see 200 species of birds in Colorado. I thought I would attempt a Colorado big year this year, but I just have too many other things I want to do with my time. So instead, I’ll just try to increase my birding activity by maintaining a list and seeing where it takes me. I would like to limit my efforts to Larimer County or maybe only species seen by bike travel, but we shall see.

A big nope on this one. I didn’t really try because of too many commitments from recording jobs, as well as a new project that I’m really excited about.

  • Third, add 100 life birds overall. A trip to Trinidad in March should take care of this!

So close! I think I ended up just shy at around 95, but I’ll have to double check once I get back to my house. A trip to Trinidad in March contributed to the majority of new birds, but also 5 trips to Sequoia NP and a quick jaunt to southern Baja California where I added Xantus’s Hummingbird and Blue-Footed Booby!

For 2019, I have two goals: 1. See the Swainson’s Warbler and 2. Add 5 other life birds. Seeing Swainson’s Warbler would close out my eastern warbler list and I should be able to do this in April in Louisiana or Mississippi. I’ll also be birding for two straight months up the Mississippi Flyway, so I should be able to find 9 other life birds. Hello Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Black Rail, King Rail, Bachman’s Sparrow, Black-Billed Cuckoo, Whooping Crane, Seaside Sparrow, and Nelson’s Sparrow. Also, there’s a Gyrfalcon, Black-Legged Kittiwake, and Pink-Footed Goose waiting on me when I get back home!

  1. Give up online dating.
  • I’m over it. It’s pretty much the worst thing ever. And the worst thing of all, I think people justify it as a means for their busy lives, when in actuality it’s likely a justification for not having the courage to face rejection. It’s time to get over that and do this the old fashioned way.

Check! I finally mostly gave this up at the start of 2018 and then I met my favorite person in the world. No looking back!

  1. Learn two songs on the guitar and banjo apiece.
  • I failed at this one last year, so let’s give it a shot again. I’d really like to learn my scales, but that’s a bit intimidating. Maybe I’ll try that one while I learn the songs. This again is the resolution most likely to fail, but I can feel a little momentum, so there’s always hope!

Nope. I learned how to play ‘Misty’ by Caamp on the banjo and ‘Best of What’s Around’ by Dave Matthews on the guitar. A song short for each instrument.

  1. Create two meaningful writing projects.
  • This is the next step to taking my writing seriously again. Last year creating this blog was an attempt to jump start my writing productivity. Now that I feel better about writing in general and my confidence has increased, it’s time to turn my attention towards writing that is more meaningful towards my career.
  • I have ideas for two audio podcasts that should propel me into a more formal writing mode. I need to sit down with a good bottle of scotch (thanks Emily!) and flesh out the details.
  • One of the ideas is to capture the power of sound as a memory tool. The idea is that sound and smell are the strongest eliciters of memory, even moreso than vision. And since I’m particularly interested in sound, I want to create a podcast that deals with people’s memories that are tied to specific sounds.
  • The second idea is a podcast called Science in 60. I am less sure about the direction I want to take this one, but I do know that I want to create a digestible weekly pill of a meaningful discovery in science. Most importantly, I want it to include messaging that is influential and memorable so that easily discussed talking points can spread to water coolers across the country (a. do water coolers still exist in offices? b. Mom, do you have one because that’s probably the furthest these efforts reach).

I’m going to call this one a win even though I didn’t create the two projects I said I would. Instead, I created a better project and National Geographic gave me a lot of money to go do it. I’m so excited to get started on this and see where it takes me. In many ways, this was the tougher route. I proved to myself I have good ideas and that I can write. The scars of graduate school are fading.

For 2019, I resolve to pour everything I have into this project to make sure it has the greatest impact possible.

I also published a peer-reviewed paper with one of my undergraduate students. This again was a huge accomplishment and was deeply rewarding because of my experience mentoring someone else on a project of that size and watching them grow as a professional.

 

Well, that’s it. Only 3 resolutions for 2019, but they are important and achieveable. I feel really good about where 2019 is going.

I’m a National Geographic Explorer

One day I came up with an idea. Another day I told that idea to National Geographic. And one day last week they thought that idea was worth a large sum of money. Today I am excited to share that with you all!!

Come spring, for two months I will travel the length of the country, from the coasts of Texas and Louisiana up to the boreal of forests of northern Minnesota, in order to tell a story that speaks to the beauty of nature and the common bond that migratory birds and humans have with the land, including the struggles we both face living in a modern world. To get a better summary of the project, read this earlier post.

I am so beyond excited! I am working with an extraordinary woman who is the road manager for StoryCorps. Her skillset will help us access the personal stories that will allow us to better achieve our goal of understanding our relationship with the land and how that relationship has changed due to our actions against the land. I will also hire a photographer to document the sights of our journey and really bring the project to life. This person has not been identified yet.

But I am also quite nervous. I’ll have to leave both of my jobs for two months to do this, which means I’ll have to prepare others to take over in my place. This is going to be a ton of work. I also plan to move in with my girlfriend at the end of May. This is slightly complicated because I’ll still be on the road then. I’ll have to have my house packed up in March before I leave and trust her to be able to handle the pressure of finding a place for the two of us and move our stuff into said place.

And then there’s the pressure of performing up to the standards of National Geographic and myself. This project has major potential to inspire people to get outside and become advocates for the outdoors. It also holds potential to allow people from across the country, from all walks of life, to see each other in a familiar, friendly, and empathetic light. In short, this project can help heal us and I want to do everything I can to achieve this.

This is also a huge opportunity for myself and my career. If done correctly, who knows what opportunities come next, but hopefully options that fit my skillset and passions. This is my attempt at something that is akin to a Science/Nature paper. I have to get it right and treat it as such.

Enough worry for now. It’ll get sorted out with time and dedication. For now, it’s time to let all of this sink in and realize how fortunate I am to be able to chase my dreams. I’ll keep you all updated throughout the process.

What We’ve Lost

Idea time!

A book that combines the writings/accounts of long ago naturalists, explorers, and natives with interpretations of modern conservationists, naturalists, stewards, and literary minds to paint a picture of the plethora of natural wonders and subsequent experiences that we’ve lost due to the onward march of civilization, unchecked capitalism, and the lack of meaningful forethought.

I’m talking about watching a single herd of wild bison take days to walk by. The sound of oak branches snapping and thundering to the ground under the weight of untold numbers of Passenger Pigeons. What it was like to walk into untouched old growth Sequoia Forests. The ability to sit on the shores of a mountain lake, a boreal bog, or a shady stream for months on end and not hear the sound of a single engine. How it was almost surely possible to walk across rivers in the Pacific Northwest on the impossibly crowded backs of spawning salmon. Experiencing the uneasiness of walking through a forest or prairie in any state west of the Mississippi River knowing that you could encounter a Grizzly Bear or a Gray Wolf pack at any moment.

These are things that I’ll never know. Those decisions were made for me. They were all too often made in haste without much thought given to the well-being of species, people, or ecosystem, and certainly not with the dreams of future conservations, explorers, and stewards of the earth in mind. A different type of green drove these decisions.

I want to instill in us the severity of these loses, as well as their recency. It wasn’t that long ago that experiencing all of this was possible. Likely only a century. And the century before that? A land that would be nearly unrecognizably pristine and healthy.

But we were robbed. And we should be mad that most of us or our descendants didn’t get a say in these decisions. We were robbed before we even got a chance to understand or know what we had. Luckily, for some species and places, conservationists and brave stewards stepped in, but for many, it was much too late.

And while we may think we are better at weighing the needs of business, economy, and capitalism with the health of the earth and those of us who advocate for its protection, we continue to lose more battles than we win, further denying similar natural wonders to future generations. For examples, less than a year ago, the Republican tax plan included a rider than allowed mining and oil//gas industries to begin drawing up leases in the relatively untouched Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. How many of us know that happened, or even worse, knew it was on the table before we got a chance to speak up? I mean, why the hell was this decision even included in a tax plan?!

It’s time to put together a collection of our greatest natural wonders that we’ve lost to realize just how much damage we’ve done and how many dreams died before they got a chance to begin. This in an effort to instill an urgency to protect those wonders that still exist and still have the ability to lend themselves to our wildest dreams.

 

We walk along a wrong path
The one which will lead us to a wrong place

–Jose Gonzalez

Mindless Drivel

At some point I’m going to need a new job or more preferably, a career. Don’t get me wrong, I really like my job, both as the manager of the Listening Lab, as well as a natural sounds recordist. However, this position wasn’t built to be forever. In fact, we just received word that the Department of the Interior won’t be funding us this go around, so the clock just started ticking.

Additionally, I feel I am largely underpaid for the work that I do, especially considering the salaries of people holding similar positions, as well as peers around me who have similar qualifications. This seems to be a byproduct of our funding situation, but probably has more to do with an overemphasis on pure research and an undervaluing of my managerial and outreach work.

I started really thinking about transitioning into a new position over the last several months and I really got to thinking about what my other options might be and more importantly, what my qualifications are. The moment I decided to not pursue a research-based career and to stop publishing papers, I also decided that I would be accumulating a different type of career currency. This is something I wasn’t prepared for.

For one, what are my other options? ….

Yawn. I don’t want to write about that anymore. Changing gears.

I’m sitting here at the Mayor of Old Town and it is packed. I suppose it is 5pm and people are looking to unwind from a day at work, but holy hell there are a lot of people. I was hoping to hide in a corner and write a little before heading home, but now I’m crammed in a bar seat with little room to myself. I’m going to need some time to recharge the batteries tonight after this.

Umm, other thoughts? I haven’t kept up with the Kavanaugh details today, but it does feel like the Republicans are doing their best to hide findings from the FBI report (even though the report itself was largely a sham). It looks like we are going to live in a world where the American public puts a sex predator on the highest court and in the White House. Way to go U.S.A.! For real talk though, I sincerely feel for all women who have experience sexual assault and have to live with this prospect.

What else? Umm, I am headed out in the field Friday night with my students to record the elk rut in Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m pretty excited about this. I am completely captivated by the sounds of the rut, but I am also thrilled to be giving these students a chance to experience it themselves. We are just going up for the evening/night, but it should be enough time to really find ourselves in the midst of the action. It might even snow!

Then, on Sunday I am headed out in the field with a journalist/documentarian who wants to shoot some footage of me doing some of my recording work. He is interested in creating a documentary about my big Mississippi Flyway project and is currently putting together some promotional material to pitch the idea to some donors. I suppose I better give him some field time. 🙂

Finally, Laurel and I are going to spend some time together on Saturday, cooking breakfast and heading out to a pumpkin patch. I tell ya what, I sure do like this woman. AND. I finally get to spend fall with someone really special. The only downside is that I’ll be traveling to Portland next week for an awesome outreach event (see my next post?) and then spending 10 days in Sequoia NP at the end of the month, tracking Big Horn Sheep on Mt Langley. We better maximize our time together while we can, which is why I’m really excited about spending this weekend with her.

Ok, my jalapeño and cream cheese pretzel and beer are gone, the noise in this place is way too loud, and someone is cooking me dinner. Time to peace out!

North on the Wing

I submitted a proposal for a National Geographic Explorers grant in July and expect to hear back in November about the results. The idea behind the proposal is to follow spring songbird migration from the gulf coast of Texas/Louisiana, up the Mississippi River corridor, to the boreal forests of northern Minnesota. This idea was inspired by many different things, but was finally cemented in my mind by the book ‘North on the Wing’ by Bruce Beehler.

Why do this? Well, for one, songbird migration is a marvelous spectacle to behold. Each spring, over a billion birds cross our southern border to settle into their breeding sites across the country and into Canada. As they do this, their songs transform the soundscapes of ecosystems across the continent. And it doesn’t just happen in far off, wilderness locations. It even happens right in our own backyards, yet so many of us are unaware and even worse, don’t care. Nature deficit disorder is real and it’s pushing our natural areas to the brink.

Because of our ignorance and ambivalence, we miss meaningful chances to connect with these beautifully colored songsters. This is a shame not only because of their beauty, but also because so many of these species are declining, threatened with numerous challenges from climate change, pollutants of various types, habitat loss, predation from cats, etc… As a result of these challenges, well over half of these species are threatened, with many facing the dire prospect of extinction. One day you may never be able to witness the spectacle of mass songbird migration!

And this is what I propose to document. For two months I will follow the migratory waves as they make their way from south-to-north, across six distinct ecosystems (coastal plain, bayou, temperate coniferous forest, temperate deciduous forest, tallgrass prairie, and boreal forest). I will capture the sights and sounds of these birds as they orchestrate some of the most brilliant and unique dawn and evening chorus, focusing on visiting protected lands within the National and State Park systems, as well as National Wildlife Refuges. I will also contrast the sights and sounds of adjacent unprotected lands that have felt the wrath of climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution, all in order to document the power of conservation.

Within each of the six major ecosystems, I will also focus on highlighting a representative bird species that is of conservation concern. These species will act as the face of the ecosystems, giving people specific identities to cling to should they happen to venture out to explore these places. For each of these six species, I will record singing individuals as they make their way to the shores of Louisiana, up the Mississippi River, and as they settle into their breeding territories, documenting their use of the land via intimate photography.

But here this is the exciting part of the project! Along this same route and in these same ecosystems, I will also speak with people who are also struggling for similar reasons as these birds, all in an attempt to highlight our shared struggles. I’ll talk to Cajun and Vietnamese fishermen in the bayous of Louisiana to discuss how the loss of coastal marshes and land have impacted their livelihoods. I’ll stop in towns that have been ravaged by climate change fueled superstorms such asthe tornado that hit Joplin, MO. And I’ll speak to people living alongside the waterways of northern Minnesota who have dealt with the negative impacts of the mining industry. And all the while, I’ll ask people about their relationship with nature and migratory birds, focusing on the changes in the sights and sounds of nature they’ve noticed in their lifetimes.

Finally, I am really making a point to speak with the underrepresented and the unheard. I aim to offer a platform for these groups to speak out about the atrocities human actions have had on their lives and what they consider to be their prospects moving forward. I want to understand their struggle by listening to their stories. And most importantly, I want us to see how our negative actions towards the land and inaction towards protecting it have dire consequences for not just these birds, but for all of us.

There’s a lot more to it than what I’ve detailed here, but that’s the meat of the idea. I’m really excited about the project and proposed products. I’ve not been able to stop thinking about this project for the better part of 8 months now. Now all I can do is what and hope.

P.S. the next few posts will likely be about this project or other projects I have in mind should the funding not come through. I hope that’s cool with you. 🙂

Trump Nausea

I didn’t get to write yesterday because of prior commitments, but here I am today on day 1 of this new ‘write everyday’ iniative. And why not start off on a positive note. Donald Trump.

I am so sick and tired of thinking about this asshole everyday. I am so sick and tired of watching basic human rights eroded everyday. I am so sick and tired of being embarrassed of my country.

But it’s impossible to not feel this way. I have tried so very hard, so many times, to understand how this country could do something so disgusting. I can’t wrap my head around it. But here’s the mind boggling part. His approval rating among his supporters has barely moved at all! What?!

How is that even possible? Are people paying attention to all of the bullshit this administration pulls day in and day out? The answer is no. All people care about is who is representing ‘their team’ and they hardly look beyond that. It’s sickening and it has personally affected me everyday since he took office.

I’m tired of feeling like this. This horror has robbed me of some portion of my life and continues to do so. And it’s going to rob the majority of us a quality of life for decades to come. There’s no denying that. And people, the very people who will lose so much because of this asshole, will continue to support him against their best interests. That is their best interests if they could look past team pride and their small, bigoted world.

Ta-Nehisi Coates said it best when he said “For 8 years Barack Obama walked on ice and never fell.” What President Obama and his administration did under the social and political environment presented to them is nothing short of remarkable. He never had the scandal. He reached across the aisle. He said what we needed to hear, when we needed to hear it, even when we weren’t ready for it. He was full of grace, candor, and empathy. What we have now couldn’t be further from that.

I want to puke.

Cloudy and High of 50

I think I am coming to an important point in my professional life. I’m 35 years old and getting almost a half decade beyond my graduate school days. In the years since I received my PhD, I’ve strayed away from research science and have ventured into the fields of natural sounds recording and outreach. I’ve had some great successes doing this work and have a complete and utter fascination and passion for natural sounds, their preservation, and their use as a conservation tool. I just need to figure out the best way to harness this and make a career out of it.

Funding for our Sound and Light Ecology Team was recently rejected by the Department of the Interior, which means my days in my current position are likely numbered. Though I likely have funding for another year, a year isn’t that long to find a new job, especially one that fits my skill set. It’s even more imperative that I figure out a way to develop my big career break soon. I have ideas…

Finally, I feel I’m caught in between peer groups. All too often I find myself unfulfilled with conversation and interactions with peers and I think it’s because I need to recognize who my peers actually are and not who I’m clinging to. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my friend group because I do. I think I just need to expand it to be more balanced and to include people on a similar trajectory and place in life as I currently find myself. This is critical to continue my mental and personal development.

To tackle this transition I think I need to allow myself dedicated time for thought and idea processing. I need to set aside a portion of my day just to think and write down thoughts and ideas that come to mind. Maybe I’ll mostly just think. Maybe I’ll write stream of concious style à la Faulkner. Either way, the point is to exercise my mind in a way that teaches me mental discipline, triggers a more creative me, explores the bounds of my interests, the depths of what I know and don’t know, eventually allowing me to understand myself in order to better bring into focus what I’m working towards over the next several years.

So that being said, I will use this blog as a way to hold myself accountable. I’ll try to update the blog near daily and in doing so, the theme/trend of what this blog currently is  will likely change. This could be weird or good, who knows. I’ll likely not post my most creative ideas for the sake of their protection, but I will allow myself room for both professional and personal development here. I just need to write without distraction and find some real mental discipline.

I guess this was attempt #1.