Wildbranch

Do you read Orion magazine?

If you don’t, you should. I got to hear editor-in-chief Chip Blake describe how Orion came to be: it was founded by people who thought that the “conversation [around the environment] in the 1970’s was too dominated by science and policy” and sought a more humane, if you will, approach. The magazine features excellent writing and art – it’s a forum for nature writing, but its nature writing suggests that nature is, well, everything. Their current issue has a piece by Sandra Steingraber, one of the most inspiring authors I know. Steingraber once described herself as “a two-way translator between the public and scientific community,” and that’s exactly the sort of writing we need more of today.

(I want to be her. But I can’t, for many reasons including but not limited to, I did not develop bladder cancer in my early 20s because of the environmental factors in my hometown. If I could be her without having to go through the cancer thing, that would be cool. Unfortunately I’m also not as good at writing, or as smart. I met her once and had to refrain from saying, “I want to do exactly what you do!” because, well, that would have been pretty awkward.)

But back to Orion.

They have an annual workshop for nature writers and lo and behold, it is held at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. It’s called the Wildbranch Writing Workshop, after a stream in nearby Wolcott.

Even if my writing was good enough to get selected for a prestigious workshop like this (not a chance), it’s far too expensive for me to attend. Which all seems a little cruel, me living right next to it. But at the very least, each year that faculty give public readings, and I was not going to miss those for anything (and in fact had to disobey Pepa’s orders to do a trail running race that evening).

And so there I was, sitting in a row with a few other young women, all of us wearing colorful woven scarves (I silently reprimanded myself for being so stereotypically… something), listening to Blake tell us about the philosophy of Orion. As he introduced Scott Russell Sanders, a well-dressed woman in nice bright red cutout shoes slid in next to me and my heart skipped a beat: it was Janisse Ray.

Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. Sitting next to me. As we both scribbled down something that Sanders said about manifestos, she tapped my arm and asked me what the rest of the sentence had been. That was my brush with greatness for the week and I childishly hoped that some of her awesomeness would rub off on me.

Sanders was a great reader, extremely charismatic, and would be perfect at an environmental rally of some sort. He read “For The Children”, a piece from one of his books. It had some great language in it but I have to say it was not what I had come there for. I’m not sure what I had come for, but this was too heavy, a bit, with its constant mentioning of the consequences of our daily actions.

Then Ray did her reading. This, I realized, was what I came for. Ray is funny and has a great presence. She finds the humor even in tough situations. The first piece she read was from the book she’s working on right now, and was about a neighbor whose family had, in the 1800s, developed its own variety of corn by combining three others. They still plant it, and had offered to share some seeds with Ray. Lucky her! “If you haven’t heard about seeds, they are disappearing like every damn other thing,” Ray read. But here, as ever, she was hopeful where some people couldn’t be: “There is no despair in a seed.”

The second piece was a bit from her journal about attempting to capture and domesticate a swarm of bees. I loved everything about it, from the humorous conversations with her husband, replicated in Ray’s southern drawl, to the claim that “working with the bees was like working with bread dough.” I loved her language, her descriptions, everything about it. Of course, I do have a soft spot for bees.

David Gessner finished up the evening. And he’d had a few drinks. He first read from the beginning of his book Sick of Nature:

I am sick of nature. Sick of trees, sick of birds, sick of the ocean. It’s been almost four years now, four years of sitting quietly in my study and sipping tea and contemplating the migratory patterns of the semipalmated plover. Four years of writing essays praised as “quiet” by quiet magazines. Four years of having neighborhood children ask their fathers why the man down the street comes to the post office dressed in his pajamas (“Doesn’t he work, Daddy?”) or having those same fathers wonder why, when the man actually does dress, he dons the eccentric costume of an English bird watcher, complete with binoculars. Four years of being constrained by the gentle straightjacket of genre; that is, four years of writing about the world without being able to say the word “shit.” (While talking a lot of scat.) And let’s not forget four years of being the official “nature guy” among my circle of friends. Of going on walks and having them pick up every leaf and newt and turd and asking “what’s this?” and, when I (defenseless unless armed with my field guides and even then a bumbler) admit I don’t know, having to shrug and watch the sinking disappointment in their eyes.

It’s a great piece.

He then read “Letter to an Apprentice”, which should have the subtitle “Beginning is terrifying business.” It is full of advice for those of us who are beginning to write. It made me think, for sure. But it was kind of too long.

And then it was over, and I went home, dreams of writing in my mind, but tired. Too tired to write anything. So many times I have told myself that if I just write for an hour before bed, I could get a lot of writing in. But I never can. My days are too full. It’s too much.

Someday. In the meantime, I got to enjoy listening to some fabulous authors read from their work.

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Ski Incline!

Ida and I on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

For the last ten days, the Craftsbury Green Racing Project has been holding a training camp at Lake Tahoe. Why? People keep asking me if we’re chasing snow. Nope. The main goal of the camp is to get some altitude training in – ideally, we’d be skiing at altitude, but doing dryland at altitude is the next best thing. Tickets were cheap and we have a free place to stay in Incline Village, so things are working out well.

We’ve had many beautiful, sunny, warm workouts – exactly what one would expect in California. This makes it all the more surprising when things turn nasty.

Last night, Hannah and I sat in the hot tub as tiny snowflakes fell all around us. It had been cold all day, but at least sunny, and we merrily imagined snow piling up on the neighboring golf course. After all, there had to be some place we could dig up skis, even if they were kind of clunky.

In the morning, we faced reality. Not much snow had accumulated on the ground, but the roads were covered in a layer of black ice and snow had piled up on the shoulders, swept there by the passing cars. Motivation for our two-hour rollerski was low. Perhaps nonexistent. I crawled back into bed after breakfast, and thought over and over about how tired I was. Maybe I should just take a day off…

But no. I correctly recognized that while I was tired – the last week has been big on volume – I mostly was just being a wuss. I strapped on my skate boots, my warmest spandex, several layers on top, and actual ski gloves. We hit the streets.

I almost immediately found that I couldn’t skate on large sections of the road. My skis slipped out as I kicked, leaving me unbalanced and, mostly, frustrated. We double-poled the iciest sections, and even then, it took concentration to keep our skis upright and moving in a straight line. The challenge did have its benefits: before I knew it, twenty minutes had passed. I didn’t have time to complain about the sub-freezing temperatures or how tired I had been. I was just out there, skiing.

We tried to ski up the pass, but after half an hour, gave up. It was just too icy. Instead, we skied through residential neighborhoods along the lake. Adapt and overcome, as Ruff would say….

The tabs open in my browser are getting quite numerous, so here’s a link dump of, as Ollie says (hi Ollie) “things Chelsea has read and wants you to read.”

– One of my cabinmates from the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, when I was working on my thesis, is headed to Copehagen for the climate negotiations! Here’s a little bit about what she has to say. Go Ellie!!

– On energy: Obama can give a darn good speech. But, as climate legislation keeps getting bumped back and as Copenhagen looms, what’s his vision? Come on, buddy…

– On the other hand, apparently doing simple things like changing lightbulbs could actually make a big difference. So everyone, do the 17 things this Science article suggests.

– Closer to home, a Vermont program offering incentives for sustainable energy installments is inundated with applications. Hope all those things get built!

– I suspect that Meatless Mondays would have a similar reception on our team as it did in the Baltimore School System. We may try to sneak it past the boys somehow anyway.

– And finally: “Why Sleepyheads Forget.” We are definitely sleepyheads. Except Ida and Lauren, who wake up early.

This article is about some really cool research calculating Amazonian forest biomass from planes. Sign me up!

“Green” and 350

Today we hiked/ran from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass. Beautiful!

Today we hiked/ran from Squaw Valley to Donner Pass. Beautiful!

When people ask me what it means to be a green ski team, I sometimes struggle to answer. We haven’t changed the world (yet). But we’ve done a few things, we’ve tried to do a few more things, and we organized the Team 350 Challenge.

The idea of the challenge was to get people to think. Our earth’s atmosphere currently has 387 parts per million of carbon dioxide floating around in it. In order to avoid catastrophic environmental effects – which, more than just wrecking the “environment”, which a lot of people don’t really care about, would wreck people’s lives – this level should drop below 350 parts per million. One of these catastrophes is that there would be no snow, and we’d be out of luck for skiing.

We challenged our community, along with the rowing community, to cumulatively train 350 million meters over the course of a month. While our goal was to get as many people signed on as possible, and to log as many meters as we could, I imagined that if 1,000 people each logged 350 thousand meters (350 kilometers), we’d reach our goal. That’s not much more than 10 kilometers per day. There is quite a large number of athletes out there who train that much or more.

While the Team 350 Challenge doesn’t include any specific action to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, each person that signs onto the challenge is aware of the issue. If we could get athletes to think about climate change as they logged their meters online, surely we could make a difference, or at least a statement.

As I write this, nearly 1,500 people have taken up the challenge. Among the names on the honor boards are Green Mountain Valley School coach Justin Beckwith and his team; NCAA All-Americans Rosie Brennan, Susan Dunklee, and Caitlin Patterson; and, of course, all the members of our team. Nearly 100 athletes have completed 350 kilometers of training.

Regardless of the fact that we will not reach our goal, we have reached out to a significant number of people. And this ties back into our goal, into my answer to the first question, into what makes us a “green” racing team. Although acting is undeniably better than thinking, at the very least, our goal is to raise awareness about sustainability issues.

Tim sometimes refers to “the hypocrisy of being a green ski racer.” We will never be a zero-waste, zero-emissions team. It’s not possible. You can’t walk to every race on your own two feet. You can’t train at altitude in Vermont – hence we’re in Lake Tahoe right now.

But we can do as much as we can make sure we are not wasting resources unnecessarily, and to make sure that our competitors are aware of their own effect on the environment. We can do our workouts from our house whenever possible instead of driving somewhere. We can eat as much local food as possible. We can write letters to our legislators and politicians and try to make sure that the Copenhagen negotiations are fruitful.

There is a lot of buzz around 350 right now. We hope that you’re paying attention to what so many people are saying – thanks Andrew Gardner, thanks Steinbock, thanks Sara Renner, thanks to so many others – and we hope you continue to think about it for the rest of the year, too.

Training notes: Autumn in Vermont

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Pepa has been in Bulgaria for the last two weeks. Ida, Hannah, Tim, and Lauren have been in Lake Placid for the last week. The rest of us have just tried to hold down the fort.

Training without Pepa is bizarre – I never thought I would say that, because I am proud of the fact that for the last three summers I trained almost entirely by myself. I also just enjoy being alone – there are training days where I like to ski along chatting, but there are also days when it is a relief to be able to use that time to think your own thoughts and be inside your own head. When some of my teammates expressed dismay that we would have to train without Pepa, I basically told them to grow up.

But, really, I miss Pepa. Now there’s nobody to tell us “Good morning, my sleeping beauties,” and nobody to make sure my technique is good when I’m skiing. Some days it was hard to motivate ourselves to go train. It’s especially hard when it’s gray, rainy, and less than 50 degrees out. Those days are toughness training. On one such day, I decided to run our negative-split workout instead of rollerskiing. Ollie decided he was sick, and Matt didn’t decide anything. Instead, he sat around in his training clothes in a perpetual state of indecision about whether to go rollerski, and at the end of the day said, “I blew it. I really need Pepa to come back”.

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One of the amazing things about Vermont is that each town seems to have its own weather system. This morning, we started rollerskiing in sunny East Craftsbury. By the time we got over Johnson’s Hill, it was hailing, which wasn’t so bad since it didn’t get us wet. In Greensboro the hail turned to a cold rain. Ida and I, soaked and freezing, turned around to go get jackets and gloves; coming back over Johnson’s Hill it was snowing, but in East Craftsbury it was still sunny. We put our jackets on anyway.

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On a less cheerful note, I have developed tendonitis in my elbow. It’s from rollerskiing. It first appeared after our 5-hour classic ski a few weeks ago. I’ve been liberally applying some Bulgarian anti-inflammatory gel, and I thought it was getting better; this turned out to be because I took a break from training, and now that I have skied four days in a row, it’s back with a vengeance. It’s in my left elbow, and Lauren’s theory is that the roads are crowned so the inside pole is planted slightly above the outside pole every time you stride. I am hoping I can make it to ski season without it getting much worse, and that snow will provide a nice low-impact cushion. Until then, I hope to avoid 5-hour rollerskis…

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Yesterday morning’s rollerski also left me pretty wet. My boots were literally full of water, to the extent that I could pour it out of them (note: I need to make fenders for my rollerskis). Then in the afternoon, when it was beautiful and sunny, we had BKL practice. I really didn’t want to put my feet back into my soaking-wet boots, so instead I broke out my brand-new pair of Salomon S-Labs, which I had been saving up for when we got on snow. When I went to put them on, I looked in the left boot and saw…. fluff. A mouse house. Apparently nothing is safe from the mice. Luckily, they hadn’t chewed up the boot at all, and also luckily, there weren’t any actual mice in the boot. I was still bitter though.