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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 In Review

It has become somewhat of a tradition for me to use New Year's Day (or at least the week between Christmas and New Years) to reflect on the past year.  As I do so today, a part of me says "good riddance" to 2018. It was a year of political turmoil in our country, a record year for rainfall (and thus, really dreary weather and flooding), a year of loss and transitions, and a year in which too many people I know had to deal with dreaded diagnoses or death. But despite this, as I go back through my calendar, I realize that there was also much to be thankful for; in so many ways, Dave and I are truly blessed.

As 2018 began, Corey was still in Uganda. It was the first time that he hadn't been home for the Christmas holiday season; Dave and I were missing him tremendously, but we were also a bit jealous of the adventures he was having on his post-graduate fellowship to study great apes and conservation and human conflicts. You can see a few of his amazing photos of mountain gorillas here.

Coincidentally, an opportunity arose for me to travel to neighboring Rwanda. A colleague from Moravian and I left on Jan 9th to explore a potential partnership with the University of Global Health Equity and to begin designing a travel seminar course. Our hope is to someday bring students to Rwanda to learn about the culture, history, and healing of people and a nation post-genocide. I was particularly thrilled that Corey came down from Uganda to join us.

Having been in Uganda six months before, it was interesting to compare and contrast the two countries in terms of economic and tourism development, corruption, and wildlife. In short, corruption is not tolerated in Rwanda and thus, a number of countries, especially China, are investing in the country. The post-genocide recovery is stunning; I was amazed at the common narrative of reconciliation and "one Rwanda" especially at a time when our own country is so politically divided. The eco-tourism industry is much less developed in Rwanda than in its neighbor to the north, but shows great promise.

Entrance to Akagera National Park

Sunrise from the lodge within the park
National parks like Akagera are trying to restore the wildlife to the area and former poachers are now park rangers and guides. Although the park is small compared to many protected areas in East Africa, the diversity of wildlife is quite good and we had some spectacular views of game and birds. This post isn't meant to be a travel guide to Rwanda, but I have to include a few photos!

Herd of topi
Zebras are always wonderful to see
I think the highlight of the trip for me was the opportunity to hike in the Virunga Mountains and trek up to the grave site of Dian Fossey. The Karisoke camp site lies at elevation of about 3000 meters; it was quite a tough, muddy hike up the slopes. Growing up, the two most famous female scientists I knew of were Ms. Fossey and Jane Goodall, so this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay homage to someone I had admired since I was very young.

Ready for the trek up the volcano
A view of the lush vegetation

Orchids in the Virunga Mountains

A mecca for conservationists

Digit was killed by poachers in 1977 and is buried next to Dian
There is so much more to tell about this trip, but for this post about the year-in-review, I must move along.

Corey headed back to Uganda and I returned home on January 21st to do my dean work, teach, and mentor an Honors research student who was focusing on what factors lead to municipalities developing successful climate action plans. I wasn't home for long before I headed to Washington D.C. to attend the annual meeting of the National Council for Science and the Environment and I presented at the AAAS Sceince and Human Rights Coalition meeting.

While Corey was between trips, 3/4 of the family squeezed in a bit of winter birding with a day trip to Barnegat Light in New Jersey. Despite the fact that it rained in most of NJ and PA that day, we had decent weather along the shore, especially for February. Dave, Corey and I were all taking photos that day.

Just a few of the feathered friends we saw
In late February, I was off again to take a class of students to Costa Rica over spring break. Besides focusing on tropical ecology, the course I teach each spring examines Costa Rica as a model of sustainability. We spent time at El Zota Biological Station, toured an organic coffee plantation, Cafe Cristina, visited the amazing Earth University and members of the Bri Bri indigenous tribe, snorkeled along a coral reef, and visited Cahuita National Park. Again, it is tempting to post many photos, but I will resist.

At Earth University

Lessons in Bri Bri culture and use of plants

El Zota
The bulk of what Dave and I do at work isn't too exciting to write about - grading, meeting with students, committee and faculty meetings, etc. take up the bulk of our time during the academic year. But we are lucky to have good stable jobs, and I am so grateful for his willingness to hold down the fort (or farm) when I travel.

Corey was home for a bit after his Uganda trip and before he headed off to Indonesia for part 2 of his adventure. Joren came home from college for spring break; U. Chicago, by all accounts, is a good "fit" for him. His classes included physics and math (of course), along with music composition. He is also singing in a male chorus group that performs on campus and tours. Joren hadn't done much singing until his senior year of high school, but seems to love it. When he is home, he spends time teaching himself how to play piano and he sometimes still plays his saxophone. We also went to the eastern regional NCAA Division I hockey playoff games which were held in Allentown.

Dave continues to play fiddle and other instruments, often with the local band, The Lost Ramblers. When Corey is home, the two will fill the house with tunes.

Over Easter, I made a quick trip to Michigan to see my mom and other family members.

Late winter along Lake Superior
Not long after returning, I traveled to the Great Sand Dunes National Park region of Colorado in early April for a grant writing retreat focusing on diversity and inclusion in field sciences. Alas, this work and another grant proposal are still in limbo thanks to the government shut down.

In April, we heard from Corey that he had come down with Dengue Fever while in Borneo. He was sent to Jakarta, but kept getting worse instead of showing the typical progress of this nasty infection. To say it was scary is an understatement. We decided to have Dave go over to be with him and fortunately, by the time he arrived, Corey had turned the corner for the better. The non-profit he was working with said it was too risky for him to return to the remote island, since there are other immuno-types of Dengue and infection with one doesn't provide protection against the others. After a week of rest and monitoring at the clinic, Dave and he returned back home.

In early May, I traveled to Chicago to give an invited talk at the Botanic Garden for the opening of Penelope Gottleib's “Against Forgetting” art display. I have long admired Penelope's work and finally got to meet her in person.

You can read a bit about the artist and her work here.
If this is early spring, I can't imagine how lovely these gardens are later in the summer.
A view of the Chicago Botanic Gardens
It was a gorgeous early spring weekend (as you can see in the photo above). The trip was made even better by my getting to spend a day touring U. Chicago and the Lake Michigan shoreline with Joren who hates having his picture taken. I managed to get one.

As the spring semester wound down for Dave and me, we had a series of strong storms that brought down trees and power lines. This foreshadowed the months ahead during which we had record rainfall - both in individual storms and for the year.

May trillium - in the rain
During one of our power outages, I got to pack by headlamp as I prepared to head west for the Rocky Mountain Science and Sustainability Network academy. For this experience, we bring in students from around the country to learn about climate change and about challenges in maintaining the national parks and to do research. Our time begins at the Colorado State University Mountaintop campus and then we head to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks. (Rough job, but someone needs to do it!) As I looked through my folder of photos from this trip, I realized that a) I probably have about 100 photos that I haven't gone through yet, b) some of my favorite people are involved with this amazing project, and c) these magnificent parks are currently closed due to the government shut down. Grrrr.

The 2018 RMSSN gang at "the rock" somewhere in Wyoming
Special people at the CSU Mountaintop campus

Some of the faculty form RMSSN 2018 - more special people

The gang at Grand Tetons NP

Summer began with a USGS bird survey with Corey before he headed off to Hog Island to work a few of Audubon's birding camps. U. Chicago is on the quarter system, so Joren didn't get out of school until mid-June, but he had a very successful first year of college. He and I did a bioblitz at a new preserve in the region. My brother Ray and his family stopped by for a visit as they toured college campuses in the east. I can't believe my nephew Manix is a high school senior! And then, Iattended a conference of environmental deans and directors at Chatham University near Pittsburgh and got to tour their very cool sustainability campus.

Chatham University Sustainability Campus

Love the "living wall" in this space
Over the summer, I unexpectedly ended up mentoring a student's research project at the Superfund restoration site. Fortunately, he is a quick learner and independent worker. Dave and I are co-editors of a forthcoming book about the restoration project and as we try to organize chapter authors, we realize it is a bit like herding cats. Why did we say yes to this project? The Lehigh Gap Nature Center which owns a part of this landscape (and where all the Husics have worked on projects over the past decade or so) celebrated its 15th anniversary of the establishment of a wildlife refuge on the once barren landscape and, through a generous grant, was able to install solar panels on the center to cover 100% of its electricity needs. So of course we had a record-rainy year! (This also makes it difficult to get field work done, as my student found out.)

In July, Dave and I finally got to travel together. We headed to Panama with good friends to explore a new country and of course, to bird. Our goal was to find the rare Harpy Eagle. Suffice it to say the trip was quite the adventure (not the Club Med style vacation), but we had lots of fun and laughs, saw great things, and we were all exhausted (and still friends) by the end.

Success - a two year old fledgling Harpy Eagle

Photo by Laura George
The gang - with the eagle above and a tarantula below
In August, Dave and Corey went to the music festival at Clifftop before Corey headed out on a cross-country drive to visit family/friends/national parks. His final destination was Pasadena, CA to begin graduate school in chemistry at Cal Tech. California is a very long distance from Pennsylvania.

Dave and I began the 2018-19 academic year at the end of August. This is year #33 for Dave at Lafayette College and after a very long run, he is happy to no longer serve as department chair. This is year 31 for me and my 15th at Moravian College.  I can't believe that I just finished my 3rd year as dean. Dave continues to teach biochemistry and his first year seminar on Appalachia. I co-taught a course on climate change policy in fall and helped to mentor our Millennium Fellows and my research student who is continuing his summer work for an Honors project.

In mid-September, Joren and I left for Michigan to visit family and friends and for me to attend my first Northern Michigan University Alumni Association Board meeting. We had some fun biking in the U.P. as well.

After stops in Marquette and Iron River, we continued on to Madison, WI to visit my brother and his family. When cousins get together, there is always silliness.


From there, I dropped Joren off at college for year #2 at Chicago and continued on to Indianapolis to run my 14th (yikes) faculty athletics representative leadership institute for the NCAA. After two weeks and 2500 miles, I arrived back home. Little did I know that I would make that long drive again in a month.

In October, Maxine (my step-mother) come to visit. It was fun showing her the nature center, going to October Fest, and celebrating our birthdays together.

Shortly afterwards, I learned that my mother had fallen and although there was no obvious injury, she had stopped eating. Things didn't sound good, so I headed back to Michigan to be with her. It was soon obvious that she was nearing the end. I got to spend time with her for a week before she passed away in early November. I am extremely appreciative of the family members and friends who stopped by to visit or who went out to dinner with me during that difficult week. Funerals are never fun, but having to make the arrangements and burying your last remaining parent is really tough. It was good, however, to see a lot of relatives who I hadn't seen in a very long time. Thanks to my dear aunt Sandy who hosted a potluck for a bunch of us to get together to reminisce and share stories. It was a bit of a shock when my cousin Cheryl and I realized that we are now the family matriarchs.

After cleaning out my mom's apartment (fortunately, my brother and I had already down-sized her stuff 2 years ago when we moved her to assisted living), I had the long slog of a drive home to PA. When you drive alone for 1000 miles, there is a lot of time to be alone with your sad thoughts.

Dave and I were alone for Thanksgiving this year, so we went out for a holiday buffet and to celebrate his birthday. The quiet time was good for me to grieve and catch up on a bit of work.

The last trip of the year for me was to take students to the U.N. climate meetings in Katowice, Poland. I was able to reconnect with international friends and some of the RMSSN gang and the city was decked out for the holidays.

A mini RMSSN reunion

Since we blogged from the meetings, I won't reiterate the details here. In a nutshell, little progress was made on policy, even though the scientific evidence regarding climate change and its global impacts continues to mount.

Fall '18 was a blur and filled with personal loss and some very sad news from several friends who were also suffering with loss or scary health situations. Perhaps the months of dreary weather made it seem worse.

To end on a more upbeat note, Dave and I were thrilled to have both boys home. We mostly spent time at home, but went to the Christmas Eve service at Central Moravian Church, went out to eat, hosted some company, watched some movies, and did a bit of end-of-year birding. I was convinced to enter the 21st century and finally own a smart-phone. Which means I can now take impromptu photos in restaurants!

Fiddle tunes filled our house several times over the holidays. May good health, dear friends, and happiness fill 2019 as we ring in the new year.

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