STEVENS POINT– This week I’m excited to be a part this year’s annual Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education conference. The conference spans from August 13-15th, and I’ll be presenting on Wednesday at 10 am!
The title of the presentation is “Continuing the Conversation of Cross-cultural EE”. I’ll be speaking about experiences working at Minneapolis Public Schools, covering some thoughts from my past blog entry on Malcom X, and highlighting a video entitled “Ecology and Culture”, posted below. The video is an EE experiment, mixing break dancing and ecological learning. It was a great learning opportunity, and a lot of fun to facilitate.
SAN FRANCISCO– The reality of the California drought is a stark contrast from the lush upper Midwest. While one chooses between ground or surface sources for municipal water and need not stop to think about lush green grass underfoot, the other dons signs along the road reading “pray for rain”. While Minnesota and Wisconsin thrive in a culture of river and lake recreation, California has a website for the drought, featuring Lady Gaga chiming in to get the attention of the masses. Not only are the communities of the Bay area strained by the drought, but a key fertile agricultural land in our national economy is strained, too. Wine, fruit, and especially almonds from Northern California make their way around the country and the world. While the region had built an infrastructure to cope with such water scarcities, the current drought has the reservoirs at record lows. The drought reaches beyond the capabilities infrastructure and now calls on personal water use. Reflecting on our history in water resources, are we really ready for such a responsibility?
MAPLEWOOD, MN– In a project that’s the first of its kind, Maplewood Mall has retrofitted its parking lot with top-knotch stomwater infrastructure. Although construction projects and improvements on infrastructure are common every construction season, this one holds special significance. Here in Maplewood, the local watershed district, Ramsey-Washington Watershed, and Simon Property Group (Simon Malls) formed a unique partnership. Through what may seem like vastly different spheres of society, the watershed district and Simon Malls, one of the largest land owners in the US, planned and implemented a groundbreaking parking lot innovation. Concerning far more than parking spaces, the new parking lot is designed for stormwater runoff, to keep water where it lands instead of it running off the concrete jungle’s paved surfaces to pick up all sorts of trash and pollution (everything that drips and falls out of cars, accidentally or intentionally). The end result is that the Mississippi River receives water from this area not from the surges of stormwater pipes, but from gradual, stable, and clean groundwater flow. So how did they do it?
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.
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?
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…
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.