My ecological identity

Most of what I really need to know I learned in the backyard. Growing up, my family moved around a lot–first Bay Area California, then Oregon’s Portland area, then Bend in Central Oregon, then back to Portland. In each place, my favorite activity was digging in the dirt outside or exploring clumps of grass and bushes, to see what interesting insects, birds, plants, or other organisms I could find.

From just after my eleventh birthday until almost the time I turned thirteen, my family lived on two and a half acres of marvelously undeveloped land outside Bend. When we moved back to Portland, we chose a house on one and a half acres with a creek behind the property. I spent hours while growing up watching insects come to feed at rabbit brush flowers, trapping moths at outdoor lights, swinging a net through aquatic vegetation to catch water bugs, and stalking beavers in the evenings. I learned to wonder at the natural world, love it, and be amazed by it.

Today I am an educator, writer, naturalist, and activist trying to make sense of a world where so much of what I love is in danger. I spend a lot of time thinking about climate change, deforestation, poverty, and other threats to people and nature that are a direct result of our corporatist-capitalist government and economic system.

It feels a bit vain to make a web site about me–but that’s what professionals do these days, isn’t it? Most pages on this site are about projects I’m working on now or that are from my recent past, but I’m devoting this page to explaining how I got to where I am today. That’s hard to do in the succinct, sound-bite language of the web era, but below are a few snapshots from my past meant to give you an idea of where I come from (I hope you enjoy the drawings, too).

California years: My family lived in California until I was five years old. I remember digging in the soil for earthworms and pill bugs, picking them up, and depositing them in a jar where I could watch them crawl around. This helped spark my interest in the natural world.


p1110150West Linn, Oregon: When I was five my family moved to West Linn, just south of Portland. We had a small backyard perfect for young kids to explore. I spent time outside catching garter snakes in my hands, sketching snails, and searching for colorful woolly bear caterpillars with my sister. We kept the caterpillars a glass terrarium and fed them ivy leaves. It was the first time I was responsible for caring for another life.

p1110151Bend, Oregon: When I was eleven we moved to Bend. My wonderful parents wanted my sister and I to able to explore more, and they found us a house on two and a half acres of land. The next two years cemented my development as a naturalist and I spent most of spring, summer, and fall outside (my sister and I were home schooled). One of my favorite memories is of catching and sketching moths that flew to an outdoor light after dark.

When I was almost fourteen, my family moved for the last time–to Hillsboro, a western suburb of Portland. We lived on one and a half acres that backed up to a creek where a family of beavers makes their home. The creek gave me a window into a whole new ecosystem. One of my favorite discoveries was the water scorpion pictured at left, which I caught in a net.

p1110153Zoo years: At fifteen (still living in Hillsboro), I started volunteering at the Oregon Zoo. I worked in a butterfly tent, learned to handle birds of prey, and trained sheep and goats. The Oregon Zoo has a wonderful teen volunteer program, and it’s a great opportunity for kids with a love of animals.


p1110154Pacific University, the undergrad years: I earned the equivalent of two years of college while still high school age, attending Portland Community College. I then transferred to Pacific University (in Forest Grove, Oregon) for the rest of my degree. I became a student activist and learned a lot about organizing through the method of trial and error (with an emphasis on the error part). Pacific’s wonderful old oak trees are home to a colony of acorn woodpeckers that I’d watch flying overhead as I walked to and from classes.

p1110155Travels abroad: While an undergraduate, I took two incredible travel classes — first a service learning class in the Peruvian Amazon, then a tropical biology class in Belize and Guatemala (the first class went toward my minor in Peace and Conflict Studies, the second toward my Environmental Studies major). The summer after graduating, I returned to Peru to do an internship at a wildlife rehabilitation center. The unbelievable biodiversity of the tropics opened my eyes, and the people I met in these “underdeveloped” countries helped me see what a wasteful way of life we have in the U.S.

p1110156Stuck in limbo, killing coal plants: I finished college in the same predicament as a lot of young people these days–with lots of debt and no well-paying jobs available in my field. I spent a couple of years living at home and working odd writing jobs while joining local activist efforts as a volunteer. I was deeply involved in campaigns to close the only coal-fired power plants in Oregon and Washington, and to stop new liquefied natural gas pipelines from being built in the Northwest. On the weekends I explored Portland’s natural areas, finding creatures like this banana slug.

p1110157Montana: With the job thing not really working out, I went back to school at age 23, starting on a Master’s degree at University of Montana in Missoula. I finished the degree two years later, but stayed in Montana a couple more years because of the beautiful landscapes, strong community, and opportunity to be involved in important activist work. I helped launch three nonprofits and spent more time than was really healthy facilitating activist meetings and writing emails. What kept me sane was exploring the hills and canyons of Missoula Valley, finding insects like this scavenger beetle.

p1110158The North Cascades (land of giant green caterpillars): After four years in Montana, I was worn out from trying to save the world. I went back to school again (I seem to like academia), enrolling in a Master’s program in Environmental Education at Western Washington University. By this time, I’d realized student debt doesn’t matter as long as you get on an income-based repayment plan and never plan on making much money (by making little enough, you can bring your monthly loan payments down to $0).

My hope now is to use techniques of environmental education and advocacy to channel my passions for natural history and writing into something that can…well, maybe not save the world, but at least make a positive difference.