Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Big fluffy towels

I like big fluffy towels. I enjoy using them when I need to stay in an upscale hotel for work.

I saw an American student steal one from a small hotel we stayed at in England years ago. Her parents were picking up the tab for her to attend Ithaca College and participate in their semester in London. They had rented a harpsichord for her so she could practice that semester but had apparently neglected to provide her with a big fluffy towel.

For three years in Senegal I used pagnes, two meters of cotton fabric that serve as skirts, bathrobes, and towels. They dried me successfully after every bucket bath I took as a Peace Corps volunteer and shower I took as a Fulbright fellow.

In the US I use towels I buy at thrift stores. Sometimes I find two that match.

My mother found a barely-used big red fluffy towel in a dumpster. Its only crime seemed to be that it had gotten wet. She washed it and offered it to me when I visited the next summer; I gladly accepted.

I enjoyed the big red fluffy towel until it disappeared the same day the maintenance crew calked my tub. When I couldn’t find any sign of either my towel or greater dementia over the next few days, I stopped by the apartment manager’s office and mentioned the missing big fluffy towel. I learned that the maintenance workers had used it to clean up the tub calk. “Instead of the small, worn out, torn one hanging next to it"?! The manager bought me a big tan fluffy towel as a replacement.

My neighbor at the time made frequent trips across the landing with plates of high fat comfort food. He occasionally brought other things: pots and pans after he bought a new set, various jugs of cleaning supplies that didn’t meet his high standards, and a big white fluffy towel. Its only crime seemed to be shedding white fuzz during its first few washings.

I loved my two big fluffy towels. But I was doing laundry more frequently: each towel took up almost half of a load of sheets and towels. This took more water, more soap, more electricity, and more time. My washing machine developed a tendency to become unbalanced, thump like a blown front tire, then expire into fixed and damp silence. When I went to resuscitate it by rearranging the now very heavy towel, I smelled the strain that washing my big fluffy towels put on the washer’s belt.

Pagnes did a fine job of drying me after bathing in Senegal. Thrift store towels do a fine job of drying me in the US. Big fluffy towels are resource intensive, move perfectly lovely people to crime, and are irresistible to maintenance workers.

If anyone would like two big fluffy towels, only slightly used, they are at the Idaho Youth Ranch Thrift Store on Orchard Street.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Two Channels vs. Five Channels

In a discussion of different perceptions of climate change, and change in general, on the Ecological Society of America listserv, a reader posted a link to Jonathan Haidt’s talk at the 2008 Ted Conference. In it he shared a social psychologist’s view of the moral roots of progressives and conservatives.

Jonathan Haidt started by describing the great difference in openness to new experiences between progressives and conservatives; what I call their ability to live with ambiguity. Progressive embrace new experiences and conservatives avoid them.

Haidt and a coworker then identified five aspects, or channels, of moral decisions:
Caring for others
Respect for authority
Group loyalty

They polled 23,000 people in the US to describe the moral foundations of progressives and conservatives (You can learn about your moral foundations at

I’ve reproduced Jonathan Haidt’s graph of the differences (below). Progressives scored high in Caring for others and Fairness, but low in the other three aspects. Conservatives scored high in all five aspects. Haidt described the pattern as “Two channel” versus “Five channel” approaches to morality.

Everyone agrees that Caring for others and Fairness are important apsects of moral decisions, but only Conservatives also value Respect for authority, Group loyalty, and Purity/Sanctity. Haidt makes the case that both approaches to moral decisions are important and that each balances the other. Progressives “want change, even at the cost of chaos”; conservatives “want order, even at cost to those at the bottom.” Progressive speak for those at the bottom of society and conservatives speak for institutions and traditions.

Both progressives and conservatives contribute to improving our society through their different and complimentary views on change and tradition.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Climate deniers should be understood

The Ecological Society of America listserv has been discussing climate deniers. I share a recent contributor's concern that climate deniers have “stopped thinking.” I believe that this is the crux of the issue and that it’s rooted in their discomfort with ambiguity. The contributor also described climate deniers as “angry.” I believe that this is their quite rational response to the threats they feel. I'm glad that the contributor reminded us that we need to understand WHY climate deniers act as they do. I agree that we need to understand their apparent intransigence in order to meet them in the middle to solve the serious challenges facing us.

Climate denying tends to be linked with opposition to health care reform and both are seen more frequently in conservatives than in progressives. Conservatives are more reluctant to change than are progressives, who conservatives see as indecisive creatures without clear value systems: after all, they change their minds whenever better data are available!

Conservatives are conservative because they prefer things the way they are, good or bad, to unknowable change. But I believe that the even larger boogey man in the climate debate is the possibility that the government will tell them what to do (but it had better not touch their Medicare).

Progressives are progressives because they envision a better world and want to move toward it. This means that they modify their approach as they learn more, which compounds the poor conservatives’ fears: they were just getting comfortable with the first approach and now everything has changed again!

Both progressives and conservatives change, they just make decisions in different ways. For example, compare the Republican Party’s current role as the champion of Medicare with Ronald Regan’s 1961 speech that described Medicare as the first step down the slippery slope to Socialism. Conservatives simply needed more concrete evidence than those flighty progressives, who rushed headlong into government health care before all the facts were in.

I believe that conservatism stems from discomfort with ambiguity, apprehension over change, and fear of government intervention. Further, I believe that the conflict between these values and progressives’ acceptance of ambiguity, enthusiasm for change they believe is for the better, and vision of a compassionate government caring for its citizens are the basis of conflict over climate, health care, and other issues.

When someone is uncomfortable with ambiguity they look for solid, unambiguous answers that are part of a cohesive framework that will answer a range of questions. They would rather hear, “It’s not true, don’t believe any of it” than a mealy-mouthed mish mash of, “Well, some things we’re very sure of, other things we’re sort of sure about, and then there’s a bunch of stuff we’re still scratching our heads over.” Unambiguous, far ranging answers provide comfort and reduce the amount of thought required to understand complex issues. Thinking is hard work: when is writing the Discussion section of a manuscript easy?

Ecologists can help ease fears over climate change by clearly stating what we know, painting vivid scenarios of expected future conditions, and listing concrete actions that we can take now to deal with climate change and its consequences. Climate change will still be very frightening because there WILL be tremendous change and the government may need to place limits on both industry and citizens. But neither anger at the idea of climate change nor anger at people’s refusal to recognize the process will slow the pace of climate change.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Quivira Coalition Conference, 2009

In Spanish Colonial America, “Quivira” described unknown territory, where an elusive golden dream was waiting to be discovered.

The Quivira Coalition was started by a rancher and two environmentalists. The group does not litigate or mediate between sides in the debate over livestock grazing. Rather, they demonstrate and participate in sensible and sensitive ranching and farming. The Quivira Coalition focuses on “grassbanks, dormant season grazing, planned grazing, restoration, collaboration and education.” We “QuivireƱos” are nearly alone in the “Radical Center” -- radical because it’s ground breaking to refrain from taking sides in this polarized issue.

Quivira Coalition’s Conferences are a mix of conservation, ranching, science, and art. You can ponder statistical minutia while hearing about research findings, think about the role of grazing when hearing about managing invasive plants, and find yourself tearing up and sniffling during readings from literature about the US West.

At this year’s conference, November 4-6, 2009, we learned about dung beetles from Patricia Richardson, a professor at the University of Texas. I hadn’t thought much about dung beetles since I got back from Senegal, where I found them delightful and entertaining creatures. At the conference I learned that many species of dung beetles are rarely seen, as they live underneath cow pats and bury the manure from below. Only the show-off species roll the dung balls that I saw in Senegal.

We heard about the Desert Ranch's large operation in northeastern Utah. In addition to raising cattle and forage, they provide guided hunting and fishing trips and are a popular birding spot.

Randy Udall, from the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), warned us that we’ve pumped 2/3 of the world’s oil. He illustrated this with a slide of four beers gone from a six pack. He also pointed out that “Cheap energy of any kind can subsidize stupidity.” Ouch! I’d flown from Boise to Albuquerque for the conference.

Tim and Katie Kline are raising kids, crops, and animals organically on their 80 acres in Ohio. They’re primarily dairy famers and enjoy the opportunity to work through issues while milking together in the evening while the children do homework. Or, as Tim hastened to add, they would work through issues, if they had any. As Amish farmers, they use animal traction for farm work and have no tractors.

I lurked with intent after Linda Hasselstrom read from her work and scored a spot next to her at lunch. I hoped that my writing would improve through the process of osmosis.

An innovative approach from a grass-fed beef farm in Wisconsin showed how collaboration can provide rewards on all sides. In return for hunting access, hunters each contribute six hours of work on the farm. Over the years hunters have roofed the barn, filled the basement with fire wood every year, taken care of the cattle while the owners travel, dug fire line for prescribed burns, and painted the buildings. The original groups of hunters now bring their children to work on the farm, as it’s also their family’s farm.

Craig Allen, with the USGS in Los Alamos, NM described cutting juniper trees, lopping off the branches and spreading them across sites degraded by erosion in Bandelier National Monument. The branches provide “safe sites” for native seeds to germinate and grow sheltered from the sun and drought. Both the new seedling and plants already growing on the site take advantage of water caught by tiny dams formed by the branches. Reestablishing vegetation on the previously depauperate sites fills in the bare areas that had spread across the sites in the past. Criag hopes that the vegetation will become healthy and abundant enough to fuel prescribed fires to keep juniper at bay in the future and to allow fire resistant Ponderosa pine to recolonize the sites.

The writer, conservationist, and thinker, Gary Nabhan, described new seeds of collaboration sprouting in Arizona. At the annual meeting of the Diablo Trust, a collaborative land stewardship group, The Arizona Wildlife Federation apologized to the Trust for the destructiveness of their past negativity (page 5). The two groups are looking forward to working together to manage natural resources in northern Arizona.

Gary’s story reminded us that change can happen in unexpected places and prepared us to welcome more into the Radical Center.

Breakfast at the Flyswatter Diner

I passed purple clematis flowering in weed-free beds as I walked to the door. The screen door caught on the ground as I opened it and the wooden door needed a shove to open. No one was sitting at the tables in the dark and chilly lean-to, but walking up two steps I found the main part of the diner cozy and light.

Three locals in Wranglers and big hats went silent as I crossed to a stool at the counter. The proprietor, a woman of no few years or pounds, poured me a cup of coffee and conversation. I ordered a Denver omelet.

I looked across the galley way behind the counter to blue sky through the upper corner of a window behind a coffee maker, a malt machine, stacks of dishes, piles of to go cartons and bags, a brace of toasters, and a mixed herd of ketchup and mustard bottles in various stages of completeness. Calendars on the walls, refrigerators and cupboards announced several different years.

The big-hatted locals in the corner discussed baling hay, debated the merits of several trucks and also those of Karen. “You know, she built most of that pole barn by herself”! They agreed that she was quite a worker and that her husband had made quite a catch.

The proprietor brought me a plate mounded with hash browns, toast, butter, jelly and a Denver omelet nearly hidden under a slab of a cheese-like substance. She cleaned up spilled coffee grounds next to me with a wad of sticky gray dishrag.

The breakfasting Big Hats finished eating and cleared their dishes. They wiped off their table with the gray dishrag, got out a deck of cards and started their first card game of the day. I finished my hash browns and continued the struggle with my omelet-with-cheese-substitute.

Another Wranglers wearer came in, poured himself a cup of coffee and topped off mine. As he talked with the card players a fly darted around his face. He took a fly swatter from behind the counter, sent the fly to meet his maker, then brushed its mortal remains from the swatter into the trash. The owner came out from the kitchen in back, her face twisted in disgust. “Give it to me,” she said, reaching for the flyswatter “I’ll wash it.” Holding the object at arm's length, she returned to the kitchen.

I gave up and scraped the remaining cheesy material off to the side and worked on my now naked omelet. I tried, unsuccessfully, not to picture the woman spraying the fly swatter off with the dish washing sprayer over a sink full of dishes. She returned after an absence that suggested great attention to detail, buffing the flyswatter with a wad of paper towels the size of a poodle.

I surrendered to my naked omelet and paid my bill. As I left the diner I noticed that the purple clematis had recently been watered.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dying to Cross the Street

I'm off to Albuquerque for the Quivira Coalition's conference this week. We'll be meeting at a different hotel this time, so I'll be staying at a different less expensive motel nearby and walking back and forth. I'll be taking my red blinking lights, my reflector strips, and my attitude with me again. Here's what happened last time, as it appeared in the Letters to the Editor of the Albuequerque Journal:

I recently visited Albuquerque for the Quivira Coalition conference, where I reveled in collaboration and caring for the land. Saving fossil fuel and keeping myself in shape, I walked between the conference and my motel, crossing I-25 at Paseo del Norte.

Morning was easy, as commuters headed to work in daylight. Evening was a near-death experience, as commuters headed home after dark. Dressed in light jeans, reflector strips on an arm and a leg, and sporting a flashing red light, I was a traffic-savvy and highly visible pedestrian. Girded for battle, I waited for the walk signal and a break in traffic, then started across [the right turn lanes coming up from behind me].

A car close on my heels gave me the previously unrealized gift of flight and I suddenly found myself back on the sidewalk. I heard someone scream, "It's a crosswalk." The pain in my throat told me that the car had also given me previously unrealized vocal volume.

More careful after that, I waited for the walk signal and a break in traffic, looked at drivers and pointed at the walk signal, clasped my hands in supplication, gestured to the other side of the street, waited for the walk signal of the next traffic cycle, looked at drivers and pointed at the walk signal— I had become a deranged woman on a busy street corner. But surely deranged women don't dress in Patagonia and sport Land's End laptop cases? Darkness had obscured my credentials of sanity.

The herd of pickups, SUVs and sedans thundered on [as two lanes of traffic rounded the corner and headed onto the freeway]. Any one of them could end my life; collectively, they could ensure that DNA testing be required to identify my meager remains. If I were a toddler or an endearing puppy, surely someone would stop. If I were 30 years younger, surely someone would notice. Or perhaps my traffic-stopping abilities were intact, merely, like my sanity, obscured by the darkness.

About the fourth traffic cycle, a young woman with a young man in the passenger seat paused and asked if I needed help. "I'm trying to cross the street," I said. But that wasn't a compelling enough reason for her to stop, so she drove on, leaving me on the corner. I didn't think to say, "I'm in labor and I need to get to the hospital."

Next time someone is begging at a busy intersection, please take a look. They may be begging for the opportunity to live long enough to cross the street.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Cats of Mirikitani

I can’t stop thinking about The Cats of Mirikitani. Netflix sent me the film last weekend and it’s stuck in my head like a song from the ‘80s.

The filmmaker, Linda Hattendorf, met a homeless Jimmy Mirikitani drawing and talking about cats, Hiroshima in flames, and the Tule Lake Japanese American Internment Camp. He drew constantly, oblivious to the distractions of life on the streets of New York City.

When the filmmaker saw him coughing in the dust from of the collapse of the World Trade Center, she brought him inside to stay with her and slowly unraveled his story. Born in Sacramento in 1920, Jimmy Mirikitani was sent to Japan to be educated as a child. He returned to the US shortly before the Second World War and was caught in the anti-Japanese sentiment of the time and sent to the Tule Lake Camp in California. The last time he saw his sister, Kazuko, she had been sent to the Minidoka Internment Camp in Idaho.

While Linda pieced together his past Jimmy drew, entertained her cat, and worried when Linda stayed out late. She discovered the stories of his US citizenship lost and restored, Social Security benefits not yet applied for, and his sister very much alive in Seattle. The filmmaker found Jimmy an apartment, which seemed to be larger than the one the two of them had shared. The walls were soon covered with art and a cat soon supervised the work.

When I was a child my mother told us about her friend, Patty, who had volunteered to teach at the Tule Lake Camp. As a Quaker, Patty had been drawn to teach the men who had refused to serve in the war. Since then I have visited the sites of camps in Arizona and here in Idaho and have been “adopted” by a Japanese American family (Christmas dinner is prime rib, potatoes, rice, and sashimi).

When I moved to Boise in 2003 from a Fulbright fellowship in Senegal, I was struck by how white everyone here was. But within a few years Boise began receiving refugees from Somalia, then the Congo, Thailand, Bhutan, Burundi, Uzbekistan and more. Boise is now a resettlement area for refugees from around the world.

In my professional life I find myself in the middle of disagreements between “old Idahoans” (ranchers) and “new” ones (mountain bikers, environmentalists, and people who think cattle should be banned from public land). Idaho is struggling to shift from an economy based on mining, logging, and ranching to one based on high tech, health care, and education.

We’re also morphing from a red state into a purple one, through the addition of blue drops to Boise and Sun Valley. Add to that all the other colors the refugees bring with them we’ve got some thinking and adjusting to do. The themes of helping, healing, loss, and discovery in the Cats of Mirikitani can help guide us through the changes ahead.

Since seeing the film I’ve found my mother’s friend Patty’s daughter, Hannah. Her father also taught in the internment camps and she is writing a book about her parents' experiences. And Hannah knows my friends Betty and Ken Rodgers, who are poets and teachers here in Boise. Much of my life seems to be converging around the Cats of Mirikitani.

Linda Hattendorf sorted out 85 years of Jimmy Mirikitani’s story in the film, but the story of the Cats of Mirikitani in Idaho is only just starting. I have emailed her about bringing the film and the artwork to Boise.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Oh, say can you see why I like it?

A friend phoned me on a Saturday afternoon in September, just as the Meridian Lions Club Rodeo was getting started. I was in the stands digesting my rodeo burger and thinking about a beer chaser as I waited for the Grand Entry.

My friend, Ted, called to talk about statistics. He’s a rancher near Mountain Home, ID and he thinks about statistics and data quite often, especially when they're used to argue that cattle should be banned from public land.

Ted heard the rodeo announcer over my shouting as I ducked behind the stands to talk to him. I was eager to talk to him but I didn’t want to miss the national anthem at the start of the rodeo. I'm a sentimental fool about the Star Spangled Banner.

Years ago a former boyfriend accused me of not being sentimental. Although I didn’t admit it, I had (and still have) every love letter he wrote me (we dated long before email). I only occasionally admit to being sentimental about the national anthem.

Although it’s not an easy song to sing, or even to listen to sometimes, it reminds me that I’ve got a pretty good deal in life. As a woman who grew up in a not-very-prosperous family, I doubt I would have the education I do if I had been born just about anywhere else in the world. More importantly, my education led to my challenging, interesting jobs.

If I had been born in the Senegalese village where I lived as a Peace Corps volunteer, I would have aspired to marrying and raising a family. By now I would be the CEO of a large household with several daughters-in-law to do the actual work: I would spend my days supervising them and shouting at the grandchildren.

As it is, I spend my days as a scientist: thinking, writing, questioning, and traveling. I have had perhaps more than my share of interesting jobs: cutting hay on the drumlins of upstate New York, unraveling the mystery of invasive grasses in the Sonoran Desert and the Intermountain West, and helping Senegalese farmers store peanut seed and plant trees.

I think about this whenever I hear the national anthem. I always wish the audience were invited to sing along, but I usually change my mind by the time the singer struggles and quavers through the tricky parts. As Ted and I wound up our conversation he said, “The best way to hear the national anthem is with the bareback broncs providing the bass line.”

Our bareback horses were waiting in the metal chutes for the first bucking event when I got back to my seat. They stood quietly during the song, but even without an equine bass beat the anthem was moving.

The fulfilling life I have is hard to beat and it would be hard to replicate anywhere else. It makes up for suffering through the world’s longest presidential campaigns and soporific precinct caucuses, learning spelling and grammar developed by a committee that couldn't agree on anything, and having a nearly unsingable national anthem.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shrubs versus Trees

I like living places where most of the plants are shorter than I am.

I depend on a view of the mountains to navigate in downtown Boise, where the streets follow the river as it meanders through the old part of town. I live up on the Bench, away from the claustrophobic riparian area, and where the well-behaved street grid follows the section lines.

Working out on the Sagebrush Sea, I navigate by the solemn Owyhee Mountains and the almost heartbreakingly beautiful Lost River Range. I wake up in a forest of sagebrush, which shrinks when I get out of my sleeping bag and stand up. Sagebrush is a self-effacing plant that hides in plain sight over much of the West and doesn’t block my view of the mountains.

My friend Caitlin lives in northwest North Dakota, surrounded by canola fields. She posted a photo of one, stretching to the horizon, on her Facebook page. Below it her friends debated the usefulness and advisability of trees. I contributed, “I’m Cindy and I’m afraid of trees.”

Caitlin’s friend Nancy tried shock therapy with a link to a photograph of a tree she considers a friend.

I clicked on the link and a tree is the size of an apartment building appeared. It had grasping, hungry branches ready to catch and imprison unsuspecting passersby. It waited patiently for the opportunity to drop limbs on top of chattering, laughing children on their way to school. The tree would die fulfilled and ascend instantly to the highest level of Tree Heaven if it managed to topple over on top of a crowd that had gathered beneath it to shelter from a sudden thunderstorm.

Even if none of the tree’s nefarious hopes ever come to fruition, it still blocks the view for several city blocks. It flatly refuses to let other plants grow underneath it by greedily using up all the sunlight that reaches it. And it practices a pernicious form of spatial hegemony as it dominates a large part of the otherwise peaceful town of Thomasville, GA.

Concerned about what sort of town would allow this danger, I investigated. Mapquest showed me a town with streets laid out in untidy, vaguely radiating spokes that look like a web spun by a spider on LSD. At an elevation of 279 feet there are no mountains nearby for navigating, even if you could see past the tree.

I’ll stay safe here in Boise, where most of the plants are shorter than I am.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Traffic on Highway 75

North of Sun Valley, ID.

Where Boots Go to Die

Along the blue highway north of Malad City, ID. The display continues for several miles.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Digital photos: as easy as 1, 2, 3

1. Start taking photos 30 years ago.

2. Buy a digital camera. You can buy a very good one for less than $500. Having kids is a plus, as they can read the manual and teach you how to use the camera. (You need to have started having kids a dozen years earlier.)

3. If you’re a scientist, you’ll want to know exactly where your photos were taken, so you’ll need a GPS unit. Follow the same learning path as for your camera, up to downloading waypoints.

4. Downloading waypoints. If your new GPS has a serial connection, your children probably will not recognize it. Your laptop may not know what to do with a serial connector either.

5. Go to the computer store to buy a serial-to-USB adapter. If the person at the computer store looks as though his mother drops him off at work after school, he won’t recognize a serial connector. If you’re female he won’t believe that a serial-to-USB adapter exists. Spell “serial” for him (it starts with an “s”, not a “c”). If you’re female and your mother hasn’t dropped you off anywhere in 35 years, you will have brought along your GPS cable as a teaching aid.

6. While you’re at the computer store, pick up an armload of external drives. You’ll need them when your photo backups metastasize to fill up your computer hard drive, your external drive, your other external drive…

7. You are now ready for a day in the field. Have fun and take lots of pictures: the camera can make all the decision for you; you just keep pushing the shutter. No film to buy! No film to process! Take dozens of shots of everything to be sure that you capture just the right angle and lighting. If you’re a scientist, you’ll be collecting GPS coordinates at each stop. You’ll soon devise a system for naming the waypoints (8 characters maximum) in order to match them to the photos.

8. When you’re back home, download your photos and start editing. This will include cropping your photos and adjusting the brightness, contrast, and perhaps the color. Both PCs and MACs include software to do this. Set aside many hours for deciding which of the dozen photos you took of those beautiful wildflowers is really the best one.

9. At the end of the first day, when you're sneezing from the wildflower photos and have broken out in hives from the sagebrush photos, you’ll realize that you need to make a list of your lovely photos so that you can find them again. Open up a spreadsheet. If you’re a scientist, you’ll want to include the GPS coordinates. Your spreadsheet should also include the file number of each photo, the date it was taken, where it was taken, plus a short description of the subject(s). If there are people in the photo, you’ll want to include that information, as it’ll save time looking through thumbnails, which get smaller and fuzzier each year.

10. After a few years of taking digital photos someone will ask you for copies of your photos because yours are so very very good and they need a photo exactly like the ones you took on the tour that one time, they just can’t put together their Powerpoint/flyer/brochure without your photos. They’re not sure which photo(s) they need or what exactly they’d like a photo of but they know that one from the tour would be just perfect, could you just send them all?

11. Return to the computer store for CDs and padded envelopes. Pretend you were kidding about the padded cell when the person at the computer store, who looks as though his mother hands them his Binky when she drops him off, looks confused and frightened.

12. Once you’re back home, with the six pack you picked up at Circle K on the way:
* Search your spreadsheet for the photos from the tour. The spreadsheet works great as long as you keep it up to date.
* Locate the photos on one of your external drives. One that hasn’t crapped out yet.
* Create a small spreadsheet, containing information for the photos from the tour.
* Burn the photos to a CD. Dang, why can’t you add another file to the CD? Toss the CD in the trash and burn one with the photos AND the spreadsheet.
* Label the CD, put it in a case, then in a padded envelope and seal.
* Google the person who requested it, to find their snail mail address. They didn’t bother to give you that information.
* Address the envelope.
* Take it to the post office.
* Stand in line.
* Strike up a conversation with the person in front of you in line.
* Mail the letter.
* Exchange business cards with the woman you were talking with in line.
* Stay in touch with her and learn that you have friends in common.

13. Go home to wait for the photo recipient to thank you.

14. Continue waiting.

15. It’s been three months now: stop waiting.

16. Enjoy seeing your photos in Powerpoints, flyers, and brochures. Swell with pride when they appear without attribution. Become ecstatic when you see your photos in print with someone else’s name on them.

See how easy digital photos are?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Become a Professional Poet - July 2008

According to Merriam-Webster a professional is someone who “participates for gain in an activity often engaged in by amateurs”. That makes me a professional poet.

It was time to either sign a new lease on my apartment or move on. Perhaps even buy a home. But I loved my apartment: on the second floor with large windows, it was full of light.

My previous apartment had been a north-facing basement efficiency, which was torn down to make room for expensive condos overlooking the park and downtown. There had been more spiders and backed-up sewage than light.

I also loved my apartment’s location: just the right distance to walk to either the university or downtown in the morning, then there were buses waiting to take me home in the evening.

A condo across the street from my apartment was for sale. I met the realtor in a thunderstorm to look at it. The condo was perfect: two stories, two bedrooms, asking price $114,000. Although it was built the same year that I graduated from high school, it had been treated gently and had perhaps aged more gracefully than I have.

The east-facing bedroom window looked out into a flowering apple tree and onto the lawn surrounding the pumphouse owned by the city across the street. On the first floor south light flooded in from the patio, which begged for potted plants and flowering vines. My car would lust after the enclosed carport if it knew such a thing existed.

But even I would have to repaint the wall of the kitchen and dining area downstairs. You could call it burnt butterscotch if you were feeling charitable. Or you might mention that if you found something that color in the pig barn you would treat the whole bunch. The realtor pointed out that the bathroom needed to be updated, but it seemed to me that it worked just fine.

When I got home, I built a spreadsheet to compare the costs of buying the condo and of continuing to rent.

I estimated that staying in my apartment would save me about $2,002 per year over buying the condo: renting enough money to pay for it, higher utilities than my apartment, plus HOA, insurance, repairs, and taxes. And I could also keep the $114,000 purchase price, plus the closing costs, and the cost of a home inspection. The money would stay in investments that have historically produced better returns than real estate.

I also would not spend weekends struggling with home repairs. Nor would I spend the following week making the money to pay someone to repair what I made worse over the weekend.

I decided to stay in my apartment but I did not want to pay the inevitable rent increase for a new lease. The property management company accepted a poem as evidence that I am an exemplary tenant who costs them less than the average resident.

I saved $195 with my poem, which qualifies me as a professional poet.

The ‘dozers were coming
I had to get out!
I went to see Susan
and gave her a shout.

I said, “Help me please,
I need a new place!
I’d like lots of light;
I’d like much more space.”

Susan knew at once
What I’d think was keen:
She showed me the place
At Linden, four nineteen.

It’s big and it’s light,
With a washer and dryer…
There’s just one thing:
I hope the rent goes no higher.

I really believe,
That I’m meant for the spot,
I keep it tidy and clean;
I pay my rent on the dot.

I’m quiet and considerate,
I help Jill with the trash,
I’m happy, contented,
My teeth I don’t gnash.

I’d love to stay on,
As I think it was meant…
Could I sign a lease
At my current month’s rent?

Raptor Party - June 2008

They migrated from grasslands, forests, shrublands, and deserts. They crossed mountains and rivers on their way to Boise. Some flew and others arrived overland.

They headed south from the Mountain big sagebrush of the Boise Front, through tall Basin big sagebrush and into shorter Wyoming big sagebrush as they approached the Snake River.

Some stopped to remember as they crossed the sagebrush plains. They watched plump ground squirrels dart across the road, the tail end of the spring’s party. The ground squirrels were too busy eating before they returned underground for their eight month-long nap to notice the travelers.

Jackrabbits watched them from the shade of the small shrubs and flopped their ears. Unlike the ground squirrels, they were active all year and never safe from Golden Eagles overhead.

As the travelers neared the canyon the sagebrush gasped, sputtered and gave out. Low grey winter fat took its place at the lower elevations near the river. The travelers followed the winter fat until it dropped off the cliff and into the canyon. Switchbacks led them to the irrigated oasis at the water’s edge where they gathered.

The flocks of raptor biologists laid out food, set up lawn chairs, and opened beers. Previous students arrived with their fledging broods or sent messages from their field research sites.

The biologists described the life cycle of the ground squirrels to nonbioloigst family members and identified the birds of prey circling overhead as turkey vultures or “TVs”. They told stories of science and of the natural world. They told stories of Mike and Karen.

Mike had arrived at the Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, where ground squirrels sleep away much of the year and feed raptors the rest, in the early 1970’s. Karen had arrived in the canyon a few years later, to expand the research efforts.

Mike understood the raptors, the squirrels, and the sagebrush, but had more trouble remembering the difference between left and right, up river and down river, and where, exactly camp was. Karen imposed order: on Mike, on field crews, on data, publications, work schedules, and hapless office equipment that offended her.

It was a successful pairing. The pair uncovered the stories of the Prairie Falcons and the Golden Eagles and shared them with the world: where they travel, what they eat, and how they raise their families.

On the cusp of retirement Karen and Mike looked back at the high points of their careers. Their assembled friends and coworkers reminded them of some of the low points. The gathering shared stories of scientists and of science, of vehicles lost over the canyon’s edge and of discovering the summer range of a species.

The thrill of science may be the discovery, but the satisfaction of science is the telling of the stories.

Karen Steenhof and Mike Kochert were Research Wildlife Biologists at the Birds of Prey National Wildlife Conservation Area near Boise, ID. They were first based at the Bureau of Land Management then later at the US Geological Survey after researchers in the Dept. of Interior were moved into that agency.