A Lull in the Storm

A calmer afternoon at the lake. I wished I had my camera today, but instead decided to paint the sky with words.

I ran today at sunset down by the lake near my house. The sky was heavy with blue-violet clouds, complacently holding their rain after seeping all morning. Unfriendly waves assaulted the beach, sprinting from far across the lake. White frowns topped each pulse of water. A steady breeze accompanied the waves, pushing them, racing them? The sky and water were nearly the same color, but the jagged water seemed angrier, though the sky held promise of storms to come, the memory of storms past. The urgent wind, not cool, not warm, cautioned me that the storm was not past, not fully. Incongruously cheerful kites pulled kitesurfers roughly across the waves, stretching their arms in their sockets.

I ran further along the shore.

Golden sunbeams oozed through the dark clouds, staining the closest with a light wash of brightness and rimming them with white. A flock of small birds swished back and forth before settling on the water. Warm orange with a fading dream of coral conquered some of the airier, lower clouds. Yellow-orange shifted abruptly to indigo a third up the dense cloud bank like winter was plunged into the essence of summer. Golden threads of cloud hung like harp strings across a blend of blue and amber. Far away, the palette merged, the blues and yellows nearly indistinguishable.

I paused to watch the water.

The water reflected the sun’s fading warmth, black ripples marring the sheet of gold where the waves tilted towards me. An eagle harassed the flock of birds, swooping once, twice, three times, pushing the flock apart like a breeze scattering leaves. Each time the eagle pulled up, taunting the smaller birds like the rain clouds taunted me; the storm was not over, the danger was not gone. The lull in the storm was only a reprieve.

Playlist: Falling Leaves

Cover for October 2012 Falling Leaves playlist

Summer is undeniably gone. Although much of our Northwest forests are evergreen, we still have our share of deciduous trees presaging the slide from summer to winter as their branches turn bare.

This 2012 autumn mix sighs with nostalgia for summer. At first defiant, the mood turns to resignation as the shift proves inevitable. Indie rock, baroque pop, and britpop form a playlist seasoned with the joy of the brilliant colors, the excitement of change, the sadness of the last clinging leaves.

Celebrate the season and listen to the early fall Cascadia Inspired mix on Spotify (free, requires program): Falling Leaves
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Carnivore Conservation: Invasive Research Methods (Part 3 of 4)

Carnivore research helps scientists protect carnivores and their habitat. Some research questions cannot be answered adequately through the use of non-invasive research methods. For more specific data collection, scientists must sometimes use invasive research methods, meaning that individual animals must be handled by humans. Scientists do not take the decision lightly because they know the risk to the animals; keep in mind that most people go into wildlife biology because they care deeply about wild animals.

At Santa Monica Mountains NRA, wildlife biologists were tracking bobcats and cougars within the park and in the suburban areas surrounding the park. They needed to know whether bobcats were using the patches of undeveloped land between housing developments. They wanted to know how mountain lions were coexisting in the park, which is too small for a large population of such large carnivores, but is cut off from larger areas of habitat by large freeways. They particularly wanted to understand why bobcats in the park and urban surroundings were dying off due to a mange epidemic; what in their environment might be making them susceptible to such bad mange afflictions? I spent three months as a volunteer wildlife biologist at the park helping study the park’s carnivores (and lizards, but that’s another post).

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Legacy through Effort

Those who do and make yearn to leave some mark on the world, some legacy of our hard work. Yet in our desire for success, we might be held back from our full potential by fears of irrelevance or failure.

You may feel that so many innovations are happening, so much art is being created, so many worthy causes are asking for help, that it’s impossible to stand out. Don’t succumb. The world is drowning in content, yet the demand for more never ceases. If what you make is good and the right audience sees it, they will remember it and share it with other people.

Legacy need not be the success of our efforts, but can celebrate the efforts themselves. Though Susan B. Anthony never saw her goal of woman’s suffrage achieved, we still credit her lifetime of work for the cause. Though Giordano Bruno was executed, we honor his resolve and dedication to reason, his refusal to bow to the censorship of the church. Leonardo da Vinci is celebrated for his inventions of flying machines and other inventions that were never constructed or functional for being ahead of his time; we recognize his vision and curiosity. What matters is not that we succeed, but that we try.

Legacy is not easy, should not be easy. The challenge is what earns notice. If anyone could do your work, what makes it special?

The hard problems are the most rewarding – the challenge increases the value. Don’t reject projects just because they’ll be challenging – but at the same time don’t set yourself up for certain failure – choose projects that are a reach but attainable, that will push your abilities.

Through our efforts – not the results of those efforts – we build a legacy among those who react to our work.

Eight Reasons to Complete a Personal Challenge Project

Time-limited personal challenge projects and resolutions pop up everywhere. Buy nothing day! No internet for a month or even a year! Write a novel in a month! Or the original – give up something for Lent! Are projects like these gimmicky and pointless? Or are they worthwhile?

In two weeks, I’m going to be participating in a gimmicky challenge myself – National Novel Writing Month. I will join 250,000 writers across the world in an attempt to write 50,000 words during the month of November, or about 1667 words a day. This will be my third time participating.

Gimmicky? Yes. The word count goal they’ve established is a bit “out of a hat”. But…it seems to work.

I’ve found that participating in a time-sensitive challenge has a lot of benefits:

  1. Helps build new habits – in my case, daily writing
  2. Establishes a deadline and concrete goals
  3. Gives you the support of other participants, if you’re doing a group challenge
  4. Feels achievable due to the limited timeframe
  5. Lets you try out a ‘different life’
  6. Provides a structure that’s easy to talk about and easy for people to understand
  7. Sets up a mental framework that the project is a fun adventure
  8. Helps you achieve a hard goal or complete a large amount of work

Of course, you get out of a challenge project only what you put into it. It only works if you take your goal and your timeline seriously and stick to it.

What challenge projects have you tried, and how did they work for you? What challenge project are you interested in?