Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Holiday greetings and looking back on 2016

Happy Holidays from the Husics!

Each year, I think I am going to be able to get a holiday letter composed and cards written, but usually grading, end of semester reports, other holiday preparations, etc. get in the way. Hopefully, I will finish this letter this time around instead of having it in my folder of uncompleted documents!

This past year has certainly been a time of transitions.

Last year at this time, I accepted a new position on campus – serving as the founding Dean of the School of Natural and Health Sciences. There has been a lot of change on campus – restructuring, new leadership, the development of new programs, etc. It is an exciting time and an honor to have been chosen for this role. I have less contact with students , but overall, I enjoy the new challenges that come with the position.
My new office
Sadly, we lost both my father and Dave’s mother this year. It is tough to put into words the emptiness that comes with the loss of a parent. The intense sadness dulls, but I am not sure it will ever fully dissipate.
Dad with Ray and me at his 80th birthday celebration - just before he passed away
My brother Ray moved my mother into assisted living in May – after a long time trying. Neither of us live close, and she didn’t want to move away from Michigan (or to move anywhere, actually), but it wasn’t safe for her to be living alone anymore. It is a comfort knowing that she is getting good meals that she doesn’t have to fix, there is someone to make sure she takes her meds, and, best of all, she has companionship.
At Presque Isle Park with mom
Mom and Roy - friends since childhood
Because of this move, Ray and I got to clean out the home we grew up in. I think my mom saved everything from 1965 on! It as a lot of work, but was also fun spending time with my brother and his family and reminiscing. Sort of a week-long slumber party where we trashed the house! We were fortunate that there was an interested buyer who had sort of been waiting for my mom to move out. So the sale went smoothly. But this also represented another sort of loss – of place. 

Where I grew up
Not of the same significance, we also lost ShooFly the cat – who hung with us for over 21 years! We had her before both boys were born! 

Shoofly enjoying the warmth of the sun
We still have Zyzzz and Shadow though. Zyzzz likes to pose (below); Shadow not so much.

Yikes, didn’t mean for this to sound like a sob story. On to more positive things.

We still live on the old farm which keeps us busy as there are always projects. It is a wonderful place to go for walks with Revi the Retriever, and we were inundated with peaches and pears from the “orchard” this year. (A tough problem to have, I know.) 

Putting last year's Christmas present to work
We are so blessed with this view
An early spring walk with Revi
Over the year, I had the chance to reconnect with some acquaintances from the past – including a fellow Bay Cliff staff member who I hadn’t seen since 1980! Despite its flaws, Facebook can be a good way to stay in touch with far away friends and relatives.

Reconnecting with Suzi Banks Baum

Dave continues to serve as chair of the Chemistry Department at Lafayette College. The college is planning a new science building and he is helping to shepherd that process. He continues to play fiddle and loves getting out to do photography.

Typical habitat in the Poconos
Corey, now 21, is in his senior year at Harvard – studying Chemistry. Future plans are uncertain, but he is considering a gap year before graduate school or maybe environmental law. He plays fiddle a lot and won or placed in a number of contests this year, and rumor has it that he gets invited to play gigs in the Boston area. His interest in birds hasn’t waned and he gets out whenever he has the chance.

Mom and son annual fall birding trek to Delaware and Cape May
Joren (18) graduated from high school in May and is taking a gap year before starting at the University of Chicago next fall. Over the summer, he did an ecological monitoring project of a site along the Appalachian Mountains that experienced a forest fire last year and he volunteered at a local nature center, helping with a variety of things, including class field trips. In October, he and Dave traveled to Scotland for hiking and sightseeing. Joren's big trip is yet to come as he leaves on December 27th to spend almost 3 months in Costa Rica. He will be volunteering at El Zota Biological Station and helping to teach English is a rural area for school children and adults.
End of year awards ceremony at Moravian Academy
Not a wedding; this was Joren's graduation!

I have the good fortune to be able to travel a lot for work-related things. In January, I took a quick trip to Costa Rica with Corey and friends/colleagues from East Stroudsburg University to check out a potential location for a new field station and returned to head to San Antonio for the NCAA Convention. In March, I was back in Costa Rica with students for the field portion of a tropical ecology class I taught. Our trip coincided with that of the classes from ESU and Delaware Valley University, and we also had a faculty/ornithologist from Gettysburg College joining us. Six faculty with different expertise means we all learn new things. And suffice it to say that a bird list for 8 days that has about 250 species on it means a good trip for birders!
Five of the six faculty in Costa Rica - El Zota Biological Station
We had some students with us as well!

One of my favorite places for lunch in Costa Rica
In April, I traveled to Asheville, NC with students and a colleague to the National Council for Undergraduate Research conference. My research student Laura did a great job presenting data from her Honors work. There are some students who you get really close to; Laura was one. She took several classes with me, did 2 summer research projects and Honors under my supervision, served as my TA for a first year seminar I taught, and traveled to the U.N. meetings in Paris with us in 2015. I miss her, but she is doing great in graduate school in Maryland.

NCUR poster session; Laura explains her project
In May, I once again served as a faculty mentor for the Rocky Mountain Science and Sustainability Network academy. We spent time with students from around the country in Colorado, the Tetons, and Yellowstone and initiated an interesting pollinator monitoring project in Yellowstone that will be ongoing. (We are trying to understand the impacts of climate change and altitude on pollinator diversity and populations.)

Camping at the base of the Tetons gets a bit cold when it is in the 20's and raining! (I cheated and stayed in a hostel)

One of my favorite places in Yellowstone.
I was back in the Rockies for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem conference in October. The fresh snow and the golden colors of the aspens was quite striking even if the tops of the Tetons were hidden in the clouds for most of the time I was there.

Because I wasn't teaching in fall, I could finally take a vacation trip during migration season. I went to Hog Island, ME and had an amazing time with great friends, birders and storytellers, even if there weren't a lot of birds.

Some wonderful sunsets viewed from Hog Island
With Drew Lanham and Mark Garland
Chatting with Scott Weidensaul
Joren came with me to the U.N. climate conference in Marrakech, Morocco for two weeks. Quite an interesting place with a rich history and fantastic food. We also took the train up to Tangier for me to do a site visit of a campus that hosts study abroad students.

Joren enjoying our nice digs in Marrakech
With Gillian Bowser and Joren in a Moroccan spice shop
With 3 trips to Michigan and a trip to Indianapolis to run a leadership workshop added into the mix for the year, it feels very good to be spending the holidays at home.

4th of July family reunion

My 12th Faculty Athletics Reps Leadership Institute
In going through photos from the year, I realized once again how blessed we are.

Wishing you all the very best during the holiday season and may 2017 be filled with happiness, good health, and an appreciation for all that is good in the world.

Love, Diane, Dave, Corey, & Joren
(We seem to find it tough to all be in a picture together, so here are a few from this year!)

pizza time
Fall birding and hiking

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Thinking About Cuba Today

I found it disturbing to see the national news coverage this morning of people in south Florida celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. One newscaster told of his family story leaving Cuba and broke down in tears. It felt staged to me, sappy even. While I would never claim to have a solid understanding of U.S.-Cuban relationships, or to know the extent of human suffering under Castro, I still had a strong sense that I was witnessing propaganda on the morning news shows.

I do know, however, that there are other stories to tell about Cuba. A Cuban-American friend of mine, Fernando Bretos, does ecological research and conservation work on the island. Much of this work involves interacting with the people of Cuba and hearing their stories. The natural wealth of this country is staggering, although the country faces great challenges, especially if/when the doors are fully open to U.S. tourists. If you haven’t seen the documentary Accidental Eden that Fernando was involved in making, I highly recommend it. This is a country that deserves visiting, and one that deserves environmental and cultural protection.

The ecological footprint of the United States is currently the 6th highest in the world; we require on average 8 global hectares per person to support our lifestyle. In contrast, Cuba is 90th on the list of 159 countries requiring 1.85 global hectares per person. Not surprisingly, Cuba has much lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) than the United States and has lowered their emissions by over 14% since 1990 according to the World Resources Institute. The U.S. emissions are higher by about 1625 times, even though our population is only 27.7 times greater. You won’t hear this in the obituaries today, but by 2008, Cuba had already reduced their GHG emissions by 3.5 million tons thanks to the country’s Energy Revolution program which was an idea that came from Fidel Castro. At that time, our politicians were still arguing whether climate change was “real” or not and had not embraced the international climate negotiations. Cuba has signed the Paris Agreement, but has not yet formally ratified it. The U.S. has done both, although the status of our ongoing commitment is uncertain at this time.

Largely out of necessity due to trade sanctions placed on the country and the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba had to become incredibly resourceful. For example, in order to help address food security, organopónicos were created in abandoned properties in urban areas including Havana. Access to synthetic fertilizers and pesticides was lacking, so these gardens were, by necessity, organic. State-run farms may be problematic, and hunger may be a problem for many in the country, but there is much we could learn from Havana as a model of urban sustainable, local agriculture.

Despite a significantly lower GDP per capita than the U.S., Cuba’s life expectancy is high and infant mortality rates low – essentially the same as ours. As noted in the report “Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet” by Tim Jackson (2009)
…the formal economy (GDP) more or less collapsed after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989, partly because of the sudden removal of subsidized Soviet oil. But one recent study suggests that there were significant health improvements in the aftermath. Calorific intake was reduced by over a third. Obesity was halved and the percentage of physically active adults more than doubled. Between 1997 and 2002, ‘there were declines in deaths attributed to diabetes (51%), coronary heart disease (35%) [and] stroke (20%)’.
A colleague of mine, Gary Olson, has written about Cuba as a country with a high level of health care, medical education, and empathy:
Many people are surprised to learn that Cuban medical professionals have saved more lives in the Third World than all the wealthy G-8 nations combined, plus the World Health Organization and the Nobel Peace Prize recipient Doctors Without Borders… As noted by Cuba expert John Lee Anderson, ‘At any given time, there are an estimated 50,000 Cuban doctors working in slums and rural areas in as many as 30 other developing nations around the world.’ And because Cuba believes health care is a fundamental human right, these totally volunteer services are provided to recipients gratis.
Cuban doctors will go to places that those from developed nations will not.

I barely heard anything about the impacts of Hurricane Otto on Central America on our national news. The devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew on Haiti and ongoing needs of the people there are almost all but forgotten here in the U.S., buried under all the post-election analysis and speculation. Cuba was relatively lucky and spared the worst effects of Matthew. I would venture that they have sent much assistance to Haiti and are already coordinating efforts to help Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Castro’s legacy will likely not be a positive one – as viewed from the U.S. perspective, but it is useful to sometimes delve in deeper than the headlines and get other views and the rest of the story. It typically isn’t a case of black and white, or good and evil. Life, even that of a dictator, is a much more complicated spectrum of ideas and actions.

President Obama – ever a class act – had these comments today:
At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him. Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people.
Let us remember that in Cuba, a family has lost one of their members, a country has lost its long-term leader. And maybe, just maybe, there are things to learn about Cuba and to celebrate, but not someone’s death.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Feminist Awakening

I have never really aligned myself with any particular feminist cause. But a number of subjects in the news of late have me thinking that perhaps this normally objective scientist has some activist tendencies after all.

Undoubtedly, the current U.S. election cycle has been a contributing factor. The attacks on one candidate, due in part to her gender, disparaging comments about women, calls to repeal the 19th amendment, and recent allegations of sexual harassment (and perhaps assault) by the other leading candidate all remind us that we (women) have a few more ceilings to crash through.

I have been particularly disturbed by the campaign news of the past week. When I turned on the local news last weekend, the coverage was not as much about the Bernie Sanders event in northeastern Pennsylvania as it was about the Trump supporters who showed up outside of the venue the day after the release of the infamous 2005 video. The reporter asked a woman holding pro-Trump/anti-Hillary signs if the latest news about Trump’s comments caused her any concern. After an adamant “Not at all,” she went on to say that “Boys will be boys.” Ah yes, and Trump wrote off his comments as “locker room" talk.

This led me to rant a bit on Facebook citing some statistics and a headline:
More Than Half of College Athletes Surveyed at One University Admit Coercing Partner into Sex. Nutt, Amy Ellis. The Washington Post. June 6, 2016.
  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. 
  • One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. 
  • Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. 
  • Only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities.
As Michelle Obama said yesterday “Enough is enough.”

We are all tired of campaign ads, but one in particular that is sponsored by the NRA really annoys me. A woman claims that one candidate is trying to take her guns away – the very guns that saved her from assault by a male in a dark parking lot. Do we not see the irony in the fact that the candidate she supports is battling accusations of sexual assault? Should she not also be concerned about what other rights legislators in this country (which, are still mainly male) are trying to take away?

Perhaps the numerous assaults on the reproductive rights of women in the U.S. over the past few years has ignited a bit of this activism.
Although Roe v. Wade legalized abortion more than 40 years ago, far too many women still effectively live in a pre-Roe era. There [were] 282 abortion restrictions enacted in the United States since 2010, 51 of them in the first half of 2015 alone. [Source]
I am amazed at how unaware many of my female students are about this trend. They don’t seem to realize that their right to make decisions based on their personal life situation (financial status, values, health conditions, etc.) is being eroded.


Early in my career, I was repeatedly asked to participate on panels where the prevailing theme was to lament the fact that too few women were in the STEM fields, that there were too few female mentors for students in their formative years. I dreaded these sessions, mainly because I felt like I was being prodded to speak poorly of male mentors, when, in fact, even though coming up through a male-dominated system at the time, I had experienced strong encouragement and sound advising. In contrast, the one female scientist I worked for was perhaps the most challenging mentoring situation I had throughout my training.

That is not to say I haven’t experienced discrimination, offensive comments and actions, or sexual harassment. I left a job once because of the hostile workplace environment created by a group of “good ol’ boys” who treated female students as sex objects and female colleagues, well….not as colleagues.

As a faculty member in the sciences, I have always felt it important to be a mentor/role model to all students. Gosh knows that we have enough anti-science sentiment in our society as it is; we need all the support on the side of science we can get -- regardless of gender. Yes, there are still many inequities.
While women took home 57% of bachelor's degrees in all fields in 2013, women earned just 43% of the degrees in math and just 19% and 18% of the degrees in engineering and computer science respectively, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.
It isn’t just because of discriminatory attitude of males. We have a “boys are better at math mindset” pervasive in our society. Yes, such thinking was partially to blame for a Harvard president losing his position about a decade ago. But I have heard plenty of mothers who are to blame as well. And I am not alone.
A child comes home from school and has a question about the math homework. She asks her mom, and the response is, "I don’t know, I was never good at math, ask your Dad."
This week, CNN aired the documentary "We Will Rise" about the challenges girls face worldwide to achieve educational goals. It featured Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Freida Pinto and Isha Sesay, and is both a part of the Let Girls Learn initiative launched by President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama and aligned with the #62MillionGirls movement. Given the need to focus on women for a sustainable future and for global public health and welfare (the UN Sustainable Development Goals), and considering the well-documented disparate impacts of climate change and other environmental and geopolitical threats on women and children globally, I sincerely believe that capacity building through universal access to education for women and girls is a key part of addressing the global challenges facing humanity. There are varied and complex reasons for the unequal access to education globally. Obtaining education for all girls worldwide will be tough.

The United Nations recognized the need for gender equity and equitable quality education in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined in the platform Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. From the declaration:
Realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the Goals and targets. The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities. Women and girls must enjoy equal access to quality education, economic resources and political participation as well as equal opportunities with men and boys for employment, leadership and decision-making at all levels. We will work for a significant increase in investments to close the gender gap and strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women at the global, regional and national levels. All forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls will be eliminated, including through the engagement of men and boys. The systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Agenda is crucial.
I am peripherally involved with the U.N. process for implementing the 17 SDGs. Although most of my work is in the area of climate change, I participate in the list serve discussions of the Women’s Major Group that is focused on not only gender equity in the process, but also the gender impacts of policy and actions. It is a hard-core feminist group and sometimes I cringe a little at the angry comments that are made. I do understand the statements represent raw and powerful emotion. I have just typically made my arguments on the basis of data, leaving the subjective feelings out.

This week, however, I had to share their outrage. It started with the naming of the new U.N. Secretary General (Antonio Guterres) – another male who opposes the right to abortion, despite some extremely qualified women in the mix. The United Nations, in existence since 1945, has some glass ceilings. But the clincher came with this announcement: Wonder Woman Named Honorary U.N. Ambassador For Gender Equality. I kid you not.

According to an article in the Guardian, the comics site the Mary Sue “hailed the character’s new UN role, saying that she is ‘a great, easily recognisable symbol of what women can become once freed from a patriarchal society.’ ” Seriously? Have you taken a look at how this “symbol of what women can become” is depicted in the media be it comic books or t.v. shows? The objectification of women continues and is now celebrated at the highest levels from U.S. presidential candidates to the United Nations.

Even the U.S. Postal service got in on the action releasing four Forever stamps that commemorate the 75th anniversary of “one of the most iconic Super Heroes of all time.”
Wonder Woman was one of the first female Super Heroes that inspired countless young girls over the past three quarters of a century, said U.S. Postal Service Chief Information Officer and Executive Vice President Kristin Seaver. We salute this heroic role model and her legacy that is sure to continue to span another 75 years.

This week a less familiar symbol for women was quietly celebrated: October 12th was Ada Lovelace Day. I admit, I had never heard about her before. But by a chance moment of diversion on Facebook, I learned that Ada was "obsessed with math and science and the idea of flight.” The tribute went on to say
In those days though, those interests weren't considered proper for a girl. But there is one thing that can never be caged, one that always has wings: an idea...An idea doesn't care about gender or circumstance, about time or space. An idea only wants one thing: to grow. To become.
Personally, I think Ada is a better role model than Wonder Woman.

Monday, September 19, 2016


I had prepared myself for the pending proverbial empty nest, knowing that my youngest son would be graduating from high school this year. Plans for college were made, and then, we got that call. A most unusual offer: the top choice institution, the one he was wait-listed for, was offering him admission. The catch: the offer was only good if he took a gap year and started the following fall (i.e. 15 months after graduation). For him, it wasn’t even a decision, he had a secured a spot in the top-ranked university of his choice.

Normally, this news (about being accepted) would be cause for celebration. But sadly, the joy of the moment quickly became overshadowed by the unexpected death of my father. Even now, almost six months later, the pangs of grief remain sharp. I take some solace in having had the chance to visit him in Michigan for his 80th birthday celebration – a time of joy and great fun with family and friends. Before I left to come home, we had breakfast, laughter, and hugs. His heart failed him as I flew back to Pennsylvania. At least it was quick, not the prolonged deterioration and demise that can be the fate of people with terminal diagnoses of certain cancers or ALS.

Early summer brought the death of our 21-year-old cat – our boys had never known a time without her. As a kitten, she had been abandoned, but rescued by a well-meaning family friend who said that we just had to take her to live on our newly purchased farm. Shoo-fly had outlived many other cats that came our way. She was wary of people for years, but loved popcorn and chin scratches. By the time she died, she was quite a sad sack – blind, deaf, and pretty ragged looking. A mere wisp of her former self. But up until the last few days, she purred and loved sleeping in the sunbeams on the deck or back porch.

In spring, we had learned that the in-home care person who checked in on my aging mother mother daily was moving. While this was the impetus to finally “force” the transition to assisted living, the timing was rough, and my stubborn mother didn’t exactly agree with us that it was time. Dementia is an enigma to me. How is it that she can’t remember what she ate for breakfast an hour before, but can recall elaborate details from her childhood and her escapades when she was a working single gal in her 20’s? She creates fantastical tales, including ones about her own mother traveling around the world with a cat, perhaps mercifully not recalling that grandma passed away 19 years ago. Mom doesn’t have much to say these days, but the tales about her mother make her smile again. So much better than the horrific night terrors she experienced a year ago.

I don’t want to grow old.

In June, my brother’s family and I cleaned out decades of accumulated stuff from our childhood home. I felt a terrible sense of loss when the house (conveniently) sold quickly and without hassle. It wasn’t the house or the possessions that I was going to miss, it was the loss of connection to place. The process was a ton of work. Literally. I think a ton of stuff was sold at a yard sale, donated to Good Will, or disposed of. But we had some laughs and relived some good memories in the process as we stumbled upon an unexpected artifact of our childhood or old pictures. 

It was a long-forgotten love letter from my father to my mother (they had been divorced for over 30 years) and piece of his parachute silk that brought me to tears. For years, my dad had asked if I had seen that square of camouflaged material. It almost went into a trash bag, but that particular box of fabric scraps – one of dozens of old envelope boxes of unfinished projects that we were discarding – just happened to spill, and there was the familiar green and brown swatch. I am holding it as I write. A colleague told me that, sometimes, the hands of angels reach down to gently remind us of loved ones who have passed on. I laughed at the time. I believe her now.

When I was in grade school, my father found for sale some acreage and an old camp along a lake – a wonderful retreat. There were 40 acres of lady’s slippers, trillium, maples and birch, a wonderful sandy beach, and toads galore. And yes, even leeches. Yuck. I still hate them. One of my best friends had a camp – that is what everyone called their weekend getaway in the Upper Peninsula – directly across the lake from us. We spent hours and hours exploring, swimming, boating, coming of age. My father converted the run-down structure into a gorgeous home, but he and his second wife sold it when I was in grad school. I dreamed of winning the lottery to buy that place back some day. It is for sale again, but without the acreage, but complete with a much higher price tag. I live 1000 miles away. With 65 acres of my own to care for. So the wonderful memories will have to do. But so much of who I am today was molded there or in the jack pine/blueberry-laden woods behind our house or on the shores of Lake Superior. Gitche Gumme, the shining Big-Sea-Water of which Longfellow paid homage to in his “Hiawatha.” I will have to read that poem again soon.

This week, another dear family member lay suffering, her prognosis went from being measured in months to days. With some cancers, there is no dignity in dying.

I am sad. Too many passages in such a short time.

But back to that lanky 18-year old, the one I worry about because he spends too much time secluded in his room “gaming” – seemingly wasting this extra unscripted time at home (before he goes off for international destinations). After a long “phase” during which it just wasn’t cool to hang out with the “rents,” he chose this moment to decide that mom is once again acceptable to go for a walk with, or to plop down on the couch with to have long chats about politics or music or recipes. 

Thank goodness for gap years.