Photo of desert landscape en route to Baja, Mexico

Gaining Perspective

This past January I made an impulse decision to apply to a graduate program I’d recently discovered. Although I regularly juggle multiple interests through work, volunteering, hobbies, and travel, I’ve often wished I could do more to make a difference in the world. One day, while cycling through Chanthaburi, Thailand as part of Bike for Elephants 2018, I learned about a program that suddenly made my aspirations seem possible.

Group photo
Earth Expedition Baja I – photo by Jessica Seevers

Fast forward to June, and I’m hiking through 107-degree heat with eighteen other eager minds studying ecological field methods in Baja, Mexico. We were all first-semester students in Miami University’s Global Field Program, an innovative graduate program that combines summer field coursework with online learning during the school year. 

One reason the GFP appealed to me is that I’ve always loved travel. My experiences abroad have introduced me to extraordinary people and practices, shown me new ways of appreciating the world. But because we would be studying desert ecology—sleeping outdoors, abandoning the comforts of home, and being the only people wherever we went—I didn’t expect those sorts of revelations. I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

Photo of Rancho San Gregorio
Rancho San Gregorio

One of our first assignments required us to map our location, Rancho San Gregorio. My map resembles a pre-Renaissance doodle: there is no world beyond a few structures, everything is two dimensional, and each building is front-facing, albeit from multiple points of view.

In addition to lacking perspective, my map is also bizarrely scaled: the gardens and open spaces have been minimized, the central building (seen in the photo above) is oddly compressed, and the cacti are wildly misproportioned. I’m not really sure what drove me to make such odd choices, but I believe my college art professors would not be impressed.

photo of hand-drawn map
My map

The significance of scale is a theme to which we returned time and again. In one learning activity, we read about the relationships between the area of a habitat and the number of species inhabiting it (Gotelli, 2008). We then used this concept of species-area relationship (SAR) to estimate the minimal sample area needed to characterize the local ecosystem, a sort of scale model for biodiversity.

The process we used is called the relevé method. Four teams measured out initial 5×5 meter square areas (quadrat) and then expanded them to 10×10, 15×15, and so forth. Each team identified and counted species within their quadrats: cardon, boojum, ocotillo, creosote … the total number of species increased with the size of the quadrat … until it didn’t. Once each team expanded their squares past 25×25 we rarely found any new species. We had found our minimal sample size.

Photo of me with a giant cactus
Me, pointing to scarring on a cardon (Pachycereus pringlei) – photo by Samantha Lee Arner

Why is this important? Imagine looking at a small corner of a meadow. You might see a cluster of flowering clover. While this could make for a beautiful photo, it doesn’t capture the meadow as a vibrant community of plant life. In fact, that clover might be an island surrounded by a sea of wild grasses. Examining random plots of the right sample size would give you a much better sense of the meadow’s species richness.

Although I am back in Philadelphia, I’m still thinking about scale—especially in terms of time. This semester I’m studying our city’s green spaces and interviewing people involved in greening the city. One person enthusiastically listed many things street trees bring to a neighborhood: shade, beauty, habitat. But another person claimed, “Trees are easy.” He explained how street trees provide a form of immediate gratification. And while that isn’t a bad thing per se, street trees can give residents a false sense of how green our city really is, which might make us less willing to support efforts whose effects we might not see for decades.

Photo of neighborhood tree planting
Street tree planting in Philadelphia – click for source

Many early cultures used a technique called hieratic scale in their visual arts. With hieratic scale, the most important figures appear the largest. Looking back—my map of the ranch, a close up of a flower, and greening a sidewalk—all these employ a form of hieratic scale. My map, for instance, reveals both my awe of cacti and my inability to distinguish much beyond man-made structures. The sudden popularity of trees suggests that we urban dwellers have difficulty investing in things we cannot see or touch.

My GFP cohorts and I are hoping to join a network of individuals engaged in conservation efforts around the world. My wish, of course, is to help the elephants. But I suspect that I’ve been looking at elephants as if they were clover, and I were strolling past the edge of that meadow. While the clover might seem sparse and precious to me, the meadow is not my home. If it were, the clover might appear abundant, maybe even a nuisance. If I want to make a real difference someday, then I will have to learn to accept multiple truths, embrace multiple perspectives.

References

Gotelli, N. J. (2008) Island Biogeography. In A Primer of ecology (pp. 154-177). Sunderland, Massachusetts, USA: Sinauer Associates.

Handbook for collecting of vegetation plot data in Minnesota: The relevé method. (2013). Retrieved from https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/mcbs/releve/releve_singlepage.pdf.

 

#GIVINGTUESDAY a new campaign

GT-THUNDERCLAP

Some of you might remember that last year I created an Indiegogo campaign for my birthday called Birthday for Giving. The campaign was more successful than I ever imagined so I decided to raise funds again this year.

I’ve created a dual-fundraiser in support of Friends of Asian Elephant hospital in Thailand. Created by Soraida Salwala in 1993. FAE is the world’s first elephant hospital. And since its inception it has helped over 3,600 elephants!

FAE is probably best known for Mosha, the baby land-mine victim who was not only saved by FAE but has been outfitted with a prosthetic limb and is now a permanent resident. Since she was only 2 years old when she lost her limb, she seems more comfortable and natural with her prosthetic limb than Motala, an older victim. In fact, Mosha has received numerous adjustments to her prosthetic on account of her active lifestyle.

Mosha, now 9 years old and thirving thanks to FAE

Mosha, now 9 years old and thriving thanks to FAE

In addition to Mosha and Motala, FAE has also come to the rescue of elephants poisoned by contaminated soil, injured through their work in the tourist industry, or in need of maternity care, among other health needs. Because FAE survives on donations, it seemed only natural to direct this year’s fundraising efforts in their direction.

Those living in the Philadelphia area will be able attend I ❤ Elephants: a night of yoga and film at Studio 34 (registration for the event is available on their website). The evening will begin with a Breathe and Flow yoga class taught by studio owner Angela Norris and culminate in a screening of Eyes of Thailand, Windy Borman’s award-winning documentary about FAE. For those living outside the Philadelphia area (or who don’t like yoga), I have created an online campaign. To learn more about my campaign and to donate, click on the banner.

I <3 Elephants demo

Thank for reading this post – please share!

Valentine’s Day Shout Out

Jumbo Size Thanks!
Jumbo Size Thanks!

Wow! Has it really been over a month since my last blog post? In my defense, I’ve been busy. Busy with a new semester, busy with training … but I think that the surprising amount of snow that has fallen on Philadelphia has contributed greatly to my sluggishness. Whenever it snows and we get a day off, I hibernate, more or less. I don’t mean that I sleep all day (although I do try to maximize time spent in pajamas), but I end up reading novels, making soup etc.

I’d like to use Valentine’s Day to send my long-promised Shout Out to everyone who donated to my Birthday for Giving campaign! Jumbo size trumpet blast thanks to:

Angela Yecco * Diana Erbsen * Cris Hellerstein * Maryanne Desantis * Deirdre Woods

Alexander Marvel * Carly Bodner * Linda Johnson * Kim Corson * Susan Ingalls

Matthew Johnson * Christina Celentano * Kimberly Brickley * Danielle Thomson

Kristina Rozan * Ximena Lara Reyes * Caroline Stein * Kelly Britt * Carmen McLean

Thomas Anthony Dixon * Molly Campbell * my family

Indiegogo * and all my anonymous donors

Both the Asian and the African elephant face the threat of extinction from habitat loss and rampant poaching. You are all such angels – your generosity has given these amazing creatures hope.

In the past few months the United States has crushed six tons of seized ivory to send a message to poachers and traffickers that illegal trade will not be tolerated. See the Fish and Wildlife Services page for answers to common questions. Following the U.S. lead, several other nations have destroyed their stores including China and France, with the Philippines to follow later this year.

Meanwhile, the Elephant Parade finished its U.S. run in Dana Point with a fund-raising auction back in 2013. The latest U.K. Tour has begun and will feature the winner of a Robin Hood-design contest. Of course, I’m crossing my fingers that they will announce an East Coast U.S. location this year.

Thank you all once again, and don’t be a stranger to my blog – I’m determined to create a vegan black-eyed pea chili and baked pasta in the coming months, so stay tuned for the recipes!

Happy Valentine's Day to all Ele-Angels!
Happy Valentine’s Day to all Ele-Angels!

Giving Back

photo of baked carnival squash
Roasted Maple Vanilla Carnival Squash

As I mentioned in my previous two posts, I started an Indigogo campaign for my birthday. Because today is #GivingTuesday, I thought it was only right for me to give something in return for asking readers to donate to my cause. So here is a quick recipe to make your winter a little warmer:

Maple Vanilla-Glazed Carnival Squash (2 whole carnival, delicata, or small acorn squashes)

  • preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • wash your squashes, slice them in half, and remove seeds
  • slice the squash halves into uniform slices (I cut them into sixths)
  • remember: the thinner the slices, the more quickly they will cook – and the more glaze per slice
  • place the slices on a lightly greased or parchment-covered baking sheet (I used a pizza pan)
  • loosely cover the pan with foil, place in the oven, and bake for about 20 min
  • while squash are baking, mix maple syrup and vanilla in a small bowl
  • NOTE: I used about a tablespoon of maple syrup and 1/2 tsp of Dominican vanilla extract. This will seem like an extreme amount of vanilla; it is. But this was the total glaze I used for all the squash. If you want a sweeter dish but don’t want an overwhelming vanilla flavor, try 1/4 cup of maple syrup with 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • check the squash after 20 min. If they are soft and starting to brown, remove them from the oven. Turn them so that the center (hollow) is face up. Lightly brush with syrup (or pour it on). I also put a tiny dab of butter in the center of each
  • return to the oven for 5-15 minutes until the squash golden and the glaze is sizzling

As always, thank you for visiting my blog. Please take a minute to read about my campaign. If you are inspired, please consider donating. Every dollar counts, and today Indiegogo is kicking in $1 for every $20 that I collect midnight to midnight PST. And please pass along this campaign to any animal-lovers you know:

elephant giving flowers
Click for the Link

Thank you!!!

Birthday Campaign Goes Live

photograph of baby elephant with prosthetic
Mosha, the inspiration for the Elephant Parade — Click for a short video

I am so excited – my Birthday for Giving campaign for The Asian Elephant Foundation just went live! You can read more about it in the previous post. While the campaign won’t dominate my blog, I will give periodic updates as it continues.

If you love animals or have enjoyed any of my previous posts, please consider donating $5 (roughly the price of a peppermint mocha) to a wonderful cause. What’s more, donations pledged on Tuesday December 3 will be matched at 5% by Indiegogo as part of #GivingTuesday. Thank you for reading this, and please pass it along!

smiling cupcake image
Click to be taken to the campaign

Birthday for Giving

generosity-as-a-strategy

People always ask, “What do you want for your birthday?” or “How are you going to celebrate?” Since my birthday is November 30, I have been thinking about this quite a lot. I knew there wasn’t really anything I wanted, and after years of bar crawling and all-night dancing (on occasions not limited to my or anyone else’s birthday) I really wasn’t interested in painting the town. What I do want is something that makes a genuine contribution. I’m not a billionaire, so I won’t be able to build a hospital or arts center, but we can all do something to help leave the world in better, fairer, and more beautiful condition than when we first arrived. Right?

It turns out that Tuesday December 3–the Tuesday following my birthday–is #GivingTuesday! What is Giving Tuesday? From their website: “#GivingTuesday is a movement to create a national day of giving to kick off the giving season added to the calendar on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.” Learning about #GivingTuesday and their partnership opportunities with Indiegogo inspired me to turn my birthday into an occasion to do something positive. I figured if all my friends, family, and fitness participants contributed $5 to a cause instead of buying me a cappuccino, a fancy cocktail (which would be more like $10 anyway), or even a card, I could collect around $500!

photo of baby elephant
Source: http://melstepp01.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/the-worlds-top-10-most-ridiculously-adorable-baby-elephants/

Choosing the cause was easy. I love elephants, and because of the recent surge in poaching, their plight had been all over the news. Choosing the organization, however, proved rather difficult. There are countless, wonderful foundations dedicated to elephants–everything from the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which houses retired zoo and circus elephants to Soraida Sawala’s amazing Elephant Hospital in Thailand, which adopts orphaned baby elephants and has provided prosthetic limbs to animals injured by landmines.

One of my key considerations was convenience. I couldn’t choose a charity that didn’t accept U.S. dollars or required a complicated bank transfer to a foreign bank. I’ve done that myself once before to pay for a yoga retreat in Veracruz–and while the process made me feel like James Bond, it’s a bit complicated, complicated enough to deter potential donors. I ultimately decided on The Asian Elephant Foundation. TAEF not only supports Soraida’s work, they also work in tandem with the Elephant Parade, which is an international open-air art exhibit that brings awareness to the Asian elephant and raises funds for all of TAEF’s projects. I was lucky enough to visit the first U.S. Elephant Parade in Dana Point, CA this past October.

photo of me at the U.S. Elephant Parade
Floppy and me at the Elephant Parade!

Since we had visited the Elephant Parade as a sort of early birthday celebration for me, it seemed only right to use my real birthday to give back to the organization that made the parade possible. I am so excited to share with you my first (and hopefully annual) Birthday for Giving. The Birthday for Giving campaign is live and will last for approximately 30 days. Click on the image to see it.

photo of cupcake
Click on the image, please!

More information, more yoga, and more recipes forthcoming!