I am a freelance, nonfiction writer who cares about the environment, individuality, creative expression, and simplicity. I'm glad you've found my blog, and I hope you'll join in the conversation by leaving a comment. Disagreements are allowed, even encouraged, but cruelty, vulgarity, and slander is not.

Who is to Blame?

November 14th, 2014

Have you ever cursed the open overhead cabinet door for coming in contact with your head? It's funny how angry we can get at an inanimate object. Spilled milk. A locked door. The leaking roof. We ignore the fact that the object in question is really innocent. It is we who spill, lock, and fail to maintain. This "not my fault" subconscious reaction helps us deal with the frustrations of daily life. Seemingly beneficial and inconsequential, this response can also skew our better judgment.

Oil, coal, methane, carbon dioxide, and mercury are not to blame for pollution and sickness. It is we who mine, burn, and dump. The fossilized remains of ancient life hidden in the sand under a forest in Canada are not what make the Athabasca Oil Sands an environmental disaster. Should the Keystone XL Pipeline Project move forward, should we actually go ahead and increase the extraction and production of bitumen crude and send it 1,179 miles to the south through a 36-inch pipe, humanity -- not the oil -- will be the defendant on trial for all that goes wrong in court of ecological health.

Athabasca Oil Sand 1984 from NASA Earth Observatory
Athabasca Oil Sands, 1984, NASA Earth Observatory

Athabasca Oil Sands from NASA Earth Observatory
Athabasca Oil Sands, 2011, NASA Earth Observatory

We must control our actions. We must accept responsibility for our part in closing the cabinet door, moving the glass of milk out of the way, and repairing the old roof. And we must stop exploiting Earth's elements. Period.

Who is responsible for climate change? I really don't care. It doesn't matter to me. I reject that question entirely, because this decade's old call for awareness has turned into THE scapegoat for consequences that ARE entirely our fault. Instead of using every scientific mind to find alternatives to the exploitation, we waste time looking for proof that we've done something wrong. Pollution. Surface destruction. Tainted water. Wasted water. Sick children. Dead birds. I can laugh at myself for yelling at the cabinet door, but beyond that it gets just plain embarrassing.

A Path to Health and Connection

October 24th, 2014

Do you wish you could get more exercise? Do you wish you had more time to yourself? Do you wish you could escape once in a while?

There is a phenomenon in American culture: we don't do the things we know we need to. No matter how much we understand the value of exercise and stress reduction, we push aside the activities required to achieve our goals, as if these were luxuries we haven't yet earned.

"I cannot take time for myself; my family needs me," the tired mother says.

"I cannot afford the equipment I need to start an exercise program," the busy employee says.

"Somehow the day's end comes before I manage to take that walk," the blog writer says.

Guilty as charged. Productivity. Health. Focus. Happiness. Success. I know I can gain all five with one act, yet day-after-day I don't do what I need to do. And all I need to do is go for a walk.

Thus, I have made a commitment in order to break this cycle of failure. I have woven together a plan, and I hope you'll come along with me.

Loyal readers already know that I've had a new project on the horizon. I hinted at it when I sent out an exclusive readership survey invitation last season. Fifteen percent responded (thank you!), and a synergy was found in what was written. Here is a summary:

• Of all the subjects listed, no one liked gym best in school.
• No two respondents share the same profession.
• 80% want to be outside.
• While only one person gets to be outside for his or her job, the majority is satisfied with number of hours they work.
• Everyone has reasons to care about the environment.
• No one believes the earth's climate is remaining the same.
• Most people check the weather every day but not more than once.
• Birds and water ranked highest among people's favorite outdoor-related things.
• We live in a variety of environments (urban, rural, etc.)
• Most of us began using a home computer after the age of twenty, and most still prefer to read digital content on a computer or laptop, none of us via a phone.

As for what was liked and disliked about this blog, the answers were all over the map. "Too long," "a bit preachy," "not enough graphics," and "not enough solutions" were negatives offset by "very succinct," "love the kindness," "informative," and "clean design." Of course, I've taken it all into account, both negative and positive. Each comment is a thread in my woven plan.

And so, here it is:

Today's Walk


This is a new blog that is set to launch in the next few days. Walk with me each day, in all kinds of weather, down a variety of paths, and through a world that offers an unlimited supply of prompts to get me thinking about my role in it.

Each post is short and falls into one of four categories: facts (nature-related knowledge), events (cyclical or unusual), observations (life-related metaphors) and tips (instruction, gear, advice).

This does not mean Back to Basics will end. The frequency may change to every-other-week, but the writing will remain the same. I cherish you loyal readers of the Back to Basics blog, many of whom have been here every week since it began in 2008. With fewer than 300 people on the mailing list, 60 of whom I know read every post within 24 hours of its release, I am honored to continue to share my thoughts with you.

Meanwhile, in order to continue to write, in order to stay healthy both physically and financially, I need to expand. And here's where I need your help. Today's Walk must reach an audience that is 100 times greater than Back to Basics. This is for a variety of reasons, most of which centers on satisfying the wants of the publishing industry. I am actively seeking an agent in a very competitive marketplace, and nothing peaks the publishing world's interest more than a large reader following. In short, Today's Walk has to be big.

The first post will be ready soon. After the release, if you like what you see, please tell a friend. Please continue to offer feedback, privately or via the comments. Please continue to care about the natural world so that together we can inspire more people to walk down the path that connects us all to better health.

Perceived Wasteland

October 17th, 2014

Seven months ago I sat in on a conference presentation that had to do with flood risk. The presenter brilliantly began by showing a series of five photos. As each one was projected onto the front wall she asked, "Is this a flood plain?"

The audience was made up of the kind of people who would squeeze themselves into school desks and devote a beautiful Saturday to learning about environmental issues. We fumbled for the answer. "Come on folks," she encouraged. I shyly spoke up, "Yes." She shook her head in agreement and continued.

"Is this a flood plain?" she asked again. The scenes grew dryer and dryer until the last one depicted Arizona's Grand Canyon. By then we were on to her, and the entire class confidently said, "Yes."

Her point was that, like the Colorado River carving the wondrous canyon, water leaves its channel eternally. It's up to us to determine the risk associated with that fact. We build and live alongside waterways based on the likelihood and frequency of the aquatic escape.

We talked about the Federal Emergency Management Association's (FEMA) flood insurance and flood maps as well as flood catastrophes, flood preparation, and flood mitigation. Wendy Lathrop amazed me by the depth of her knowledge and the patience in her explanations.

Amidst all the data and technicalities and rules and guidelines, one point stood out: We need to rethink our beliefs about floodplains. "This is not wasteland," Wendy stated passionately.

A floodplain is a floodplain whether it has water in it or not. Frequent visits to the stream that flows behind my house have shown me just how drastically different the same waterway can look from one day to the next.

On Tuesday, I walked down a 300-foot stretch of Swamp Creek. Not on its banks, but right down its middle. It was a river of rocks. Every so often I'd pass a small boulder that was one to two feet tall. Almost square, they looked like gray, damaged boxes fallen from a plane.


On Thursday after a day of heavy rain, I visited again. There would be no walking down the center. A strong current about 40 feet wide had overtaken the channel and, except for a few tops, the boxes were gone from sight.


Come spring, when the snow melts, the edge I stood on Thursday will be creek bottom. Come thunderstorms, the footprints that I made in the silt on the pathway to get to the creek will be washed from the surface so far back from Thursday's waterline it is simply inconceivable.

It's marvelous to stand in a scene where nature is untouched. Your wildest imagination cannot picture the same place filled with snow, covered in ice, or flooded with rain. What barely trickled between a channel of rocks will raise up to the cliff banks before my next birthday. Water will work its way into the natural ravines and eddies for a rest, always on the level, unable to contract, seemingly able to expand.

On the days between floods, the wildflowers will dare to survive. The sun will warm the silt, the seed with germinate, the plant will grow, the bee will visit, and more seeds will fall, all with a slight sense of urgency, for there is no certainty as to when the next rise will occur.

"Is this a floodplain?" you ask. In some cases the answer is obvious. The landscape is easy to identify. Flood debris and flattened trees liter the wide area of low ground on either side of the stream. In others, where the flood levels could reach the window tops, we look to FEMA and topography maps to answer. Which scenario is wasteland? That may depend on what happened last night or what is forecast to happen tomorrow.

If you want to learn more about the FEMA process, particularly FEMA buyouts, you can watch a similar presentation of Wendy's, given at the 2013 Watershed Congress Along the Schuylkill. To do so, click here.

Stop Telling Me What to Do

October 10th, 2014

When my husband frames a good suggestion in a directive statement such as "Eat that yummy casserole in the fridge," I jokingly respond, "Don't tell me what to do." It's my way of holding on to my inner-teenager, I guess. He knows my response is in good fun. But almost every day, on the other end of the email, strangers get me saying the same thing in earnest. When men and women write subject lines that say, "Tell your senator..." or "Force them to..." or "Stop the..." I delete each one with a defiant click.

I join a variety of email lists to see what environmental issues are being worked on today. Whether it be a coalition to protect our national parks or an advocacy group for the respect of climate scientists, most of them send regular emails as promised, to keep interested parties informed. And most of them, it seems, have limited their campaigns to that of the activist's tone. Their announcements all lead with - as the marketing advice says - a direct call-to-action in the subject line, one that's designed to motivate me.

But I'm not part of the group of people who need to be moved and directed. And I act because I care, not because a communications manager told me I should.

I already know that my elected official needs to hear from me in order to understand how I want him or her to vote. I agree that the next march against fracking won't be worth its existence if nobody shows up. And I realize a nonprofit cannot be effective without my support.

The sad part is any email I deleted may have deserved my attention. It probably said which bill the senate was soon voting on or what territory the oil spill has seeped into. I would have appreciated the news and taken down the information about the steps required to make a difference. But since it came at me shouting, telling me how to act before it explained why I should, I reacted to its clear attempt at manipulating my kindhearted nature.

Activists are needed because they vigorously get people in motion. But they lose many opportunities to rally support when they begin telling well-informed, mild-mannered, unaffectedly realistic people what to do. It all comes down to understanding and writing for your audience. We cannot forget that sometimes the best way to reach people is to stop instructing and start informing.

The Compromise of Fall

October 3rd, 2014

When the nature lover John Muir worked together with hunting enthusiast Theodore Roosevelt, great things happened. For example, President Roosevelt expanded the protection of Yosemite National Park after spending time there with Muir. Muir inspired Roosevelt to act on his personal convictions and to use his elected power for the benefit of future generations. Roosevelt delivered to Muir the permanent protection of (at least a portion of) a wilderness to which Muir was profoundly devoted. It's a darn shame environmentalists and hunters don't get together more often.

Muir and Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir on Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, California, c.1906, via The Evolution of the Conservation Movement/Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs Division.

Sadly, the two groups are usually at odds. Their reasons are complicated and many. At the heart lies differences of passionate opinion about Nature. But like Muir and Roosevelt, as far as I can tell, both the environmentalist and the hunter want the same thing.

They both want Nature to be protected from the wants of industry and over consumption. Both want the right to live in a way that fits Nature's design. Both spend time sitting quietly outdoors, and so both are aware of what goes on there. These are the people who best understand the need to reserve some of Nature's spaces so that life on earth can continue.

Tomorrow marks the opening day of archery season here in Pennsylvania. That means I must begin to be very careful about where I hike. During this gorgeous season, before I answer the forest's loud and brilliant call...


...I must distinguish myself from the species on which the hunter preys.

Meanwhile, the hunter must follow the regulations set forth to keep humans safe and animals abundant. These are compromises we must make. This land shall be shared. And I can think of no one better to share it with than a person who is connected to the source of his or her sustenance and appreciates the ecology of the mammalian existence. We both understand the connection between clean water and diversified habitat, between diversified habitat and abundance, and between abundance and well-being. Why then should we not be friends?

"During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt signed into existence 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 55 national bird sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, and 150 national forests," according to the Sierra Club, of which Muir was a founding member.

Muir spent his adult life confronting the differences of opinions between men, both foes and adversaries. “This forest battle," he wrote, "is part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong. . . . sooner it is stirred up and debated before the people the better, for thus the light will be let into it."* Discussion is what transformed Muir's love of a thing into Roosevelt's protection of it. Together they achieved more than they either could have done alone. May we continue the conversation they started long, long ago.

*Source: http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/life/life_and_letters/chapter_18.aspx