Eco-Inspiration 7: Making Time

Echo Lake Snowshoeing Weekend, Feb. 2013

Don’t worry, this post isn’t just complaining about being busy, there is totally a point!  But, these past two weeks have been tough for me.  One of the hardest parts of graduate school (in my own opinion, and I think others would agree) is applying for grants.  Grant writing is an art.  You have to propose enough work that it sounds like you will get interesting results, but you can’t propose so much that the granting agency knows you will never be able to accomplish your stated objectives.  Then, after you figure out the question you want to ask and how you want to address it, you have to tell the reviewers a nice story. 

The usual. Eva’ day.

This is what science is all about really, and I don’t think many people realize it.  Just like in many other fields, at the end of the day, I’m a story teller.  Sure, I support the details of my story with data and I do my very best to remain objective, but unless I can convey why my work matters and how it fits into our current understanding of things, I’m basically wasting my time.  Because, you know, lab and field equipment don’t grown on trees and I need someone to pay for this stuff.  True story, I’m not independently wealthy.  But, I digress. As the summer (and the field season) roll in, I’ve been putting all my creative efforts into writing grants and developing project that could eventually end up as chapters of my dissertation.  The result of this, however, is me sitting at my desk for hours and hours each day reading, writing, drinking coffee, and repeating.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally academically stimulated (and slowly becoming some sort of zombie creature), but this time last year I was finishing up my MS and getting ready to head out on an epic summer road trip!  In fact, my partner in crime from last summer, Meridith, is heading out again in just a few days.  This summer, she’s solo traveling around Europe for three months.  Can I just say how insanely jealous I am and how all of you should read her blog because she is beautiful, brilliant, and hilarious!  At the same time, my little sister (who just graduated with a BS in Biology!) is about to head off on a two month adventure to hike the Appalachian Trail.  Jealous again.  Jealous, jealous, jealous!  So, after stewing in this little pot of extreme stress (looming grant deadline) and mild (or less than mild…) travel envy for a few days, I realized what the heck my problem was.  

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things 
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry

Rocky Mt. NP, Summer 2012

I know I said this previously, during my very first eco-inspiration piece, but I think that it could stand some repeating:  It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it (thanks Edward Abby!).  So, as part of my New Year’s Resolution to “be a better person,” I decided to commit to making time for nature each and every month.  And so far in 2013, I have totally succeeded.  In January, all of my college roommates were visiting me and we went on a pretty amazing hike near Auburn, CA.  In February I went to the snow.  Over Easter weekend in March, D Lo and I took his cousin on an overnight camping trip in the Cache Creek Wilderness.  And in April I went on an amazing hike with my Conservation Ecology class along Oat Hill Mine trails near Calistoga, CA (nerdy ecologists+volcanic pinnacles+endemic plants=great times!), and then the next day I ran my sprint-triathlon along the shores of Lake Berryessa.  

Auburn Recreation Area, Jan. 2013

Oat Hill Mine Trail, April 2013

So why have I been feeling so mopey lately?  Well, I think it’s because it’s been over a month from my last outdoor adventure.  I agree with Wendell Berry wholeheartedly.  I find peace among wild things, and when I’m stressed, I don’t make space for things that bring me peace.  Silly really.  

So, I just emailed a bunch of my lady-ecologist gal pals and tried to find a hiking buddy or two for this weekend.  If no one can come, I’ll go on my own.  Life gets busy, and I feel that after starting this program, it has become even more so.  I can only imagine what it will be like when I graduate an get a real job.  For this reason, I think it’s really important for all of us to actively choose to make time for things that we enjoy.  And making time to be in nature will only strengthen your resolve to do right by this planet we are so fortunate to live on.  

Cache Creek Wilderness, March 2013

Last Word:  Finding a work-life balance is very difficult, and probably a life long learning process.  I’m re-resolved to make time for the things that I care for.  Especially being outside.  OH, and less you think I’m a huge jealous jerk, let me plug Meridith’s blog yet again (  She is an amazing writer, and if you go back to some previous posts you can read her take on some of our adventures last summer.  She might also be writing a guest post for this blog while overseas… stay tuned.  

What do you think?  What things do you make time for that bring you peace and fulfillment?  Do you schedule in your “nature” time?  


Eco-Inspiration 1

The tip of South Africa, summer 2008.  
I know from experience, as I know many others do, that sometimes it can all seem like too much.  We have so many demands on our time.  Work, school, relationships.  When do I have time to make a difference?  Do I have the energy and means to make the lifestyle changes necessary to bring my actions in line with my values?  The answer a lot of the time, for me at least, is no.  I do not have time to do everything that I feel I should be doing.  I can’t do it all.  I’m not perfect.  And, as I so often try and remind myself, no one is really expecting me to be.  The best we can do for today, is our best.  And on days when I’m feeling like it’s all too much, like my small efforts will never amount to anything, I think of this quotation which was shared with me by my first mentor in ecology:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”  ~Edward Abbey*  

FINAL WORD:  Let this be your eco-inspiration as you reach the middle of your work/school week.  Eat your lunch outside today, or take a short walk on your break.  Marvel a little why don’t ya’.
Floating the Green River, KY.  Beauty in my own backyard.
What do you think?  Do you ever feel overwhelmed or burnt out when trying to do the right thing?  Do you take enough time to actually enjoy nature?  Do you love Edward Abbey? 

*Emphasis is mine.