Wet Feet and a Warm Welcome in Vietnam

I didn’t know it was possible to sink into mud up to your knee caps and still pull yourself out again. But mud at the bottom of a fish pond is fully mixed with water, and apparently, walking around in it can stir up the critters who live there (shrimp, in this case), and give you a chance of catching them with a wicker basket.

I did not imagine that learning traditional fishing techniques of the Mekong Delta would be part of our Fulbright orientation. Especially not when it followed two days of meetings with US Consulate officials, including the US General Consul, Susan Burns, and many of her section chiefs. We were briefed on economics, politics, safety and health. We met with representatives from the Public Affairs section, who are very interested in our work here, building ties with Vietnamese universities. It was truly exciting to learn about Vietnam from the perspective of Americans who have been working here.

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She would have been 80 today

Eight years ago:

I bobbed up and down on the paddle board, alone, far enough from the beach that I could see mountains, engulfed in layers of grey cloud. I was far enough out that it would be an exhausting swim to shore. I rocked to the rhythm of the swells and soaked in the Hawaiian sun. And then I felt it: that little notion of settling into something slow and sweet, of being held and nurtured. It’s a little whisper in the waves, a voice coming through my bones, smiling and also telling me to move closer to shore.

Mom, is that you?

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A Model for the Future at Rancho Margot

Chest-high pink and red stalks of ginger dot the landscape like tiki torches. They brighten the forest as distant thunder echoes through the valley. Hummingbirds dart between the trees and I’m amazed I don’t get impaled by one of them. This is Rancho Margot, just shy of the eastern side of the Continental Divide in the Cordillera Talamanca, in central Costa Rica. We are only a mile or so from the nearest village, a few miles from one of Costa Rica’s most famous volcanoes, Arenal, and about 20 miles (or a 40 minute drive) from the lively restaurants, resort hot springs, and trinket shops of the bustling tourist outpost of La Fortuna. But it feels as though we are on another planet.

Empire torch ginger at Rancho Margot can grow up to five feet high. The colors you see here are actually waxy leaves that resemble a pinecone just before the tiny flowers emerge from between the leaves.
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Feeling a bit lighter in the cloud forest cathedral

Where do you find awe when you need it?

It’s the peak of the first real summer travel season in three years, and nearly every other person I know is visiting Italy, posting photos of cappuccinos, cobblestone streets, and cathedrals. My own first summer travel photos are a bit cloudier. A bit more green. They show the sun filtering through a canopy of leaves and curtains of moss and vine. I wanted to visit a cathedral of another sort for my still-in-the-thick-of-COVID pandemic reintroduction to international travel.

Walking under the mist-shrouded canopy of Monteverde Reserve cloud forest.
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Reconciling travel obsession and climate hypocrisy

(This is a ~10 minute read. If you’re short on time, scroll down to My Travel Manifesto for some tips on reducing your climate impact from travel).

COVID numbers be damned, everyone is traveling this summer. It’s as though two years of cabin fever are sending people on a mad dash out the door to …somewhere. Anywhere.

I admit: I’m guilty of wanting to get back to traveling. I’ve been itchy and irritable, tired of my house, my neighborhood, my city. I’ve taken so many walks in my neighborhood in the past 2+ years, I know exactly where to expect the poppies to come up in the yard at the house down the street. I will also tell you that, as I begin to move around the world again, I’m excited to shift this blog back (mostly) to my original intent: sharing experiences and observations from around the world.

But I wonder: How much does my travel obsession contribute to the ongoing disruption of our global climate? As a climate scientist, can I ethically justify travel? Should I renounce air travel as some scientists, academics, and activists have done?

Pumping out carbon on my last transatlantic flight in 2019, we crossed over the Greenland ice sheet, where pools of sky-blue melt-water sit atop the ice, absorbing summer sunshine.

Or do I fly anyway, then punish myself and hold my head low in climate shame? I know what Greta Thunberg would say. I keenly feel the impact that my generation has had on this planet, even though we were all born into a civilization built on fossil fuel, without any practical way to renounce it.

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It’s about power

It’s about power. You know that, right?

I felt sick to my stomach when I first heard the SCOTUS decision that overturns Roe v. Wade. I cried. I raged. I cussed up a storm. And then, in the aftermath of that outburst, I felt the weight of the realization that my right to be fully autonomous over my body, over my life, is gone. This verdict means that, because I am a woman, decisions about my health can be made by a politician. That the opinion of a political party will weigh more than that of my doctor or me.

The weight feels like the shadow of someone’s shoe over my head. As a privileged, White woman, who has had all the advantages of education and opportunity, this is a new feeling for me. It is a new feeling precisely because of my cis-gender White privilege. I recognize that losing the right to make decisions about my own health and body gives me a glimpse of the injustices that others have always felt. The shadow of that weighty shoe hangs over so many.

Just so you know: Colorado has very good camping facilities. If you feel the need to go camping, you will be supported here. And we will never discuss camping.

But it’s not any easier knowing that others feel this. Anyone who is not a straight White man has had their basic human rights further undermined by this decision.

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World on Fire

I haven’t yet written about the day last year when the sky turned black at midday. It was so dark that my garden lights came on in the dim, orange twilight. But it’s August and we’re in fire season again. I find myself thinking about that day again because I’m cooped up at home with the windows closed as another smoke plume moves over Northern Colorado. Last year, we inhaled smoke and ash from late last summer to several weeks into autumn. The fires kept our skies grey for the better part of two months. But I distinctly remember that day just before Labor Day in early September when I braved the smoky air and temperatures over 90F to harvest my garden in preparation for an unseasonably early snow storm.

September 2020 in Greeley, CO – The day that turned black.
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Zion: on the cusp of transitions

We’re deep into summer and the winter wonderland photos below might be a bit jarring for those living in the Northern Hemisphere. But this post about a trip to Zion National Park is ready to go out into the world. It’s long overdue. Travel is often my inspiration for blog posts. This past year led me to a lot of closer-to-home discoveries in the natural world – but, also, the lack of motivation to write, as we have all struggled to sort out life in a new version of this dystopian world. But here it is: my first visit to Zion.

I love that my first memories of Zion National Park will always be shrouded in an icy haze. Arriving in a new place after dark – whether it’s a rainforest, a bustling South American city, or a natural cathedral carved through the desert over millions of years – always leaves me disoriented. And then it snowed through the night, covering roads and painting still-bare trees in white. The world felt pillow-soft as I stepped out of my cabin. I walked across the grounds of the lodge, and the fog shifted to give me my first glimpse of a canyon wall. I had no idea how far these walls rose up, but I could feel the ones I couldn’t see – in the stillness, and in that sense of being enclosed and protected.

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America, the unfinished

The last time I flew anywhere was back in November 2019 for a 3-day trip to Washington, D.C.

On my second evening there, after a long day in a working meeting, I arranged to meet a friend at the National Art Gallery on the Capitol Mall. My hotel was roughly within walking distance, but I decided to shave off some time by taking the Metro to the Mall, then walking to the gallery from there.

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New decade, let’s make a new world

Listening to an episode of Science Friday recently about efforts to save corals made me cry. I guess you could say my emotions are sitting very close to the surface in the early days of this new decade. Like a lot of people, I usually spend some of this time around the turn of the calendar in reflection. While there is always pressure to celebrate and set goals and aspirations for making life better in the coming year – or coming decade – this particular New Year’s has left me much more contemplative than happy. We have so much work we need to do to sustain this planet and ourselves in the coming years, and the enormity of it all has hit me on an emotional level.

2019-01-06b.HydrurgaRocksSMALL

How do we find hope for a better world?

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