Ten years…Where am I now?

When May of this year came and went, it deeply resonated with me. Ten years ago I graduated college. Ten years ago I was a lost soul, and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I’m pretty sure this is a common phenomenon: the plight of the recent college grad. Up until this point, your life has been pretty scripted: get good grades and go to a good college. In college, get good grades and you’ll get a good job. The problem for me (and probably many others) is that I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, or rather, I knew what interested me, but the idea was a bit too abstract. I knew I wanted to do something in the environmental/conservation field, and frankly that idea changed weekly. At one point I wanted to be Jane Goodall. During another point, I wanted to work in environmental law. I can (un)successfully say that I ended up doing neither; however, I did stay true to my interests and have been working in biodiversity conservation (=bonafide bunny hugger).

These past ten years I have been going with the flow – there is no true goal or definitive direction. It has more-or-less been an amorphous journey of exploring new opportunities and then seeing what happens.  It’s been a life experiment.

As I look towards my future and attempt to create a new path for myself, I can’t help but look back on what I’ve done because I don’t think I could have planned, thought of, or dreamt of what I have done. It’s not that its all that crazy, or life-altering, but it is certainly not what I had planned. Then again, I didn’t have anything planned, so perhaps that’s why this reflection has fascinated me. Perhaps if Robin from 2004 really did sit down and make goals, maybe I would have accomplished more. Who really knows… Maybe, I’m not meant to be a planner, but I’m meant to be a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal.  That approach seems to have worked so far…

Regardless, upon making my list, I had a very self-satisfying moment, a rare instant where I was actually proud of myself. It was a time where I’m not comparing myself to anyone else, which subsequently makes me feel like I’m worthless. I’m a helpless perfectionist, so nothing I do is ever really praise worthy – I can always do better. But, this list made me smile – a lot. Heck, I even printed it out and hung it over my desk in an effort to keep me inspired to do more.

Now, I’m trying to piece together a vision of my next ten years because they obviously have to kick this past ten-year’s ass.  Bring it on 2024!

How I spent my life in 10 years:  2004-2014


The climate change panty twister: let’s think about it differently, shall we?

A realistic depiction of myself when I'm irritated: adorably vicious. Photo courtesy of www.cartoonspot.net

A realistic depiction of myself when I’m irritated: adorably vicious.
Photo courtesy of http://www.cartoonspot.net

The ‘debate’ about climate change (or global warming) really gets my panties in a twist.  I don’t even call it a true debate because I feel like the science is based on knowledge – years of research, testing hypotheses, replicating studies and a rigorous peer review process.  There’s a reason why not everyone is a scientist.  In order to pursue the answers to life’s greatest questions, it takes intelligence, patience and an unrivaled sense of dorkiness.

I’m a nerd and when scientists say with 97% confidence that climate change is happening and its anthropogenic, I don’t argue.  Scientists know their stuff.  I have faith in them and the scientific method.  That’s not to say that scientists are infallible.   They’re human, just like the rest of us, so they are capable of mistakes.  Certainly, as technology improves and time progresses, some scientific theories may also change.  It’s just a part of the process.

It’s obvious where I stand on this grand ‘debate.’  To the best of my ability, I try to understand the other side – the climate naysayers, as everyone is entitled to their opinion.  Interestingly enough, these climate deniers  also seem to have their panties in a twist over the ‘debate’ and they are very steadfast in their viewpoint.  Regardless, I feel like “global warming” has been in the news a lot lately, especially with  the fact that much of the country is buried under snow or experiencing below freezing temperatures.  Naturally, these climate deniers are having a total field day with global warming jokes.  “How can the planet be ‘warming’ when we have the ‘polar votex?'”   Essentially, both sides seem to be laughing…at each other.  And I find that to be mildly, irritatingly funny.  Aside from my minor aggravation,  I recognize that the real struggle is the complete divergence of opinions – there is no middle ground or bargaining chip.  Neither side is budging.  At the end of the day, we’re losing sight of what really matters – environmental sustainability and the future.   We’re not the only ones that live on the planet, and much to our chagrin, we aren’t going to live forever (although, I’m going to try).  We must leave our positive mark and we have to think about the future – as painful as that may be.  But, that’s just my humble opinion.

Given this stalemate in climate opinions, my very wise Uncle George has inspired this thought that takes the climate debate out of the equation:

Let’s just say for argument sake that the scientists are wrong – climate change isn’t real; it’s a cyclical event and human activity has absolutely nothing to do with it.  Then, if that were the case, what would be so wrong in reducing our overall environmental footprint and just generally cleaning up our act?  It’s been well cited that there are a litany of environmental challenges, such as contaminants in our food and water, endangered species, air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels –just to name a few.   By themselves, those are big issues that need to be addressed because they affect our health and general well-being, and they have a direct effect on the future.  If we truly care about future generations, don’t we owe it to them to be a little cleaner, be a bit more innovative and set a good example? You don’t have to be a climate change believer to be a better environmental steward and all-around better human.  So, I ask, what’s so wrong with that?

Is it getting hot in here?

Is it getting hot in here?

Surely, it would be great if we all drove more fuel-efficient cars, or took public transportation everywhere, or planted a forest, or ate nothing but locally-sourced produce, but that’s not for everyone, nor is it always practical, so let’s start somewhere small.  Collective small changes can make a big environmental impact.   For instance, what if you pledge to drive less?  This is a win-win because you’re not only reducing your own dependence on fossil fuels (thus reducing your environmental footprint and saving money), but you’re also burning calories.  Who doesn’t want to be a few pounds lighter or a tad more fit and a couple dollars richer?  No brainer!  Secondly, what about if you’re a gym rat?  What if you stop buying plastic bottles for water and started using a reusable bottle?  For one, you’re cutting down on waste, in addition to reducing the energy needed to produce new materials.  Secondly, you’re also cutting down on your fossil fuel usage, as most of these are derived from petroleum.  Additionally, for both examples, since most of our petroleum originates from foreign sources, shouldn’t we be weaning ourselves off our dependency on imports anyway?  Well, cut down on driving and disposable plastics, and BAM – you’re doing your part!  It’s so simple, it hurts.

What about switching to more energy-efficient light bulbs (like compact fluorescent bulbs)?  Despite the fact that they are a tad pricier than the alternative, they do last longer, thereby giving you more bang for your buck. Easy!  Lastly, let’s not forget the mantra – “reduce, reuse, recycle.”   Recycling is becoming increasingly more common and it’s one of the easiest things you could do.  It prevents waste, reduces the production of new materials, decreases energy use and lessens pollution (both water and air).  It’s a flawless plan!

I could go off on my pro-environment rant, but that’s not the point.  The point is that regardless of whether you believe that the climate is changing or not, what’s the absolute worst thing that could happen if you were more environmentally minded?  The answer is – absolutely nothing.  There is absolutely nothing to lose, yet there are innumerable things that could be gained – a cleaner environment, which positively impacts our health, wealth and well-being.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

It all started with an osprey

I’m a bonafide tree-hugger.  Always have been.  Always will be.

I was first introduced to the world of tree-hugging by my grandfather, Papa, who lived on the water in an octagon-shaped house in Yorktown, Virginia.  He was a brilliant man with a caring heart, and as a life-long teacher, you were bound to learn something in his company.  As a total nerd, I appreciated the extra learning opportunities because I relished in the extra attention my teachers gave me when I knew more than my classmates.

It was Papa that first introduced me to the concept of endangered species – something that has stuck with me my whole life – fortunately or unfortunately (it’s a depressing subject, sometimes).  The fact that there were animals (and plants) out there that were becoming rare, mainly due to human activity was something that my 6-year-old mind just couldn’t comprehend.   Sometimes, my 30-something year–old mind still doesn’t grasp it.

Living on the water, Papa had a huge appreciation for osprey.  Like bald eagles, ospreys were victims of the wide application of DDT – an incredibly effective, potent pesticide that was used in the 1950s-1970s.  Thankfully, for both the environment and human health, the US got their head on straight and banned DDT use in 1972.   Over a decade later, as a lone-man’s effort to keep the population in Southeastern Virginia growing, Papa built an osprey nest platform.   Once the pair of osprey laid claim to their waterfront property, he would then block off his dock so that no one could disturb the osprey.  He wanted to make sure that they laid their eggs, the eggs hatched and that the chicks fledged – all in complete peace and quiet from obnoxious humans.

When I was a young kid, probably no older than six, I went over to Papa’s, with the main goal of playing on the dock – it was my favorite part of his house.  I was disturbed to see that the dock was blocked off, and that my plan of feeding the ducks and playing with snails was completely foiled.  Naturally, I thought that Papa would let me, his only granddaughter, go on the dock to continue with my day’s priorities.  I was utterly mistaken.  Papa then took me upstairs into his octagon house, where he had a high-powered telescope aimed at the nest.  He was keeping a record of when the eggs were laid and when the chicks fledged. Naturally, I was fascinated.  The ducks and the snails could wait – I was nerding out on science and it was awesome!   First, I had never had the opportunity to play with a big, red telescope – the ultimate nerd toy.  Up until that point, I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the telescope, and now I was.  It was a rite of passage – I had grown up and it felt amazing.  On top of that, I never got a chance to see birds in such a relaxed, natural setting – something that had eluded me for years.  I had always thought that I would be like the cartoon princesses who had birds as their friends.  The only problem, I realized, is that when I tried to get close to birds, they flew away from me.  Evidently, they weren’t really interested in being my friend, even if my name was Robin.  So, the opportunity of being able to see what birds were really like and what they did (when they weren’t flying away from me) was a special treat.

From that point on, I was a tree-hugger-in-training.  I took it upon myself to lecture my mother about environmental issues, I won the recycling contest at my Elementary School, I wrote essays about rainforest conservation, I became a vegetarian, and Jane Goodall and John Muir became my heroes.   Later, this interest turned into my career: tree and bunny-hugging specialist/environmental lecturer to the uninformed/champion recycler.

It is moments like these that I focus on when I start to question my chosen career path, or when I question my passion, or when I get frustrated with certain people that appear to be anti-environment (which annoys me immensely).  I realize that my interest in conservation is deeply personal with wonderful memories of Papa and his insightful lessons.  It’s a reminder of a beautiful moment – a grandfather and his granddaughter, spying on some osprey through a telescope, being nerds and getting excited about biology.

Dance-hiking - the only way to truly enjoy nature.

Dance-hiking – the only way to truly enjoy nature.