The new normal



“Regeneration is active: We become full participants in the process of maximizing life’s creativity. This is a far more expansive vision than the familiar eco-critique that stressed smallness and shrinking humanity’s impact or “footprint.” that is simply not an option today (…) we are here, we are many and we must use our skills to act. We can however, change the nature of our actions so that they are constantly growing, rather than extracting life. (…) We can accelerate simply through our labor, the restoration and regeneration of living systems, if we engage in thoughtful, concerted action. ‘We are actually they keystone species in this moment so we have to align our strategies with the healing powers of Mother Earth, though there is no getting around the house rules. But it isn’t about stopping or retreating. It’s about aggressively applying our labor toward restoration’. (…) from here on, when we take, we must not only give back ,but we must also take care. (448-449)

Naomi Klein-  This Changes Everything

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Over the past few months I’ve put my blog on the back-burner as I’ve grappled with a lot of changes in my life, some good, some bad and others whose end influence has yet to be determined. In the course of six months I’ve moved from traveling in my car and sleeping under the stars from one BLM spot to another, climbing and camping in Europe, moving to a house in Bishop and now finally living in San Francisco. It’s been a half-year jam-packed with intensely vivid experiences as I’ve learned more about myself and probably gone through more emotional troughs and peaks in that time period than in any other. I

With this blog post I wanted to highlight some of the things I’m excited about in my current stage in life, along with some quotes from a novel I’ve read recently called “This Changes everything Capitalism vs. the Climate” by Naomi Klein. This book, for sure, gets a high spot on my reading list for all humankind and I encourage everyone to read it as soon as possible.

The introductory quote highlights the power and importance of ecological restoration as not only a tool to use in our arsenal against climate change, but as a foundation for an overall philosophy that needs to be globally adopted if we are ever going to make the cultural shift necessary to combat this immense threat. Klein uses it broadly, but here I am going to use it specifically to talk briefly about habitat restoration the type of work I engage in every day.

As part of my work, I am sent off to a variety of habitat types every day of the week. From the wind-battered Presidio bluffs to the shaded Muir Woods, I’m incredibly grateful to be able to spend every single day outside, in the field, working to restore and protect the various ecosystems that make up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. As the most visited national park in the United States, the GGNRA is also very proximate to one of the largest urban sprawls in the country the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a vital source of recreation, relaxation and aesthetic beauty to the locals in the area, as well as a source of inspiration to visitors and – I believe – a model for incorporating green spaces in urban areas. The latter concept will only become more and more important in a global sense as our population – and our land use- increases. We need to find ways to reconcile the human use of land with the needs of wildlife and our own instinctual value of the outdoors.

Here are a few of my “offices”

The Dip Sea trail in Muir Woods

The Dip Sea trail in Muir Woods

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California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) blooming on Hawk Hill

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Hawk Hill

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Hawk Hill

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Looking up during a lunch break in the Southern Marin Headlands

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Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) blooming in the Presidio Bluffs

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Sweeping for invasive plants in the Presidio Bluffs on a foggy day

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Break time in the Presidio Bluffs

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A foggy morning on Mt. Tam

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Silver Lupine (Lupinus albifrons) in bloom in Oakwood valley amongst Coyote Brush. Silver lupine is the host plant to the endangered species the Mission Blue Butterfly.

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Lunch in Muir Beach

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Getting pensive while on a lunch break in the Redwood Creek watershed

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Brush-cutting on my birthday near Rodeo Beach

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Rodeo Beach

The San Francisco skyline as seen from Wolfback Ridge

The San Francisco skyline as seen from Wolfback Ridge

“The notion that we could separate ourselves from nature, that we did not need to be in perpetual partnership with the earth around us, is, after all, a relatively new concept even in the West. Indeed it was only once humans came up with the lethal concept of the earth as an inert machine and man its engineer, that some began to forget the duty to protect and promote the natural cycles of regeneration on which we all depend (445).

My team and I tend to focus our efforts on vegetation management. By removing invasive species, planting natives and performing other work that will directly benefit the plant communities of an area we indirectly are helping the wildlife, who depend upon the plant species for survival.  (and vice versa!) A few guest wildlife appearances have included bobcats, coyotes , frogs, garter snakes, (a rattlesnake, once!)  plenty of birds and even some dolphins.

It's always a good day at work when your gloves are muddy and you find a nice snake to hold.

It’s always a good day at work when your gloves are muddy and you find a nice snake to hold.

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Juvenile Sierra Nevada Tree frog

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Juvenile Sierra Nevada Tree frog

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Moth. Unfortunately this guy had a very damaged wing and was basically guaranteed to get predated upon by a songbird. So, after snapping its photo we sped up the process and put him in a cavity in a nearby snag, where we knew a Chestnut-backed Chickadee had fledglings, since we observed the female foraging and going in and out of the cavity. The female also called at us the entire time we were clearing an area very close to the cavity of Cape Ivy, a notorious invasive plant from South Africa. We felt bad for disturbing the female and stressing her out, so this moth was our peace-offering.

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fuzzy!

Working outside isn’t always comfortable, however. I will illustrate this in a photo with my new worst nemesis..

Yes, this is a tree of poison oak.

Yes, this is a tree of poison oak.

Not to mention ticks, heat, wind, cold.. rattlesnakes… Despite this, I certainly wouldn’t trade it for a desk job just so I can be in a climate controlled room and have my eyes hurt from starting at a screen all day. There are advantages and disadvantages to every line of work, but right now I am glad to be able to honestly say that I love my job.
The biggest downside to my recent move is the distance I am from good climbing. Living in Bishop spoiled me; I was a short 15 minute drive from incredible sport, trad and bouldering, not to mention to miles and miles of good hiking and trail-running. Now I have to drive for a minimum of 2.5 hours to get anywhere that is halfway decent. For the first month or so, I couldn’t get myself to make the trips. However, after finally settling into a weekly routine I have been getting out more and more.

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Sport climbing in Table Mountain, near Jamestown, CA.

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Pre-season at Lover’s Leap at the end of March with very, very spring/almost summer like conditions. The weather felt like a guilty pleasure we indulged in.

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There is SOME climbing nearby.. one of these crags is “Mickey’s Beach.” While the scenery is spectacular the climbing is pretty mediocre; the rock quality is poor and the entire area is very tide-dependent, making the rock more grimey and wet than not. I gave quite a few goes to the classic 12c “Sex Porpoises” , always reaching the top but never able to redpoint it due to a mixture of poor conditions and my inability to remember foot-beta!

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Escaped for my birthday weekend to Yosemite Valley. Here my climbing partner for the weekend descends from the Six Open books after we finished “The Caverns” – a nice 5.8 multipitch. We wanted to link up with Selaginella but a looming thunderstorm caused us to decide to retreat .

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Pitch 2 of the Caverns features some fun, but awkward, liebacking.

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Despite the appearance of the photo, I am not leading here. Here is pitch 5 of “Voyager” on Fifi Buttress. Luckily, my partner is very strong and was able to lead me up this incredible six pitch 11c. I’m pretty content with the fact that I even made it up this monster as the closest thing I’d ever followed of that difficulty in trad was 10a! Not a bad way to spend the first day of my 24th year of life!

I also finally managed to do “Snake Dike”, the easiest climbing route that goes up the iconic Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. It is only rated at 5.7 (with most of the pitches being around 5.4 ) but it features up to 75 ft of run outs so it makes it an exciting, liberating way to get up this beautiful face. I absolutely loved running up the dike (basically a vertical protrusion of granite) , not having to stop to place gear or even clip a bolt (besides maybe one) – complete unencumbered movement up a very cool feature.  I’ve always wanted to do it and glad I can tick it off of my “classics” list. The 15 mile round-trip approach and 1000 ft of slabs that you need to walk up once you finish the route (the actual climbing stops about mid-way up Half Dome- then , as super topo terms it, you have “slabs forever” until you actually hit the summit) sure did make my calves sore!

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The objective.

halfway!

Following up one of the dike pitches

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My partner getting ready to follow on one of the upper pitches. Can you find Yosemite Falls?

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My partner climbing the dike!

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The view of the High Sierra, while stunning, was a brutally conspicuous reminder of how terrifyingly insignificant our snow-pack is in late spring when it should be at its peak (6% of normal… the lowest before that was recorded last year and was 25% of normal.)

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Obligatory summit photo!

Obligatory summit photo!

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Merced River right before it takes a plunge off of Nevada Falls.

While I’ve always had an interest in plants, working as a restoration technician inspired me to finally start actively learning about botany and plant identification. While I’m still a total novice, a class I have been taking in Berkeley has definitely helped, as has simply working a job focused on vegetation management with a bunch of knowledgeable people! I’ve definitely gone out and done some plant hikes on my own, as well.. and have been finding it more satisfying and fun than I had originally anticipated!

Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum)

Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum)

Yarrow reaches above some wild oat

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) reaches above some avena spp. (oat!)

A group of California buttercups (Ranunculus californica)

A group of California buttercups (Ranunculus californica)

Tidy Tips. (Layia platyglossa)

Tidy Tips. (Layia platyglossa)

A field of winter vetch (Vicia villosa). Not native, naturalized.

A field of winter vetch (Vicia villosa). Not native, naturalized.

A pale Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) after a brief April storm

A pale Douglas Iris (Iris douglasiana) after a brief April storm

Fawn Lily as seen in the East Bay Regional Botanic Garden

Fawn Lily as seen in the East Bay Regional Botanic Garden

Stachys spp.

Stachys spp.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) - not a grass, but an iris- gets close with a California blackberry (Rubus ursinus)

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) – not a grass but rather an iris- gets close with a California blackberry (Rubus ursinus)

Wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpa)

Wood rose (Rosa gymnocarpa)

False Soloman's Seal (Mainthemum spp)

False Soloman’s Seal (Mainthemum spp)

Russian Ridge open space preserve

Russian Ridge open space preserve

White fairy lantern (Calochortus albus)

White fairy lantern (Calochortus albus)

Plants in Bear Valley, Pt Reyes and later near Azalea hill trailhead in the marin municipal water dirstrict near Fairfax, CA

“Global warming was not defined as a crisis being fueled by overconsumption, or by high emissions industrial agriculture, or by car culture, or by a trade system that insists that vast geographical distances do not matter root causes that would have demanded changes in how we live, work, eat and shop. Instead climate change was presented as a narrow technical problem with no end of profitable solutions within the market system, many of which were available for sale at Walmart” (208).

” ‘ the nation that science will save us is the chimera that allows the present generation to consume all the resources it wants, as if no generations will follow. It is the sedative that allows civilization to march so steadfastly toward eventual catastrophe. It forestalls the real solution, which will be int he hard, nontechnical work of changing human behavior’ ” (289).

As part of my day-to-day routine, I continue to strive to live as sustainably as possible. Besides changing my diet, biking everywhere and trying to conserve water I have also finally started a small garden! Obviously this isn’t doing much in terms of my overall carbon footprint since I don’t have the space nor the time to really dedicate much effort to it – but it is immensely rewarding to see the plants grow (and to eat a salad everyday almost completely sourced from my own plot!) 
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Living in the city also offers cultural and social perks, like mega library book sales in which an entire warehouse is filled with more than 300,000 titles , all of which were priced at $3 or less. I may have cycled home with a very heavy pack that day…

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Change is not easy. Whether these are personal changes, a new job, new friends, new location, or global economic and social changes like the kind required to truly restructure our society in a way contingent to battling climate change- they certainly are necessary if we wish to grow both individually and collectively and become simply better than we were before.

With regards to climate change, Klein says it best.

“The massive global investments required to respond to the climate threat to adapt humanely and equitably to the heavy weather we have already locked in, and to avert the truly catastrophic warming we can still avoid is a chance to change all that; and to get it right this time. IT could deliver the equitable redistribution of ag lands that was supposed to follow independence from colonial rule and dictatorship; it could bring the jobs and homes that MLK dreamed of; it could bring jobs and clean water to Native communities; it could at least turn on the lights and running water in every South African township. Such is the promise of a Marshall Plan for the Earth.” (458).

“…climate change can be the force the grand push that will bring together all of these still living movements. A rushing river fed by countless streams, gathering collective force to finally reach the sea” … Climate change is our chance to right those festering wrongs at last- the unfinished business of liberation” (459)

Concerning my own life, all I can say is I’ve had a hell of fun over the past year, and also dealt with some hardships. However, behind everything are some simple truths, one of them being that while a few months ago I would wake up to the sun rising over the Sierra crest- these days I watch it set over the Pacific. For all the curve balls life has thrown at me in between, I sure as hell can’t complain.

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“One battle doesn’t rob from another but rather causes battles to multiply, with each act of courage and each victory, inspiring others to strengthen their resolve (324)

Still though, I am battling with the ability to prioritize all of these competing aspects of my life- work, fun, relaxation and living in way I find right- in a balanced way that will leave me feeling satisfied and content. Constructing a  “new normal”,  I think, is not only a social challenge on a global scale, but one that is marking the direction of my own life. Let’s see what happens in the next six months.

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.”
― Sylvia Plath

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