Hands Off our National Monuments

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Photo by: Teresa Baker

I’ve often wondered what would push me to the point where I was wholly dedicated to the protection of our public lands. I reached that level today.

Today, a sitting president announced that the Secretary of the Interior is to reconsider the protection of monuments that were set aside under previous presidents. Most of the monuments speak to the cultural heritage in this country. Bears Ears National Monument, Native American sacred ground, was controversial and its designation was celebrated throughout the conservation community.

The annual Outdoor Retailer show abandoned the state of Utah because the governor refused to stand against the call to do away with the monument. Also on the list are the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument and the Pullman National Monument, both of which are very important to me personally because of the work I do to engage a more diverse audience in the outdoors.

As a country, we cannot sit idly by and allow these proposed actions to take effect. We stand to lose much in the way of protected public spaces, spaces that took years to acquire. It took even longer to document the history of these areas and to prove their importance. It is no secret that this country has a record of denying history, and this attack on our monuments is no different.

Most of the monuments on the list for review tell a story from the perspective of Native Americans, African Americans, and Latino Americans. They document the history of civil rights and civil unrest in this country, and to do away with any of them would be a slap in the face of all of who came before us. Too many fought for too long to ensure environmental protections, civil rights, and historical facts were preserved; we cannot give up now.

It will not be on my watch that these places are taken away without a fight through the courts, through protest or various other tactics. We must resist the current sitting president and administration, who wish to see these ancestral lands sold off to the highest bidders. The damage the president is proposing by undoing the protections currently in place for these designated monuments would be permanent and devastating. Time is not on our side.

Man continues to be the greatest threat to the environment. We build without borders, we drill without sanctions, we act without care for the land around us. This is not sustainable for future generations. As a member of the Next 100 Coalition , I will do my part to persuade all acting interests to do the right thing and combine our efforts with others to stand up to this action by the president and say no, not this time. And not ever.

Ken Brower: the environmentalist talks diversity in outdoor spaces.

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Ken Brower at Point Reyes

I didn’t know much about Ken Brower until a recent connection made possible by Robert Hanna, great great grandson of John Muir. I did know that he is an environmentalist, that he has written several books on the environment(my current read)Hetch Hetchy:Undoing a Great American Mistake ,and he is the the eldest son of prominent environmentalist David Brower. That was it. And then I met him. We communicated first through emails, then by phone, and then, and most importantly, in person.

We met at Point Reyes and walked along one of the local trails. We talked about my work, his work, his life, and his thoughts. We also talked about his father and his environmental efforts. Then we talked about the subject which led to our meeting: diversity and inclusion in the outdoors

What I got from our meeting was more than I was prepared for. I’d always thought of the “environmentalist” type as being overbearing, strong in their convictions, and unwavering; he was not at all like that. He was very open to hearing my thoughts, he listened, and he didn’t try to force his opinion on me. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall there being a single point that he was adamant about.

I really wanted to get his take on matters of diversity and inclusion in the outdoors and within environmental agencies, which is what we spent the majority of our time together discussing. He allowed me the opportunity to pose a few questions…Here are his thoughts.

How do you feel lack of diversity in the outdoor arena, effects overall efforts to protect the environment?

We need people of all types and persuasions in the movement to protect the environment.  Right now, we’re losing the battle; we need all the troops we can get.  People of color should be at the forefront, as they are always the first to suffer from environmental degradation.  Their voices–the voices of experience–are crucial.  As European-Americans become an ever-smaller minority in America, the importance of diversity in the environmental movement grows in inverse proportion.  Because that’s where the numbers will increasingly be.

But my main regret about the lack of diversity outdoors has less to do with efforts to protect the environment than with simple equity.  The natural world is fundamental to all of us; it’s a fundamental right.  Our species evolved as hunter-gatherers in the wilderness of Mother Africa. Wild nature is where we humans come from; it’s where all our instincts and behaviors formed.  Long before the invention of agriculture, we had evolved into just who we are today.  We were shaped in nature.

If you are Hmong American, or Guatemalan American, or African American before the Great Migration, then your people had a very close and very recent connection with nature. If today, in cities, you are unable to find your way out into nature, then you are cut off from your roots.  You are separated from roots deeper than any of those tribal or ethnic markers that we tend to identify as our identities.  You are cut off from a more essential identity.

What is the greatest barrier for conventional outdoor organizations, in reaching audiences of color? ( lack of concern, lack of know how)

I feel strongly that every time we ask this question, we also must turn it around: What is the greatest barrier to people of color in reaching outdoor organizations?  It’s a two-way street.  It does no good for outdoors organizations to reach out to people of color if people of color are not interested.  There is much talk of minorities being excluded from organizations fighting for nature.  I don’t see it.  Once it was true, surely, but no longer.  I have worked with, and for, several environmental organizations, and all are deeply troubled by the lack of diversity in the movement.  All of them understand that diversity is going to be vital if their work is to succeed.

I am a white man who married African American women. (Two of them!  But serially–not at the same time!)  My children came out dark.  Forty-something years ago, I ran for the board of the S.F. Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club on the principle that we needed more diversity.  The Bay Chapter, almost entirely Caucasian, liked the diversification idea. They elected me!  My problem was in recruiting people of color.  I struck out even with my in-laws.  There is no mystery as to why this was.  African Americans in the 1960s had other priorities.  My first wife, Marion, was secretary for the Black Veterans of Merritt College in Oakland, one of the student groups that morphed into the Black Panther Party. THAT is the sort of thing that was going on in those days. This was the time of Selma and voting rights institutional racism and police violence and German shepherds and water cannons.  A time not unlike today.  My guess is that the closer our society moves toward racial equity; the more time people of color will have for environmentalism.

What are your thoughts on the new administration soon to take office, regarding environmental efforts?

Donald Trump is an unprecedented threat to the republic, to American democracy, and an unprecedented effort will be required to stop him.  The best hope I see is to go to the example of Dr. King in civil rights and the other organizers of the protests against the Vietnam War (which ended the presidency of Lyndon Johnson.)  Great masses of citizens mobilized in the streets.  If any recent development is encouraging, it is what is happening at Standing Rock. There is tremendous power in gathering in a cause and standing firm.  If Trump, being the racist, misogynist, xenophobic, climate-change-denying, know-nothing warmonger and demagogue he is, can’t unite people of color, women, religious minorities, environmentalists, pacifists, and decent Americans of all other stripes, then it will never happen.

Mr. Brower’s final thoughts.

We need to unite. The environmental movement suffers from too much internal bickering.  Environmental justice advocates tend to grow impatient with the old guard of tree-huggers, and vice versa.  Foodie environmentalists often diss wilderness advocates.  Enthusiasts for urban parks and those for national parks tend to think that their own special interest is the true and correct path.  In fact, it’s all the same movement.  To succeed we need to advance full speed down all these paths.

Privilege, Perception & the Environment

IMG_5676Outdoor organizations, agencies, and retailers who care about the natural world cannot ignore the urgency now facing environmental protection. With the election behind us, the fight that lies ahead is unprecedented. We will have a sitting president who has made it clear that the environment is not on his agenda.

The progress we have made regarding clean air, water, and climate change will soon be tested. Our public lands may be offered to the highest bidders. We must step up our collective efforts and fight harder than ever to guard what we claim as sacred. We need more faces in this battle, faces of color who for the most part have been absent from your advertisements, in your board rooms, and on your staffs. We will all be impacted positively or negatively based on your actions or inaction’s.

While we all inhabit this planet equally, there is a void in your organizations, brands, and agencies. This must change and it must change now. What is at stake if we continue to wait for the “right time” is an attack on the planet that will not be reversible.

Diversity and inclusion must be on your agenda. There must be budget line items for the work and Diversity and inclusion training must be part of your overall staff training. Equal representation in advertising sends a message, that people of color represent the outdoor world and your brand.

You might think that you have the privilege to wait it out, but that privilege is not extended to our planet. As a matter of fact, it suffers from your acts of privilege. The planet cannot wait until it’s financially beneficial to you to act. It needs for you to act now, to try new concepts, take risks, make mistakes, lose public support, celebrate occasional victories, and still be brave enough to do what’s right.

I don’t have all the answers, but what I know without a doubt is that come January 2017, we need to be in the thick of change, just like the man taking office will be. We must be prepared to bring new soldiers into this fight for environmental protection. Those new soldiers (people of color) have been sitting at the door, waiting your acceptance, your invitation to join your boards, organizations, and staffs. Are you prepared to welcome them in or will you continue to fear what those around you will say if you’re among the first to take up the fight?
1493361_10202810260993578_37607114_oAccording to the results of the recent election, there are now 59 million people across this country that I must add to my list of people to convince that the environment is worth fighting for, that diversity and inclusion is worth fighting for. Will you stand with me in this fight, or will you stand with that 59 million and watch our planet die?

Open Letter to the National Park Service. Thank you.

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Photo by: Teresa Baker

Thank you for your 100-year commitment to the service of our amazing national park sites. I know that it isn’t easy to manage such beauty, but through shortfalls in budgets and cuts in personnel, you’ve managed to maintain the majesty of our wild places, the truth of our historic and cultural sites, the freedom of our recreation areas, and the memories held by our battlefields, museums, cemeteries and heritage sites. You’ve protected national river- ways, seashores, and lakeshores, managing them for all of us to enjoy. Over 400 special places are now under your care, and all are better for it.

You are held to higher standards than we place on ourselves as stewards of these great spaces, yet you continue to keep the beauty of what we’ve come to expect, a priority in your daily management of America’s wild spaces. Thank you for that.

When I stand in the valley of Yosemite, I see your efforts. When I walk through a grove of Redwoods, I see your commitment to these majestic giants. When I float down the grandest of rivers, I see your efforts. It can’t be easy to keep America’s greatest landscapes standing at the ready for all their visitors, but you do it, year after year, and your efforts are appreciated.

Yes, there are issues you face as an agency that at times overshadow the great work you do in keeping America’s parks beautiful, but over time, with renewed commitment, I know that you will work through those issues and continue to stand as a symbol of pride in workplace and work stations.

So as we move into the next 100 years of the National Park Service, let us all embrace our responsibilities to these lands and to one another and work even harder to provide funding and proper resources to keep America’s wild spaces shining bright for generations to come.

Nature’s Grace

Bay Area Hikers Celebrate the “100th” in Yosemite.

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Our group shot from the day.

On August 27, just a couple of days after the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, I traveled to Yosemite with over 150 bay area hikers, diverse members of our community. There were black and brown faces galore, and what a beautiful array it was!

The day had been in the making for some time. When Stan Miles, one of the founders of the Bay Area hiking group, Hike Every Available Trail (HEAT), reached out to me about doing a hike in Yosemite, I thought it would be amazing. Having followed the activities of this group for a while now, I saw the number of people that participated and thought that it would be wonderful to recreate one of their hikes in Yosemite. Then I found out another Bay Area hiking group, We Are Family Wellness, would be going, and knew that it would be epic. So began the campaign “Hike for the 100th,” in honor of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I put a call out via social media and invited hikers from across the country to participate in a hike honoring the 100th anniversary of the park service.

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Photo by Katrece Avery

Our day began by hopping on buses at a local BART station. There were two busloads from this location alone, followed by carloads of folks that we met in Yosemite. The final numbers are not in, but we know that there were at least 180 of us. It was diversity at its finest. As we made our way to Yosemite, there was a lot of laughter and conversations about how excited many of the people were to be going to Yosemite for the first time. Folks were ready to make it to the park and get their hike on!

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We arrived in the park around 11:00 am, after departing the Bay Area around 6:00 am. As we stepped off the buses, stretching from the long haul, you could feel the excitement.  We were met by Ranger John Jackson of the National Park Service. The staff at Yosemite had reached out to me earlier in the week to ask if we needed anything. They were notified of our visit by the DC office. I asked if they could provide a ranger just to greet us and give us a short introduction to the park, as this would have been the first visit for many along on the trip.

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Photo by: Kie Dawson

Ranger John mingled among the crowd and waited with us while we boarded the park shuttle to head over to the Mist Trail. It took three shuttles before we were all able to crowd our way on to the already packed shuttles. Eventually we made our way to the trailhead where we met up with the other group from the Bay Area. We greeted one another and gathered for our group photo. There were so many of us that we had to rearrange ourselves several times to get everyone in the photo. After the group photo, folks headed off to the trail, excitement still in their eyes.

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Photo by: Katrece Avery

Having a group this size is truly a feat to manage, but the leaders of these hiking groups, Stan, Stayce, Sharlene, Katrece, Kevin Nichols and Kevin Benson, did an amazing job of pulling us all together.  It was also great to have the National Park Service reach out to us to ask if they could help.

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This was an amazing trip in so many ways, but for me seeing such a huge representation of diversity in the park at one time was overwhelming. The park service cannot do the work of inclusion alone; it will take grassroots efforts such as this one to help. So the next time YOU ask what is the park service doing to bring more diversity to our parks, also ask the same of yourself.

Thank you HEAT (Hiking Every Available Trail) and WAFW (We Are Family Wellness.)

My Unconventional life. A woman of color in the outdoors.

 
jacket 2I’m often asked about the joy I find outdoors, about getting dirty, even smelly at times, with my hair unruly and clothes a little raggedy. My response is that you’ll have to try it for yourself. The other question that seems inevitable, is, “How in the world does a black woman find joy in hiking and camping out in the wilderness all by herself?!”

For me, the outdoors has always been my respite. It’s where I find relief from the hustle and hassle of the all too familiar, busy, demanding  world. My daily routine is just too routine. I’m preparing for work, working, or preparing for the angry commute back home. There is no drive or passion in that. So when my schedule allows, off the grid I go. More often than not, it’s just me, my backpack, and a good book. There is nothing more satisfying than to be off in the wilderness where I answer to no one but Mother Nature. How can anyone not relate to that?

I’m not one who hikes great distances. Usually I prefer to go no more than 10 miles. For me, it is not about the distance; it’s about the empowering nature of being out on my own. I gain so much confidence from simply wandering about taking in the sights and sounds that nature offers.

I love SUV camping, tents, cabins, and Yurts. I do it all, and I love it all. Often without even a destination  in mind, I’ll hop in the car, hit the back-roads of Northern California, and just go. Sometimes a sign will catch my eye,  and down that road I go. There are tons of camping spaces throughout the Bay Area, many of which are seldom visited, and a campground that belongs primarily just to you can offer the best experience.

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Burney Falls

My most recent visit to Burney Falls was one example of having a campground to myself. Prior to my visit, I reached out to Catherine Camp, president of the Interpretive Association at Burney Falls, and asked if she could arrange for a ranger to meet me at the park for a tour. Catherine was more than happy to work with me on my visit.  She put me in touch with Interpretive specialist, Marlon Sloan who comped my campground space for the night and made himself available to tour me around the park.The campgrounds for the most part were vacant, except for a few RVs scattered here and there. I spent the night under the stars and fell asleep listening to the silence.

The beauty of the outdoors is really more of a feeling than anything else. There is hope and inspiration, solitude and envy, the desire to protect and keep out all trespassers who do not appreciate the sanctity of such a precious place.

So for everyone who continues to ask, “What’s the big deal?” I answer: give yourself a few hours, take a hike through a national or state park, find a place to be still, take in the sounds and the sights, and notice the calming effect. Gather your thoughts, seize those thoughts, know that in that very moment, Mother Nature is at work reminding you that life is more than the monetary things we chase. The beauty of that space will stay with you and beckon  you back, simply because that is what our spirits yearn for, an awakening that our everyday lives take from us. Nature is replenishing, and that is what I desire for us all.

 

The Bliss I find in Solo Hikes.

 

1493361_10202810260993578_37607114_oAs a woman I’m often asked  if I’m afraid to hike alone and  why I like to solo hike, the answer is both simple and complex. I hike alone for the serenity and quiet of the journey, and being afraid doesn’t come into play because I’m a woman. Being out in nature allows me the time to contemplate my next move. When I hike with others, I’m too focused on being in the conversation and keeping up with the group, and it doesn’t allow me the time to slow down and focus on my thoughts.

Nature offers something that being indoors simply can’t. It is motivating to walk among the trees and tramp along the trails, focusing on nothing more than the path ahead. You notice the shape of broken tree branches, how a blade of grass reacts to the wind flowing through it, and how clouds form into shapes and images. You hear the various bird chirps and identify them by their distinct sounds. It is magical to be out in nature alone, noticing everything you miss when you’re in a group.

Solo hikes allow me the time to stop and jot down my thoughts and set priorities for the week ahead, but it is also my time to exhale from all the phone calls, planning, and complexities of the world around me. No other space offers me what being out in nature does. It’s my reward for not losing my way and giving in to the constant badgering of a world that expects you to conform to its expectations. Nature doesn’t take notice of your gender, your race, your abilities, or your faults. The only thing that matters is that you leave the space as you find it.
IMG_5242I often refer to wild spaces as my cathedral–not in a religious way, but in a spiritual sense–my place to lay my burdens down. Being in nature provides me with a way to connect to something greater than myself, nonjudgmental and welcoming to all.

Have you ever walked the valley floor of Yosemite, or stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, alone? I invite you to try it. It’s amazing how you can  feel so small in these spaces, so insignificant compared to the beauty and grandness that surrounds you. There is something invigorating about feeling the oneness in the wild spaces that surround you and encompass you completely. There you stand, completely vulnerable to the elements around you, yet you feel at peace in the serenity of it all.

Nature is a bridge between the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and the world we long for when we are caught up in a whirlwind of appointments and commitments. It provides the flip side of confusion, a space where we can be still and in tune with ourselves, almost a tunnel vision.

f94821ca-e638-42aa-871f-bb5fb4909cdaFor me, solo hikes are one of life’s necessities, sustenance for the soul, an energizing moment to get away from all the electronic gadgets and the demands on my time. Solo hikes are more than just time away from the congestion of the city; they are my time, how I choose to live my life, how I choose to break away from all the confinements that a 9 to 5 life requires.

I am unapologetic for my love of solo hikes. Some may see it as being an introvert or anti-social, but it is actually empowering to be so strong willed as to embrace the beauty and wonder in being off on your own, in spaces that you may be in for the first time, learning your way as you go, being unafraid to travel a new path or to experience life in the wilderness. I encourage you to find that path, that outdoor space that brings you to the brink of tears, as you gaze out at its beauty. The wonderment of nature is there for all to see; just remember, it’s ok to travel it alone.