Howdy y’all! I’m happy to report that my capstone presentation went off without a hitch and was well received by the panel of specialists and my cohort of fellow trainees alike! With all the preparation through I’m finally gearing up to take my capstone project to the streets over the next few months by featuring some local environmental organizations on this here blog. Stay tuned!
I must admit that after the capstone presentation I was pretty wiped out and ready for a little vacation. Luckily, my fiancé and I had a few greenbacks in our bank account so we decided to plan a trip that would be an escape from our daily rigmarole (and also an opportunity to solidify some of my newly minted naturalist knowledge!) After relentlessly spinning the globe and carefully crafting our budget we finally decided on a destination… ALASKA!
The name Alaska instantly evokes tales of wild adventure, outdoor excitement and pressing ecological issues in my mind. Nicknamed ‘The Last Frontier”, Alaska’s mythical appeal continues to draw over 1.5 million adventurous spirits each year to its endless natural wonders and rugged frontier culture. With a landmass greater than Texas, Montana and California combined and only a handful of roads, this majestic behemoth of a state is ripe for outdoor exploration. And exploring we did!
Renting a car out of Anchorage, we immediately headed south to the Kenai Peninsula and the stunning coastal town of Seward. The Peninsula has been dubbed “Alaska’s Playground” due to its close proximity to Anchorage and wealth of outdoor opportunities. After a few days hiking around glaciers and whale watching in Resurrection Bay, we drove from Seward to Valdez along the magnificent Glen Highway and Richardson Highway to witness some salmon spawning in action. We were in awe of the shear size of this annual migration and had the chance to see bear, sea lions and bald eagles take part in this annual feeding and reproduction frenzy. We rounded out the trip by traveled along the famously desolate McCarthy Highway, spending the night in the land of the midnight sun in Fairbanks, and hiking among arctic squirrels and caribou in Denali National Park.
It’s impossible to capture the splendor of Alaska without being there in the flesh and blood but I created a little travelogue video of some of the highlights from our travels to aid your imagination. Happy Trails!
PA Master Naturalist Guest Blog: Chester Environmental Partnership Video and Capstone Project
My, oh my, how the time flies! After a month and a half of non-stop environmental action, the learning component of the PA Master Naturalist program is drawing to a close. While it will be sad to bid adieu to our exciting weekly learning sessions, I am looking forward to putting some of my newly minted knowledge to good use…the real fun is about to begin!
After our classroom ‘graduation’, my classmates and I will be designated as official Master Naturalist Trainees. In order to shed the Trainee status and become a real-deal Master Naturalist, each of us will have to complete 30 service hours and 8 hours of advanced training over the next year. This is the point in the initiation process where the pledge must prove his worth… kind of like in a cheesy martial arts movie where the young samurai must steal the emperor’s diamond to be fully accepted into the clandestine warrior guild.
Subsequently, the last assignment for our final class is to develop an outline for a potential service project. This outline is like the blueprints of a real project that could be implemented once us ‘Trainees’ get out into the field. The assignment, entitled the ‘Capstone Project’, will be presented before a panel of environmental experts and current Master Naturalists. After the presentation the panel decides whether to feed you to the lion by giving you a thumb up or a thumb down (just joshing). In reality, the panel and our peers will then offer criticism about the merit and feasibility of the prospective service project to the presenter. And then we will all have a Naturalist party with cupcakes and soda (not joshing).
I’ve already spoken to a few of my peers about their capstone projects and heard some pretty cool ideas so far, including:
Creating a rain garden on the grounds of a local library
Leading an urban birding walk through an 19th century cemetery
Coordinating volunteer efforts to clear invasive plants from a local reservoir
The inspiration for my capstone project actually stemmed from thinking about how cool my classmates ideas were. Here was the thought process…
hmm, these service projects are cool
People should know about these service projects
hmm, I got a camera and I (kind of) know how to use it
Voila! I’ll make videos about these service projects and show them to people!
After revising and expanded my project a bit, I came up with the following outline:
Create 5-minute videos that focus on an environmental issue and a nonprofit organization addressing the issue.
Partner with an independent media outlet (such as GreenTreks) to broadcast the video to a wide audience
Apply this template to other environmental organizations and repeat
What’s more, I actually made a video last spring about a nonprofit organization in Chester that can serve as a template for my capstone project. The video features an environmental justice nonprofit named ‘The Chester Environmental Partnership’ and was made in effort to promote the organization’s mission and accomplishments. Below is a link to the video if you would like to get a better understanding of what I’m going for. For now I’m getting all jazzed up for my upcoming presentation and am praying I don’t get fed to the lion. I’ll let you know how it went next time…hopefully! Until then, adios!
PA Master Naturalist Guest Blog: Nature Journaling
Continuing on with our PA Master Naturalist Guest Blogs, John McGlaughlin discusses nature journaling.
Well, here we are, a few weeks into the Naturalist program and the work is rolling in! One of our weekly at-home assignments is to keep a nature journal. Hmm, I initially thought, what good can come of this? I haven’t kept a journal since 3rd grade when I wrote about important things like what color eye-mask I would wear if I were one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My initial reservations with this assignment’s purpose were eventually subdued after reminding myself that as naturalists we are encouraged to explore, observe and reflect on the natural world. What better way to synthesize these 3 tasks then by keeping a nature journal?!
The art of nature journaling has been around for a while. Pliny the Elder put together a mean nature journal in ‘Naturalis Historia’ a few thousand years ago where he collected all the natural phenomena of his day that he could find. And the tradition continued into the modern era with authors like John Muir, Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold all keeping nature journals that are thought to contain some of the most important ecological writing of the 20th century. And then there’s me to carry on the torch.
So where to begin? Us naturalists-in-training were informed that a good way to start a nature journal is by selecting a special ‘nature spot’ outside that you can visit regularly in order to expand your sensitivity to and familiarity with nature. Then after your nature spot’s all mapped out you need to ‘get in the zone’ by sharpening your five senses to tune in with the natural world. Finally, once your nature mojo is flowing, you need to make careful observations of your nature spot, reflect upon those observations and finally record them in your trusty nature journal… easy enough!
Each week we’re assigned a different way of experiencing our nature spot to broaden and enrich our nature journaling. For example, previous assignments included wearing a blindfold at our natural spot to alter the typical optical-centric perspective of the environment. Another week we were directed to look for evidence of the water cycle in action and to visualize the changes our nature spot undergoes during each part of the cycle.
This past week we were charged with visiting our nature spot to observe the variety of species living there, with the specific task of identifying the producers, consumers and decomposers. For those in need of a brush-up in science-speak, producers make their own food, consumers feed on producers or other consumers, and decomposers eat and break down dead producers/consumers/decomposers. I brought my camera along for this assignment to provide a video log of my experience. See ya next time!
Guest Blog: Introducing Master Naturalist John McGlaughlin
Hi all, My name is John McGlaughlin and I am a PA Master Naturalist in training. I hail from the Roxborough section of Philadelphia and am a Public Defender by day and a Naturalist by night. I live a stone’s throw away from Fairmount park and spent much of my life ‘back the crick’ enjoying the many splendors of the great outdoors. The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is another great resource that is also right around the corner from my house. I was even lucky enough to intern with the environmental education department of the Schuylkill Center during my college days at Temple University. Roxborough has so many outdoor opportunities that it’s earned the nickname Philbilladelphia.
The PA Master Naturalist program has been nothing short of amazing so far. I heard about the program back in January by way of e-mail and had my application sent out the following week. I worked as an environmental educator a few years back at the Schuylkill Center and another place called the Ashokan Field Campus up in the Catskills. But then law school disrupted most of my environmental ed. opportunities and I’ve been hankering to get back into the field ever sine. I’m hoping to use my newfound Naturalist position to get back into teaching young people and sharing some of the great things I’m learning in the program.
So, everybody asks ‘What do you do in the Master Naturalist program?’ Well, so far we’ve done a whole lot. The course consists of weekly ecological readings, in-class lectures with environmental professionals, full day field trips and periodic nature journaling. Our coursework will culminate in a capstone project where each Naturalist develops a service project and then presents their idea to a panel of environmental experts.
This past week we focused on arthropods and ornithology but previous Naturalist topics included Wissahickon Geology, Biodiversity, Upland Habitats, Watersheds and Natural Selection. To get a better sense of the hands-on component of the Naturalist Program I brought my camera along for our ornithology/herpetology/arthropods session this past weekend to capture some of our adventures from the field.