Category Archives: Nature

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It’s Easy Being Green

“The earth is what we all have in common.” – Wendell Berry

I grew up listening to the sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach from my bed, a river at one end of our street and a pond at the other. I became a person while living on this magical peninsula where highlands and forests rapidly tumbled down to verdant meadows and coastal wetlands swaying with phragmites, saltwater marshes teeming with life. I was keenly aware of my place in nature, watching every bit of this vibrant ecosystem change with each season, constantly discovering clever little things that the plants and animals around me did to survive. We lived off this land, growing the most spectacular Jersey tomatoes and vegetables in a garden in the backyard, fishing and crabbing in the summer, and eating duck and venison year-round. I was raised to honor the sanctity of life, to never waste or take more than we needed, and to cherish the gifts the earth gave us.

“If you truly love nature you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent van Gogh

It’s not a coincidence that by spending so much of my childhood outside in nature, I developed an extraordinary sense of wonder. I came to know the trees and plants around me intimately, to feel a kinship with egrets and dabbling ducks, and to consider my place in the universe like a fish in the river or ocean – sometimes a clam left abandoned by high tide. Every time I go hiking, I see something new, and every moment I am out in nature, I feel a little more whole. My art is nearly entirely inspired by and guided by nature and the consideration of what it is to be a human animal existing, often at odds, either in or separated from nature.

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

My parents and grandparents taught us about ecology and we found the word “environmentalist” to describe what we had always been. I fell in love with science as a young girl, entranced by the method of observing and understanding the natural world, quantifying the ineffable sense of wonder I feel like a fluttering in the chest whenever I am in nature. I was shocked to learn anyone would even consider dumping waste into oceans or poisoning streams with industrial run-off. I couldn’t – and still can’t – wrap my mind around prioritizing short-term corporate profits over the health of our ecosystems. I committed to a lifetime of beach clean-ups, recycling awareness campaigns, constantly reducing the amount of plastic I use, and regularly examining my habits to see what I can streamline to do better by the Earth.

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

As a participant in the very first Earth Day, my mother has always encouraged us, sometimes against our will, to switch off lights every time we leave the room, to reduce our carbon footprints every way we can, and to consider the environmental impact of all our purchases and activities. As kids, we occasionally begrudged the family policy of never getting takeaway from a restaurant that used entirely too much plastic packaging, washing out and reusing plastic bags and storage containers, or combining all our errands into one trip together to reduce the car emissions we produced over a weekend, but we learned, slowly, how to think about the environmental impact of our actions. We became the kind of adults who walk or ride bicycles wherever we can. In my case, I gave my car away once I realized I could get pretty much everywhere I needed to go by mass transit (not always easily, but it’s something I’m committed to now). I run my business with core values of ecology and environmentalism built into the message and mission. I changed my diet to one that I believe is more sustainable and humane. I know I can do more.



Each Earth Day over the past few years I’ve taken on a new lifestyle change, from little things like switching all my accounts to paperless billing to slightly bigger ones like setting up a composting system in my apartment (that is this year’s project, which we’ll discuss soon). I realize more and more how easy it is to make habit adjustments so small they don’t really even qualify as “sacrifices.” Most often, I just feel foolish I hadn’t thought to do it sooner, like eschewing plastic drinking straws, which kill a staggering amount of birds and sea creatures and contribute to the horrific problem of marine plastic pollution. It took exactly one photo of a bird who had died from eating plastic drinking straws to make me ashamed of every time I’d ever slurped a Diet Coke through one.

(Here are 10 ways to reduce plastic pollution.)

I’ve recently started making assemblage pieces out of the types of plastics that most commonly end up in landfills and the sea (recycled, of course). Now that I am approaching every material I come in contact with as if I were a bowerbird building a nest, I see just how much plastic and foam still passes through my hands. I have no fear that I will run out of materials anytime soon, but I would like to change how much of my life includes plastic and non-recyclable materials.

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” – Wendell Berry

As I am living this type of life every day and trying to think about how to promote love and respect for nature, I am horrified to consider others who are not only indifferent to their impact on the planet, but actively seeking to deregulate industries that pollute for the sake of greater profits. I don’t know how anyone allowed science to become politicized, or how anyone could be so foolish as to accept the nonsensical view that a lobbyist’s or politician’s interpretation of climate science is as viable as a scientist’s.

The beauty of science is that it follows a rigorous method of observation, data collection, and required reproducibility of findings. It is one of the few fields that isn’t wholly interpretive or conjectural, rather empirically evidence-based and grounded in truths that any person can see for themselves. A jackass throwing a snowball on the senate floor doesn’t change the stark reality that climate change is manmade and approaching irreversibly cataclysmic peril. Even if someone insisted on remaining ignorant of facts or is somehow unconvinced, the impact of human activity is the only contributing factor to climate change that we can control. The opposition to responsible ecological policy is led by industries built on fossil fuels and pollution. We deserve better than for our natural world to be sold out by corrupt politicians for the sake of pure greed.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson



This weekend I am participating in the March for Science in NYC, a satellite of the national March for Science in support of science and environmentalism. I am marching because I value science and believe it plays a crucial role in society, both for solving our problems and imbuing the general population with curiosity, revelations about the world and universe around us, and truly, preserving the sense of wonder.



I am frustrated that science funding is threatened and regularly cut if research does not support prevailing industries, so I am marching for intellectual freedom and expansion of scientific funding.



I believe it is essential to honor the Paris Agreement and commitments the US has made to mitigate our environmental damage, so I am marching to encourage infrastructure-level investments in clean energy, especially solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy capture.



I am marching because I think it is criminal for oil companies to buy and suppress (or poach) patents for every innovation in energy that threatens their bottom line. I want our tax dollars to fund these advances instead of subsidizing oil pipelines.



I am disheartened by the political destabilization we regularly cause in pursuit of oil and natural gas, and I see the way climate change has contributed to the rise of ISIS and a number of global crises from famines to cataclysmic weather events like the hurricane that could easily have washed my parents’ home away.



I am marching because I truly know in my heart of hearts that when we live in better harmony with nature, it will lead to a fairer economy, global stability, more affordable utilities, and compassionate foreign policy worldwide.



Above all I am marching because I want the people of the US to remember the spirit of Earth Day and to take responsibility for ourselves as global citizens, to take care with our impact on nature and recognize that we are all one world. The actions of a polluter in one country affect the air and water quality worldwide and for generations to come. If we want to do better by the planet, we need to think globally and act locally, starting with ourselves, every single day.



As I renew my commitment to do better, I encourage you to look at your life and find something you can make more eco-friendly starting today. No action is too small, as they all add up like drops of the sea. We can either be the species that saves the planet from the brink of destruction or pushes it over the edge to an uninhabitable wasteland. This choice will be made in our lifetime, starting right now.



I have sprinkled quotes from some of my favorite scientists and writers throughout what I guess you can call this manifesto. If you’re interested in some further reading related to ecology and environmentalism, I highly recommend:



If you are looking for some actions you might take this Earth Day (or any time):

– find a local March for Science or rally near you

– Contact your representatives to voice your concerns about the environmental impact of any proposed legislation and encourage the US to take a leadership role in fighting climate change and being more responsible global environmental stewards

– boost your commitment to recycling, or begin composting (find composting drop-off locations by address in NYC)

– make the commitment to reduce your use of plastics by taking the Straw Wars pledge (In case you missed it above, here are 10 ways to reduce plastic pollution)

– Donate to plant trees! Each dollar plants a tree. You can give your donation in honor or memory of a loved one, and because trees have such amazing abilities to clean the air and prevent erosion, you are honoring them with a commitment to continue improving the world for future generations after we’ve left it.

– Donate to the Environmental Defense Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Network, or other reputable non-profits and NGOs that protect endangered species or threatened ecosystems.

– Plant wildflowers to support bees and other pollinators. Everyone in my family got free packets of seeds from the Cheerios Bring Back the Bees project, but you can make seed balls or start a garden of bee- and butterfly-friendly plants for pollinators in your yard (or go rogue, as I am doing around my neighborhood in the Bronx).

– Learn about the wildlife where you live. Nature is not just in parks and wildlife refuges, but rather everywhere around us. Identify the plants and trees on your street (this interactive map of trees in New York City never ceases to blow my mind), learn the species of birds, butterflies, and critters you see everywhere around you. If you have children in your life, start teaching them plant and animal identification.

– Consider reducing the amount of meat and animal products you consume regularly. It can be as easy as swapping out one or two meals a week for plant-based options in the spirit of Meatless Monday, or making an entire lifestyle change (for sure, there is much more to discuss about the reducetarian movement soon). Examine where your food comes from and the environmental impact of how it is grown, how far it travels to reach you, and ways you might improve your food choices.

– Participate in a beach clean-up, nature walk, community garden activity, or one of the many Earth Day actions and campaigns

If you have any other suggestions for eco-minded reading, thinking, or actions, please let me know. And because climate change and environmental damage disproportionately affects women and children (we’ll talk about that another time) encourage the young girls and women in your life to explore science and pursue education and careers in STEM with confidence and unabashed wonder.

We need more Millie Dresselhauses in this world (and yes, I cry every single time I see that commercial).

We are who we are

I was thinking about my Grandma Wanda yesterday (as I often do) while I was walking through City Hall Park admiring the bluebells. I heard her voice come out of my mouth, probably even in her accent, exclaiming, “Oh look at you!” as I crouched down to admire their delicate flowers more closely and snap a photo. They were such a lovely burst of spring, standing fresh and happy on an otherwise gray, uncharacteristically cold and drizzly day. It was utterly charming, and like always, my Gram was with me again.

My grandmother was an incredible person. She was highly educated and well-read, a lover of opera, classical music, art of all styles, a scholar in human development and child psychology, and she actually enjoyed talking about art history and cultural anthropology with my grandfather (who apparently used to talk her ear off about Roman mosaics just like I did). She had an abundant intellectual curiosity and was the owner of a truly remarkable, well-rounded, and uniquely fascinating mind. In spite of all this, she seemed constitutionally incapable of putting on airs or acting pretentious – she was, I think, universally appreciated as a genuine, kind, authentic person with a radiantly warm heart. She laughed unabashedly (everyone who knew her can probably hear that great laugh reading this), she spoke her mind, she was intensely observant and considered other people all the time, and she was just a joy to be with.

One of my favorite things about her, and the way she has inspired so much of my painting and my whole art history thesis, was her all-consuming love and wonder for nature, especially the way things grew. She was, at her core, an Ohio farm girl, an avid gardener who loved nurturing and watching living things flourish under her care.

(Wow, do I miss her.)

One year my family was brainstorming Christmas gifts for her, and we were so pleased with ourselves for landing on an elegantly potted bonsai tree. She loved gardening, but the state of her knees at the time and the overwhelming fertility of her yard in Hawai’i was making it too difficult to manage plants outside. They hired a gardener, and she often said how she missed puttering around with the plants, so we thought it would be brilliant to get her a mini tree indoors that she could nurture, tend to, and enjoy without it becoming unruly. At first she was charmed, as we expected, and amazed that a tree would come in such a tiny, delicate form.

A few months later on a phone call we asked how her bonsai was doing, expecting to hear how maybe she’d decided on a shape she’d like to trim it into or how she enjoyed talking to it. “Oh, it’s the cutest little thing. I love it,” she said cheerfully, then added, “And I’m happy to see it’s getting so big already!” We all fell apart laughing because, after all, when you grow up on a farm you nurture plants so they will grow. Of course it wouldn’t make sense to prune her bonsai back or fuss around with limiting growth, and as much as she could intellectually appreciate and enjoy the bonsai book we gave her and the beautiful philosophy behind it, she was always going to be the Ohio farm girl who liked to see things grow.

We are who we are.

I think a lot about personal development and growth, especially as I am switching gears in my career and making a lot of changes in the rest of my life and daily habits to best support it (also just, I am making my life better). I was always fascinated by the phases of child development, like my grandmother was, and the psychological theories of personality and existential philosophy that I studied in undergrad. Increasingly, I am inclined to believe that we do have core selves, sets of intuitions and instincts that we bring with us at birth, which make us the only iteration of ourselves that ever will be. These senses are either encouraged and nurtured, like my parents regularly asking me to draw things for them or buying me bigger paper when my drawings extended off the page, up the woodwork, and all over my bedroom walls; or they are suppressed and discouraged, like a parent cutting off a fugue of creativity if paint gets spilled or it makes a mess.

Like a lot of people (maybe everyone?) I spent most of my formative years being socialized to behave and seem normal, then most of my 20s moving away from the things that made me special. It is the child or young adult’s initial tendency to respond mistrustfully or negatively to things that are aberrant, even if they’re exciting and intriguing. We learn cynicism. If you get enough weird looks for speaking your mind or get ostracized enough for being unusual, you may eventually learn to keep some things to yourself for the sake of having friends and conforming to expectations, and unfortunately that often includes hiding some of the best and most interesting qualities people have to offer. Imagine if we could all just be weirdos from the start.

I think by the time I became an adult, I gave off a pervasive sense of not really liking myself, and it’s not surprising that I attracted so many people who were all too happy to talk down to me and put me in my place. I have never been normal, not even close, and I’ve always known that. It makes me even more grateful for the unusually kind, good-hearted people who have slipped through my defenses and treated me well in spite of myself, either because they are just that wonderful and evolved as humans or because they recognized I was stumbling around getting in my own way and found some of the good stuff I was so invested in hiding. I think we should remember to treasure the people who like us for who we are and return the kindness to others.

It’s frustrating that as adults we spend so much time talking about things that we aren’t truly passionate about or fascinated by because that’s the more polite, socially acceptable style of small talk that we’re all acculturated into. I’m not sure when we learn that we’re not supposed to have strong opinions or think critically in casual conversation, but I really enjoy talking with people who have gotten past the sort of corporate / professional reservation that permeates American society and just say what they’re thinking as they’re thinking about it in unguarded, spontaneous, and sometimes slightly high-wire-without-a-net open conversation. It takes a surprising amount of trust and courage to just be who you are, to risk the fear of having your true self rejected, but I think it’s the only way we can be happy at a soul-level.

Perhaps it’s a bit like unshackling oneself from a constricting pen. We spend all these years learning how to fit into the box, follow the rules, measure ourselves by other people’s standards (typically valuing consumerism and lifestyles that are profitable for corporations), and denying the things that make us who we are at our core. I think there is a critical choice, where we either believe the impression we’re doing of who we think we’re supposed to be, or we have a David Bynre flip, “This is not my beautiful wife!” and push the walls down. I think the denial of core self and inherent instincts is at the center of mid-life crises and general existential freak-outs. I know for sure it has always been at the heart of mine. So I am working on embracing my idiosyncrasy and trusting my instincts, accepting that I am who I am, and I am enjoying my version of my grandmother’s inner Ohio farm girl.

Last summer I posted an Instagram caption, “If I ever stop feeling enthralled by backlit leaves, I will know my heart’s gone dead.” There was actually a motherlode of self-knowledge and truth in that statement and a recognition of what matters to me. I’m so happy that more and more each day, I feel the same way I did when I was a toddler drawing in the sand or staring at light glinting in water. I know who I am and what I care about, just like everyone does if they look deeply and admit it to themselves, and it hasn’t really changed. The more I’ve experienced and learned about other people and the world, the more I’ve developed back into the person I’ve always been in my heart. We are who we are, and that’s what makes us beautiful. It feels like I am finally coming home.

Love is understanding

The other day (two weeks ago now) my father was picking me up at the train station the night before our family’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party. As we were chatting and catching up, he excitedly said, “Oh! I was thinking of you yesterday morning!”


(I will always be my daddy’s little girl)

He started to describe what he saw looking off a small bridge as he was driving to work just before sunrise in a light fog. A silver light glowed behind a single cloud perfectly reflected in the river, which was as still and smooth as a mirror. The horizon disappeared into a shining, seamless vision of twin clouds framed by the faint shape of the shores.

His description was so beautiful and vivid that I could see exactly what he saw, and I told him how touched I was that such a lovely little moment made him think of me.

“I think of you every time I see something like that,” he said warmly, “because I know that’s what you love most.”

I felt so profoundly understood, and in turn, truly loved.

When I shared that story with a friend at the party the next day, he laughed and said the same incredulous thing I’d been thinking, “How come guys your age don’t know how to say that kind of thing to you?” We agreed that guys just don’t seem to be made like my dad anymore (but I’ll keep looking).

I’ve been taking photographs of the sky and little moments in nature since I first got my hands on a Fisher-Price 120 film camera as a little girl, and Tumblr informs me I’ve been posting some of them to The Sky Where I Am for three years now. My dad isn’t big into blogs or social media, so usually when I visit I show him all the photos I’ve taken since the last time I saw him, and he tells me about all the things he’s seen. I cherish his descriptions full of wonder at a kestrel landing in his lap or the prompt reappearance of ospreys on March 15th (“Fish Hawk Day”) like nothing else.

I owe so much of my love of nature and the outdoors to my dad and the generosity with which he’s shared his passion for life with me. I am delighted that I got to visit my family two weekends in a row, which included hiking, neighborhood walks, and two long bicycle rides. We checked up on the birds, ducks, geese, and deer around town on a route very similar to the one we used to take on rides together my whole childhood, and we both giggled when we saw dabbling ducks on the Navesink.

I got all mushy and thanked him yet again for always including me on those afternoons. He smiled that understanding dad smile as he said, “I’m so glad it means as much to you as it does to me.”

Take the minute

While I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I came across a great article discussing some of the ideas in Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks (affiliate link), which I can’t wait to read. One of the main ideas was that the more intimately familiar we become with nature, through preserving the language and vocabulary of the natural world, the more inclined and better prepared we are to protect it. This ideological conservation is as important as physical conservation because as Wendell Berry so succinctly put it:

“People exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.”

My mother told me a story about walking into her office building with a friend. As they turned a bend in the pathway, they saw one of the lawns filled with a massive herd of deer running and bounding like they were in a wildlife documentary. My mother stopped short and gasped, having never seen so many deer in one place at a time. While my mother stood marveling at them, her friend barely paused and said, “Yeah, that’s a lot,” then continued their conversation. When she realized my mother was no longer with her, she turned back and said, “Do you still stop and look at deer? Don’t you see deer all the time?” My mother says she decided in that moment that of all the minutes you get in a day, week, month, year (I know that one off the top of my head, thank you Rent), she could take a minute to stare at deer. If she wanted, she could take several, when faced with something so staggeringly beautiful.

I had been in a big rush to transport paintings and lumber for my studio improvement project, but looking at the weather forecast we realized our intended day would be ideal conditions for visiting the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Atlantic City instead. I had only been once before when I was about 10, while my father was taking a class on birds as an elective for his physical therapy degree and wanted to share the experience with us. Touring the trails through the wetlands spotting ducks and shorebirds – and a nesting pair of peregrine falcons!!! – has been one of my most treasured childhood memories, and it seemed like the perfect way to spend the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

We all had other things planned, but decided to push them back for the sake of taking a minute in nature together. We brought Otto and Smooch and had an unbelievably pleasant afternoon. My father identified dozens of species of birds, and we took our time observing them and just being in this remarkably well-preserved natural habitat. I learned so much about bird behaviors that I didn’t know before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever stop laughing at the image of dabbling pintail ducks with their butts in the air.

Standing on the edge of the marshes or looking over the meandering patterns in the grass left from rising and falling tides, I felt so deeply connected with the rhythms and special order of this ecosystem, and in turn, more centered and alive in the universe. These clumps of soggy reed and clusters of paddling birds became so precious and significant to me just by spending time with them, which led to a soul-level need to love and protect them. I completely understood how essential this joy and adoration of nature is to drive conservation and how important it is to experience firsthand on a personal level.

I enjoy living in the city, but I often feel sadly disengaged with the natural world. I realize that the more time I spend inside and focused on day-to-day responsibilities, the more I risk losing the wildness and life inside of me. I have always embraced my parents’ philosophy of taking the minute to experience wonder and enjoy nature (I have a whole blog of sky-gazing), but I know in my heart that I need to be out in the wild much more frequently, to spend whole days when I can.

I mean, why else are we here?

More photos from our wetlands day are here on Flickr – Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

Summer Rain

One of my favorite, most sacred annual traditions is going crabbing on the Navesink River with my nice dad. We both look forward to these days all year, and this past Labor Day weekend we were worried the weather would thwart us.

Fortunately we did get our trip in, and it was as special and excellent as always. It was cut a bit short by wind and the beginning of rain, which eventually turned into thunderstorms.

(Link)

The soft, gentle beginning of rain falling on gray water feels like exactly the right level of delicate sensitivity that I need lately. I found this little clip on my camera and have been transported over and over to that moment in the summer, standing on the wet dock. I keep thinking about my frighteningly tiny place in the universe and the extraordinary benevolence it shows, even when it seems otherwise. Somehow I really believe everything will be okay.