Photos and Words from the Great West

If you’ve followed my Facebook page recently, you may have noticed new photos from Utah and Arizona. This fall, I took my usual Maine-based classroom into the Great West.

Starting in September, I spent two months traveling through Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona studying ecology, public lands, and people’s senses of place. With a small group of students from College of the Atlantic, we visited some of the most spectacular places in the country. But we also spoke to some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. While I took many pictures along the way, I also took pages and pages of notes. With these notes I’m writing a book, or a collection of essays, about conservation in the American West.

Now West, What’s Next?

Coming soon: the book, now titled “Why Conservation Matters: Exploring Human Ecology in the American West” will be completed in January 2018. Stay tuned for more photographs and special excerpts on this site, my Facebook page, and on Flickr.

The Summer Visitors of Great Duck Island

A Summer Sojourn

On Great Duck Island, the field researchers from College of the Atlantic are just temporary summer visitors. But they are not the only ones. Almost all of the birds who rely on the small protected island in the Gulf of Maine for breeding, nesting, and raising young are only summer visitors themselves.

June 2017. The end of my second year at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine. After I wrote my human ecology essay and finished spring term, I hopped on the M/V Osprey and rode out to Great Duck Island—a haven for nesting seabirds. The island is about 10 miles southeast of Mount Desert Island, Maine, where College of the Atlantic and Acadia National Park are located.

Herring gulls on Great Duck Island
Many herring gulls nest on the rocky berm of Great Duck Island. Their nests are marked with orange flags by College of the Atlantic researchers at the beginning of the season.

The professor of ecology at College of the Atlantic, John Anderson, manages the college’s Alice Eno Research Field Station on Great Duck Island. The 1890 Coast Guard light keeper’s residence houses the research station.

Lighthouse Staircase
The iron spiral staircase on the inside of the brick lighthouse on Great Duck Island.

The Coast Guard automated the lighthouse in 1986, making the lighthouse keeper’s job unnecessary. The government then sold light stations across the country like the one on Great Duck to other government agencies or colleges and universities. In 1997, College of the Atlantic acquired the light station and residence to establish the Alice Eno Research Station. Today, College of the Atlantic owns a few acres on Great Duck Island while the Nature Conservancy owns almost all of the remainder.

Herring gull and chick
A herring gull banded by College of the Atlantic and its chick.

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After Yellowstone, In Search of Nature

Every student at College of the Atlantic earns a degree in human ecology. The following piece is my final human ecology essay, a place where each College of the Atlantic senior reflects on what they learned during their schooling and presents a snapshot of their view of “human ecology.”

As long as I can remember I have loved nature. My mother recalls three-year-old Austin rescuing earthworms from puddles after rainstorms and running around the house turning off lights to “save the penguins.” Before I entered elementary school, television shows featuring lion prides and herds of giraffe made me dream of becoming a world-traveling wildlife photographer. As a teenager, I led my parents on a grand summer vacation visiting national parks in Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, California, and Oregon. I’ll always remember how I felt exploring Yellowstone National Park for the first time—like every footstep deserved to be placed with a gentleness and respect for hallowed ground.

While visiting Yellowstone, I was entranced with the natural and human history of the region. Firsthand experience watching bison swim with their heads barely bobbing above rushing rivers, seeing coyote puppies play with their mother in a sheltered glade, and observing wolves’ tracking a scent and howling through the twilight inspired a sense of natural wonder. The park, steeped in the legacy of American conservation, served as an ideal place to spark my imagination.

At Yellowstone, I felt the environmental vigor of my childhood again. I felt sensations that spurred the first champions of the conservation movement. This is a movement that has made great strides since the creation of Yellowstone, but given the current climate—one where humankind’s impact on Earth’s environment is more pronounced than at any previous time—there has never been a more opportune time to take bearings and consider if conservation requires a new direction forward. I wonder if Americans struggle to separate modern conservation from the preservation values of the 19th and early 20th century, a period when many beloved parks were protected. In an era of climate change, we need a new wave of environmental thinking because our environmental dilemmas require national leadership and international cooperation—not national isolation and international division. To reach a new plateau in conservation, we need a national effort to assess how our current relationship with nature falls short and what new routes we need to take.

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