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,


A letter to my kids about sand crabs

Dear kids,

Remember when your 5th grade class went to the Marin Headlands for two nights? One of the things you did — besides pillow fights in the dorms, eat spaghetti, and play basketball on a court overlooking the Pacific Ocean — was a citizen science project on the beach. That’s fancy language for counting, measuring, and documenting sand crabs. You and your classmates had so much fun digging in the sand, jumping for joy when you found a big crab, and yelling loudly whenever you found a mama sand crab with eggs. Do you remember that?

Well, all that sand crab counting was supported in part by the California Coastal Conservancy’s Explore the Coast program. The funding from this program made it possible for the counselors at the Point Bonita YMCA to get training about the citizen science project, protocols, and materials. The funding was also used to buy the equipment, including that cool PVC pipe thing you used to dig up the sand and capture the sand crabs. Money makes these things possible.

A week after your time at the beach with the sand crabs, I found out that the State Assembly Budget Committee #3 was considering cutting the funding for this program.

I wasn’t happy about that.

So I did something about it. I wrote a letter and emails to the 5 members of the State Assembly Budget Committee #3. I created Facebook posts and Twitter tweets with pictures from our time with the sandcrabs. I put it all in a Google Drive folder for anyone to use. And I emailed your classmates’ parents asking them to email, mail, and post what I wrote. I emailed friends and colleagues who care about outdoor education just as much as I do. I posted to Facebook and Twitter, and asked others to do the same.

Guess what?

On May 23, 2017 in State Capitol room 437, they approved the funding! Yes, a full $226,000 was approved for the Explore the Coast grant program through the California Coastal Conservancy. It worked!

This means that more kids will get to experience what you did on that beach. More kids will spend time along the California coast, getting to know it and all of its glory. And wow, that is such a good feeling.

I love you,


Changing demographics

It can be fun to unpack an euphemism.

In the parks and conservation community, “diversity” often means black people. But diversity really means there is a variety of difference. And “changing demographics” is often another way of saying “we white people need to do something about this diversity thing.” But as much as Dr. Manuel Pastor and others study the trends and talk about the shifts in American demographics (see this), the truth is that there has been a “diversity” of people on these lands for 10,000+ years.

That’s why I said “yes!” out loud when I read this article about a panel discussion with Anusha Alikhan, Tonya Mosley and Leslie Miley at the Communications Network conference. I wish I was there in the audience to hear this live, because I bet it was so much more impactful. It was this sentence that I loved so much:

“Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal.”

Let’s stop debating and questioning the fact that people from different backgrounds live here and have the rights that us white people have. This country is diverse. It’s what makes us great. And it’s what makes our parks, farms, trails, and open spaces great, too. There are so many ways of connecting to nature, and they’re all valid. Not just valid. They’re beautiful.

Want to see some examples? I rounded up some videos from Bay Area park agencies and conservation organizations, each telling a different story about people connecting to nature and to each other. There is so much happening here to welcome people of all kinds to their parks. It’s inspiring.


Diversity is a fact. How are we going to be inclusive and aim for equity? That’s what I want to work on.

Actually getting stuff done

Land conservation organizations — all those nonprofits and public agencies who are working to prevent land from being paved over — could do a lot more to use social media to get their work done. Gone are the days of putting a paper brochure up on the web and thinking you’re done. Gone are the days of starting a Facebook page and thinking you did your job.

The internet has evolved and grown so much, and land conservation organizations need to use it to actually get stuff done. Like getting their target audience to show up at an event. Like advocating to policy makers on land use policies. Land conservation organizations need social media to do almost anything, because almost everything involves people and 99.9% of those people are on social media.

So we convened 125 people at the David Brower Center in Berkeley yesterday to talk about this. I was joined on stage with the hilarious Veda Benarjee and creative Megan Mederios.

Megan is the Executive Director at the Committee for Green Foothills and has successfully used YouTube and Facebook to advocate for land use policies. Veda is the Director of Communications and Digital Marketing for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and uses analytics to find the people the Conservancy wants to attend and support the parks. They’re both talented and skilled. And the best part… they’re both funny. We had so much fun talking and being together.

I talked about Outdoor Voice, and it looked like this:

I asked the audience to take pictures and post them to Instagram and Twitter with #OSCsocial. Here are some of my favorites:

The best question of the day? This one:

Check out more on Twitter with #OSCsocial. It provides just a taste of the good energy, curious minds, and fun that was had yesterday.

David Brower said, “Have fun saving the world, or you are just going to depress yourself.” Social media provides the tools land conservation needs to do its work, and have some fun at the same time. That’s a perfect combination in my book.

This weekend I saw hope, and it was beautiful.

I saw hope this weekend. It looked like:

Truths being acknowledged.

Respect for all beings.

Gratitude for everyone’s contributions however small or big.

The hope I saw this weekend looked like this:

For 12,500 years the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians lived in what is now called the Sonoma County coast. In the mid-1800s a group of Russian boats appeared on the horizon of the Pacific Ocean and the lives of the Kashia people changed forever. Their land was violently taken from them, as were many of their lives. The connection between the Kashia and the land was then and is today a deep, deep connection. The brutal separation of land from the Kashia people had a profound impact on every Kashia person’s soul.

Through many partnerships, a lot of hard work, and vast amounts of hope, the Kashia celebrated the return to their ancestral land this weekend. They now own 700 acres that includes the coastline, prairies, and redwoods. The Kashia can hear the sound of the ocean, harvest food from the soil, and take deep breaths in the shade of the trees. They are home.

This is not my story to tell, really. I am not Kashia. Nor am I Russian or even a resident of Sonoma County. I had nothing to do with making this return to their homeland happen. I do not understand the pain and trauma that the Kashia have suffered. I am not a historian, archeologist, psychologist, or any other -ologist that gives me any credibility in ‘knowing’ this story.

There are a lot of things that I’m not, but it is paralyzing to let myself stay in that way of thinking. If I believe that I have to be a Native American (or African American or Latino or …) to make change, then I’m missing the point. It’s us white people who need to change.

For me, the change started with listening. It started with one conversation with one Tribal Chairman which turned into more conversations which led to a 3-day summit of Native and non-Native people and all of this resulted in a film I produced about partnerships between Native Americans and land conservation organizations. The film brought me to the Kashia and the Kashia invited me to attend this past weekend’s celebration.

This world contains so many realities. But if we believe that our reality is everyone’s reality, we miss the opportunity to grow and learn and make a difference. We miss the opportunity to take all of our gifts, talents, and privilege (if we have it) to make a wrong right or build bridges or plant new seeds of hope.

This weekend I saw hope, and it was beautiful.

Four reasons why I have hope

I hold tightly onto an observation that Paul Hawken made in 2007. In his book Blessed Unrest, Hawken describes the millions of people around the world who are working for social change and environmental sustainability. They work on a multitude of issues at every scale. They are tireless activists and dedicated leaders. Yet there isn’t one leader or even a name or label to assign the whole collection of “do gooders.” They’re everywhere and doing all they can to make right on this planet of ours.

I love this observation. There is so much hope in it. It’s like turning the half empty glass (greed, corruption, violence, destruction) that we hear so much about over to find the glass is half full. The glass, and this world, is full of people creating, healing, and restoring. This feels so powerful and empowering.

Every year I design and lead the Open Space Conference in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the conference we create the opportunity for the land conservation community in the region to get inspired and get energized. We pick our heads up from the desk and from our local geography. And we spend a day in conversation with other change makers, earth menders, and society healers.

The 2016 Open Space Conference on May 19 at the Craneway in Richmond, CA.

At this year’s conference, which was held last week in Richmond, CA, we heard from four people that more people should know about. They give me hope for the world. They represent the half full glass and they should be widely known and celebrated.

Betty Reid Soskin.

Betty started working for the National Park Service as a Ranger at age 85. She’s now 94. She tells masterful stories about the history of Richmond during World War II in ways that feel alive and 100% relevant to today. Betty works at the Rosie the Riveter Visitor Center in Richmond where she tells of how Richmond changed the world. I feel inspired by every word she says.

Stacy Bare.

Stacy is a force of nature. Standing tall at what must be 7 feet, Stacy brings a sharp wit and a deep passion for getting people outside as Director of Sierra Club Outdoors. What impresses me most about him, though, is how he elegantly turns the act of preserving land from a defensive act (Protect! Defend! Save!) into something that is creative and essential. Parks and open spaces allow us to be human and alive, he says. I couldn’t agree more.

Peter Byck.

What’s not to love about someone who creates a film called “Soil Carbon Cowboys”? The title is quirky, and the man behind it is intelligent and inquisitive. Peter is working with some big dogs — the World Bank for example — to understand how we can put carbon in the ground through innovative ranching techniques. I hope he’s onto something.

Sedrick Mitchell.

Sedrick is a quiet man with profound thoughts and a masterful way of telling a story. He works for California State Parks and I’m guessing that most of his days are spent in bureaucracy. In the hours that I talked with him in preparation for the Open Space Conference, I heard a philosopher, psychologist, and activist on the other end of the phone. We talked about diversity, inclusion, and equity in ways that pushed my thinking on a topic I think a lot about. I know that Sedrick is making changes to this world, even from within the bureaucracy.

There were 450 people in the room at the Open Space Conference last week. Given plenty of time and no word count limit, I could list so many people who are changing the world. In the room that day there were visionaries, artists, community builders, and advocates. Every person attending that day is somehow contributing to a Bay Area with parks, farmlands, and open spaces, and therefore doing the essential work that Stacy Bare talks about. Each in their own way.

There’s so much goodness in the world if we choose to see it.

Open Space Conference attendees took a walk on the Bay Trail at lunch..

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.