Once A Migrant, Always A Migrant?

Sometime around the age of eight, I opened a National Geographic magazine and stared in awe at thousands of pink birds standing on the shore of a river somewhere out there in the big world. From that day forward, one of the main goals in my life was to witness, in person, massive amounts of animals all in one place.  A second goal was born from that goal in order to be able to achieve success at lofty goal number one – I needed to be a traveler.

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Sandhill Cranes lift off in southern Colorado en route to the their summer grounds in the Northern U.S. March 2005.

Migration absolutely fascinates me!  As I have made my own personal migration from the east to west coast, I have experienced migration in many forms and have become increasingly intrigued by it.  I am interested in both human and other animal migrations. Fortunately, I chose a line of work that allows me to migrate, and to often get up close and personal with four-legged and winged animals who actively participate in this event.  Being involved in bird studies has helped me learn more about local migrations of birds who may travel annually from the mountains to the foothills in Colorado, as well as those who travel far into Argentina from the Colorado Rockies.  In college I learned about grasshopper migration whose physical evidence from thousands of years ago can be found in Grasshopper Glacier in southwestern Montana.  Through my work in Yellowstone National Park, I learned about the local migrations of elk, bison and deer.  In teaching history of the west, I came to know about the great buffalo migration across the Great Plains prior to the mass slaughter that caused near extinction of the buffalo in the west. In addition, I added to my migration checklist, current tarantula and butterfly migrations which are equally as exciting as wildebeest migrations in Africa.

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Monarch Butterflies rest and refuel near Santa Barbara, California. February 2012.

Why do we migrate, both humans and our animal relatives? Research shows that this is an act to find the best environment possible for success (also known as survival of the species or common sense).   The goal is to find the perfect spot in which all of the resources available to me are best suited for a healthy, successful life. Wild animals also have an instinct, called migratory restlessness, that may drive them to pick up and move to another location at a certain time of year.

Recent events in my life have led me to think more about migration and what that means to me.  In the past few years I have joked that I have migratory restlessness, although my desire to pick up and go has never been based on the seasons.  Every day I wake up with the urge to move to a new location and I fight the internal urge to go wander all of the time.  I’m not sure that I understand this instinct to keep moving but I don’t ever want it to leave me.  My restlessness has led me through a life full of wonder and into experiences too good to imagine. I can’t imagine being any other way and I am grateful that a photo in a magazine awakened this in me.

(This blog is dedicated to Todd Reeves.)

Slow Down, Save A (Your) Life

Turret Arch at Arches National Park, Utah
 
“Nature never hurries. Atom by atom, little by little she achieves her work.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson
 

Life is a race – because our time is so limited.  You get one chance to do it all.  Western culture tells us to go and to get there as fast as we can.  Move forward, don’t look back, keep going and get their quick!  We have to keep up if we are going to make it in this world.  You must always be producing    something of value to others.  Pick up the pace, you slacker!

Why exactly are we falling for this theory?  Research studies say multi-tasking is not good for us, stress is not good for us, scheduling our children to the max isn’t healthy for their development, and working obscene amounts of time increases the risk of early death.  There is an obvious conflict between what our society is telling us and what our body and mind are telling us.  So, how do we resolve this conflict?

I vote for stopping.  Completely and often.  Look around you – what is around you at this very moment? Have you ever noticed the fine details of something that make it unique and potentially meaningful to you?  Take it in and enjoy everything you can.  

Taking in all that the granite dome and peaks of Yosemite have to offer.

My stopping place is outside of four walls.  Here I find a smorgasbord of detail and design that halts the daily mad dash that has been pounded into my brain.  When I am surrounded by the calming colors in nature, feeling the touch of a breeze on my skin, absorbing the warmth of the sun, or am kissed by a snowflake hitting my cheek, I slow waaaaay down.  When I hike into a wild place, I am walking into a space where I am free to just be.  As I sit on a rock or a log, absorbing this environment, I am  fed a message opposite of what I get most days of my life indoors, and it changes my perspective from one that is unhealthy to one that is healthy.  

Outside I exist just as I am, a small piece of a greater whole natural world, in which I am fortunate to be a part of and enjoy for the short while that I am able.


Desperately Seeking Solstice

There is one day a year that means more to me than any other – more than Christmas and more than the day of my birth.  It is the Winter Solstice.

When I was a child my mother took us to annual Winter Solstice parties held out in a field framed with big old maple trees.  The men spent hours bringing in brush to fuel the fire so that it burned long after midnight.  I recall looking at the pile of branches thinking it must be 20 feet tall – it was certainly the biggest fire I had ever seen.  In the bone-chilling cold, my feet bundled in thick boots, and face pressed down into the neck of my winter coat, I would stand by the giant blazing bonfire soaking up the heat and looking out across the snow-covered field at the shadows of trees cast by the moon.  I was captivated by the flames, the shadows on the snow, the millions of stars shining brightly above me, and the silence all around. It was magical and I was energized by this feeling that I felt as Solstice.  I didn’t really understand what it meant at all but I knew we were celebrating something special.

Listening to the crackle of the fire, watching the smoke rise up toward the moon, I was unable to understand the effect sunlight had on my life.  When I moved to the west at age 19 I first became aware of this strange phenomenon called Seasonal Affective Disorder and that it greatly affected me.  I realized that the gray skies and sagging clouds of northeastern Vermont had made me the most depressed person on the earth and knew that I could never go back to that mentality again. Beneath clear blue skies and blazing sun that streaked my hair and turned my pale skin a beautiful bronze, I was a changed person.  I had energy like I had never known before; I felt free and wild and wonderful!  Now this was life!

Each year for as long as I can remember, I have longed for this December day to come.  I start crossing off days on the calendar as it draws near.  I keep a mental note of the time the sun falls behind the mountains each day. I start to play a game where I guess how many minutes of daylight will be added by the first of the year.  I watch and wait for this most important day to come from which all successive days will become increasingly filled with light in which I will bask and play.

On the night of the Winter Solstice I am eternally grateful that I have made it through the dark period which has shadowed my world for awhile.  On the other side of this night is the amazing phenomena of light which gives me warmth, new hope, and the return of complete happiness.

Running on Reflection

Without any forethought what-so-ever, I impulsively joined my high school’s cross country team. On day one we ran 3 miles, on pavement.  We did the Stevens Loop.  At a mile and a half I thought I was dying.  I had side cramps, shin splints, my feet ached, I was dehydrated and dizzy.  Wondering when this torture would end, I remember looking ahead and seeing a handful of girls not too far away.  Behind me were two girls. I wasn’t last!

I needed better shoes if I was going to keep this up.  My first pair were blue and silver Sauconys which cost $60 and made them the most expensive thing I had ever owned.  I picked them out at the Village Sport Shop and they were like gold to me, becoming my most prized possession. I kept those shoes for 5 years afterward, unable to let them go.  After having knee and ankle problems I went through physical therapy and had custom orthodics made which helped tremendously.  Then I sprained an ankle on a rock while running on the dirt road about a mile from home.  Running hurt me sometimes but most of the time it felt really, really good and this I could live with.

A month later I was age 14 and placed 19th in the State meet which meant I qualified for New Englands in Hartford, Connecticut.  I remember the drive there with Paul Simon blasting on the radio in the van and my first look at big city lights as we rolled up to our hotel sometime before midnight.  The morning we raced frost covered every blade of grass and as the sun rose in the sky, it warmed my hands and feet.  That day I ran for me.  I ran happy with what I had achieved in such a short amount of time, not caring at all that I placed somewhere in the middle.

Running has been a hard thing for me to stick with. After the first year I quit the team.  I was proud of what I had done that year in cross country and in track but other things distracted me from it.  The funny thing is that over the past 20 years I have kept going back to running.  My pattern has been to start up in the winter months when I need to pull myself out of the seasonal depression that comes with cold weather and days with limited daylight.  Running lifts my spirits, challenges me in positive ways, and makes me feel alive.

I began running consistently in December of 2010 and things were going well until about 5 weeks ago.  My hip and lower vertebrae were out of alignment and causing me so much pain I could hardly walk.  I was told a month of no physical activity and visited my chiropractor twice a week. While I resented weeks of no physical activity, I took my injury seriously, fearing that I might cause permanent damage which would not allow me to run or hike or climb again.

Almost exactly 20 years ago I competed in my last cross country race, the New England Cross Country Championship meet in Hartford, CT. This month I ran my first race since then, the Thanksgiving Day Run in Fort Collins, CO.  As I stood waiting at the starting line in the cold amongst so many runners wearing numbered bibs, I was transported back to that icy New England morning where I waited for the race to begin.  I was that 14 year old girl again, with hopes and dreams, full of optimism and energy, chomping at the bit to let loose and see what I was capable of.  As I ran I watched the other runners, admiring their resilience, perseverance, and determination.  It dawned on me that I am one of them and I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I too am a part of something great.

A woman of 34 years, I crossed the 4-mile finish line in a time much better than I had anticipated, with a huge smile on my face.  During this race, a part of me that I had not been acknowledging for years, but that I had loved so much and was hiding out deep inside, came back to the surface.  As a result I am one step closer to reaching my understanding of who I truly am, which to me is the ultimate finish line.

Connecting to Communities

As an independent woman in my 30s I am finally starting to see the value and benefits to the quality of my life that are gained by interactions with people. This may sound sort of crazy but keep in mind that I spent the previous decade wandering natural places immersed in the study and observation of wildlife and wild places.
This human connection stuff is relatively new to me and it is fascinating!  My journey into the discovery of communities is expanding beyond the natural world and is therefore enriching my life in ways I had never imagined.

Because I spent 2 years roaming Yellowstone National Park staring at and inventorying plants, my definition of community is based on plant communities. Biology-Online defines a plant community as plant populations existing in a shared habitat or environment. According to Weaver and others, there are two types of communities:  broad and narrow.  Broad communities are found repeatedly in similar habitats across a region. A narrow plant community is one that has gone through all of the successional stages and has the potential for stabilizing and becoming well established.

So what does this mean and how does this relate to people?

In the plant world, the broad community consists of the thousands of scattered stands of aspen trees (the community) that we see across the forested foothills and mountains (the habitat) of the western states.  In the human world, it is the student YMCA (the community) which was started in the 1856 on a Tennessee college campus, where the focus was of the group was on the leadership development of college students. Over time this type of community appeared on college campuses (the habitat) across the United States and then worldwide, becoming established in environments where there were the right resources available.

Another example of a broad community are the areas within different cities (the habitat) in the United States in which people of similar history, experience, and language have established communities based on their cultural similarities.  Think of the Chinatowns in New York, San Francisco, and Chicago.

An example of a narrow community is this very blog and the associated Facebook page.  I wanted to create a place where people could go to share their experiences based on a common interest of learning to understand how nature and the outdoors impacts who they are as individuals.  Over the past year this project has gone through stages of development to bring it to where it is today.  It is by no means complete and has yet to reach its potential.  It is not yet stable or established as I add and change parts of it over time in order to get it closer to what I envision as the perfect final product.  It is my goal for this project to become a narrow community but first the right connections need to be made and supports put into place.

Hillery’s four themes help to explain human communities and include People, Common ties, Social Interaction, and Place.  These are the things that draw us to different groups.  We tend to gravitate towards activities or organizations that we can relate to and help us to understand who we are and what we value.  We are most comfortable with those who share a common identity, who share common values and culture, where interactions are consistent and meaningful, and where we feel a sense of belonging.

I thoroughly enjoy my time spent hiking alone on a forested trail in order to feel a connection to something greater than myself and know my role in the natural system.  I am proud to be a part of a community of people who are able to do this. Since my current living environment is in a small city and not in a wild place, I find myself seeking connections to people through various communities. I think it is important that we acknowledge, appreciate, respect, and care for the people in our communities and for the places in which we spend our time. Perhaps this is what life is all about.

Squirreling Away

Squirrel with nesting material.

It’s that time of year.  The leaves are turning, the days are warm and the nights cold.  I’m noticing animal behaviors changing and one of my very favorites to watch are the squirrels.  I stare in amazement at them acting strange and laugh because I can totally relate to their behavior.  I too exhibit some strange behaviors this time of year!

Observation 1:  An energetic squirrel hunts through the grass looking for a large seed which it discovers  in just a few seconds.  With seed in mouth, the squirrel bounds to another area of the lawn just 15 feet away and hurriedly digs a small hole in the dirt in which to put the seed.  As it lowers the seed into the hole, it whips its head side to side, as if scoping the horizon for spies looking to raid the cache this guy is creating.  When all appears clear, the squirrel drops the seed and bolts from the hiding spot.  The hunt for a new seed continues and the scenario is played out all over again.

Observation 2:  I hear rustling of branches and then thunk, thunk, thunk…thunk, thunk, thunk!  Sir squirrel is dropping things out of the tree onto my deck at an alarming rate.  If someone were to be standing underneath, they would be pelted by crabapples in the same manner as one would be hit by hailstones falling from the sky.  I advise anyone who walks beneath trees in the fall to be aware of this potential assault as pine cones, twigs, seeds, and fruit can come crashing through the branches at you without warning!

Both of these observations realte to food and food storage.  This has led me to think about my own behaviors this time of year.  The cold weather inspires me to start stocking up on food as well.  I find myself harvesting from the garden and preparing the vegetables for the freezer for winter months.  I start buying non-perishable foods from the market to have on hand.  I begin cooking warm and hearty meals to help give me energy and feel warm on the cold days.

Squirrel nest.

Observation 3:  Racket among the branches.  I look up to see frantic running up and down on the tree trunk and branches.  The animal is gathering leaves that it then stuffs and arranges into a big ball in the axis of many branches.  It looks like a big mess of leaves with rough edges sticking out on all sides.  This is not attractive to me at all and others have stared at these things and asked aloud, “what in the heck is that thing?”  The squirrel’s winter nest is not pretty and it does not look inviting.  In fact I have personally wanted to just climb up into the tree and pull it apart because it looks like there is all kinds of interesting stuff in this loose ball of stuff.  I will not do that of course, because this is the equivalent of my down comforter that I pull out every October.  I would be extremely upset if a squirrel decided to pull apart the thing that I curl up with in order to stay warm during the winter months!

We are not so different, squirrels and humans.  In fact all animals have habits and rituals and routines.  It is easy to watch wildlife and observe our differences and it is not so difficult to see ourselves in them.

Street Life: A Story of Perserverence

Driving down a frequently travelled street in a nearby town on my way to work this morning, I was amazed to see a strip of green filling in a crack right in the middle of the traffic lane.  As I slowed the car at the stoplight, I realized the crack was full of plants! I looked sadly at them and thought, Good luck to you! as their future seemed pretty bleak in that spot.

As the day progressed I kept thinking back to those plants growing and living in such a difficult place.  I came to conclude that in all actuality, they had a pretty good place to spend their lives.

Before this was a paved road of asphalt it was a dirt road on which seeds were laid down and covered over time by wind and water.  Sometime in the past 50 years those seeds and their soil were covered with an impermeable layer of rock and tar, thus restricitng the amount of  access to light and water they had which kept them as seeds.  Their growth was prohibited for many years and so they remained as they were, unable to move in any direction.  But as time went on, the road began to degrade in some spots and in 2011 there was a crack several inches long and roughly 2 inches wide that had been created.  These patient little seeds were lying in wait for this time and this opportunity to become what they were destined to be.  I can imagine them cheering the first time they felt the warmth of the sun through the soil – “Now there is sushine!  Now there is rain!  Now is time to grow!”

And grow they did! 

But how tall could they possibly get and what kind of life is that you might be asking.  I did a quick comparison to plants living in the high alpine tundra of our Rocky Mountains.  These hardy plants endure fierce temperature extremes, cold and gusty mountain winds, and varying amounts of precipitation throughout the summer months.  Here in town cars racing by en masse during the multiple rush hours creates winds exceeding 40mph that our street plants endure.  This is comparable to the winds of the alpine.  Apline plants tend to form mats and grow out horizontally because growing upward would break their stems and end life.  The street plants also cannot grow upwawrd for fear of being mowed down by cars rolling by.  This and the wind factor will keep the street plants from growing upward.  It is entirely possible that the street plants are actually one plant sending out shoots horizontally to fill up the crack, much like the alpine plants trying to take advantage of their situation.  It is a smart survival tactic.

I imagine that some days it gets quite loud for the plants living there in the middle of the lane with almost constant traffic.  Most of us have heard about studies of people playing music for plants and insisting that it helps the plants grow healthier.  I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on the effects of unpleasant noises on plants, such as engine revving, honking horns, and squeaky brakes.  Perhaps this will become my PhD project.

These persistent plants led me to reflect on the living situations I have had to endure and the place I live now.  I have had it pretty rough and have lived as if camping for many years.  Then there were concrete dorm rooms followed by a room in an apartment or house.  Once I almost bought a house but decided that more space was not something I needed to survive. 

So what do I need to survive and flourish?  Like the plants all that I require is access to sunshine, water, and food in order to grow and to continue my productive life until it can produce no more.  Add in some shelter and space to move around in and I’m content.  If it were a matter of survival, like the plants growing in the pavement crack, I too could learn to survive in harsh and less desirable environments than I do now.  I think that most living things can tolerate difficult conditions and turn out just fine as long as they are willing or able to learn to adapt to these situations and not allow the constraints to keep them from flourishing.  Today, seeing these plants thriving and full of life in a small crack in the pavement on a busy street, gives me a sense of hope and optimism for people who are growing up and living in a comparable environment.

 Who really needs all the bells and whistles a lawn or garden has to offer?

Rainy Day Robin

Photo from oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com

Dreading my 20  minute walk home I stared out the window of my office at the rain pouring down and pooling on the cement below.  Suddenly, a Robin flew toward me and landed on the skinny ledge opposite the glass.  It was holding a dripping maple leaf in its beak,  every discernable feather was curled and out of line, and water drops were rolling off its wings. With its large brown eyes, the Robin peered in at me with pure envy.  I stared back, perhaps even more envious.

You see, this bird is designed to be out in the rain.  I am not.

To cope with the inconvenience of precipitation, I have numerous rain coats, rain pants, and waterproof boots, shoes, gloves and hats.  And let’s not forget the umbrella that lives in a closet somewhere.  I have to lug this stuff around with me in a backpack every time the weather forecasters tell me there is at least a 50% chance of rain.

The Robin, on the other hand, does not have to carry any extra gear with it to deal with a potentially rainy day.  It has feathers that are slick to allow water to run off before it has a chance to soak through to the skin to make it feel cold.  This fortunate animal has the abilitity to contract its muscles and stand its feathers up to create a natural down jacket in order to trap its body heat to keep warm.  When I am cold, the hair on my body also stands up and I start to shiver, which is its way of trying to keep me warm. However, I have yet to actually get warm by sitting still and shivering.  A Robin can do this for hours!

So I stare at the Robin and it stares at me.  I wonder if it is thinking about how I can survive being contained inside the building.  I wonder what it would think it if were to come inside with me for awhile and not have to deal with the rain or snow or wind.  Would it have a preference if given the option?  Would it choose to stay indoors where it is always the dry season or go back out to the ever-changing weather it is accustomed to?

Finally one of us blinks and in that instant the bird flies off, leaving me with both the gift of the maple leaf on the ledge and the gift of wonder to take with me as I splash through the puddles on my trek home.

In Touch With Trees

Ok, fine, I admit it.  I have an obsession with trees. 

Allow me to explain.

As a kid I climbed trees — all the way to the top.  Take the flexible branched tamarack in the woods behind our house that I could climb easily right up to the very top where there were no branches left.  I could almost perch up there like a bird.  One little breeze and I would sway back and forth with the tree.  I was never scared because I trusted the tree would hold me.  It would bend and flex but I never once snapped a branch, no matter how skinny it was.  I had the most incredible view from up there!  I could see things all around and below me that could not be seen from my normal position on the ground.  It was a fun and exciting way to expand my view!

As a teenager I discovered trees were calming and solid.   Like a log being chopped into kindling for the fire sending splinters out in all directions, my family was splitting apart.  Long walks among the trees of the northeastern forest were my escape from the pain and suffering I felt.  I walked among them, swung on their branches, felt their bark and their leaves.  It was during this time that I connected with them because they were dependable.  I grew to appreciate their reliability and consistency.  I learned that the trees didn’t change much with the exception of with the seasons, but those changes were consistent from year to year and I always knew what to expect as each season rolled around.

In college I learned how to identify trees.  This allowed me to appreciate their differences even more as I now saw characteristics I had overlooked before.  I learned about things that influence their growth and threatened their survival.  I learned about the animals and plants that depended on them and saw them as being one small part of a bigger system.  It was at this time that I learned that I too am a small part of something bigger, connected to so many things that it is sometimes overwhelming to think about.

Today I appreciate trees and what they have done for me more than ever.  There are forests a short drive away that are easily accessible and I often retreat there at times when people and the chaos of life become too much.  Friends laugh at me because I touch almost every tree on a hike and they do not understand why I do such a silly thing.  To me this has deep meaning.  This is my way of reconnecting.  It is my way of  getting outside of myself and being a part of the bigger picture, putting my life back into perspective.  Touching trees may just be the most important thing that I do.

What do you connect with in nature?  Is there a living or non-living thing that you gravitate to?  Why?

Hunting for Information

I come from a family that is against guns and hunting.  From what I gather this is because guns mean causing harm and hunting causes harm to animals.  To many this is viewed as one of the worst things anyone could do.  As a teenager I found it contradictory because we raised cows and chickens that were slaughtered and then we ate them.  How was this any different from going deer hunting and then feeding your family venison for 6 months?  It was also a contradiction to the way of life where I grew up – an area dominated by farming and logging where people take natural resources and use them for survival.

At age 20 I left the east coast and moved to the Colorado mountains.  After spending time hiking and observing wildlife in the local National Park, I decided that my calling in life was to help wild animals.  My reason was that I loved to see them and like the naive, uneducated young person I was, I just wanted to help there be as many wild animals as possible in the world because that was a wonderful thing.  I enrolled in a Fish & Wildlife Management degree program in Montana so that I could save the pandas.

I got much more of an education than I could have ever imagined…

During the first year of classes, I discovered that those who worked to keep or save wildlife and wildlife habitats were the very people who hunted them!  These hunters are the ones who fully fund our government wildlife conservation programs.  This is done through sales of hunting  and fishing licenses. My tax dollars do not fund these government agencies whose job is to keep our wildlife populations healthy. I was stunned by this!  The people who were hunting these animals were the same people spending money and voting to keep the animal populations around and their habitats intact.

As my education progressed, I learned how humans have wiped out nearly all natural predators which results in animal populations getting out of control and causing imbalances in the ecosystem.  This leads to more rapid spread in diseases and an increase in human-wildlife conflicts, among other serious issues.  I learned that today’s hunters fill the role of no longer existing predators by keep populations and ecosystems in balance.

Outside of school I began to investigate further.  I spent considerable time talking to everyone I could about hunting and their experience with it. I subscribed to Field & Stream magazine and I started reading what animal rights groups were saying.  I took a job with my local state wildlife agency interviewing hunters about their most recent hunting experience.  I started watching my friends hunt and practice at the shooting range. I learned about falconry and small mammal trapping.  I read about the Lewis & Clark Expedition and how they survived living off the land and by hunting wildlife.  I listened to stories of hunters about the culture of hunting, the connectedness they feel to the natural world, and how they feel about conservation.

In 2005 I went to my first shooting range and fired a rifle.  A few months later I tagged along with a then boyfriend who lives to hunt while he hunted for ducks, and then deer and elk.  In 2007 I worked at a hunter check station in Nebraska where deer and elk are brought once harvested during the hunting season.  Here they are tested for Chronic Wasting Disease and other data on each animal is collected in order to help determine current population sizes, tell biologists how healthy the populations are, and determine if there is enough land and other natural resources to support the number of animals living there.  I survived seeing hundreds of animals dead in pickup trucks and much to my surprise, I did not feel sadness for them. My emotions were actually of excitement for the success of each hunter and appreciation for the hunters helping keep healthy wild animals around for me to enjoy.

After roughly 8 years of listening, researching and participating, I realized that my beliefs about hunting as a child were not based on any solid information.  Because of my experiences, I was able to look objectively at the sport and understand the many differing perspectives surrounding it.  I could form my own opinion about it and choose to support the activity or not.

I’ve come a long way in gaining a complete understanding of what hunting and wildlife management are.  I have truly undergone a transformation in my beliefs, attitudes and perspective.  People do not just run wild in the woods with guns killing all wildlife in sight to be cruel to animals or because they are bored.  Wildlife are monitored, studied, and managed using
hunting as a tool.

Today, when I teach wildlife biology or ecology, I include in a piece about the importance of hunting for population control and disease prevention.  I support organizations working with hunters and fishermen to keep wild places and wildlife from being wiped out by human development.  I volunteer doing research on projects searching for an understanding of wild animals and what is needed for coexistance with humans.  All of this helps me stay connected to the natural environment on which I also depend for survival.