Mud Soup

Horizontal living in an increasingly vertical world. Also, muddy knees and quite a lot of traveling.

The Grad School Plan. Or something to that effect.

In one month (!!!) I will step on a plane, order up a delicious-at-altitude tomato juice, and settle into about 3 feature-length films’ worth of flight haze before re-emerging into the welcoming arms of the academic world.

That is to say: I am starting my Masters in Applied Ecology at the University of Poitiers, France, in one month. ONE. MONTH. And I will be focusing on river ecosystems; bio-indicators; and how to educate communities on monitoring the quality of their local water sources.

The program is through Erasmus Mundus, an EU-based collaboration between European universities that facilitates study between multiple campuses. I will be studying at the University of Poitiers for one semester, and at the University of Coimbra (Portugal) for three semesters more. That’s the current plan. But there’s a lot of mobility, and a lot of room for switching it up. So I might just end up on another of the affiliated campuses for some of that time, very possibly the Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany. WHO KNOWS.

One thing is for sure: a month in there will be spent at the University of Quito, Ecuador, with field time in the Galapagos. So, you know. There’s that.

This program brings with it the normal academic challenges of essay-writing and deadlines and presentations, but it also presents linguistic challenges, and cultural ones; and I am fully aware that I will be diving in at the deep end. But I feel like that is exactly what is important right now. Considering how wide-spread current environmental challenges are, we need to be able to think globally and act locally; and intercultural fluency will be key.

So, stay tuned. Science, procrastination, homework, adventures, bike rides, and international river ecology to follow.

Indigenous communities world wide connecting through the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, and the conviction that through the collection of data, communities can assert their rights for clean and healthy rivers.

How to change the world, starting with water rights

Everyone has the right to an undamaged ecosystem…. right?

This, along with the trippy idea that everyone has the right to clean drinking water, is the driving tenet of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council. The YRITWC, a collaboration between almost 70 indigenous groups along Canada and Alaska’s Yukon River, conducts what it calls “healing journeys” along the Yukon River every year. These journeys connect tribes along the river and give them a voice in the battle to keep the Yukon River’s water drinkable (or, in many cases, to restore it to drinkability), and as the canoes arrive at each new community they hand out water testing supplies. These supplies will be used to take samples of the river at each site over the course of the next year. This - quantitative data on the river’s health - is their weapon of choice.

The data that is coming out of the Yukon River due to these yearly healing journeys is of extraordinarily good quality, to the point that the YRITWC have been given charge of the USGS’s water quality testing program. And the data is invaluable: it is providing a scientific basis for fighting back against pollution along the Yukon. It is giving voice to indigenous communities. It is reminding them: they have the LEGAL RIGHT to be able to drink from the Yukon River. A simple, obvious right, but one which has been (and is being) compromised.

What is amazing about the YRITWC’s program is that indigenous leaders worldwide are looking at it, and deciding that it is about damn time for something like that to exist on their river, too. Tribal leaders in regions as far-flung as Siberia, Peru, and South Sudan have invited Yukon leaders to meet with them and facilitate the set-up of similar programs on their rivers.

This. Is. Amazing.

I bring up this beautiful program, and the widespread appeal of the environmental and political work it is doing, because this is the reason I am going to graduate school. We are living in a world of rapidly dwindling resources, rapidly increasing quantities of pollution and waste, and rapidly decreasing space in which to put all the crap we generate. Communities, especially those that are small and disconnected, are often at the mercy of large companies, governments, cities and other entities that are able to pollute with impunity; because small groups lack the voice to speak up. The YRITWC and other groups like it are giving them that voice, and a sense of empowerment to go with it.

And, on top of that - they are preserving some beautiful ecosystems. Kudos to great deeds. 

Cool links on the YRITWC:

Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council website

Larson, John. “Giving a Microphone to the World’s Most Remote People.” PBS. An awesome video about the work of YRITWC director Jon Waterhouse, who started the initial healing journeys.

Rosenfeld, Rob and Jon Waterhouse. “The Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council.” Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation. A presentation by Jon Waterhouse and previous YRITWC director Rob Rosenfeld on some of their ongoing projects.

I put on a placid professional exterior, while inside I was a full martini glass placed on a rubber ball.

David Mclean, “The Answer to the Riddle Is Me” -  This American Life #399: Contents Unknown.

It’s spring now in Santa Barbara. If I’m honest, there’s no discernible difference in temperature or number of people in bikinis or the prevalence of blue cloudless skies (these seem to be the year-round norm here); but daylight savings just kicked in, the days have been getting rapidly lengthier, and I’m making plans for next year. This seems to be more the essence of spring than anything else, the nurturing of new ideas that suddenly seem to flower and bloom all on their own.

The plans involve A) grad school, and B) the whole wide world. In other words, I’m packing up my traveler’s bag again and getting back out there. And studying, to boot.

A number of things have happened in the last few months that have prompted this lust for change. The most catalyzing, and certainly the most difficult, was the end of the relationship that brought me here; it was scary, because I had never felt like Santa Barbara was “my” town, and it was sad, because of the emotional upheaval and the loss inherent in a break-up. But it was also liberating. People whom I had considered housemates and coworkers rallied to support me as friends, and I realized that in my 6 months here I have woven myself a beautiful network. There’s something raw and touching in the way that people open themselves up to reveal their own hurts and histories when they see that you are grieving; and as I went through (go through) my process of recovering, people told me stories of their own break-ups, their coping techniques, the ways that they came back to life after. 

That’s the kind of open, honest rawness that I’ve found again and again as I travel; people seem to be willing to open up to that degree with either close friends or complete strangers. And it’s re-awakened with intensity my desire to get out there again, to travel and live abroad and meet the kind of people who are doing that exact same thing.

My plans are under lock and key till I’m sure about them. At the moment I’m talking with professors, pursuing funding, and writing up a research outline. A few key words to describe the upcoming adventure: hydro-ecology, trilingual homework assignments, Galapagos, bio-indicators, Erasmus.

Bam.

Santa Barbara from Franceschi Park, sunset

My workspace wall brightens my day. I am working on pursuing grad school funding today. #lavender #bright

My workspace wall brightens my day. I am working on pursuing grad school funding today. #lavender #bright

La Jaula de Oro. Beautiful. Devastating. A brutally and unapologetically honest portrayal of the industry of predation built around disenfranchised immigrants heading north to the border. Watch it.

The de Young had a lot of very beautiful art; we spent a long time in the Oceanic, African and Americas sections, and were really blown away by some of the pieces. But for some reason this simple concrete room at the base of the tower observation deck, with its hanging wicker shapes, really struck a chord with me. It smells oddly like my memories of buildings at Caltech: musty, concrete, well-worn; and the flowing, rounded patterns in such a sparse room, casting doubles and triples of themselves across the bare walls… there’s something very moving here.

The de Young had a lot of very beautiful art; we spent a long time in the Oceanic, African and Americas sections, and were really blown away by some of the pieces. But for some reason this simple concrete room at the base of the tower observation deck, with its hanging wicker shapes, really struck a chord with me. It smells oddly like my memories of buildings at Caltech: musty, concrete, well-worn; and the flowing, rounded patterns in such a sparse room, casting doubles and triples of themselves across the bare walls… there’s something very moving here.