Thursday, December 31, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

Okay, I know everyone and their dog is using that title, so it's unoriginal, but if you don't, you're just an idiot, so, anyway: 

Obviously this was a fucking YEAR for everyone so rather than harp on some of the challenges, I just want to paint a better picture of what I'm doing and where I'm finding myself as this year comes to a close. (Note: I wrote most of this earlier in the month and some things have changed, but I haven't processed them yet, cause 2020)

I live in New Mexico. Not Arizona, or Colorado, although if you're reading this from Texas it's likely all the same to you. 
I just wrapped up a class on public lands and that's totally not a non-sequitur because if you live in Texas like I did for 18 years, then you may not realize just how amazing the world is outside of the state, especially in places like New Mexico which is over 40% public land. I appreciated thinking about public lands through the lens of equity and diversity...

So, I'm in New Mexico, in the mountains. I lived in ABQ for five years until two years ago when we ran away from the chaos and found ourselves establishing roots here. I wanted to write a blog about what I've learned in the two years since my co-workers said they didn't trust me, and my boss kicked me out of our staff housing because she didn't like my boyfriend.. but to be honest, I'm still processing all the shit that went down... and looking forward to connecting with some of the other folks I know that are still processing, too. Maybe 2021 is our year of reconnecting. 

Where I live has a lot of public land access. It's a little overwhelming. In the previous 5 years I spent living in NM, I really dug into the landscape and exploring one specific corner of the state. Not only is there an entire new set of trails up here, but entirely new ecosystems-- which is both exhilarating (because there's so much to learn) and exhausting (because I feel like a n00b). 

16 months ago we bought a house. I wrote a blog about it. It's been a journey, for sure. Other than the foam squares we put in the bedroom, (most of which have since been covered with cat snot, torn up by dog toenails or repurposed to another room of the house) we don't have any flooring in our unit. Just painted subfloor. There were five separate units but we turned one back into a garage, offering the cabinets from the kitchen to the chickens for nesting. It is currently filled with a miscellany of things including two motorcycles, a mechanism that throws clays for shooting at, and a fridge that somehow got unplugged before it got emptied that I hope will somehow spontaneously combust before I get around to the deed. 

I have felt extremely fortunate to have this house since the pandemic started, for a lot of reasons. One is the security and stability. Although the bank owns about 98% of it, it's been nice not to navigate the rent situation others have gone through. Secondly, is the ability to give. Since we have the space and the situation, we have been able to help those affected by Covid, in some ways. And third is the community. Since buying the house, we've been opening the units exclusively to our friends and people likeminded. We call it our "unintentional community", which currently consists of 5 dogs (ranging in age from 8 weeks to 3 years), 5 cats, 7 adults, 1.5 babies (one is on the way), about 45 hens and 7 roosters. Lastly, I guess I feel really blessed to live in a place that is infinitely beautiful, and challenging, with a cultural history I have barely scratched the surface of. 

I could go on about my house, especially since like most people, I have been spending a lot of time there this year... but for the sake of everyone else's privacy, I'll ramble about my employment. 

I have been incredibly fortunate to not only stay employed, but gain employment during this time. I was going to write a blog about how I achieved this until I realized the secret is "work hard, and accept insignificant amounts of money". Because this has been my foundational work ethic, this is not strange to me, but from talking to people versed in for-profit situations, apparently this isn't the ideal way to do things. BUT, on the other hand I look at people like my friend who reflected after the pandemic started that, "after this clears up, I would like to go into a career that I felt good about". The work I do doesn't only make me feel good, often it gives back to the world in a way. I have made it my business to seek payment for opportunities rather than pay for them. That's just how I roll. SO, what have I been up to this year? 

In January I started a new position at a new non-profit that did very similar things to my last job. After a few slow months of learning through a new community, I was eager for events to gain steam and programs to start rolling out. A week after they started, Covid cancelled everything. Like many, I spent a few months struggling to complete tasks while working from home, until June, when I was fortunate to begin in-person programs taking small groups of students hiking around the mountains. I am so fortunate (mentally, emotionally, and financially) that these programs continued through October!

My side-gig doing data entry for a food delivery business had been stalled since last Thanksgiving, but it turns out that a pandemic is a good time for food delivery, and we got some additional funding allowing me to earn a bit when I could get the hours in. We are expanding to Boulder next month and I am excited to continue this venture for a bit. 

My in-town role model hired me as a personal trainer! My first gig as such. Although with the pandemic we were teaching classes virtually, it was still a fun way to get into the business. I did get to teach a few classes in person out doors with a mask on in the grass 10 feet away, but as cases rose, that got shut down. Eventually that boss fired me for taking a similar gig and not knowing the small town backstory behind their feud. 
BUT in the meantime I pitched an idea for an app for aerialists to a company in German and now I'm their content designer. It's a lot of work and research but I'm hopeful for the outcome. I'm only about three bites into the elephant at the moment. 

During the year, I also worked for the Census for a bit, which was interesting insight into the absolute shit-show of a federal government organization that only runs every 10-years during a pandemic under the Trump Administration in the state of New Mexico in a town with very limited resources. I actually wrote to a couple of newspapers about how poorly the thing was run because I felt it would rival the headlines about the post office. I haven't heard the final numbers but two weeks before the census closed prematurely, only 30% of our town had filled out their survey, which isn't great for our future budget. Local stores were offering gift cards and free ice cream if you filled it out. 

Finally, through the first-mentioned job, I got a position as a PE teacher at a school I can ride my bike to. I got to spend a few weeks in person with students with masks on, reminding them to stay 6-feet away and doing a lot of unusual outdoor ed-based PE that they weren't used to. The rest of my time is spent designing screen-free outdoor activities that are delivered through Google Classroom. What a world we live in. 

Outside of my employment endeavors, which clearly kept me busy (along with care-taking the chickens, harvesting from the garden, and other house-related shenanigans) I managed to write an article with the Center for American Progress, and I'm a defendant in a case against Donald Trump and his attempt to roll back certain Clean Water Act standards that would affect watersheds here in New Mexico where I farm and recreate. My Bataan March was cancelled as was a trip to New Orleans for the Tennessee Williams Festival that in hindsight I couldn't have afforded. Instead, Duck (the dog) got lots of walks around the neighborhood. Perhaps my greatest accomplishment was rearranging my room and creating this almost-perfect corner of books and beauty. 

Like many others, I also experienced some loss this year. My inspiring grandmother Isabel passed away, as did my sweet friend, old co-worker and ex-roomate, Hannah. Both of their lives truly inspired me and I will keep them in my heart as we march into 2021. 

So-- here I am. Some hours, days and weeks of 2020 were certainly a struggle. But I'm here. At the dawn of a new decade-- (a New Age of Aquarius?). I think it's easy to look back at the last 12 months of cancellations and police brutality and unfair economics and feel sour-- but I am inspired by the people who turned out to protests with masks on, I am grateful for months at home to play with my dog and watch the flowers bloom, and I am hopeful that if nothing else, 2020 renewed my energy and reignited my anger.  Cause I (we) have some work to do in 2021. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day 2020- The 50th Birthday the Earth Needs

As an environmental educator, every day is Earth Day to me. 
I have really been struggling during the last month of self-isolation with the grief of not being able to share this beautiful spring with my regular afterschool kiddos, or the middle schoolers I had just gotten to know and planned the next six weeks of adventures with. This winter was especially challenging and I was greatly anticipating an active Spring. But one thing I have learned from studying and immersing myself in nature is how to adapt.  
If you think about it, we all know how to adapt. It may be a cause of anxiety for us as individuals in our current situation within our societies, but if you think about it from an evolutionary point of view, our ancestors were excellent at adapting. Or, if you really think about it, our ancestors may have merely had a deformity or mutation that happened to make them better at a specific situation than their peers, but that’s a great metaphor also. Anyway, the point is that everything around us in nature is here because it successfully adapted to environmental changes--and so can you. 
Look out the window at the closest tree. If it’s a cottonwood, it has a relatively low life span, about 100 years. If it’s a pinon, the state tree of New Mexico, it has a life span of about 600 years, which is similar for most pines. Think about what a world that tree has experienced. Although your tree doesn’t recognize time like we do, science has increasingly shown that trees perceive the world around them, sending chemical and other imperceptible signals to neighboring trees. Think about the droughts, floods or windstorms this tree has endured, and yet it is still standing. Nature shows resilience as well.

This year is the 50th anniversary of an annual event that celebrates this resilience and adaptability.  The first Earth Day took place in 1970, when senator Gaylord Nelson witnessed a massive oil spill and wanted to model an anti-pollution movement after the energetic anti-war movements.  
The first Earth Day, 20 million people (10% the US population at the time) took to the streets to demand clean water and clean air standards for our earth (and obviously, ourselves), and as a result the Environmental Protection Agency was created. Because of this movement of political unity, the National Environmental Education Act, Clean Water Act, and OSHA were created. 

It has been 50 years since that critical movement, and although Earth Day has been celebrated annually, and our environment has seen many successes, the EPA currently has the least amount of authority it has seen since its creation. What makes this Earth Day anniversary especially unique, though, is the fact that this Earth Day falls amidst a global pandemic., the prime authority non-profit to organize Earth Day events proclaims that this year’s Earth Day is “digital”. But before I unroll the incredible list of Earth-loving activities for you and your families to do while at home avoiding Covid-19, I want to point out the unexpected effects of the world slowing down.  
What an interesting gift for the Earth, for all the hustle and bustle of business as usual to slow to an unprecedented halt. With China’s strict stay-at-home policies, shutting down and slowing factories and businesses, The average number of "good quality air days" increased 21.5% in February, and graphic comparisons of nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide just one month apart show a drastic reduction in the hazardous substance. 
And while this is an incredibly stressful time for health care workers, it’s an incredible opportunity for scientists. 
Seismically, the Earth has calmed enough that trained researchers can feel the difference, and interested but untrained people can see the decrease in movement on a seismometer. “Right now, day time in Brussels resembles Christmas Day,” observed Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. Other researches have noticed a decrease in noise level by as much as 30 decibels in usually-busy cities like New York, and a calming of underwater noise pollution in oceans. “We’re experiencing an unprecedented pause in ocean noise that probably hasn’t been experienced in decades,” observes marine ecologist Michelle Fournet.
And, as you may expect, wildlife is thriving as our species hunkers into our homes. Coyotes, wild boar and even peacocks have been spotted in areas that would otherwise be bustling with humans. Even zoo animals grieving the lack of visitors have had the unique opportunity to get to know other creatures, an experience that a dolphin and sloth seemed to enjoy at a zoo in Texas
(There is some fake and misleading news out there as well about sudden animal appearances. Also, as Outside Magazine pointed out, not all of our sudden isolation is good for wildlife).  
As much as I have enjoyed these strange stories, I recognize as one article pointed out, that “The respite for nature will be less important than what follows.” Although most of the following activities are not immediately earth-saving measures, they promise to encourage some reverence for our natural world, and inspire some small changes. Some may argue that the floating rock we live on deserves more than one day of honor, but Earth Day serves as a specific time to come together to celebrate, advocate, or just learn about the world around us. Whether you use the following resources on Earth Day, all of Earth Week, or allow them to inspire your actions every day of the year, it is my greatest hope

As our children grow up with the memory of this 50th anniversary of Earth Day celebrated in and around our homes in the midst of a pandemic, I hope that some of the resources below can remind us of the beauty, adaptability and resilience of nature.  

Local Earth Day Activities
Enjoy Earth from Home, and Share a Photo on FIT’s Facebook page
Statewide Idea- Plant a Sunflower!
Earth Day Livestream (April 22nd-24th featuring activists, performers, students, senators and more. 

Earth Day Events 
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and show your support for the environment with our limited-edition Earth Day 2020 sticker from The Sierra Club. 

At home Earth Day Activities (For now or Later)
Daily Outdoor Challenges by Pajarito Environmental Education Center 
Scan through 50 Years of Environmental Victories, in Photos

Take Action 
Get to know the Environmental representatives near you, and pledge to vote for Earth in your upcoming election.