Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reflecting on 2017

This rambling is a reflection of change that occurred over the year, an opportunity to express gratitude for dear friends and other blessings in our lives, and an excuse to share memories of our travel adventures of 2017. There has certainly been a lot of travel. But in writing this, I also realize how key events end up influencing our lives in ways we may not realize at the moment they happen. 

Shortly after Christmas last year, we sent Joren off to Costa Rica for over two months as part of his gap year between high school and college. Besides honing his Spanish, he did some volunteer work both at El Zota Biological Field Station and in a small village where he taught English. Thanks to Israel Mesen for arranging this experience.

A muddy soccer game at El Zota

A few days after Joren departed, David left for New Zealand to teach a study abroad course entitled “Rock, Landform and Water Interactions.” This is a part of the world I have yet to visit, but Dave's photos (see some here) of the landscapes are very inviting. He had been there previously with a course in 2011 and this year, couldn't help but notice how dramatically the glaciers had receded in just six years.

Corey was off visiting friends in early January before heading back to his last semester at Harvard, so I was left to hold down the farm and start my second year as dean. Life as dean is busy, too busy at times. Some of that comes with the job, but the hectic schedule is also partially a result of my not being good at saying “No.” Dave routinely gives me a hard time about going over to the “dark side,” but given that he is in his 18th year as department head, he is no stranger to administrative duties!

For me, January included a quick trip to San Antonio to attend the NCAA Convention, and then I returned in time to head to D.C. for the annual conference of the National Council for Science and the Environment. The theme was environmental health, which was perfect since I was teaching a course on that topic for the first time during the spring semester. The conference was held right after the inauguration, and the organizers kept asking people to focus on science rather than the political climate. That was a bit difficult. For one thing, Newt Gingrich had been invited as the keynote speaker. And by the second day of the conference, a gag order of sorts had been issued for employees of federal agencies. Representatives of the EPA, USDA, CDC, etc. (the very agencies charged with protecting the environment and public health) couldn’t talk to us. Of course, this was just a foreshadowing of things to come with the country's new administration, but I don’t want to dwell on politics here. Do you remember the AltUSNatParkService and other rogue Twitter accounts of federal agencies? If not, see stories here and here.

In February, we welcomed the poet/essayist Alison Hawthorne Deming to the Moravian campus as part of year-long focus on sustainability and for the Moravian Writers’ Conference.

A number of workshop leaders (including me) were scientists who dabbled in writing. It was a great time to reconnect with some creative writers/environmentalists who attended the Wildbranch Writing Workshop with me back in 2011 (where I met Alison) and to spend time with Alison.

Alison doing a reading at the Moravian Writers' Conference
If you haven’t read any of Alison's work, you should:
during my darkest grief the forest
was like an open sea birch trees
the beacon I used to steady my position 
my brain felt at home among
saplings that tangle seeking light
that part of the soul Aristotle thought  
we held in common with plants  
Alison Hawthorne Deming
from Stairway to Heaven 
Alison talking about the creative writing process in our Environmental Writing course taught by Mark Harris

There is a form of nurturing that happens when you spend time with artists – a sensation quite different from that which comes from doing science or hanging out with scientists. Both artists and scientists are keen observers, although the subjects of their observation can vary. Both groups are creative, but they express their work in very different ways. When the two worlds collide, it can be very powerful. Take the work of my friend Mary Heather Noble (see examples here and here) – former environmental regulator turned writer. Mary Heather and I were co-presenters at the Writers’ Conference for a session entitled “Cross-Pollinating, A Conversation: How Literary Art and Science Can Enrich One Another.” Her writing often brings me to tears.

Yours truly with Alison, Sally, and Mary Heather - a mini Wildbranch Writing Workshop (2011) reunion

Sally Zaino (conservationist and poet), Kate Brandes (geologist, community garden expert, and author) and Suzi Banks Baum (multi-talented artist who I have known since college days) were all at the Writers’ Conference too with their writing, companionship and passion for making the world a better place. The weekend and our time together went by all too quickly.

Kate leading her workshop at the Writers' Conference

The spring semester was a whirlwind as I was teaching two courses on top of being dean, working with faculty to build new programs in Rehabilitation Sciences and complete the final design elements of a new Health Science Building, and leading a search for a new dean for the other school. Dave and I were also getting our first taste of being empty-nesters. I guess I was too busy to notice, except that the house seems a bit too big at times, there are fewer dirty socks in the laundry, and the food in the pantry lasts longer. And we have to stop making as much food when we prepare meals!

In March, I spent 10 days in Costa Rica with students in my Tropical Ecology course. In country, we traveled with the class from Delaware Valley University, but it was the first time that I was there without my former colleagues from East Stroudsburg University. But, as always, Israel was our trust guide and trip planner.
The spring break class
Despite my northern roots, I love the neotropics – be it on the Cerro de la Muerte, at El Zota in the Caribbean lowlands (oh, the rainforest there…), or pretty much anywhere else in this beautiful, biodiversity-blessed country. This year, we went to the region of the Arenal Volcano, a place I hadn’t been to in my previous visits. It is satisfying to watch the wonder of students as they see their first Resplendent Quetzal or Red-eyed Tree Frog or to hear their accounts of being woken before dawn by the growls and groans of Howler Monkeys.

A Red-eyed Tree Frog

The Resplendent Quetzal

Spring brought another trip to D.C. as I was invited to serve as a member of the Committee on Research and Exploration for National Geographic – the group that reviews grant proposals for Nat Geo initiatives. In touring some the photo archives at headquarters, I was surprised to learn of an interesting connection between Marquette and National Geographic: George Shiras III. Besides being a U.S. representative from Pennsylvania, he is considered the pioneer of wildlife photography. I was familiar with all the things named after him in my hometown, but had never looked into who he was, even though some of his archives are at my alma mater, Northern Michigan University. There are many fascinating connections, some of which you can read about here. But I diverge once again.

By coincidence, some of George Shiras's work was included in an exhibit at NMU when I was there in August

Joren, having returned from Costa Rica, came down to Washington on this trip so that he could explore the museums. In the evening, he and I got to wander around the monuments together which was pretty special knowing that he would be heading off to college in just a few months. The cherry blossoms were at their tail end, but many other spring flowering trees were quite beautiful, especially the redbuds.

Less than two weeks later, it was one more trip to D.C. with Dave and a group of students and colleagues to participate in the March for Science. I hadn’t planned on going, but a group of students asked and we were able to fill a bus quite quickly. Our students aren’t known for their activism, but this was indeed a good cause to march for. It was a horribly cold and rainy day, but it was encouraging to see so many people turn out to show support for science.

Photo by Shaun Pateman

Photo by Carl Husic

In the continuing series of scientist-writer friends coming to campus, it was a delight to welcome Drew Lanham to Moravian last April. Drew is a fellow Audubon TogetherGreen Fellow and Wildbranch Writing Workshop "alum" and a dear friend. He spoke to a packed lecture room about "Coloring the Conservation Conversation" and read passages from his new book, met with classes, and led a diversity and inclusion workshop for local conservation organizations. And best of all, we had time to share stories and visit some historic sites in Bethlehem together.

Drew connecting the dots for my Environmental Health class

Checking out historic Bethlehem

In May, the family gathered in Cambridge, Mass for Corey’s graduation from Harvard. The celebration was quite the ordeal, but sadly, it was unseasonably cold and rainy which isn’t fun for an outdoor commencement! But it goes without saying that we are very proud of him.

A concentration in chemistry wasn’t enough; Corey also had a secondary focus in astrophysics. He has long been a blogger, but just recently, I stumbled upon his astronomy blog. Scrolling through the entries, I see that the equations and math he has included confirms that he has far surpassed my knowledge of calculus and physical science!

A rare photo of the entire family

After this wonderful celebration, I headed to the Rockies in Colorado for the first workshop for a National Science Foundation grant that I am co-PI for. The purpose of the grant is to better understand how bioblitzes and citizen science impact undergraduate science learning especially for students from under-represented groups. Two of our "case-studies" include the Rocky Mountain Science and Sustainability Network that I have been involved with for several years and the Pollinator Hotshots project. All of these initiatives are the creative ideas of my dear friend Gillian Bowser.

The grant team

Joining up with the students from the Rocky Mountain Science and Sustainability Academy

I can think of worse places to have a meeting

In late June, I was once again traveling, this time heading for Kampala, Uganda to attend the 11th Community-based Adaptation conference. The theme this year was “Harnessing natural resources and ecosystems for adaptation.” For three days, participants went into the field to observe first-hand some adaptation projects at the community level. I wrote one blog post about that experience and still need to write Part II. Afterwards, we all reconvened to discuss what we had seen in the field, listen to panels, and share ideas. I met some wonderful people from around the world – mostly developing countries who were working on conservation or climate change, or working with refugee populations. Really important work.

Representing Uganda, South Africa and Bangladesh

The BRAC crew
I was part of a panel session "Prioritising Participation: emphasising the ‘C’ in CBA" and had a poster presentation entitled “Ecological Restoration: Re-establishing Landscapes While Building Resilience and Communities.” People were interested to learn that there is pollution and environmental degradation in the U.S.! If you think about it, the images from the news or television shows portray our country quite differently. Besides talking about the science, many people wanted explanations for our current president’s comments and actions, the conversations that I didn’t want to have. I had been in Morocco when the 2016 election results came in and wrote a blog post called “An Accidental Ambassador.” I feel like that duty of mine – one that I didn’t ask to take on – continues to be an important one.

Yes, there was work involved!

One of the highlights of 2017 came right after the conference. Dave and Corey flew out to join me in Kampala and we embarked on a two-week safari with Johnnie Kamugisha and his wife/driver Agnes Joy (Birding in Paradise Safaris Uganda LTD). If you have ever considered visiting east Africa, we highly recommend Johnnie and Uganda.

Johnnie and Agnes
The primates, large game, and so many birds were all wonderful. The landscapes are beautiful and the people very welcoming. And it is difficult to put into words what it was like to be in the presence of a family of gorillas – close enough for them to touch us. A delayed flight on the way home led to an unexpected day in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and temporarily lost luggage, but the trip was otherwise perfect. You can see a sampling of some of Dave’s photos here. Between Corey, Dave and me, there are thousands of images from the trip! There are too many to share here.

Joren had chosen to hold down the fort in Kunkletown while we were away. When not traveling himself, he spent a large part of his gap year volunteering at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.

At the end of July, I drove solo to Marquette to visit family and friends. For the first week, I spend some glorious days with a group of women who had UP ties. Suzi and Terri worked at Bay Cliff Health Camp with me (college days). Kathleen married the son of my favorite science teacher (middle school) who was a folklorist and storyteller at Bay Cliff. She is a painter and poet, as well as a fervent activist trying to prevent environmental abuses by ever-expanding mining interests in the U.P. Both she and Terri were artists in residence at Isle Royale. Patricia (Sisaquad), a friend of Terri’s, is Chippewa. We explored intertwining histories and places of local geology, Native Americans, and mining and spent time at Lake Superior and on the Yellow Dog Plains. We read Laughing Whitefish together and went to a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. We wrote and painted in handmade journals, ate pasties, shared stories, and savored our time together as Wild-minded Women. I sure hope we can do this again. Remember my earlier comment about spending time with artists? This week with these women was certainly therapeutic.

I also got to spend time with life-long friends at my 40th (gulp) high school reunion. Our class of ’77 remains the best! (Photos below taken by Gus Rydholm.)

Just a few of the crew from Harvey that went to Silver Creek Elementary together

Interspersed with these times were more difficult moments with my aging mother. Visiting her in the assisted living facility is tough, but spending a few days with her in the hospital when her pneumonia took a turn for the worse was really not fun. She was confused and afraid and simply put, I thought the medical care sucked. My mother was poked and prodded, taken for tests, but otherwise mostly ignored. No help with eating or other tasks, no one coming to give us the results of the tests. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had not been there to help out and to be her advocate. Trust me, the problem with health care in this country is not the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

While I was enjoying rare sisterhood time and reliving memories with childhood friends, Corey and Dave were playing fiddle tunes at the Appalachian String Band Music Festival at Clifftop, WV. Rumor has it that Corey danced into the wee hours of the morning. It is great that there is a new generation of old-time musicians who get to connect at festivals like this. After returning, Corey took advantage of my frequent flier miles and joined me in Marquette. We visited my mom and some of our favorite sites in the region. It was weird staying in a hotel in my hometown (we sold my family home last summer).

We headed to Iron River to visit more family members with side trips to waterfalls and the Copper Country (including visiting the cemetery where my grandmother, uncle and other relatives are buried).

The Iron River family - from my father's marriage to Maxine

We took a few diversions heading back to PA: pasty eating on the cliff overlooking Lake Michigan (we had to try yet another of the top 10 best pasty places); watching a storm coming in over the Mackinaw Bridge; driving and climbing around the Sleeping Bear Dunes; checking out fiddles at Elderly Instruments and eating my favorite Mexican food at El Azteco in East Lansing…When you have over 1000 miles to drive, there is a lot of time for mother-son bonding.

I never tire of views of the Great Lakes

Grand Traverse Bay

Sleeping Bear Dunes
Photo by Corey

As was the trend this year, when one part of the Husic family returns home, another departs. Joren left for China for a pre-orientation mini-study abroad experience filled with history and anthropology. (I think my orientation experience may have involved a group hike!) He had taken some Chinese in high school so had a chance to put the language into use.

He returned in time to attend his uncle Carl’s wedding and then start his first year of college at the University of Chicago.

Wow -two full family pictures in one year (compliments of Hal Kelley)
With Uncle Hal and Aunt Gretchen (photo by Nikki Nelson)
The wedding couple (Carl and Eileen)
Can you tell that they are brothers?

Moving in day at U. Chicago (photo by Dave)

Corey continued to enjoy his time between undergrad and grad school by heading to the North Carolina mountains to watch the total eclipse and then use a airline voucher to head to Scandinavia to see Northern Lights. His photos from camping under the Aurora Borealis were surreal. I had about four months between graduating from NMU and heading to the doctoral program at Michigan State. I worked at Bay Cliff and the Huron Mountain Club, but wonder if I should have done some solo traveling to “find myself”…

The start of the fall semester once again brought early morning rising (and not to watch birds), grading, and paperwork. Dave was teaching biochemistry and I co-taught a climate change course. The deans moved into a new location on campus and we celebrated the opening of the spectacular new Health Science Building on campus. In September, I facilitated my 13th leadership for the NCAA in Indianapolis, returning to host Johnnie (our guide fro Uganda) for a few days. He was in the U.S. for a birding expo.

We learned in October that our prospectus for a book telling the science and story of the restoration of the Palmerton Superfund Site was unanimously approved by the Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences board. Dave and I will be co-editors! Twice in our careers, we have co-written scientific reviews and our marriage survived, so we once again embark on a collaborative project.

October also brought the unexpected loss of a dear colleague from the Biological Sciences at Moravian. Frank also served as director of the environmental programs. He and I spent a lot of time in the field together. I lost a good friend and students lost a cherished mentor.

Because of more travel plans, we had an early Thanksgiving with Corey. It was a lovely weekend of delicious food and good music ringing through our rafters.

I left with two students a few days later to attend the U.N. climate meetings in Bonn, Germany. Given that #45 has declared that the U.S. will pull out of the Paris Agreement, we feared a hostile environment for Americans at the meetings, but we were pleasantly surprised. Instead, we got a lot of sympathy for the state of politics in our country. Progress towards addressing this global challenge is slow and complicated by having over 190 countries at the negotiating table – all with different priorities and agendas. But it was encouraging to see so many U.S. mayors and other leaders show up as part of the #We’reStillIn movement. I have been attending these meetings since 2009, so it was fun to connect with acquaintances who have become friends and colleagues. I organized and moderated an official UN side event (panel) that focused on community-based adaptation that was well-attended.  We blogged here.

Josh and Jade in the Frankfurt train station


One of the country pavilions; this year, the U.S. didn't have one

My panel
I also attended two field trips arranged by the German government to see examples of sustainable communities and research in clean energy. Some cultural events like touring a castle and the Borussia Dortmund soccer (football) stadium.

Dortmund does soccer big!

Having fun with Heidi the glaciologist at the research solar tower

Less than 24 hours after I got home, Corey was heading off to Uganda as part his Gardner Postgraduate Fellowship. He will be off the grid until early February. When he has access to electricity and the internet, he is blogging here. Dave and I were once again empty-nesters.

The holiday season has thus been very quiet. We were alone for Thanksgiving for the first time. Joren took the bus from Chicago to Madison to join my brother and his family. They traveled up to the UP to visit his two grandmothers and enjoy time with his cousins. Which brings us to the 2017 Christmas holiday.

As I read over this, I realize why it is so enjoyable to simply spend time at home at the end of the year. There will be plenty of new adventures in 2018, but for now, enjoying quiet moments in front of the fireplace, lounging with the cats (including the new stray kitten that adopted us), and going for walks and watching winter birds, is just perfect. In these rare moments of peace, we realize how blessed we are.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy 2018 filled with laughter and good friends.