Crazy Ivy-Pulling, Hippie Girl

Author’s note:  Welcome to what may be the first chapter of a novel or one of a few short fiction pieces. This is not a story for kids. (If you’re looking for a kids book, check out my novel Totem Magic: Going MAD on Amazon.) This tale is intended for teens and adults. I won’t say much more about it now, except that it hasn’t been edited and is still in the conceptualizing phase. I’ve just had some characters in my imagination who needed a home, so I wrote one for them. This is the edu-taining story of Dara Dance, a zealous conservationist, and a sarcastic bystander named Cody Seymour.  I appreciate feedback, so feel free to give it. Each chapter will be accompanied by a relevant (maybe distantly but still relevant) video. The second chapter will be up soon. Thanks!

 

Deep in the usually quiet redwood groves of the Arcata Community Forest, I heard strained grunts and angry cries coming from further up the trail. As I approached the source, I spotted a small woman wearing camouflaged pants and a faded-black sweater with the washed-out word “Humboldt” across the front. She clung to a rope that was hanging down from a very large redwood tree, swinging wildly with her head thrown back.  As I drew closer, I realized that it was not a rope at all, it was a thick English Ivy vine that was wrapped around and stretched up into the fog-scrapping branches of the towering tree. The woman howled the moment our eyes met, though some might say it was more of a tortured open-mouthed moan than a howl. I figured she was around my age, but maybe even up into her early thirties. It was hard to tell with that leg-stuck-in-a-trap expression on her face. Through clenched teeth she growled, “Don’t just stand there! Help me pull this down!”

Wondering if I should just keep walking, or maybe even run, I tilted my head to get a measure of the tree’s height. Was I bored and adventurous enough to participate in some good ole fashioned crazy project with one of insanity’s adherents? It would make a good tale at the cider bar, the day’s ultimate destination, where friends would be exaggerating their week’s experiences in an unadmitted attempt to story-top everyone else. This bit of good Samaritan buy-in definitely won’t need any truth-stretching. I could see me finishing my story, right before taking a sip, by saying, Yep, no need to make this shit up, I really did try to pull down a redwood tree with an insane woman this morning. She seemed to read my mind.

“Not the tree!” she shouted way too loudly while shaking her head disapprovingly and thrusting the vine toward me.  “The ivy! It’s an invasive species. English Ivy sucks!” She arched her eyebrows and bounced her shoulders at me in a way that demonstrated that she believed that motivation would suffice, and that I was already on-board. “Now get over here, and help me pull it out of the tree!” She stepped back, slid her hand down the vine, and head motioned for me to take my position in front of her on the length that she’d just been holding. It was more of a command than an invitation. I nodded in agreement, and reluctantly took my place on the vine. I wasn’t sure why I was doing this. She wasn’t the same brand of crazy that I’d originally thought. And this could be a trap. But even if her transient buddies weren’t really about to come out from behind giant redwood trees and jump me while I held a vine like an idiot, my participation wasn’t even necessary. She had already dug the ivy up. A hole near the trunk of the tree and the shovel stuck in the ground next to it was evidence. The plant would soon wilt and die. I reached higher up on the vine, readying for a pull and decided not to quell her passion by telling her this was a waste of energy and time. And I didn’t want to piss her off either. “OK, good timing,” she said, shuffling her feet around for purchase in thick duff. “I was waiting for your help.”

I wondered if she meant “my help” or help in general.

“I’m Cody,” I offered over my shoulder, instantly regretting telling her my real name.

“Dara Dance,” she said as if forced. “You ready to help me or not?”

I almost chuckled out loud. Apparently, fake names came quicker to her than me. And wasn’t it obvious that I’m ready to help? I’m holding the damn vine, aren’t I? But I didn’t say that. “What exactly am I helping?”

She sighed impatiently and spoke in a fast monotone as if she’d explained this a million times. “Once English Ivy climbs to the top of a tall tree, it gets above the canopy where there’s enough light to make berries.” As she lifted her arm to point high in the tree, her dirty sleeve brushed roughly across the side of my face. She continued without acknowledging it. “Birds eat them and spread the seeds every time they drop a bb-sized load from their feathered fannies.” She dropped her arm to tug on the vine we were holding.  “This one gots berries in it. I want to pull it down before the birds eat ‘em.”

“Got it,” I said, stopping myself a mere milla-second before mocking her by saying, “Gots it.” How had this crazy woman recruited me so easily? Did I really allow my participation just because I wanted to make fun of her? Checking my watch, I wondered how long this whatever-it-is might last. I hoped some scabies hadn’t rubbed off her sleeve and onto my face.

“At the count of three,” she said loudly as if there were many more than just the two of us. “One, two, and a big three!”

We pulled to no avail. “Keep pulling,” she yelled sensing my diminishing enthusiasm. Our feet slipped, and I fell back into her. She shoved me forward. “Switch places,” she commanded as she moved in front of me, pushed her sleeves up to her elbows, and motioned with her head for me to back up. I complied.

As Dara gripped the vine in front of me, I noticed that her sinewy light-brown arms ended in red-stained hands. It was not blood that stained them. The red was almost orange-ish and evenly distributed. It almost looked like it had been done ceremonially. Like some kind of crazy-lady ritual preparation for invasive species removal–hands dyed with metaphorical blood. We pulled and grunted more, but the tug-of-war was lost. The ivy won.

She let go of the vine and screamed, “Fuck!” so loud that I quickly scanned the trail for families and readied my apologies. There were none. By the time I turned back to her, she’d moved away and was rummaging through a large camouflaged backpack that I had not previously noticed. There were English Ivy vines spilling out of the top of it. Again I surveyed the surroundings. That backpack looked too big for her. She was maybe five feet, six inches tall, and though she was obviously fit, I figured that she could fit into that backpack twice. Dara had to have a much bigger partner somewhere. I hoped that person wasn’t as weird and demanding as she was.

“Now!” she yelled as she pulled a machete from the backpack. She raised it over her head and came at me.

I had often fantasized about how I would disarm and attacker and pin them to the ground while still being able to use my phone to call the police, but Dara had already swung the machete by the time I realized that I was not the target. With a loud thwack, she struck the tree and the vine dangling from it. A few feet of the plant hit the ground. The berries remained in the heights of the tree, where they waited their prophesized fate of beaks and feathered asses to whisk them off and deposit them to prosper in some unconquered forest. But they weren’t my concern. I had been less than a foot from tip of her swinging blade. She could have killed me!

“I am so sorry!” Dara dropped the machete to hug the tree. “I didn’t mean to cut you,” she whispered into the bark. Glancing at me and then back to the tree, she added, “I lost control again.”

My attention was drawn back to her red hands. I took a second to look at the rest of her more carefully, as well. Her hair was dark, almost black. I wondered if she were Native, Latina, Portuguese, or Middle Eastern. I was curious, but I’d never make the social faux pas of asking someone’s ethnicity as nonchalantly as inquiring about the weather, especially not a crazy woman.

Dara could have been a mix of anything. My deep-down guess was that she was a mix of thunderstorm and clear starry night. She was at once unique and beautiful and in a crazy and distant way. Her boots were the big black kind that wildland fire fighters wear. Her pants were tucked into them. I could see a hint of a tattoo betraying itself on the side of her neck, yet kept secret by the hood of her sweatshirt. I could barely make out a letter “J.” Probably the beginning of a lover’s name—a man or woman who matched her madness.

Dara was panting when she pulled her face away from the tree trunk and aimed hurt eyes at me.

“Do not ever buy English Ivy! I still can’t believe nurseries are allowed to sell them!”

“I won’t,” I promised.

She moved away from the tree like a drunk fairy in glides and wobbles and began to scan the ground in quick jolty head movements as if she were frantically looking for a dropped key. She’d forgotten about me.

“So… I guess that’s it then,” I said, suddenly confused what to do with my hands and shoved them into my pockets. “I guess I’ll be-”

I didn’t bother finishing my sentence. Dara wasn’t listening. She bent over and plucked a small seedling from the forest floor and declared, “Ivy sprouts!” in a tone like she’d just solved a long-debated mystery. She dropped to all fours and crawled around pulling tiny two-leaved seedlings that emerged from the leaf litter and dotted the forest floor like green chicken pox. Her face was too close to the ground. She was farsighted or locating the seedlings by smell. They were everywhere, but I hadn’t seen a single one before she’d made them all visible with the first plucking. After less than an awkward minute of watching her pinch them off and repeat “and another” each time she tossed one away, I started toward the trail.

“I hope you learned something,” she called out. I faced her to pass on a smile, but she was still scanning, crawling, and plucking. Her name wasn’t really Dara Dance, I told myself, and she probably didn‘t remember my name, but whatever. I wouldn’t try to engage her in further conversation. She looked up again as if she were going to command me to help her, and I knew that this time, I would not.

“English Ivy has no competitors or predators on this continent,” she said in the most sane-sounding voice I’d heard her use, but that normalcy ended as quickly as it had begun. “There is nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing that can stop it. Nothing eats it. Nothing beats it. Nothing cheats it. Nothing defeats it.” She stood up so fast that I flinched. Then she walked up and locked eyes on me. “Nothing but us!” Her tone was so dramatic that I almost laughed. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling as she continued in a whisper. As she spoke her fingers moved spidery through the air as if she was connecting her words with a web. “It has very little wildlife value and buries the native plants under its leafy tentacles—even young redwood trees are smothered to death this way. The plants that the ivy grows over and sun suffocate have evolved with and have relationships with the native insects.”

“Insects?” I asked in an attempt to follow her or frustrate her, I wasn’t sure which. I felt at once curious and antagonistic.

She instantly dropped her hands. I guessed she’d assumed I was being the latter. Her dark eyes spontaneously combusted with small flames of hate. Hate for me, it appeared. She shook her red fist at me and took a step closer. I put up my hands in twin stopping motions, she was totally in my personal space bubble. I took a step back until I was up against a tree. She took another two steps toward me. I wanted to tell her to back up without offending her. She was unpredictable and owned a machete. I wondered how on Earth I could possibly communicate rationally with an emotional mess: Excuse me, anti-ivy hippy girl, but can you like back up or something, please? You’re like… totally stepping on my aura and shit. But it wasn’t my aura that she was stepping on. Or was it? I don’t even believe in auras, but with her this close to me I couldn’t speak. Her bubble ate mine. I was now part of her reality-starved sphere. I couldn’t move, but I could wonder what would happen if I bent my knees enough so that our mouths aligned at kissing level. The visualized answer made me shudder: she would bite my lips off. I could smell her. She smelled like the forest. No, the forest smelled like her. She was still talking.  “If the insects have no native plants to eat then momma and daddy bird will have nothing to feed their nestlings! Invasive species like English Ivy cause a severe reduction in biodiversity.”

“Right,” I said calmly, and searched my mind carefully for the words and courage to politely excuse myself. Courage?! Was I afraid of her?

“Right?!” she shouted while she finally backed out of my face. She shook her head in disapproval. “Right?!” she repeated more quietly with her hands out as if she were pleading. “Are you serious? That’s all you can say? I told you a way how we can save biodiversity, and all you have for me is a ‘right’?”

It was all I could say. I wondered if she were about to blame me for all the English Ivy in the forest. My internal jury’s decision was unanimous: this girl was extra crazy. I found the machete in my peripheral vision. If she moved toward it, I would get to it before she did. If I failed in that, I would run for my life.

Now she waving a red finger at me and hissed. “Even seed-and berry-eating birds feed their young insects! But those insects don’t eat just any plant. They eat the plants that they have evolved with. They’ve evolved special enzymes to breakdown the native plants’ metabolites.” She nodded at me and the tensed wrinkle between her eyebrows melted away.  Apparently, she believed that I was finally receptive to her rant and was satisfied with that. “But they can’t eat this,” she said as she picked up the vine piece she’d cut off and waved it around.  “They can’t eat this,” she repeated.  “They didn’t evolve with it. They can’t digest it. It might as well be plastic.” For a minute it looked like she didn’t hate me anymore. Her eyes were questioning me.

“I understand,” I said testily.

The disapproving head shake returned. “No, you don’t. You probably have English Ivy in your yard!”

I did. I would never tell her.

“Listen!” she shouted suddenly more invigorated. She clapped on each word and spoke in a march: “Native insects eat native plants and native birds feed native insects to their native young! Got it?”

I nodded.

“No, you don’t.”

I noticed her eyes move over to the machete at then back at me. Was this the moment? I mustered up a disarming smile. “Well, I should be on my-”

“I don’t have time for chit chat,” she interrupted and mimicked a mouth talking with her one of her red hands before turning that hand puppet into a dismissive wave.

I’d walked maybe ten steps when in a sing song voice, she said, “Goodbye now.” I turned for a final wave to see her standing with the machete held up. “Goodbye now,” she repeated and waved the machete a little. “Maybe I’ll see you soon,” she added with an exaggerated wink.

As soon as the trail curved, and I knew she’d lost sight of me, I ran. I ran for what seemed to be a mile, but deep inside I knew I hadn’t escaped her. And on both sides of the trail grew more ivy. I hadn’t even escaped that. I snatched an ivy vine and ripped it off a stump. I walked a few steps and pulled another. Then another. I left an armload of ivy next to the trashcan at the trailhead.

Later that day, when I pulled my wallet from my back pants pocket to pay for a pint of my favorite dry English cider, the man in line behind me said, “Oh, looks like you dropped something.” I turned to see him pick a rolled piece of paper from the floor and hand it to me.

“Thanks,” I mumbled as I unfolded it I discovered what appeared to be a crudely made flier. Above the image of English Ivy were the words, “No Ivy League.” The corners of the flier were smudged with red. In my head I thanked Dara for not stealing my wallet. On the back of it I read plans for an English ivy bash where volunteers were being asked to meet at Trinidad State Park on September 14th at 10 A.M. to pull the invasive vine. It was two weeks away and ten miles from my house. At the bottom of the announcement was the name of the No Ivy League’s Ivy Bash coordinator: “Dara Dance.”

So it wasn’t a fake name per se, probably a moniker that extremists like her sometimes used. I folded the brochure and put it back into my pocket, left a tip for the bar tender, and held my glass up in a toast to the direction of Trinidad. “See you in two weeks, Dara.”

 

Four Ways to Make Hard Work and Service More Fun

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Four Ways to Make Hard Work and Service More Fun

By John Griffith and featuring California Conservation Corps member, Zach DeJoe

Many people believe that while hard work and service have great intrinsic value, they don’t leave much room for fun. I disagree. Fun includes things like joyful purpose, awe-ha moments, magnificent mood magnifiers, and choreographed acts of celebration. In fact, these elements of fun are actually essential to a successful Great Outdoors Day of Service.  Here is how to put them into practice to keep your participants’ morale and productivity at an optimum level.

  • Joyful Purpose: Understand and share your project’s story.

Individuals are more receptive to experiencing fun at work if they feel that the project they are engaged in is meaningful. So in addition to making sure that everyone understands the safety considerations (because getting injured isn’t fun), be sure to tell your project’s story. For example, as a crew supervisor in the California Conservation Corps (CCC), I frequently take young adults to the beach where we spend all day removing invasive European beach grass from sand dunes. If I left the explanation of our project as, “we’re here to pull grass,” the work would quickly be perceived as a “boring waste of time” and “sucks.” Smiles would become rarer and sighs would become more common. Instead, I point out (or show a picture of) a small, endangered bird called a snowy plover, and describe how predators are taking advantage of the cover that the invasive grass provides to ambush and gobble up snowy plover chicks. Suddenly grass-pulling has a meaningful and motivating purpose. Once the crew understands that they are helping to save an endangered species (and cute baby endangered species, at that!) the “grass pulling” takes on a joyful purpose and everyone becomes more receptive to fun—and more productive. You may not have something as cool as a fluffy baby plover chick to illuminate your project’s joyful purpose, but always take the time to make sure that you and all the other participants understand why you are doing the project and who and/or what is positively impacted by the outcome of your collective effort.

 

  • Awe-ha Moments: Taking time to explore worksite discoveries.

Awe-ha moments are seldom planned and should never be ignored. These instances are stumbled upon while working and are able to invoke a sense of belonging to something vaster than routine life. When experienced as a group, awe-ha moments provide a bonding opportunity that can lead to excitement and therefore more fun. They can bring disparate members together and make it easier for the group to coalesce into a team. In fact, Dacher Ketner, a University of California professor who researches the feeling of awe says that, “brief experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective and orient our actions toward interest of others”.

Lucky for us, awe-ha moments are awaiting discovery all over a project site! We just have to be committed to exploring their mysteries. We have to choose to be present when they present themselves. Awe-ha moments are the baby hummingbirds peeking over the rim of the nest that was discovered in a bush while weeding the community garden, the yellow-spotted black salamander found while moving the log off the trail, the strange creature washed ashore and gently poked during the beach cleanup, and the bright red flower resisting the pavement by blooming through a crack in the parking lot of the school that you’re renovating. Most awe-ha moments are from the natural world, and frequently experienced in the middle of the city.  Taking time to share in the wonder of these discoveries will increase both the levels of fun and productivity of your participants.

  • Magnificent Mood Magnifiers: Bring snacks, drinks, and music. By Zach DeJoe

Hello, this is Zach DeJoe, a corps member on John Griffith’s crew. I’m jumping in on his article to give the Millennial perspective on how to have fun with Magnificent Mood Magnifiers (MMM’s). MMM’s are little interjections into your Great Outdoors Day of Service that have the ability to change the flavor and rhythm of your time together. Let’s start with flavor. While in the CCC, corps members are responsible for bringing their own food to work, but volunteers may have arrived to your Day of Service assuming that food was going to be provided. Or, there may be volunteers coming from areas where quality food isn’t readily accessible—food deserts are common in some areas of our nation. By making sure your Day of Service project includes healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts, yogurt, and of course, water for hydration, participants may avoid occurrences of fatigue, reduce episodes of low blood sugar, or worse. It is much easier to have fun when you’re energized with food and fully hydrated. And anyone snacking on what you bring will consider you to be pretty cool.

Over the course of the day, you might want a little something more than snacks to lift your spirits. Listening to music just may be the best pick-me-up tool at our disposal. When asked what could make service work more enjoyable, our CCC crew unanimously—and all at once—proclaimed the gift of music as the answer. Not only has music been scientifically shown to boost physical performance and increase endurance, it has also been proven to reduce stress, elevate mood, and reduce anxiety. And these are just some of the beneficial effects music can have on both our bodies and minds. When deciding on what sort of music to play during a day of service, it is important to choose something that won’t offend your fellow volunteers or the community, probably something more mainstream. Basically what you want is something upbeat and positive that is suitable for your crew. Working with a bunch of 20-somethings may require something very different from working with a crew that may be a bit more long in the tooth. Balancing your Pharell with your Conway Twitty may be a difficult task, but it’s worth the effort when having more fun is the goal.

Choreographed Acts of Celebration: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Lunch breaks are not just for eating anymore. They are also for dancing. Dancing can add way, way, way more fun to your Great Outdoors Day of Service. A choreographed dance that is easy to learn is guaranteed to raise morale. In 2014, I was invited to present at the National Geographic Bioblitz Event in Golden Gate National Parks. Since there were no specific details about what my presentation was supposed to include, I created a dance, taught it to some CCC youth, and we performed it onstage at the event. Since then I have received Bioblitz Dance video responses from all over the world. Recently, over three days’ worth of lunch breaks, I taught the dance to my current crew during a week that we were restoring the coastal dunes AKA “grass pulling.” Like I mentioned earlier, grass pulling can be perceived as monotonous after a couple days, and while the cute baby plover chick story helps, some projects just need a couple dance moves. And the lunchtime-dance breaks definitely did their job. During the practices, I saw every corps member smile. I heard every corps member laugh. And the fun from those lunch-time practices spilled into the working hours. Everyone agreed that it made the project a lot more fun. This has been my experience every time that I’ve taught a group of people the Bioblitz Dance. They laugh and smile through the practice sessions and feel more connected to one another by the time their moves are in sync. I invite you to do the Bioblitz Dance during your Day of Service. Visit my Youtube channel to learn from the tutorial videos and watch dozens of other Bioblitz Dance video responses from all over the world. https://www.youtube.com/user/TotemMagicGoingMAD

In addition to joyful purpose, awe-ha moments, magnificent mood magnifiers, and choreographed acts of celebration, there are a range of things that you can do to add fun to your Great Outdoors Day of Service. From starting with an icebreaker activity, to playing an inclusive game, to some friendly work competition, to a closing circle where the participants express gratitude for one another and the collective mission, your fun potential is realized by your willingness to be creative.

Be very mindful that regardless of how hard the work is or what kind of project you are doing on your Day of Service, fun arises naturally from a group with a high morale. A quick search on the Internet will reveal numerous studies proving that high workplace morale also leads to more production and less accidents. Morale is highest in a group where participants feel respected, welcomed, and included. So start the fun happening just by giving everyone a welcoming, “hello.”  And then move forward with some joyful purpose, awe-ha moments, magnificent mood magnifiers, and choreographed acts of celebration. By applying these techniques everyone will realize and appreciate that making the world a better place doesn’t just require a bunch of hard work, it is also provides opportunities to have a lot of fun.

 

 

 

 

The Five Monkeys Culture

This is an important (and very short) cartoon to watch. Seriously. It explains how and why ineffective, oppressive, “suppressive,” and/or destructive cultural norms and practices have societal longevity. The study may or may not have happened, and we are a “higher level” primate than the monkeys in the experiment, but I bet when you think of this video in regards to how we oppress others in our own communities or people in other communities, you will see how many of our actions are automated and fully cut off from the original motivation. (Yes, all of us do at least a bit of oppressing or stand by silently as oppression unfolds in front of us). Survey all the stereotypes, labels, and social strategies that you inherently superimpose on people. What are the origins of those actions? If those origins were dug up and revealed to be rooted in hate, would it change the way you perceived and treated others and/or the world? Did you consciously choose the way you feel or act toward that “other” person? Or are you auto-hating?  

Watch the video: It may help you understand workplace and family cultural practices  and/or root out redundancies.

 

Be A Blessing to Somebody

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There is so much pain, anger, and mourning on my social media news-feeds. There are some reactive sentiments that should have been thought through way better before they were posted to Facebook. Because of them, many folks will be conducting damage control with their friends, family, constituents, and co-workers in the coming months. But there is as much expression of empathy and compassion. There are genuinely helpful words and article and video shares. There are reminders of the ancient wisdoms that our ancestors passed down to us. Last night I went to bed with all this on my mind. And I woke up thinking about how it must be to not feel equally protected under the law based on my race or culture.

I consider myself an empathetic person, but it is difficult for me to imagine not feeling confident to do what I presently do or go all the places that I go. I’ve never feared the police because of my race or anything else. In fact, I was raised by a cop. I’ve never felt immediately threatened or unwelcomed by the confederate flags waving in front of houses in various places along the route to my favorite national park in the way Glenn Nelson from Trail Posse has described. They are only harmless icons that disappoint me. I’ve never had to wonder if someone who hates me because of how I look lives there.

The places that made me feel uncomfortable have always been easy to avoid because 99.995% of the country welcomes me based on how I look. I’ve always felt like the system supported me. Yet, so many of my friends, family, and loved ones do not know this feeling. I want everyone to feel as safe as I do. I want everyone to feel like they can access all the same opportunities that I can. I want everyone to love the experiment that the United States is as much as I do.

The data from all the reputable sources show that many American communities do not feel, and are not experiencing, equal protection under the law, especially young black men. This is a problem that we should ALL care about. Speaking up, discussing, and taking action to resolve this inequality is the right thing to do. It is our duty as Americans to demand peace and justice for all of our citizens. It most certainly matters. Do not cheapen or simplify this essential effort by referring to it as political correctness. Resolving this disparity is to live in the universal truth of loving your neighbor as yourself. Turning this wisdom into a way of being is crucial for humanity’s long-term survival and should be applied in earnest this week when you read and watch the news and discuss it with those around you. We will continue moving toward equality and prosperity if we have “Love thy Neighbor” in the front of all our responses regarding the unfolding social justice/racial inequality situations.

I know some cannot relate to the “love thy neighbor” motivation for equality, and to you I recommend exploring the other peaceful resolutions because resolving the inequality issue is essential for everyone’s prosperity.

Thanks, Cathy Wolz Barr for sharing this video of Maya Angelou with me. It has really helped me keep perspective. Maya reminds us that among the clouds there are rainbows. “Be a blessing to somebody.” Please watch and share her words.

No Place For Birds: And How you Can Fix That

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Hello, for those of you who don’t already know, I am a crew supervisor for a state youth workforce development program called the California Conservation Corps. Many of my future blogs will be about the work that I do and the youth who I do it with. And a few of them may even be from those young adults. This post is an article written by one of those corps members: Karlee Jewell.

Karlee was one of two corps members who was selected to go with me to National Geographic’s BioBlitz Event to perform the BioBlitz Dance onstage at an event commemorating the centennial anniversary of the USA’s National Park Service. That’s us pictured above with the US Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. Karlee is next to the Secretary, and corps member Sierra Preston is wearing the red hat.  Karlee’s commitment to the outdoors is not just about celebrating the outdoors with dances–although she is certainly down to the BioBlitz Dance whenever. In this article, she introduces you to some action that you can easily take to help wildlife.  –John Griffith

 

No Place For Birds:

And How You Can Fix That

by Karlee Jewell

Imagine that it’s a Tuesday, you’re done with work, and on your way home you stop at your local market to pick up dinner for you and your family. It’s not until you walk inside that you realize something is unusual. On sale in the meat department is poisonous salamander. This surprises you, and a quick look at the next option proves to increase your confusion: why on earth are toxic frog legs for sale? My family and I can’t eat that. Flustered, you leave the meat department and head to the produce section, you remembered seeing some lush greens on your way in, so you decide to make a salad this evening. You walk up to those same greens and read the sign above them: Poison Hemlock and Poison Oak Salad Mix. You’re baffled. You take a step back to survey the scene. With salt and pesticide laden grass blades in the chip aisle and canned sand dollar shells in the canned goods aisle, you realize the entire grocery store is filled with inedible items. And there’s nothing to drink for sale at all! Not even a water faucet in the bathroom. How can this be? From the outside, this grocery store looked like every other.

With growing hunger and frustration you leave and make your way down the block to another market. To your dismay, this store offers nearly all of the same options as the previous one. Hungry, tired, and confused you check the stores across town and in the next town only to realize there is no food around that you and your family can eat. This is the grim reality that many native bird, insect, and mammal species are faced with when they migrate through suburban America. Our yards offer little in the way of nutrition for a migrating or parenting animal.

Due to lack of adequate water sources, few places to hide, and our rampant planting of non-native ornamental plants, many insects, birds, and mammals are left without habitat. The ornamental plants most popular in American yards are usually from Asia and are advertised as “pest-free” when they should actually be called “butterfly-free.” Our native butterflies did not evolve with these ornamentals. This means, in a majority of cases, they do not lay eggs on them because their baby caterpillars cannot munch on the leaves.  Aside from their native larval host plants, butterflies also need nectar sources in order to thrive.

Most bird parents feed their nestlings caterpillars and other insects; so you could just as aptly call those “pest-free” plants, “bird-free” plants. Our backyards are the pit stops and grocery stores for wildlife. When so many of them fail to provide adequate food and water, wildlife finds themselves in the same imaginary grocery store described above. My supervisor, coworker, and I created this skit to help you see what birds may be experiencing.

As a member of the California Conservation Corps (CCC), I am reminded daily that we’re all capable of making positive impacts. Be it participating in restoration projects, wildlife conservation, using reusable bags, planting a native garden, or responding to natural disaster emergencies, we all make choices to conserve and support our communities and protect our planet. But you don’t have to join one of the many corps programs in the United States to help the environment. What if I told you that we all have the opportunity to make a difference right here in our own backyards? In fact, you don’t even need a backyard. A patio, a planter box, or any small space available outside is enough to save insects and animals.

America’s oldest and largest conservation organization, The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), has created a tool which enables all of us to take actions to do just that. By partnering with NWF, we all have the opportunity to create a Certified Wildlife Habitat. In order to certify your yard, balcony, schoolyard and/or place of work, you just need to make sure that the four habitat requirements exist in that space: food, water, cover, and places for wildlife to raise their young.

Now before you look away thinking this is an unachievable feat, bear with me. It’s easier than it sounds. Often times a native plant can provide three of the four habitat components all on its own: food, cover, and places to raise young.  Nectar, pollen, leaves, sap, seeds, fruits, and berries are examples of food that native plants can provide. Water sources include birdbaths, natural features like a frog pond or stream, a shallow dish, or even a muddy puddle for butterflies. Aside from native plants, cover and places to raise young can also be: thickets, roosting boxes, rock or stick piles, and unraked yards.

By creating Certified Wildlife Habitat, we will be able to experience, understand, and connect with the natural world we live in. Think of one of your closest friends, did you start out as besties right off the bat? Most likely not. You probably spent time with one another, grew closer through shared experiences, began to understand each other, and built bonds. Picturing life without them now invokes thoughts of sadness and loss. This is the same connection we hope to foster through creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat. You will start to care about the wildlife you watch and share space with because you will begin to better understand them.

The scenario of the grocery store with inedible food is an example of what happens when we plant “pest-free” plants in our gardens. Fortunately, we can easily solve this problem. Take for instance the beautiful monarch butterfly; it depends on flowering nectar plants for food and milkweed as its larval host plant. Due to current cultural practices, both are in decline throughout its migration range, and as a result, the monarchs’ population has suffered greatly. But we can help them! We can plant milkweed, their larval host plant in our outdoor spaces. By creating wildlife habitat we can take steps to mitigate some of the challenges that monarchs, and other wildlife, are facing.

Chances are that if you plant natives then you are planting a larval host plant for some butterfly species—the native plant they evolved to lay their eggs on.  Not sure which native plants grow in your area? No problem, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has an online collection of native plants by state.

Imagine all the wildlife that would benefit if every member program of the 21st Century Corps took advantage of the opportunity to become a Certified Wildlife Habitat through NWF.  We’ve already started. As seen in When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors, a book written by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, director of NWF CA, the CCC residential centers of Ukiah and Fortuna have certified their campuses. The process included corps members building a relationship with their wild roomies by planting drought tolerant native plants that serve as larval hosts for native butterflies and colorful nectar sources for native bees and other pollinators. And that was just the beginning. Now, members of the 21st Century Corps, NWF, conservationists, wildlife lovers, and nature nuts alike must continue to engage others, speak with our actions, and raise awareness for the betterment of all our community members—furry, fuzzy, and feathery alike.

Your BioBlitz Dance Invitation

BLM 3

Greetings from John Griffith, creator of the BioBlitz Dance.  This is your official invitation to be a part of the BioBlitz Dance Movement! The BioBlitz Dance is a celebration of the outdoors, diversity within the conservation movement, and the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service. There have been over 60 BioBlitz Dance videos from various groups posted on YouTube and/or Facebook.  The number is expected to grow exponentially by this summer.

The BioBlitz Dance was created after my California Conservation Corps (CCC) crew and I were invited by Outdoor Afro’s founder and CEO, Rue Mapp, to participate in National Geographic’s 2014 BioBlitz Event at the Golden Gate National Parks. We made the first BioBlitz Dance video for the event and were amazed that it received over 30,000 views. The dance has spread quickly with BioBlitz Dances coming from all corners of the USA, New Zealand, Kenya, Nigeria, and Romania. To learn more about the dance’s history, please check out the link “BioBlitz Dance’s Creation Story” below.

 

The BioBlitz Dance has some guidelines that you should learn about before checking out the tutorial video:

  • The BioBlitz Dance must be done outdoors. You are welcome to practice it indoors, but when you are ready to record it, it must happen outside.
  • Upload the video of your BioBlitz Dance to YouTube and include the words, “BioBlitz Dance” somewhere in your title. Example: Malheur Refuge Liberation BioBlitz Dance.
  • More than ever we need a unifying message and celebration of public lands. That’s why we strongly encourage everyone to stick with the original three core moves of the BioBlitz Dance. Again, you must include the three core moves, or it’s not the BioBlitz Dance. The moves: Black Bear, Turkey Vulture, and Ground Squirrel can be renamed to reflect animals in your park if you’re interested in using the dance as an interpretive tool. However, please do not change the moves. The moves are what identify it as the BioBlitz Dance and connect all of us who celebrate the outdoors, diversity within the conservation movement, and public lands no matter where we are.
  • The fourth move of the BioBlitz Dance is designated as a freestyle, where each individual dancer can bust their signature moves. In addition, this is also an opportunity for your group to create your own unique fourth move. For example, Shepherdstown Elementary School created a ‘Brook Trout Dance’ as their fourth move to reflect an animal they had studied recently. Your fourth BioBlitz Dance move could be another popular dance like the Twist, the Quan, or the Nae Nae like the group Keeping It Wild did to great effect.  (see link below).

If you are in California and would like to take some BioBlitz Dance lessons, my corps members and I will be doing two BioBlitz Dance Workshops this year (with more in the works but yet to be scheduled). The first is at The BLM Youth Summit on Feb 19th on the Sacramento University campus. The second is at the National Association of Interpretation Conference on the Humboldt State University campus on April 3rd.

Please share this with anyone who may be interested. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Don’t miss the links below.

Thanks for being a person who is interested in celebrating the outdoors with a dance!

Kind regards:

John Griffith

BioBlitz Dance 2016 Update: 

National Geographic blog on the BioBlitz Dance: 

BioBlitz Dance tutorial:

BioBlitz Dance Creation Story: 

BioBlitz Dance Playlist: 

Two examples of great fourth moves:

Shepherdstown Elementary School’s BioBlitz Dance:

Keeping It Wild: 

John Griffith’s YouTube Channel: 

BLM Youth Summit: 

NAI Region 9 Workshop: 

 

School Sucked… Mostly

If you had asked the eighteen-year-old me if I were planning to go to college, the answer would have been a resounding “hell no.” I had dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade and only received my GED a couple years later because a program that I was in (California Conservation Corps) forced me into that process. School was like church to me: a place where you were forced to sit down, hold still, stay awake, and shut up. There were only a few instances where either place struck me as an institution that inspired learning. To me, they were more like punishments, or some form of negative phenomena meant to keep us from being happy and free. But at the time, I also suspected that I was almost alone in this perspective. I wondered if I hated school because I wasn’t smart enough to keep up with everyone else. I adopted the outlook of, “There’s no point in trying, I will never get it.” But since it was so boring, it didn’t even bother me that everything seemed to be going over my head.  I hated it. School was a bully. I decided that I would never like anything that tried to control me and keep me from playing outside.

The adults in my life, excluding my mother, quickly gave up encouraging me academically. They seemed happy to accept my barely average grades and to celebrate my athletic skills. The goal was always for me to get c’s, so that I could continue in school sports. In high school, I can’t recall anyone ever telling me that I needed to understand my classwork. But they let me pick which numbers were on my jersey.

Years previous, in early primary school, teachers wanted to hold me back because I was hyperactive. Those were observant teaches. After all, my few memories of kindergarten to second grade are of chasing or being chased by other kids, singing, painting, throwing dodge balls, and dancing. My brain didn’t even record the academic aspects like learning to add, subtract, and read, which came to me later than it did for my classmates.

Had I been born a decade or so later, I’m sure I would have been diagnosed ADD and medicated. In spite of the teachers’ recommendations to hold me back, my mom would never let them.  She’d point out that I was already the biggest kid in class. Another year held behind, and she figured I’d have a real stigma as the big, dumb guy.

My parents decided to put me into a private Christian school for third, fourth, and fifth grades where “spare the rod and spoil the child” was practiced. I guess they bought into the popular belief that some fear would inspire genius. As you can imagine, most of my time there sucked. To this day, when I recall my third and fourth grade teachers, I have to concentrate on not being angry and forgiving them. They were being what they were taught to be. Those teachers planted the seed to educational resistance in me. I was swatted publicly for day dreaming, restlessness, finding humor in between the mundane, and wanting to go outside. I can’t remember those teachers ever smiling at me. I was scared of them. I did what they asked and no more, fearing a wood paddle if I failed to comply. I never wanted to go to school.

I hate to think what may have happened were it not for my fifth-grade teacher. Nothing about Mr. Robinson was boring or oppressive. It was apparent that he loved to teach. He recognized my hyperactivity and often brought me to the front of the class and incorporated me into the lessons. The participatory role helped me realized that I could learn just as quickly as anyone else when the education was presented in a more entertaining way. I saw my highest grades ever in fifth grade. I never got swatted in his class. No one did. Learning became exploration. Reading and tree climbing suddenly seemed to be in similar categories rather than on two different planets. I loved school. But after that year, I never met another Mr. Robinson until college. My grades and interest fell back to previous levels.

Because of a life-long interest in nature, by the time I was a twenty-year-old United States Forest Service fisheries/fire crew seasonal, I was already a more accomplished naturalist than many of the biologists that I worked with. And I wanted a fulltime career like theirs. As far as I was concerned, I was already qualified. But no… I quickly learned that I was required to have an applicable degree to be hired as a fulltime wildlife biologist.  Begrudgingly, I became a college student. My first several semesters were struggles. There were parties to attend and bongo drums inviting me to dance. And since I was a drop out, I had to start at the academic bottom to catch up with my peers.  Even after five semesters, I was still considered “almost a sophomore.”

If the professors were passionate, and the subjects were interesting, I’d get A’s or B’s in those classes. If not, I’d get C’s or worse. Eventually a professor who recognized my independence and challenges suggested that I create my own Bachelor’s in Science. This prospect excited me. It was quite the process to do, but by the time it was all approved, I graduated with a degree that was a combination of plant science, Latin American Studies, International Studies, and range science. It was titled, International Crop Production, Latin America.  And it was unique to me. For the first time since fifth grade, I felt like a participant in my own education.

It took me almost ten years to get my Bachelor’s degree. In that decade, I matured into loving education, seeking it out, and encouraging others to guide their own. I learned that it could have been this way all along. Some of us need more than just education: we need edu-tainment. We need the fundamentals of human learning sang into us, played into us, painted into us, and danced into us. We need to be inspired and equipped to explore it for ourselves. We need it to be applicable to the real world. Education should always be perceived as the essential and engaging ally, not the oppressive killer of fun. Awe not fear should inspire learning. This is the wisdom that I gained through my schooling.  I want to be the humane educator who inspires others to become solutionaries. I want to be the people’s Mr. Robinson.