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.