Clad in a dark petticoat, wildflowers tucked in her waistband, Elizabeth Britton grips her walking stick and flashes a smile, posed in leaf litter against the skin of a tree. In the mid-1800s the conventions of the time dictated this attire, as she climbed Adirondack mountains to lay her expert eyes to mosses and flowers. An acclaimed bryologist, she was considered the foremost authority in mosses for her time, publishing hundreds of scientific papers and curating natural history collections for Columbia University and for the New York Botanical Garden, where she was a founding leader.
A Mary Oliver poem begins “Who made the world?” and ends with the line “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I wrote this poem in conversation with hers to express the complicated grief that comes with feeling the destruction of the wild, with seeing wild spaces within and without trampled and tamed.
It is meant to acknowledge that despair, while also reframing Oliver’s central question as a collective endeavor: What can we each do for wild places?
My poem, “The Last Place,” was published in the Explorer’s Club Spring Log.
“Mountains are our crystal ball,” John All, scientist and mountaineer writes in Icefall. “Understand them, and you get a glimpse of the planet’s future.”
All almost lost his life during an expedition to understand climate change in the world’s most remote places, the subject of his book, a source for my current research into the high peaks of the Adirondacks. He risks everything to tell stories of resilience and human adaptation.
These qualities of courage and perseverance are alive and well in those who steward the High Peaks Wilderness, subjects of my upcoming feature which will explore the history of protection for alpine ecosystems. Rare plant species persist after nearly becoming extinct because of foresight and dedication on behalf of organizations like the Adirondack Mountain Club. What lessons have we learned from past successes in protecting threatened species in unique ecosystems and how might we apply them to new climate challenges? This is what I’ll be looking to understand in the coming month.
Spring bird migrants cruising through the park are headed north for the season. The Crown Point State Historic Site, under the North Atlantic flyway, hosts a scientist-led bird banding event to track the migrations. This is the 47th annual event and is open to the public until May 20.
I spotted this yellow warbler at a Saratoga Springs marsh on their way north.
This mural was drawn by school children in the Andean Mountain community of Santiago De Okola. Photo by Cayte Bosler
Commemorating Earth Day
In 1970, famed anchor Walter Cronkite announced Earth Day for the first time on a CBS news special.
Tens of millions of people, mostly students, had taken to the streets across the country with a message for leadership — “act or die,” as Cronkite recounted to his audience. Air pollution from leaded gas emissions and inefficient vehicles reigned as the leading concern which united protesters and activists to rally for systematic change.
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