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Beauty and History in the Sylvania Wilderness

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MICHIGAN U.P.– On a recent canoe trip with Conserve School students and staff, we trekked into the UP’s Sylvania Wilderness Area. Being a beautiful vacation destination for hundreds of campers, canoers, and fishing enthusiasts alike, Conserve School is lucky to have such a place practically out its back door. For 5 nights and 6 days we paddled, camped, swatted mosquitoes, and escaped them with refreshing dips in the stunning clear lakes.

Beyond the beauty though, a fascinating history is nestled under the canopy of old-growth hemlocks and maples. Over a hundred years ago, the Ojibwe came to the area from out East, migrating from a prophecy to travel to where food grew on the water. They came and found wild rice, which currently grows in Sylvania, forming magical wildlife hotpots bustling with activity. Sylvania as it exists today became possible through the Michigan Wilderness Act in 1987, which put the area into the 9.1 million acre wilderness system that was previously created by the 1964 Wilderness Act . Before this at the turn of the 1900’s, Sylvania’s early development consisted of individual property-buyers purchasing land around Clark Lake, eventually forming a private fishing and hunting club.

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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in News/ Field Notes

 

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Heavy Metal Environmental Education: Part 2 of 3

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It’s March in the Wisconsin Northwoods. Sure, the days are longer and the temps are getting up to the mid-20’s, but the nights are still dipping well below zero. This is the testing time where even the strongest Winter enthusiasts stretch their endurance and quelling their longing for Spring for just a little longer. It is here where a booster of Winter appreciation could go a long way. The brutal cold, the barren dry landscape, the long nights… how onerous! Unless… unless we flipped winter 180 degrees. Enter Finnish metal band Wintersun!

This band is especially applicable to my setting on the top of Wisconsin, where just over the MI border (a stone’s throw away) were Finnish immigrants not even 100 years ago, coming to the Michigan UP for the copper mining opportunities.  They left a legacy of their heritage on the landscape and in the MI community. In fact, Finnish may still be heard on a stroll through the down towns of Watersmeet, Bruce Crossing or Land O’ Lakes. Point being, Scandinavian cultures such as these have long been developing mechanisms to live and thrive in winter, metal being no exception. You have to wonder, if any of the immigrants mining copper were in the Mighian UP today, would they be rockin’ Wintersun?

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Posted by on March 9, 2014 in Metal

 

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Heavy Metal Environmental Education: Part 1 of 3

Ensiferum visits St. Paul, MN!

In a recent UWSP course I’m taking, Environmental Education Theory and Practice, we’re discussing strategies for cultivating a sense of empathy and connection to a place. In a well-done EE curriculum, empathy and connection are the foundation, to then make space for more specific knowledge and facts about the environment. It makes sense… why would anyone care to learn a bunch of ecological facts without the framework of a personal connection to what they’re learning? What if that connection is established through metal music? Curious? Read on…

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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Metal, UWSP Graduate Fellowship

 

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The Apostle Islands Ice Caves: A Winter Hotspot

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BAYFIELD– I recently had the honor to visit the Apostle Islands Ice Caves on the southern shore of Lake Superior. Although treasured for it’s kayaking in the summer, this gem of a place can also be a hot spot of activity in the middle of winter. This can only mean one thing… that the shoreline to the main body of water submitted to the cold and actually froze. This freezing doesn’t happen very often however, which makes it quite an attraction when it does. In the last month, thousands have make the trek to the caves to walk out onto the frozen-yet-noisy sheet of ice. Unlike a typical frozen lake, the deep waters below may influence the ice’s stability even when it’s terribly cold out. The National Parks Service has a great site on the caves, with some culture and history to boot.

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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in News/ Field Notes

 

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Finding a Sense of Place with Malcom X

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Malcom X at the nature center. Malcom X at a National Park. These don’t seem to go together, do they? Well, why not? There isn’t a way to answer without including some aspect of racism. The cultural forces of the past 50, 100, even 200 years have shaped “nature” in the US to be catered to a culturally white space. Where there is land ownership, decision making, and wealth, there is power. In the US today, that power rests predominately in the networks of white folks. To understand how this power works, let’s look to Malcom X’s autobiography. Although Malcom X is a common historical figure to look to in the topic of race, let’s look a little deeper for an insight to the land. After all, he did say that “to understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient” (p.153).

There are four situations, or “ingredients” in Malcom X’s autobiography that I’ll highlight which pertain to the natural world and his relationship with it. After that though, we’ll be better able to re-frame our sense of place -both in the US and beyond- towards a reflection of a diverse, democratic humanity.

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Posted by on February 10, 2014 in Reconciliation

 

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The Natural and Not-So-Natural History of House Plants

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When learning about plant ecology and plant natural history we often focus our attention outdoors. Well, that’s obvious! But how about our indoor habitats and the plants that help compose them? The lobby, coffee shop, and library plants we stroll past daily all have their own natural histories. These plants bring life to our indoor spaces, and get us through long wretched winters. But what’s more, lets take a look at how the stories behind these plants can inform and enhance our indoor living spaces.They are our living history.

Here’s three common house plants you may see around town this Winter:

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Posted by on January 25, 2014 in News/ Field Notes, Reconciliation

 

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2013 Christmas Birdcount

Sunrise over an (almost) frozen St. Croix River. The Xcel Energy Power Plant dishes out warm water all year, allowing for waterfowl hot spots.

Sunrise over an (almost) frozen St. Croix River. The Xcel Energy Power Plant dishes out warm water all year,  creating waterfowl hot spots.

BAYPORT, MN–Today was the day, friends. In an age where planning ahead seems as difficult as memorizing pharmaceutical notes, this day was planned a year in advance. In fact, the follow-up is even planned for a year from now. Every year, hundreds of crazy birders take to the winter and spend an entire day bird watching. For some, crazy. For others, “eh”. For myself and many more, well, inspiring!

If you’re new to the Christmas Bird Count, it’s perhaps the oldest citizen-science initiative in the US. Instead of a bunch of folks just going out to count and watch birds, the Audubon Society organizes count “circles” to structure the time and space for the bird data. The count circle I attended has been active in the Northeast Metro for 50 years, always on the Saturday that lands between Christmas Day and New Years. Before this Northeast Metro count was even started however, the tradition of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count had long been established. 

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Posted by on December 28, 2013 in News/ Field Notes

 

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