Creativity isn’t just for artists

Dear kids,

One of my favorite parts of being your mother is listening to you tell stories. Your stories are fantastic. You always surprise me with an acute observation, a twist in the plot, or a total left turn that makes me wonder if you’re still telling the same story. Your minds are so flexible and full of imagination. This is a beautiful thing, and it benefits all of us around you. I hope that you continue to be imaginative and creative throughout your whole lives.

If I were to tell you this today, you might say something like, “but I don’t like to draw.” Or “I’m not an artist.” But the thing is, creativity takes so many forms and is needed in so many professions.

Take this for example:

This is the western tip of the island of Alameda smack dab in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. For decades it was a Naval Air Station. Now it’s being repurposed into many things, including parks, trails, and open spaces. That repurposing takes enormous amounts of imagination. It’s a huge blank space. Creative people, who certainly don’t call themselves artists, are brainstorming, hatching ideas, and making plans to make it somewhere beautiful for humans and habitable for animals. Sometime in the future, we will go there and it will look very different than how it does today. There will be trails and benches and trees and wetlands. It will be amazing.

This kind of thinking and doing is happening all around the Bay Area. The future of the Sonoma Developmental Center is being reimagined. The entrance to the Castle Rock State Park is being designed. The top of Mt Umunhum is about to reopen to the public and has undergone a huge transformation.

And check out this in LA. They are finding and creating places for kids to play. I love how they’re thinking differently.

Kids, your ability to imagine, create, invent, and generally see what doesn’t yet exist is an essential skill. As your mom, I’m going to do what I can to exercise your creativity muscle. Even if you tell me you’re not an artist.

With all my love,


All the kinds of environmentalists

Yesterday I convened an event about a controversial topic.

160 people attended our Rainy Season Gathering (after 4 years the title finally makes sense again) to talk about grazing and conservation. We at the Bay Area Open Space Council partnered with UC Cooperative Extension, Elkhorn Slough Coastal Training Program, California Rangeland Conservation Coalition, Central Coast Rangeland Coalition, and California Rangeland Trust to put this event on. In the room were ranchers, ecologists, foresters, rangers, biologists, land managers, watershed managers, general managers, executive directors, board members, and academics.

And they are all environmentalists.

Most people wouldn’t consider ranchers deserve the “environmentalist” label. And there’s probably a rancher or two who don’t want the label. But as Justin Fields, a 5th generation rancher in Santa Clara County, said at the Gathering yesterday, “Ranching in suburbia isn’t easy. I do this work because I want to be outside. I have to make a living. If I abuse the natural resources I’m managing, I will be out of business.”

That sounds like someone who wants to take care of our earth.

Taking care of the earth’s resources — think creeks, hillsides, trees — is complicated. What works in one place won’t necessarily in another. Ranching isn’t appropriate everywhere. Neither are parks, houses, or shopping malls. What works in the Bay Area won’t in Montana or Florida (and that goes for all kinds of things, not just how land is managed). But I really believe that we can’t shut out the people who are out on the land everyday. We can’t shut down the conversation about conservation just because they do it differently.

See our summary of the Gathering here, including pictures, presentations, tweets, and a list of resources on the topic.

We closed the Gathering with a cowboy poet, Clayton Koopman. He’s a 5th generation rancher and land manager at the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. And he read this poem:

Ranching for Newts

Ranchers are struggling, bills they can’t pay,

Vaccines, vet bills, pasture costs and hay.

Fuel cost, insurance and that damn estate tax,

All breakin’ down that old camel’s back.

Calf checks don’t cut it, they can’t get on their feet,

Ranchers grow progressive, lookin’ to make ends meet.

Butterflies, whip snakes, an imaginary fox,

Got today’s ranchers thinking outside the box.

Conservation, mitigation, easements and trusts,

Supplemental funding, ranching for critters is a must.

I’ve grown progressive too; just you take a gander,

Saved my ranch here with a herd of salamanders.