Thursday, December 31, 2015

Highlights and Gratitudes for the Passing Year

Yes - I am still perched painfully in front of my computer working on revisions and rewrites on my environmental history dissertation. It doesn't look like I will meet my self-imposed deadline of having it all finished by the start of the New Year. The weather outside is gloomy and damp, and has been for over a week. My back aches with all the sitting and the staring, and the torment of gloom gloom gloom outside my window is making me cranky. So I decided to save my edits, close the dissertation window, and lighten my spirits by remembering the highlights of a most remarkable year in hopes that I will feel a little better for it. 

Highlight #1: Hog Island, Maine.
Thanks to a Maryland Ornithological Society scholarship I was able to attend Educator's Week at Audubon's Hog Island Camp on the Maine coast. I came away with a new flock of friends, many of whom I've connected to on FB. I came away with a high regard for the way environmental education is used by Audubon to inspire and influence adult audiences.  The learning never ends.

Life bird!

Craig and part of my group staying and hiking on Hog Island.

Highlight #2: The Great Orono Bog.
Bogging does not fit the romantic notion of exploring the vast natural and wonderous landscapes of North America, but hey, it's one of my most favorite things to do when visiting the northern states. I ran into an old friend at Orono Bog, John,  and met a new conservation friend, Jim, who founded and oversees the management of the bog. It is a jewel in the crown of the mother of all bogs. I also met Pete Tipper who is walking to twenty natural areas, parks, and reserves in Maine this year. Next year he's doing the same thing in North Carolina. It's how he is spending his well earned retirement, year by year, after dedicating 40 years to teaching botany and ecology at a mid-western university. He inspired me in so many ways I could fill a book with our one hour long conversation. I find inspirational people in bogs.

Jim Bird, Bog Boss.

John Green, fellow naturalist/birder from Pennsylvania.

Pete Tipper on his Maine pilgrimage.

Highlight #3: All Things Leopold.
How lucky am I that my boss approved my attending an amazing conference held in Baraboo, Wisconsin organized by the Aldo Leopold Foundation? Not only did I have the opportunity to sink into deep and very fun conversations with authors and conservationists whose work I have long admired and been inspired by, but I got to spend a some time with Estella Leopold, the youngest and only surviving child of The Professor. Of course I had to make a few trips out to The Shack. Leopold never gets old.
Dr. Estella Leopold
A class picture of the 2015 Leopold Education State Coordinator and Educators. (I'm in the third row, second right.)

Highlight #4: Spending an Afternoon on an Island in Maine with Ralph Stanley.
I am still processing this. Another book. Ralph Stanley, shipbuilder and Maine islander. Wow.

Ralph Stanley, a Maine State Treasure.

Highlight #5: Saying Goodbye to Antioch, almost.
My last PhD intensive happened in June. Now the slog to revise, rewrite, assemble, defend. Walk.

Highlight #6:  Growing a Network of Farm-Based Educators.
I never get tired of bringing together great groups of people who work on, teach about, and love farming. We had our first Mid-Atlantic meeting of FBE in New Jersey this fall and boy-howdy was it a great one! I look forward to working with the Doris Duke Foundation and the Duke Farms in Princeton, NJ to organize our first regional conference in 2016/2017. The way outdoor education was meant to be.

Lookout world, Farm-Based Educators in the Mid-Atlantic have arrived at a farm near you!

Highlight #7: Buying a Plane Ticket to Spain.
I've wanted to hike the Camino de Santiago for a long time. I've been thinking about it for years and years and decided that 2016 would be the year I will do it. I'm no stranger to long distance hiking, but I've never been to Europe and I can't think of a better graduation present to myself.  Ticket in hand, I'll be leaving for Madrid on May 17. I have been fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage for as long as I have known about The Camino. Thinking about journeying through complex landscapes as a way that allows the land to reveal itself to you is a theme I would like to continue to develop in my writing.  Ultreya!

Scallop shell is the symbol of the Pilgrim of Santiago.

Highlight #8: Birding with the Grands
I have five grandkids and with my daughter and son-in-law's blessing, have made it my grandmotherly duty to get everyone of them involved in birding, hiking, climbing, paddling. This year's adventures included a whole day birding expedition to Bombay Hook NWR with Mairin (7) and taking Kenzey (10) on her first official bird count at Swan Harbor. I feel pretty strongly about giving children an outdoor education and providing them with the foundations of life-long interests in nature and landscapes. Kenzey wants to hike the Camino with me which makes me happy beyond words, but she'll have to wait a few years so she grows a little more into the job of carrying her own backpack. I'm currently considering ways I can take the grands with me virtually while hiking the Camino Frances this May. Get Out!

Kenzey's first Winter Count!

Thanksgiving Day birding with Mairin at Bombay Hook NWR.

I think that's the short list of highlights, though I try everyday to find a gem of inspiration so I could actually list 365 highlights. But I do want to say that I am especially grateful for having finally come to the finish of a seven year-long adventure earning my PhD. Environmental history suits me well and I look forward to working on several book projects in 2016 - yes, more writing, edits, revisions, rewrites. 

Where I've spent the last seven years.

I must sincerely thank my advisor, Dr. Alesia Maltz this year for her steady guidance along the way.  Wherever the opportunities for using this PhD may take me, I will always be thankful for such great support from my committee and from all the people who helped me with research.  And  cannot finish out this year without thanking my friends for being there when I had any number of doctoral meltdowns. There were a few of those!

Penny knows how to handle my PhD meltdowns with a kayak trip and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Well, back to the chapter revisions. I do feel better! It's dark outside so I don't have to look at the gloom! Onward - into the New Year with what I hope is the end of Chapter 5 and a chance for a First Day hike, no matter how short or how close by. Happy 2016!

Looking ahead to 2016 - Bien Camino!

The Road

Here is the road: the light
comes and goes then returns again.
Be gentle with your fellow travelers
as they move through the world of stone and stars
whirling with you yet every one alone.
The road waits.
Do not ask questions but when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.

-Arlene Gay Levine

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