Maui Reflection

By Neva Knott

To watch the sun rise over Haleakala, Maui’s dormant volcano, is to watch the world begin. Simultaneously, darkness lifts across the island and silhouettes become palms, hibiscus and plumeria. The birdsong begins and the ocean’s surface turns from a black void to rippled water. By the time the sun is above the volcano, Maui is alive.

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Photograph by Neva Knott.

Each morning on my recent trip, I arose in the pre-dawn darkness to walk. It’s the best way to get a sense of the place. The first morning, I found a shore bird nesting sanctuary just near the Kihei boat ramp. According to Andrew Engilis, Jr. and Maura Naughton, authors of the U.S. Pacific Island Regional Shorebird Conservation Plan, “The USPI [United States Pacific Islands] are home to one endemic shorebird,the endangered Hawaiian Stilt, and are important wintering areas for three species of Holarctic- Nearctic breeders: the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, and Wandering Tattler. The majority of these species’ populations overwinter in the Pacific Islands, and these islands are critical to the maintenance of these birds.”

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Hawaiian Stilt. Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

As Engilis and Naughton mention, the Hawaiian Stilt is an endemic species. Endemic species are those only found in the region they inhabit, and no where else in the world. Island biogeography and islands as ecosystems are interesting in that they are closed systems, microcosms of larger landmasses; endemic species add a layer to what scientists can know about a particular ecosystem and it’s health.

I love awakening to a new day on Maui. It feels pure. It feels like all life is interconnected. I feel alive there, and part of the web of life created by the sunrise and birdsong. I feel privy to the ancient truths embodied by the mountains.

Later that first day, I snorkeled at Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, a bay created by Haleakala’s lava flow. I watched species of fish feed and swim, and I knew that they were as important to the day as any other species, just as important as any one of us. Because fish do what they do, humans exist. In the ocean that day, I witnessed the mystery of life.

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Photograph courtesy of wiki commons.

Islands can teach humans much about keeping the environment healthy. Just as each island species adds value and continuity to the web of life, it is easy to see on an island how each act of depletion causes irreparable harm. On an island, each piece of trash matters–will it blow into the ocean? Will it make it into a land fill? Where will it go when the land fill is full?

When I exited the ocean after my snorkel, the island was doubly alive–alive with the natural web of life and alive with consumeristic tourists, all of whom were excited about the fish and coral and the blue of the water; none of whom seemed concerned about their part in the web.

People, Wildlife and the Environment by Norman P. Knott, 1969

By Neva Knott

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My dad in the field with a group of Native American Chiefs. 1958.

Today, March 11, 2015, would have been my dad’s 98th birthday. My dad, Norm Knott, worked at the Washington State Game Department (now Washington State Fish and Wildlife) for 30 years, starting there right out of college with a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. After retiring from the Game Department, he worked for the United Trust Territories in Micronesia and then for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). I have the privilege of owning his desk. There is one drawer of it I cannot bring myself to empty, the drawer that holds files of his that contain artifacts such as the essay below. In it, he expresses the need for human understanding of ecological principles in making the human world. Here are his words, in honor of his life and in thanks for his teaching me to love the natural world:

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The record of my dad’s career at the Game Dept.

August 4, 1969

By Norman P. Knott

In a human society the values are those assigned by the people in relationship to and arising from their needs and desires. Certain of these needs as food, water and shelter, are obvious. Certain of these needs and desires are in-obvious but fully as compelling as those which form a wintering flock of wildfowl into a flighted V, following a chartless path to their summer breeding ground.

The pursuit of the obvious, and the lack of protective recognition of the in-obvious environmental requirements of man has repeatedly placed societies in the position of becoming self-destructive. The prophet Isaiah, in the 19th verse of the 49th chapter of his book, sets forth: “For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants.” If we are to assure that our land not become too narrow by reason of the inhabitants, we must openly and publicly recognize and admit that we, as people, are the end-product of the multi-million-year evolutionary process which caused people to leave their home territories and invade the unfriendly wilderness. To our ancestors and to us, philosophically, nature was and is yet a multi-formed enemy to be conquered and harnessed as a benevolent servant.

We must recognize that in our zeal to master the wilderness, we have developed seemingly endless techniques and mechanical abilities which we have used and still employ with absolutely no thought to, or understanding of, the ecological consequences. We continue seemingly without caring what havoc we wreak.

We must openly admit and bring about open recognition of the fact that the individuals of this society, and hence society as a whole, need and in fact must have, not alone a gross national product, but also an opportunity to hear the spring song of a bird un-caged; water of supply and suitability for toe dabbling or fishing; a deer for seeing or tracking; a beach for the surf to wash; a tall tree for the breeze to whisper in; clean snow for children to put a to tongue.

The sound of the beach wave muted by the burden of used toilet paper and discarded picnic plates may well be the voice of affluence, but even though a muted voice, it calls loudly for us to seek in common endeavor, assurances that this will not become a land of our waste and of desolate places, nor our land of destruction.

When we can stand on the westernmost beaches of this nation, we must know that we cannot follow the creed of Horace Greeley, but rather we must learn to live in balanced harmony and respect with our environment.

Private resource developments are usually of a single-purpose nature and always have a single-purpose goal of financial gain. Government, to properly serve the public it represents, must face the responsibility of formulating and enforcing bold programs of resource management for the retention and enhancement of the human environment. The role of government in resource and environmental management must not be a role of duty.

By omission, present laws and programs of resource management do not reflect recognition of this seeming role. In many respects they serve as a fetter to management rather than permitting administrators to apply their knowledge and experience. In general, resource and environmental legislation is designed to effect the management of single resources for special interest groups. Departmental programs and administrative policies under such legislation are biased for the unilateral approach. There is, usually, only external and defensive interest, purpose and involvement in planning and effecting integrated programs.

When the laws that exist and which have as their purpose the service and protection of the people, are such as to preclude or in some cases make unlawful effective progress toward a common solution of the problems concerning the people, it must be past time to review the concepts which projected society and its laws to this present status. It must be time to review past results and to determine what future values we shall seek.

To approach the goal of better human environment requires both knowledge and understanding. Regrettably, there is probably less knowledge concerning the ecology of man and his environmental requirements than there is concerning cottontail rabbits or pine trees.

Environment has become a popular catch phrase emblazoned on many banners, however, it would appear that there is little understanding of ecological concepts or the reasons for the environmental deterioration of our cities, suburbs, and scenic countrysides.

Fish and wildlife are sensitively adapted products of their environments. If their environments are protected in a manner suitable for their livelihoods, many of the environmental needs of man will simultaneously be met.

Because of the comparative lack of social and artificial interferences, the best way to achieve a basic ecological concept is through the understanding of the relations between wild animals, plants and their environments. Once this understanding is achieved, the relationship of man with his environment is more readily understandable.

It may well be that if the knowledge and skills of the ecologically trained and experienced fish and wildlife personnel of this nation are fully utilized and their recommendations more clearly followed, the benefits to the human environment could become primary. A deliberately accelerated national program of environmental education and wildlife management could possibly gain sufficient time to permit a more detailed analysis and understanding of human habitat requirements.

“Ocean Soul”…Listening to Brian Skerry at National Geographic Live

By Neva Knott

I’ve always lived near water. The home I was born into sat on the shore of a lake in a town surrounded by the Puget Sound. As my world expanded, I learned rivers and the ocean’s shore. When I was six, my father moved my family to Saipan, a small island in the South Pacific. Small, as in 14 miles long and five miles wide. It was there I fell in love with the ocean. I learned to swim and snorkel there, was stung by many man-o-war jelly fish. My father was an ecologist, so it wasn’t enough to witness the fish in the coral habitat; I learned their ways.

The ever-morphing boundary of earth and sea, that line that changes each day, minutely, as the water crashes on the sand and ebbs outward is fascinating. Power and grace.

As an adult, I lived on Maui for a year, another Pacific island, larger, but still small enough that I saw the ocean from every vantage point. I’d often look out across the water and marvel that it was the same body of water that touched my home shores in Washington and Oregon. The Pacific, it seems, connects all the places of my life.

The pervasive connectedness of the oceans underpinned the tone of photographer Brian Skerry‘s recent talk, “Ocean Soul,” given here in Olympia as part of the National Geographic Live series. Skerry has spent over 10,000 hours under water, photographing wildlife and habitat there. His images are saturated in the colors of the sea–deep blues and greens, brilliant oranges and yellows, shadows and darkness in the depths. Much of his work illustrates and promotes the vast beauty of the world beyond that magic shoreline. Skerry has photographed is unique and remote locations. In his book, Ocean Soul, he tells the stories of Leatherback Turtles on Matura Beach in Trinidad; Right Whales in Canada’s Bay of Fundy; Harp Seals in the Arctic Gulf of Saint Lawrence. In his journey to find these stories, Skerry explained in his talk, he began to notice environmental problems under water.

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Photograph courtesy of The Smithsonian.

The images for his talk in the speaker series included photographs of seal hunting, the over-fishing of blue fin tuna, the by-catch of trawling for shrimp, and the dangers to sharks of entanglement in disposed fishing nets. He also gave the example of critical mangrove habitat in the everglades being destroyed to make a golf course. Skerry explained that his intent is to use his [beautiful] photography to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of the ocean’s ecosystems and the interdependency between species in these habitats. During his talk he admonished that we can no longer look at species and habitats a separate. The aim of his photography of environmental problems is to make this point.

As I listened to Skerry, his beautiful images on the large screen in front of me–and yes, even the images of the problems are beautiful–I once again saw that the environmental problems stem from human over-consumption…or just plain wrong thinking, like the idea of filling in a mangrove estuary to make a golf course.

Skerry’s images and talk took the audience’s attention well beyond the charismatic species approach of garnering awareness. He is a man who knows the world’s oceans intimately. He promotes the beauty and the need for consideration of these huge bodies of water that connect our worlds.

Go Play Outside; It’s Free. 

By Neva Knott

When the recession hit in 2010, earlier even, for some, I thought to myself, this economic upheaval will bring people around. I thought our culture might come back to some core American values–neighborliness, thrift, value, home-made, waste-not-want-not. Can you tell I was raised by a father and grandparents who lived through the Great Depression?

I honestly thought the recession might bring America back to valuing people and places and interactive experiences over things.

Richard Telford wrote in his post, Lessons from My Father, earlier this week:

While my father’s early childhood years were lean ones—one meat meal per week, an adult border sleeping on a second bed jammed into his bedroom to supplement the family’s meager income, abrupt departures from one rented space to another in the worst times—my father often spoke of them as carefree days.

As I read Rich’s words, I was thought of using nature as an alternative to money-stuff. With the recession came money problems anew for many Americans, yet overspending is a cultural norm. I realize I rant often about rampant consumerism as an act of environmental degradation, but what I thought about in response to Rich is deeper, expansive, even.

I began to think of my own carefree days. My family lived on the shore of a lake when I was very young. In the evenings, we would climb into a small wooden row boat and my dad would row us around the lake at sunset. I learned of lily pads and lake weed and bull frog song. I felt the air cool and the lake water droplets on my skin. I was content and I imagine were my parents. I learned to fish off our little dock there. Every weekend, we’d camp, making our way around Washington state.

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The author with her first catch.

When I was 12 and 13, I often babysat my cousin. There was a swamp in a small wood near our house. I’d take him there to “hunt alligators.” This was also the time of growing up when my sister and our neighborhood friends would stay out until just past dusk, playing badminton in the cul-de-sac. When we were bored, we were told to go find something to do. Translation: ride your bike, pull weeds, go outside and quit bothering your mother.

How much did my bike and a few badminton birdies cost in comparison to the digital pastimes children have today?

These memories are easy to find if you grew up in the 60s or 70s, and the Facebook memes float around to remind us. These were, as Rich quotes his father, “carefree days.”

Another blogger I admire, one who has made guest appearances here on The EE, Aleah Sato, wrote today on her blog, Jane Crow Journal:

When I was a girl, my family was too poor to own anything, but the countryside itself was ours, a place of unbridled adventure—

Experiencing nature feeds the soul and clears the mind. It makes us healthy. And, it can ease some of the economic burden of today’s prescribed lifestyle. None of us has to buy in… each of us can choose to step outside the economic frenzy of the mainstream American lifestyle by literally stepping outside.

A Call for Writers and Visual Artists, Summer 2015

Hello EE readers! The March 1 deadline for this wonderful program is approaching…

The Ecotone Exchange

A white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), a late summer dragonfly.  Edwin way Teale wrote about observing large numbers of Sympetrum dragonflies in his early days at Trail Wood.   Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014. A white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), a late summer dragonfly. Edwin way Teale wrote about observing large numbers of Sympetrum dragonflies in his early days at Trail Wood. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

By: Richard Telford

Connecticut Audubon Society is now accepting applications for the 2015 Edwin Way Teale Artists-in-Residence at Trail Wood program.  Electronic application submissions will be accepted this year, which is a change from previous years. Through the program, inaugurated in 2012, CAS invites writers and visual artists, chosen through a juried process, to spend one week in residence at the former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning naturalist writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale.  The home is situated in the 168-acre Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary, which Yankee Magazine in 2013 named as one of Connecticut’s two best nature sanctuaries—the other being CAS’s 700-acre Baflin Sanctuary, which is a ten-minute drive from Trail Wood.  The sanctuary…

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Sign the Petition in Support of President Obama’s Veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline

The time is now to support the president’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that carries the weight of irreparable environmental damage. The first link below is to the petition in support of Obama’s veto. The other links are to sites that explain what’s harmful and dangerous about the pipeline.

Petition: https://secure3.convio.net/lcv/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2097

Information:

http://www.tarsandsblockade.org/about-2/why-oppose-kxl/

http://www.foe.org/projects/climate-and-energy/tar-sands/keystone-xl-pipeline

http://www.nrdc.org/energy/keystone-pipeline/

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/17/keystone-xl-pipeline-opposition-cowboys-indians-alliance-oil

http://350.org/campaigns/stop-keystone-xl/

Hope for Mitigation of Ocean Acidification

By Neva Knott

I teach at a small college in Washington, Centralia College. Even though we only have 2,600 students, the college has a strong STEM focus. As an extension of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs, the college hosts speakers for the Rising Tide Seminar Series. The speaker for the January 2015 seminar was Dr. Christopher Sabine, Oceanographer and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of NOAA. He opened his presentation at Centralia College with the message that climate change is undeniable and serious, but it’s not too late.

Dr. Sabine gave the following five take-home points:

1. The profound impact of humans on the earth’s climate is “unmistakable at this point”

2. Carbon dioxide released into the climate has fundamentally changed the chemistry of oceans

3. The current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will impact climate for thousands, if not 10’s of thousands, of years

4. Even though the rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been higher in the past, the rate of increase is 10-100 times faster than ever before in the geological past; this rapid rate of increase has a real, negative impact on adaptation–the ability of species, including humans, to change enough to exist in the changed biotic system

5. That there is a way out

Dr. Sabine’s presentation was largely based on the International Panel of Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (2013), on which he consulted. The latest findings are that the evidence substantiates a better than 95 percent likelihood of human influence as the driver of climate change. In referencing the work of IPCC, Sabine explained that there are “multiple lines of evidence” to support the unequivocal warming of the earth’s climate system, evidence that he suggested climate deniers can no longer avoid. These lines of evidence are: increasing air temperature; increasing atmospheric water vapor; increasing temperature over oceans; increasing sea temperature; increasing sea level; increasing ocean heat; decreasing sea ice.

The statistics behind these factors are staggering and somewhat unfathomable. Dr. Sabine explained that, as the climate has warmed in the last 40 years, 275 zeda jewels of additional solar energy have accumulated in the earth’s system. To illustrate–one zeda jewel is enough energy for the needs of the entire human population for two years. About seven percent of this accumulated energy is stored terrestrially, on land, in plants and soils. The rest is going into the oceans.

Carbon emissions into the atmosphere are measured in parts per million (ppm). Pre-industrial revolution the atmosphere measured 228 ppm of carbon dioxide, whereas today the measurement is 400 ppm or more.

Dr. Sabine illustrated the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide with another measurement, the petagram. The current rate of release is right around 10 petagrams per year. The image Sabine offered in order for the audience to wrap our minds around this huge number was this: a 156,500 mile-long hopper car of coal would release one petagram. Thus, the current 10 petagrams would equal that hopper car of coal circling 70 times around the earth at the equator. To further illustrate, Sabine explained that the annual rate of 28,000 square miles of deforestation equals one petagram of carbon dioxide emission.

The culminating effect of the increase in carbon dioxide in the oceans is that the oceanic carbon cycle has been reversed. Pre-industrial revolution and climate change, oceans were a carbon source. Through their natural processes, they released carbon into the atmosphere that was, in turn, taken up by leaves, which then degraded into the soil system, where the carbon was stored. Now, oceans are a carbon sink. This increase is the cause of ocean acidification–because carbon dioxide is an acid gas. Dr. Sabine stated that pH balance is “very important for ocean ecosystems.”

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Corals of The Great Barrier Reef. Courtesy of wiki commons.

Acidification makes it difficult for organisms to form shells, using reefs to weaken and bleach. In the arctic, shells are dissolving off snails. The Great Barrier Reef has lost 50 percent of its coral over the last three decades. Not only is ocean acidification problematic to marine species, one billion people globally rely on the oceans as a food source, some for 100 percent of their dietary protein.

NOAA has several programs to help coastal communities mitigate the effects of climate change. One of the organization’s goals is to create a “climate literate” public. In addition to these public support programs, NOAA offers a Climate Stewards Education Project. NOAA’s efforts are also linked with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The solution to ocean acidification is at once simple and enormous–humans must decrease carbon emissions. The time is now.

Let’s Use the 12th Man Mania for the Greater Good

By Neva Knott

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Seattle Seahawks logo, courtesy of Wiki commons.

I live in Olympia, Washington, just a hour south of Seahawk central. Every Friday across this region is some sort of fan celebration day–bank tellers, coworkers, grocery checkers, people on the street are regaled in blue and green–jerseys, cupcakes, gee-haws. In my research for this piece, I’ve been unable to find exact statistics on fan expenditure, but I did find that Forbes magazine tallied the annual expenditure of tailgating at $10 to $20 billion per year across the nation. Fan spending is big business, so much so that KING 5 News ran a clip the day before the Superbowl entitled, “Fans Pack Apparel Stores to Buy New Seahawks Shirts.” Another piece by Forbes gives the average of $33 per fan spending at a Seahawks home game. In addition to these team-rah-rah related expenditures, each fan–each 12th man–spends, in my observation, a day or more per week supporting the team.

This year was the Seahawks’ second in a row as a Superbowl contender. The money that flows because of this event is astounding. US News reports an estimate of $14.31 billion in consumer spending for the Superbowl. Let’s say half of that was by Seahawks fans–$7.15 billion. Forbes reports that $360 million comes from TV revenue, tickets cost $500- $1900 for a total of $6.3 million in sales, and the top player, Russell Okung, makes $8,760,000 a year, while Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll pulls in $8 million. If these ticket prices seem extreme, get this–US News reported that, three days before the game the last few tickets available from the NFL sold for $10,000 plus.

Football fever clearly opens the wallets of many. I wonder, how can the time and money spent on Seahawks fandom be put to use in the off-season? What if, just imagine what if, the seven billion dollars Seahawks fans spent last Sunday, or on a smaller scale the $33 per person per stadium attended game, were spent on community service? Stewardship of the environment?

I did imagine, and I researched some numbers. Here’s what I found:

Washington State Parks will operate on $107 million dollars during the 2013-2015 biennium, a decrease from the pre-recession budget of $134.4 million for the 2007-2009 budget cycle

According to the Office of Financial Management:

  • The total budget for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for the 2013-2015 biennium is $132,415
  • The total budget for the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Funding Board for the same budget cycle is $10,174
  • …for the Puget Sound Partnership, $19,005
  • …for the Department of Natural Resources, $432,780

According to the National Park Service, the Olympic National Park’s budget for 2014 was set at $12.9 million, but was cut by $640,000 due to “five percent sequestration.”

Looking at a broader context:

The Nature Conservancy’s total annual budget (including programs outside of Washington state) for cost of programs for 2014 was $401,429

Surfrider Foundation ran all of its programs in 2013 on $5,731,720

While reading about Surfrider’s programs, I learned that President Obama has proposed, for the 2015 fiscal year, zero funding for the EPA BEACH Act grant program.

These statistics elucidate the sharp contrast between sports money and environmental funding and philanthropy. For example, the Olympic National Park budget is $4 million less that the combined salaries of the Seahawks’ top-paid player, Okung, and his coach, Pete Carroll. Money follows values; what I am proposing is a shift in off-season values and expenditures, from entertainment and participation in the collective consciousness of the fan base to civic duty and participation in promoting sustainability, whether it be environmental or social. Don’t care about plastics in the ocean? Never use state or national parks here in Washington? Fine; shift your jersey dollars and time to a soup kitchen, to a reading program at your local library, to volunteering at the zoo.

Budget deficits at the government level are part of the post-recession economy. Just as Seahawks fans pay for their own blue and green cupcakes, game tickets, woot-woot noise-makers and team shirts, we as citizens and park visitors, beach goers, need to pick up the tab, both in terms of money and time, to keep our common spaces functioning and to sustain social safety-net programs.

Next Sunday, what will you do, with no game on the screen?

Cloudscapes

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If you’ve never stared off into the distance then your life is a shame…                                                Counting Crows, Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby

By Neva Knott

Redmond. This Central Oregon town hasn’t changed much since its founding a hundred years ago. It is a typical Oregon small town in the organizational sense; there is a one-way leading in, through, and out of town to the south and there is a one-way leading in, through, and out of town to the north. There is an intersection with a highway to the west and one with a highway to the east.

I came to Redmond from Oregon’s big city, Portland, from the north. I came over snow-capped Mt. Hood, then across the dusty, sand-orange colored Warm Springs Indian reservation, dropping down into the Deschutes river canyon with the shimmering black-blue of the water, and ascending back up to the sage-covered plateau. After driving a long stretch across the res, I dropped back down and into the green agricultural town of Madras, a place that holds the scent of the garlic grown there. Continuing on, I passed the Smith Rock formation to the left, cross the Crooked River canyon, passed a red cinder rock butte on the right, and will then was welcomed to Redmond by a bronzed statue of a cowboy riding a horse.

The High Cascade Range of volcanoes creates a boundary between Central and Western Oregon. The Redmond side of the Cascades sits in a rain shadow which causes this drastic and immediate change from the Portland side thick and dense Douglas fir forest with its rhododendron, salal, Oregon grape, huckleberry, maple understory to a less dense mix of Ponderosa pine forest, Juniper trees, sage, and rabbit brush. Redmond sits upon an expansive landscape, the High Lava Plains, across which one can see for miles, taking in buttes and mountains.

This is a farm town. The Deschutes County Fair is here, ranching is the industry, and Big R is the place to shop. People here love the land, the hunting life, and outdoor sportsmanship.

I didn’t intend to relocate to Redmond. Nor did I intend to leave.

In Portland, I worked at the high-pressure college prep Lincoln High School. Due to constant budget cuts, lack of a district superintendent, and weak leadership from our principal, the general vibe of the school was increasingly dysfunctional. Professionalism was eroded. My colleagues were a group of stressed, strident, self-serving skitterers. The stress was eroding my love of teaching. I also had a personal reason for escaping both Lincoln and Portland. My partner, Adam, had died in a car crash two years prior.

After the accident, the Lincoln community and the structure of work provided me much support. But after a couple of years, I was tired of people looking at me with the unasked question, “Are you all right yet?” I gave my notice, intending to return to Maui to bartend for a year and sit on the beach, work on my photography and write, sort out myself.

I gave my notice on June 1, 2007. As I sat at graduation a few days later, I looked down the row of teachers, their slumped postures, wound tight faces, and bad hair dye jobs and thought, thank god I’m getting out of here.

I let go my Portland apartment, spent a week couch-surfing and saying my goodbyes, and then—I panicked. I’d fucked up my life. As much as I’m a traveller, adventurer, and espouse big dreams, I also value professional security. I grew up in a hard-working, work-a-day blue-collar family in which the job is a prime directive. I wasn’t trying to quit teaching with my leave-taking from Lincoln. I was burnt out, traumatized, and grieving, and I knew I needed a break to regain sense of self after my loss. Now what?

In desperation, I began applying for teaching jobs.

Redmond School District had an opening for an English teacher at the new International School of the Cascades. The description read as if it were tailored to my resume. Though I left Lincoln seeking a break, this was the type of position I hoped to find when I reinvigorated my career. At the ISC I encountered a friendly, smart, fit and worldly group of professionals and really nice, motivated students. I bought a sweet little ranch style house on the edge of town, near a llama field and the Baptist church.

On the High Desert, I encountered an expansive landscape. Open. Clean. Qualities I was seeking in my life and in myself. As I struggled to re-establish the outward aspects of my life, my internal landscape became closed, obscured, and small. I felt lonely in a way I don’t think I’ve ever been before. I photographed nothing. I wrote not a word. I didn’t make friends. That type of inertia is not me. As much as there is a line between the Portland side and Central Oregon, there seemed to be an imaginary boundary to what I set out to accomplish.

Some sort of tenacity kept me there.

Redmond is the type of place where, on a cold winter’s morning, before first light, a group of tough construction workers sits in Starbucks, conducting a Bible study. It’s a place where the coffee stand man knows your name and greets you every morning when you drive through on your way to work. Where people stop, smile, and wave as they let you cross the street. Where it’s effortless to buy local because every business is owned by someone born and raised here. The grocery checkers are always the same and chit-chat with you in a way that makes you feel you’ve participated in community.

The culture of Central Oregon is built around playing outside. Mt. Bachelor is a ski destination, the Chain Breaker is an annual cyclo-cross race that draws the state’s best riders, the Metolius and the Deschutes rivers provide some of the best fishing in Oregon, and Smith Rock is a world-famous climbing spot. I’m not an extreme athlete as are many I met there, but I hike with my dog. After work I’d choose a trail along one of the rivers or drive to the Ponderosa forest just outside of town. Within twenty minutes, I could be in wilderness, which is where I spent my weekends and school breaks. On one summer trip, out to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, I drove home after sunset with all the windows down. It took four hours to traverse the various ecosystems. I discerned changes in the landscape by scent and temperature; it was a tactile connection made between me and the Oregon I was travelling across in the night air.

I shaped my life there around the landscape. In the process, I found all of the attributes of the outdoors lifestyle I sought on Maui, and I found more—a sense of being grounded, rooted, part of a bigger place than just that which I inhabited. I felt bigger than work and chores and adult-life obligations. I felt bigger than what I’d lost.

Somehow, inexplicably, I needed the lack of familiarity I experienced in Redmond so that I could push myself forward into the shape I wanted for my life. Was I still the take-life-by-the-horns, make-it-what-you-want-it-to-be bad ass I fancied myself to be?

Then came the recession. In spring of 2009, twenty per cent of the teachers in the school district, myself included, were laid off. We were told not to expect to be called back to work in the fall. I’d gone to Redmond with just over ten years of experience; sadly, in Oregon one does not retain one’s seniority or years of service when one changes districts. I found myself at the bottom of the pile.

The bell rang and my students poured out of my classroom, on their ways to another. I took a quick break myself. In fact, I pulled myself up short with a life-changing realization while in the faculty bathroom, all in the few precious moments of passing time. As I washed my hands, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized I was going to work another 20 years. I was 47, and we’d all been given our lay-off notices that day. We knew they were coming—Central Oregon was reportedly the fourth hardest hit place in the nation in the “economic downturn” as this new devastating recession was being called. There had been talk of nothing else at lunch, for weeks. I think by the time the actual day came, some of us—I know I did—felt sorrow for our supervisor who had the horrible job of actually handing out the individual notices.

So that’s how I found myself washing my hands and talking into the mirror, making a big life decision in the four minutes of passing time. I told my reflection, “You’re going to work another 20 years, you know. And your whole career in teaching has been budget cuts, budget cuts, budget cuts. You have no seniority here—this will only get worse. Just try something different. You can do anything you want.”

So I did. I applied to a graduate program in Environmental Studies. I love the out-of-doors, nature. I had an idea of becoming a sustainability consultant, and of using writing and photography to help people understand how and why to live sustainably.

The following June, I returned to Redmond to participate in the graduation of the last class of the International School of the Cascades, the new school that held my dream job just three years earlier. The program had been cut in the budget shortfall. I wore the black robe and the mantle of my alma mater that signals my stature as an academic. I sat in the front row with my former colleagues, all of whom I respect and admire. I felt sadness and shame and failure about my professional experience there, and a longing for a life that I know I won’t have in this place of grandeur. I drove over Mt. Hood, across the reservation, through Madras. As I drove along the plateau, I looked at the sky. At once, across the High Desert, it was a dark and ominous grey, crossed by a swathe of blue-white. A mile off in the distance, a bright spot of sun shone through and illuminated the grey above me as it pulled the blue out from behind a pink-tinted puff of cloud. The sky’s colors and luminescence elucidated for me the meaning of my time in Redmond. As I looked into the distance, I knew that it was the landscape that allowed for my time of cleansing and expansion.