Inspiring Environmental Stewards

The Art of Looking

July 24,2017:  by Loree Griffin Burns

Years ago, as part of a science project I dreamed up for my homeschooling family, my three kids and I recorded as many animals as we could find on our one-acre patch of suburban lawn, scrub and driveway. What we found changed us.

The idea was simple: for nine months, one school year, we photographed every beetle, butterfly, earthworm, salamander, chickadee and tomcat that lived on or passed through our yard. We planned to separate the animals we found into categories visually, and so begin to understand the science of biological classification.  It was a fun exercise, and I was thrilled when the kids made the intellectual leap from phyla and species to the concept of evolution. Educational mission accomplished. But so much more than a science lesson happened that year. Sure, I was surprised by the wide variety of animals we encountered, and by how engaged my kids became in the process of looking for them. But what really shocked me—knocked me upside the head, actually—was how the art of looking deepened our connection to the place we lived.

How long had that groundhog lived under the shed, and how could we not have known it? Had walking sticks always crawled over the oak in the side yard?  Why had I never looked for paw prints in new fallen snow? And had the kids not taught me this trick, would I ever have met the porcupine that dines in the old pine? Who knew the orange butterflies flitting in and out of our spring and summer days represented such an array of species, and how many had we overlooked before we began to pay attention?  Was it wrong to feel such deep and passionate love for the black bear our neighbors were so unhappy about?

There were other lessons in looking, too. We learned to move so slowly that butterflies didn’t notice us lift a camera. We walked around our yard with no destination in mind, studying dirt and leaves, running our fingers over tree bark. We pet flower petals, and then explored the worlds underneath them. We lay on the ground, side-by-side and for so long that an observer would think we’d fallen asleep, listening for clues to animals our eyes couldn’t see. We flushed frogs from mulch piles, tracked slugs, and stumbled onto treasures previously unknown: the hanging wonder of a vireo nest (made with the silver papers of an abandoned wasp nest), the shiny perfection of a butterfly egg (or was it a moth egg?), the shocking call of a pileated woodpecker (surpassed only by the shocking sight of the bird itself).

Coming to know the animals that shared our yard was to contemplate wonder … and it was an invitation to acknowledge how dependent those animals were on how we treated their home, our home. The experience slowed us down, opened our eyes to things we hadn’t realized we’d been overlooking, and ignited a deeper passion for the place in which we lived. Taking stock of the flora and fauna of Hosmer Street rooted us there in a way that ten years of calling it ‘home’ hadn’t done.  And after a year, when I sprang on my homeschoolers the punchline to our project—we had dipped a pinky toe into the pool of Animals that claimed this acre, but what about the Plants? And the Fungi? What of the Protists and the Monera?—they had fully embraced their roles as caretakers and natural historians of our little patch of this Earth.

In the years since that homeschool adventure, a lot has changed. For one thing, we’ve moved from our beloved place on Hosmer Street. And this fall, two of my three porcupine trackers will head off to college. But recording flora and fauna has become a habit, and it continues to connect us. I keep a notebook in my office, in which I record the date the red-winged blackbirds return, the first-of-the-season butterfly, and generally track Life at our new place. It’s not unusual for one of the kids to call me into the yard to see a weird beetle, or text me blurry images of ladybugs, or to leave detailed directions to a moth they spotted under the porch lights when they got home the night before, long after Mom was asleep. We’re not formal about our record-keeping anymore (well, unless you count my newfound obsession with iNaturalist), but we’re relentless about looking. No matter where we live, together or apart, in the country or in the city, at home or abroad, I think we always will be.

 

Biographical information:

Loree Griffin Burns wrote the book CITIZEN SCIENTISTS: BE A PART OF DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD (Holt, 2012), a Green Earth Book Award winner, with a lot of help from her kids. You can follow the flora and fauna of her life on Instagram (@loreegriffinburns), and read more about her work at www.loreeburns.com.  Her next book, LIFE ON SURTSEY, ICELAND’S UPSTART ISLAND (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) will be released in November.

 

 

Loree Griffin Burns wrote the book CITIZEN SCIENTISTS: BE A PART OF DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD (Holt, 2012), a 2013 Children’s Non-Fiction Green Earth Book Award winner, with a lot of help from her kids. You can follow the flora and fauna of her life on Instagram (@loreegriffinburns), and read more about her work at www.loreeburns.com.  Her next book, LIFE ON SURTSEY, ICELAND’S UPSTART ISLAND (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) will be released in November.

 

These are the pictures the Burns’ took during the year they recorded the flora and fauna of Hosmer Street.  Also included is cover of the book they created that year. (© The Burns Family)

 

Why I Chose to Support The Nature Generation

December 1, 2016:  by Nick McCarter, The Nature Generation Executive Board Member, CEO Chartis

For me, the NatGen mission encompasses three things that are very important in my life, Environment/Nature, Education, and Children. I actively participate in and support many nonprofit organizations that support one or two of those things, but none that support all three.

 Environment/Nature

I grew up with the Chesapeake Bay only a few steps out my back door. My best childhood memories all include some form of being immersed in nature, on the beach, or in the water. Leaving the beach for Northern Virginia seemed like a nightmare. However, having now lived on “our little farm” in Loudoun for 6 years, we love this new flavor of nature that we get to experience daily. I want my children and future generations to be able to have those same experiences.

Education

Most of the people we interact with in our business are extremely fortunate, far more than they even realize. We’ve been given a gift of an education, which is such a powerful and necessary tool for driving positive change both in the environment and elsewhere. We have to continuously work on improving the quality and availability of an education in order to sustain everything we are working so hard for.

Children

Our children had no choice of the environment they were born into, they simply deal with the decisions and results of all the adults before them. We do our best to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for them today. However, the best thing we can do is empower them to make educated decisions long after we’re gone. And hopefully that will allow future generations to enjoy the same environment we do today.

The Nature Generation brings people, businesses, and the community together to simultaneously improve the Environment, Education, and Children. That’s an effort that I’d love to be part of.  Plus, The golf tournament is a pretty good time.

Nick McCarter is the founder and CEO of Chartis, a leading provider of innovative and cost-effective IT solutions for the United States government. McCarter launched Chartis in 2008 with a single project for the Department of Energy and has since grown the firm to more than 100 professionals, supporting 18 public-sector organizations and reducing government spending by millions of dollars. Chartis, translated “map” from Greek, works with clients to strategically map IT investment plans to business needs. Washington Technology, CIO Review and Inc. Magazine have all recognized Chartis for its growth, potential and success as one of the country’s top private companies.

McCarter began his career with Blueprint Technologies as a strategic planner, where he also learned to run a small business. Prior to founding Chartis, he helped develop the enterprise architecture practice at Project Performance Corporation and grew it into a multimillion-dollar practice. 

McCarter lives in Leesburg, Virginia with his wife and twin boys. He has been recognized as one of Loudoun County’s 40 under 40 due to his appreciation for the core American values of hard work and community service coupled with his investment in other small businesses and the local community.  He is a strong supporter of non-profit organizations including The Wounded Warrior Project, Border Patrol Foundation, The Nature Generation, Operation Smile, Trekking for Kids, The Arc of Fairfax, and The Lombardi Foundation. McCarter also serves on the Executive Advisory Board for Computer Science at James Madison University, from which he holds a bachelor of science.

Support The Nature Generation!

Support The Nature Generation!

Prepare Our Youth: Plant seeds of ecological ethics

January 7, 2016: by Arthur Gowran

Because of climate change and global warming, our global environment is in perilous shape, as Pope Francis emphatically reminded us during his recent visit to the United States. More particularly, in his environmental encyclical, “Laudato Si,” he issued a clarion call to the world’s population, believers and non-believers alike, to repair the environment for humanity’s common good. Francis opined that environmental degradation necessitates an educational challenge for the world’s population. With its Read Green program, hands-on nature trail experience, book-reading competition and environmental quiz games, NatGen has, for more than ten years, been at the vanguard of the educational challenge the Pope has proposed.

NatGen’s primary mission is to educate our nation’s youth to be environmental stewards and to develop an ecological ethics. NatGen is aware that it is not enough to provide our young people with facts about the environment. As an environmental educator, NatGen provides guidance regarding the development of human behaviors which preserve and promote our earth’s ecosystems with a focus on sustainability for future generations. By planting the seeds of ecological ethics when children are young, NatGen realizes that when they attain adulthood they are more likely to make life-decisions cognizant of the impact their decisions and behavior will have on the earth’s environment and humanity’s common good.

As Pope Francis reminds us in his encyclical, you don’t have to be religious or spiritual (although it certainly helps), to have an “ecological conversion” and develop an ecological ethics. These are moral imperatives for everyone.

Mr. Gowran is a member of The Nature Generation Advisory Board.  Since retiring from the full-time practice of law, he has taught philosophy of religion and ethics at Montgomery College in Maryland and environmental, business, social and bio-medical ethics at Barry University in Florida. During his 30 years in environmental, energy and banking litigation, he has worked in the Office of the Solicitor of the then Federal Power Commission; in private practice at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius; at the US Departments of Energy and Justice; and with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Mr. Gowran received his BA from Georgetown University with a major in English and minors in philosophy and theology. He has an MA in English literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center, and a Master of Divinity in ethics and theology from Yale University. 

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I Was Not Born an Environmentalist

February 16, 2016:  By Max Hall

I was not born an environmentalist, but I have come to care greatly about the environment and the future, particularly for this great country of ours.  That’s a big reason I am on the executive board of The Nature Generation a nonprofit focused on preparing youth for the environmental challenges of the future by connecting them with nature today.

We all travel different paths in life to get to where we are, and my path towards environmental concern started as a boy growing up in Illinois in the 1960s.  Looking back, there were a couple things I remember, that sort of amaze me now. The first was that there was always trash along the side of the road.  Always.  And a lot of it.  The second was the fact that if you fished in the Illinois River, you would never catch anything but carp or bullhead because the river was so polluted.  I liked to fish back then and anything we caught, we’d throw on the bank because you couldn’t eat them due to the pollution.  That was just the way it was, and no one seemed to think anything else about it.

Then you became aware of things happening more broadly, like a river on fire in Ohio due to pollution, or eagles dying due to DDT.  And you start to think, it doesn’t have to be this way.  Earth Day happens, and we all start to pick up trash, and plant trees.  The EPA was formed (under a Republican president), and we started going after polluters, and low and behold, our air, and our water started cleaning up.

Forty-five years later, and the world is different.  You don’t see near as much trash on the side of any road.  The Illinois River is rejuvenated, and there are bass, walleye, crappies, and other game fish.  There are bald eagles and waterfowl on the river, something I never ever saw in my youth.

My wife and I live on a small farm in Virginia now, and about 6 years ago I joined The Nature Generation.  Living on the farm, my connection with nature and the environment is much closer.  The weather affects you more, streams cross your property, and you notice other things.  Woods that existed one day and are clear cut.  Large chicken farms that have the potential to affect the entire watershed.  Building projects with mud and sludge running into local creeks.  You read in the paper about a chemical company that has poisoned an entire community in Pennsylvania.  Your friends that have lived on the Illinois River for over 15 years have to move, due to the development of frac sand mining nearby.  You realize that the challenges to the environment are never over and this will continue forever.  Clean water, clean air, and a clean environment – they should be a given, but they aren’t.  The Nature Generation is one of the organizations making a difference and educating our youth, so that they can make smart decisions in the future.

I like to think that passing a torch to the next generation is a pretty good thing for our youth and our environment.

Mr. Hall is a member of  The Nature Generation Executive Board. He is an independent consultant, with a focus on leadership development, strategic planning, and business growth. He previously served as the Chief Operating Officer of Pragmatics, Inc. He also worked for SRA International, where he was in a number of roles supporting the national security, civil and global health markets. This included serving as the Senior Vice President in charge of their Health and Civil Services Sector, and later as the Chief Growth Officer.

Prior to joining SRA, Mr. Hall served as an officer in the United States Army in a number of command and staff positions. Mr. Hall is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.  He and his wife Cathy raise horses on a small farm near Marshall, Virginia.

The storytellers who teach us to care for all we hold dear…

March 24, 2016:  By Bob Deans

Our son Robby was about two years old when Disney made its animated classic, beauty and the beast. Robby hadn’t yet learned to read, but he had one of those children’s books with buttons you could push to get a quick audio snippet of key passages, which Robby could then follow along in the book and memorize.

One of those, naturally, was the moral of the story – cast down by Disney as if from on high in a voice of towering strength and rectitude: do not be deceived by appearances.

And, one evening while he was leafing through the pages and mimicking the audio himself, we heard Robby recite with all the force of conscience his own small voice might muster: do not be deceived by your parents.

If we’re paying attention, we learn far more from our children than we might ever hope to teach them. We learn how to become parents. Who will tell our children the truth? The truth about the wonders of this magnificent world. About the boundless universe of potential that exists within each child. About the need to be good stewards of all creation and the common home we share.

One way we convey these eternal truths, from our children’s earliest years, is through stories and the people who tell them. That’s why, we celebrate the storytellers who pass on wisdom to our children, teach us to care for all we hold dear, usher us into the world of imagination . . . and set us free to dream.

Our imaginations were fired and our minds lit with dreams by stories of the discovery in a narrow cave of the fossilized remains of a group of very early humans – thought to have lived more than 2 million years ago in what we now call South Africa. We know that, sometime around then, our distant ancestors began to cook their food. That meant more calories to support a growing brain. It meant fire, preparation and planning; the beginnings of community and cooperation. And it meant the flowering of human communication – early symbols, gestures, pictures and words.

And over the broad sweep of many millennia, over many hundreds of thousands of years, we evolved into communal people, connected and bound through villages and tribes.

Story telling has been central to that journey. Telling stories is how we survive. In telling stories around the communal fire, elders passed on to children the wisdom and knowledge of their time. Hunters warned of hazard and risk in tales of disaster and loss. Mothers advanced understanding of health and home and healing through the memories and experiences they shared. Explorers painted vivid portraits of promise by describing what lay beyond the river bend.

And so we learned from stories of experience how each generation might live better than the one before. And we learned that we could go beyond what we experienced – as individuals and as a group – by listening to stories about things we hadn’t seen and even things that hadn’t yet happened, and then imagining a better way. A safer way to travel great distances; how to build better villages and homes; how to fashion a way to carry an infant while we foraged for food in the fields. We learned how to solve problems, face challenges and move, as a group, to higher ground.

And we learned something even more important than all that. We learned, through stories, who we are, what we do and why it matters. We developed a human identity, as a communal people who depend on the tribe for our shelter, our food and our families. For security in a dangerous world. From the earliest stirrings of human consciousness, we feel that dependence on the tribe, very deeply, even today.

We feel our human frailty. We fear being left alone. Because deep in the innermost recesses of our being we know we’re dependent upon the tribe and that if we’re banished or left behind we will not survive. That’s why stories are so important. To help us to understand who we are, what we do and why it matters.

That is our identity. That’s how we know we belong to the tribe. That’s what we rely on to make sure we’re not left behind. Storytelling helps to shape that identity, to give it clarity and meaning and form. To remind us that we have, each of us, a special place in the great tribe of all humanity. And that we have, each of us, our own unique story to tell.

The young boy who struggles to survive on the streets in Gabon, develops an unlikely friendship with a professor and together they peer into the plight of a complicated animal driven to the brink of extinction. (Threatened, by Eliot Schrefer, 2015 Green Earth Book Awards winner for Young Adult Fiction)

We have our own story to tell.

The wise sage who takes us behind the headlines to tell us what we need to know about the

central environmental issues of our time. (Eyes Wide Open, by Paul Fleischman, 2015 Green Earth Book Awards winner for Young Adult Nonfiction)

The mermaid heroine, the writer and the photographer who tell the stories of the threats to our oceans, then set out to save the waters and the wonders of our deepest seas and all that they support. (Deep Blue, by Jennifer Donnelly, 2015 Green Earth Book Award winner in Children’s Nonfiction; and Plastics Ahoy: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, by Patricia Newman and Annie Crawley, 2015 Green Earth Book Awards winner for Children’s nonfiction.)

The poet and the painter who take us into the equally unfathomable depths of the human spirit through a character who testifies, “I held a forest in my arms and my heart was changed.” (The Promise, by Nicola Davis, 2015 Green Earth Book Awards winner for Picture Book.)

Green Earth Book Award winning authors take their place in the long line of great storytellers, telling the great stories of our time. Passing on knowledge to our children. Teaching us to be good stewards of all creation. Ushering us into the world of imagination . . . and setting us free to dream.

Because when we build on the wisdom of others; when we care for all we hold dear; when we are fully free to dream of things we cannot yet see; that is when we know we are truly and wholly human, part of the great global human tribe.

That’s how we find our place in the village that’s been entrusted to our care. Our village today is threatened. The world we leave to our children is at risk. 2014 was the hottest summer since global record-keeping began 136 years ago. Fourteen of the hottest years on record have all occurred in this century. Here’s who says that’s a problem:

The National Academy of Sciences – created by Congress during the Civil War to tell us the bedrock truth about what’s happening in our world, as the best of our science might tell us that truth; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association – the gold standard for climate and weather information worldwide; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – the guys who put a man on the moon; the White House; the State Department; the Department of Commerce; the Pentagon; General Motors Corporation; Google; the Bank of America; and Pope Paul – the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, traveled from the Vatican to come to the seat of American governance to say we have a moral obligation to protect future generations from the dangers of widening climate change.

The pope has put before us one of the most profound spiritual questions of this or any other time: are we going to rise to our moral obligation to protect future generations, or will we be the ones to sit back and preside over the steady degradation and decline of the planet and all it supports?

Our answer will help determine the kind of future we leave for our children. And it will tell them everything they need to know about our willingness to live out our beliefs and to imbue our convictions with purpose and meaning by putting our beliefs into action.

And here’s how we know that matters: seas are rising; deserts are widening; ice is melting; storms, wildfires and floods are raging. The Earth, our home, is telling us every way it can that it’s time to cut the dangerous fossil fuel pollution that’s driving global climate change.

The Earth, our common home, is telling us every way it can that it’s time to stop poisoning our waters and air and seas with plastic and toxic chemicals.

The Earth, our one and only home, is telling us every way it can that we cannot go on with reckless drilling and exploding oil trains that put the perils of the oil patch in the American backyard; that we cannot go on blasting mountains to rubble in the pursuit of the last lump of coal; that we cannot go on to the ends of the earth in search of more oil and gas than we can afford to burn without firing climate catastrophe; and that we cannot keep turning vital habitat into industrial wastelands boreal forest of Canada, the sage grass prairies of the American west, the rain forests of Brazil, and all around the world – while we take species that evolved over hundreds of millions of years and wipe them off the face of the planet forever.

This earth, our solitary common home, is telling us every way it can: we have to learn the wisdom of our elders, care for all we hold dear and imagine a better way to do things – or we will not survive.

Because for all the great distance we’ve traveled, and all we have learned to do, our lives remain, as our Green Earth Book Award authors and artists remind us, wedded to the complex yet fragile natural systems upon which all life depends.  And the remarkable story we have to tell, the truth we must tell to our children, is that we can find that better way.

We can turn from the dirty fossil fuels of the past and create clean energy to power our future – and don’t let anyone tell you we can’t. We can invest in efficiency so we do more with less waste – and don’t let anyone tell you we can’t.

We can get more power from the wind and sun; safeguard our waters, wildlife, and lands; and we can build, right here in this country, the best all-electric and hybrid cars anywhere in the world; and don’t you ever let anyone tell you we can’t.

Failure is not who we are as a species. Failure is not what we do best. We are an animal that learns from the past, imagines the future and rises to meet it, to shape it, to create it, with the power and spirit of ideas, innovation, enterprise and hope. That’s who we are as a species. That’s why we’re still here today. That’s what’s been handed down to our village, one generation to the next, since the dawn of humankind.

That’s the great story that guides us as much tomorrow as today. We’re still telling it to our children. Still setting them free to dream. and we’ll keep finding new ways to do it, so long as stories, and storytellers, survive.

Bob Deans was keynote speaker at our 2015 Green Earth Book Award Ceremony.  He is the director of strategic engagement at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Bob joined NRDC as director of federal communications in 2009, following a 30-year long career as a newspaper journalist, starting with the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina; moving to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and then becoming the chief Asia correspondent, based in Tokyo, for the paper’s parent company, Cox. In 1992, Deans moved to Washington to cover foreign policy, national security, economic affairs and the White House. Deans was president of the White House Correspondents Association from 2002-2003. He is co-author of the 2014 book, “The World We Create: A Message of Hope for a Planet in Peril” with former NRDC President Frances Beinecke. He is the author of the 2012 book, “Reckless: The Political Assault on the American Environment”; co-author of the 2009 book, “Clean Energy Common Sense” with former NRDC President Frances Beinecke; and co-author, with former NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner, of the 2010 book “In Deep Water: Anatomy of a Disaster, the Fate of the Gulf and Ending our Oil Addiction.” He is the author of The River Where America Began: A Journey Along the James, published in 2007. Deans has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism.