The Books We Read

If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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I know that there are a lot of people feeling despondent these days, and I plan on addressing my own feelings about that soon. Every day we are confronted with a new level of incompetence, corruption, and seemingly endless falsehoods that has become the hallmark of the new administration. Some people have tuned out entirely, which I certainly can understand. Others have turned on longtime friends trying somehow to justify their support for the new regime. Others are looking for ways to fight back.

There are a whole host of issues that are under attack, from education to immigration, equality to national security. Everyone has their top priority, and that’s great. We need fighters on every front. For me, it is about the environment. Without clean water, clean air, and a natural world protected from polluters and the extractive corporations, then why bother with any of it?

Reading is a great way to get fired up, to soothe the soul, and to expand your perspective. That is probably why a certain individual doesn’t read… but I digress.

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Here are some of my go-to books. These are great, and there are tons of others… really, but anything by any of these authors is top notch. Pick up a few…

Edward Abbey – Desert Solitaire
John Muir – My First Summer in the Sierra
David Orr – Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect
Thomas Berry – The Dream of the Earth
Brian Swimme – The Universe is a Green Dragon
David Helvarg – Saved by the Sea: Hope, Heartbreak, and Wonder in the Blue World

A recent post at Southern Fried Science offers a great starting point if you are so inclined.

Feed your head, folks. We’ll need every last one of us to fight this fight.

#FightResistRebel

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Flipping the Current

In July, I traveled to the Big Island of Hawai’i with a group of classmates for my third and final Earth Expedition trip for my graduate degree. The theme of the course is “Saving Species”, and the focus is ostensibly on the question, “what does it take to save a species”. We journeyed from coastal Hilo on the eastern coast of the island, inland to Volcanoes National Park, and then up to the slopes of Mauna Kea, spending several days in the Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge, all the while looking at the issues facing native species of Hawai’i and the efforts to preserve, protect, and in some case reintroduce them.

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We learned a lot of Hawaiian terms over the course of our adventure. From the concept of pau hana (a rest or break, but really… happy hour) to the oli, an invocation of sorts that shows recognition and respect while requesting admittance into a special place. Many of the words have different meanings, depending on the context. The one that stood out for me the most was the word huli’au.

The literal translation of huli’au is “flipping the current.” Depending on the context, it can simply mean “change” or “turning point”, but for me the deeper connotation is that of a paradigm shift; a fundamental change in how we approach and view the world. When Cheyenne used the term to discuss what needed to happen, that was a critical moment for me on this trip. That light bulb, a-ha, eureka moment. However, it wasn’t as much in regards to conservation or saving species, although it certainly applies. In fact, I have said we needed a paradigm shift in the environmental thinking of our culture for years. No, this was about me.

Metaphors using the sea, sailing, and the like are very much woven through my thinking in regards to my own life. Rough seas, fair winds, and so on. So the idea of “flipping the current” immediately struck a cord with me. It is evocative of a captain at the wheel of a ship and suddenly being faced with an unexpected change in the sea he thinks that he knows so well. He has a choice: adjust and ride the new direction, or fight the opposing flow. I realized in that moment that I had been fighting every change of the current in my life. Professionally, personally… It made me examine my own thinking and consider what I was fighting for.

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One of the themes that was present throughout the course was how intertwined the cultural and spiritual aspect of Hawaiian life was with the conservation efforts. This was not something I has expected or considered going in. From the oli to the concept of aloha aina, the discussion of kuleana (stewardship and responsibility) and uka – to – kai (mountain to ocean), there is no land without the people, and vice versa. There is no separation of culture from conservation, and spirituality and being part of the land – the aina – is a given. Each place we visited, we learned not only the ecological story of the place, but the cultural one. Stories of Pele and Hi’iaka, Ohia and Lehua, Maui and Kane… the legends are tied to the people who are tied to the land that is tied to the legends. I found this level of connection inspiring, and also saw it as an opportunity to engage those that might not otherwise be interested in conservation, per se.

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Of course, as always, the highlights of these trips for me is the new connections and friends I make. Amazing people from around the world, some older, some younger, each with their own story and viewpoint. In the hours before we get to work, the evenings after a long day, the lunch breaks, those moments of fun, of poignant conversation, personal sharing, and just being human together is where the friendships and bonds are forged. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to meet each and every person on this trip. It is bittersweet in some respects, as it is my last one as a student. Perhaps I will return as an instructor one of these days.

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Mahalo!

 

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World Oceans Day

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Somehow in the chaos of my life over the past few months, I have inadvertently managed to ignore this space that I had set aside for the purpose of staying connected to my thoughts on the ocean and the natural world. It does not mean I have been idle, mind you, just not attentive in the way I had planned.

Tomorrow will be the third installment of my Brews for the Blue film series. It has come together so well, and I am humbled by the amount of support I have received from so many people.

To begin with, Barley Mow Brewing Company. From the first moment I approached owner Jay Dingman with the idea for an event, he was on board. In fact, it was Jay that said “I want to make the ‘I Am Ocean’ beer.” Since then, with the help of his amazing staff (especially Tom and Amy), we are looking at a top-notch event for tomorrow night. And we did make the beer. I Am Ocean is a tropical pale ale; a bright and refreshing unfiltered pale ale with a blend of tropical fruits and a hoppy citrus character followed by a crisp subtle rye spice. It will available on tap at the event, as well as in six-pack cans.

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In addition, we have had an amazing donation of a very cool stand-up paddleboard from LIVE Watersports in Clearwater, which was then customized and painted by an amazing artist, Aliyah McGowan. We will be doing a silent auction for this one.

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Of course, the film itself is stunning. The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation has done an amazing job of capturing real, beautiful, and natural footage of life beneath the waves and showing something few have never seen before. I love the non-sensationalist approach that they take, contrary to so many other film makers.

I do hope that anyone in the area tomorrow can attend. It should be a fantastic event with some great food, beer, and of course, people.

Brews for the Blue is being held at the Barley Mow Brewing production brewery at 521 Commerce Drive, Largo, FL 33770. For any questions, please comment on the Facebook Event page.

 

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Earth Day 2016

How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean. – Arthur C. Clarke

Today we celebrate Earth Day, commemorating this date in 1970 when the Apollo mission first looked down on our planet and saw it for the big blue marble that it is. Seeing our home as a single entity, and not a bunch of arbitrary lines on a map. The ocean covers over 70% of the surface of the planet, and most of the human population replies on it for their very lives. So when we talk about “Earth Day”, it is critical that we do not forget the oceans.

My work with the Ocean Media Institute has allowed me to bring together colleagues and friends from a variety of disciplines and industries. As a non-profit, fundraising is the one thing no one wants to do, but it is one of the most important. So finding the right partners is critical. When I conceived of the Blues for the Blue series, my hope was to have the opportunity to show a few cool ocean films at some of my favorite breweries and raise a little money for OMI. Well, tomorrow, Tampa Bay Brewing Company – a long time friend and supporter of ocean conservation causes – is holding their annual festival, the Bad-Ass Beer Fest, and the proceeds will go to benefit OMI.

I can’t begin to express my own gratitude to the Doble family for this honor. I am always humbled by their generosity, but now I have the opportunity to actually work side by side with them on something we all believe in so strongly: our oceans.

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All of the details of the fest can be found here, so I encourage any and all ocean and/or beer lovers to get involved! One of the most exciting things tomorrow will be the raffle: the winner and a friend will get a day of fishing and beer with head brewer Dave Doble and me on the Reef Donkey boat! You can’t ask for a better day than that!

Also keep in mind that the next installment of Brews for the Blue will be held at Tampa Bay Brewing Company in Westchase, showing Changing Seas: Grouper Moon & Alien Invaders.

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Take My Arms That I Might Reach You…

As I do every year, I watched President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. As it was his last, he was a bit more loose. A tad more bold. He had nothing to lose, obviously, and so he talked directly and pointedly about the issues facing our nation and the world. He spoke about immediate challenges, but also looked forward with hope and vision. And while I tend to agree with him on most policy issues, that is not the point of this particular post.

What stood out for me was a call for civility and humanity in the face of the trials we face, since we do have to face them together. By rejecting the rhetoric of fear and hate and divisiveness, we stop those poisons from spreading. Actually communicating with one another in a way that doesn’t demonize or blame, but allows us to convey ideas, hopes, and our own struggles as fellow human beings. Perhaps it is a pipe dream to think in this political climate we can have meaningful discussions with those who hold different viewpoints. And certainly from the vitriolic and cynical response from Ted Cruz and his ilk it is easy to get discouraged. One of the few truthful quotes from Governor Nikki Haley in her otherwise-misguided response was spot on.

“Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.”

Whether the topic is climate change, immigration, energy, social justice, or any other of the myriad of hot-button topics, the only path to resolution is communication. Silence doesn’t cut it. Screaming doesn’t produce answers. over fifty years ago, the legendary Paul Simon wrote one of the greatest songs of all time, one that still is revered today. His musical partner for many years, Art Garfunkel summed up the song’s meaning as “the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly internationally but especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.”

How’s that for prophetic?

Today, I was introduced to a cover of The Sound of Silence by the heavy metal band Disturbed. Before you run screaming away, take a listen. I think it brings a modern edge to the song without losing any of the timeless message.

Peace.

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Crafting Deeper Stories in 2016

 

Last year, I was invited to join the Board of Directors of the newly formed Ocean Media Institute. I have since been elected as the Vice President of the Board of Directors, which is an incredible honor, especially when you see the credentials of everyone else involved. But that is neither here nor there, really.

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What drew me to this organization was the tagline: Crafting Deeper Stories. Those who know me are fully aware of my propensity to tell stories. I rarely have a short answer for anything, nor do I do quick summaries well. For me, there is great power in words and ideas to take conversations to deeper levels of understanding. It cannot be done in a simple text or a tweet. And to give the Cliff’s Notes version is to do a disservice to the writer and his or her story. Stories bring meaning to ideas and facts. While a report or scientific paper can interpret data for you, and inferences can be made, a story tells you why it matters.

I have a background in science and education, yes, but I am at my core a crafter of stories. Whether they are fictional tales of pirates on the high seas or nonfiction pieces about the state of our oceans or the explosive growth of the craft beer industry in America, it is my goal to tell a story that makes the reader care about, or at least identify with, the subject at hand.

Working with OMI is very exciting to me as I will be partnering with a group of people who also understand the importance of the art of storytelling to communicating scientific concepts and environmental issues. We are not a political or activist group. We are professionals from different walks of life who have a passion for the ocean and imparting a narrative of conservation and scientific literacy. With so little of our oceans explored in depth (pun intended), there is a treasure trove of information to be uncovered still, and every new discovery is a story waiting to be told. I am thrilled to be a part of that process.

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2016 is already looking to be a year of action and adventure for me. I am already working on a year-long project for OMI in conjunction with several local Tampa Bay breweries to bring a film series to the Bay Area, and I am very excited about this project. This summer, I will embark on my third and final field course for my graduate program, this time to the Big Island of Hawai’i. Just a few short months after that, graduate with my Masters degree. In addition, there are a few other items in the works for this year that I am keeping under wraps for now. I don’t want to reveal them prematurely! And that is just what I know so far, six days into the new year!

Obviously, this will be am important year politically for our country. The election in November will have a significant impact on the direction our nation moves in regards to equality and social justice, economic policy, environmental concerns, and how we face the rest of the international community and the challenges that affect us all. If you honestly believe there is no difference in those vying for office, you are not paying attention. And if you think your vote doesn’t matter, you could not be more wrong. It is easy to become cynical and jaded when being bombarded by 24-hour media coverage – and spin – from the blaring infotainment complex, but behind it all are real people facing real issues, and some serious choices to be made.

Ultimately, this new year is going to be an evolutionary one for me. It is time to become who and what I want to be. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

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Je suis Paris… أنا سورية

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When the Twin Towers fell after the horrific attacks by religious extremists on September 11th, 2001, I sat glued to the news watching hours upon hours as the death toll rose, the tragedy played out over and over before us. After two days or so, my son, only 18 months at the time, toddled over to the TV and shut it off. It jarred us awake, dragged us back into the present and immediate life. And I will remember that moment forever.

It is far too easy to be drawn in to the sensationalism of 24-hour “news” coverage. All it takes is letting your guard down for a moment and fear will freeze you there, forcing you to ingest the unending replay of atrocity along with commentary and speculation followed soon by political chest thumping. And it will consume you.

On Friday night, November 13th, Paris was attacked by religious extremists. As soon as the news broke, I spent about 15 minutes absorbing what was happening, and then I turned it off. I knew the death toll would rise. I knew the details would come out. And I knew those responsible would be identified. I did not have to sit and watch as the videos were replayed over and over, interviews with people who were there were run, and posturing from the hatred-filled fearmongers in our own country (and abroad) began.

My heart weeps for the lives lost in Paris. Just as it wept for the lives in Baghdad, in Beirut, Mogadishu, and everywhere else where violence claims the lives of innocent people. Just as it has with every mass shooting here in the United States, although for some reason these murderers get labeled as ‘mentally ill and unstable’, not as terrorists. Just as I decry the killings of minorities by law enforcement, and the killing of law enforcement by criminals. My heart also breaks for those forced from their homes and their countries by violence, poverty, starvation, and disease. Those who are so afraid for their lives and those of their children, that they are willing to leave everything behind and risk death to get away.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, I have seen some of the worst of social media. I suppose that is not surprising, but it was across the spectrum. The far right racists were out in force, as expected, and of course, they blame President Obama first and then Daesh. But as expressions of support for France and the victims began to spread across Facebook and other media, the Left got upset, too. How dare you feel something about these attacks, but not be upset about what happened in Baghdad or Beirut? Where’s the option to put a Lebanese or Iraqi flag on my Facebook picture? And while I certainly understand the frustration there, how dare you challenge my grief and how I deal with it?! Finally, there were the cynics. Those who took the tragedy as an opportunity to get in their digs at religion (in general), people who make gestures of support, and assuming a position of smug superiority.

These events make me sad and angry. Yes, the event itself upsets me, but what lingers for me is how many people devolve into self-righteousness and base nastiness. The debate over refugees from Syria has suddenly heated up, with the xenophobia and ignorance leading the way with fear and lies. Somehow, because there are bad people ‘out there’, we should cast aside the very foundation of our country. Never mind that the murderers in Paris were all European nationals. There have been calls by (right wing) governors to block refugees coming into the United States and into the states they run. Unless they are Christians, of course. Apparently the Constitution is only sacrosanct when it meets their own extreme agenda.

So to those of you who say “turn away anyone from Syria”,  I have so many things I could say to you, so many hurtful words I could lob at you. And you would deserve them all. Instead, I say this:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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