A letter to my kids about hope

Dear kids,

For the 8 and 11 years that you’ve been alive (respectively), you have talked a lot about what you want to be and do when you’re an adult. One of you wants to be a professional baseball player. You talk about how you’re going to throw side arm when you’re a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. The other kid wants to be a general manager of sports team, or maybe a baseball talent scout, or maybe something else you’re just not sure.

Together we talk about how you’re going to take care of dad and me when we’re old, and how you’re going to give me dark chocolate when I’m in the hospital even if my doctor says not to.

How can I be your parent and not have hope for the future? You talk about your dreams. You describe how you want to change the world, feed the hungry, or at least pitch a perfect game. How can I not have faith that everything is going to be okay for you? I want so badly for everything to be okay for you.

There’s an avalanche of news about how our planet earth is in a serious crisis. This article in New York Magazine. This in the Washington Post. There are hundreds more examples, but I won’t list them all here. One, there are so many of them and I will run out of space. Two, and most importantly, I find them all so depressing and the last thing I want to do is depress you.

I hate being depressed about global warming. I don’t want to feel helpless and hopeless. I want to know that the adults alive today doing their best to ensure that you have a planet to live on. That your children have a planet to live on.

Being a parent is a constant, exhausting, and inspiring act of hope. I have to do my best to take care of the earth, because everyday you inspire me to.

Keep dreaming, kids. I’m dreaming with you.

I love you,


PS: This made me laugh and as David Brower said, “Have fun saving the world, or you are just going to depress yourself.”

A letter to my kids (07.04.17)

Dear kids,

It’s the 4th of July which has me thinking about all kinds of things. Especially this year. There is a lot going on in our country right now that reveal questions about what democracy means and what role our government has and should have. It’s an interesting time to be an American. One of the questions I’m thinking about today is:

What is America if we don’t actually take care of the land under our feet?

What does it mean that we’re pumping chemicals into the ground in order to extract fossil fuels? Who are we if we pollute our rivers and cut down our forests? What are the implications of an extractive economy to our health, economy, and future?

In 1983 author Wallace Stegner said, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” I love national parks, and the idea of public lands in general. In many other countries and in many times past, you had to be rich or of the monarchy to access beautiful gardens and parks. That’s not true here, at least not in principal and law. National parks and public lands aren’t perfect, but the idea of them is. Just like our country is a work in progress — ‘a more perfect union’ — the ideals of national parks and public lands in America are something we need to work towards.

Kids, I want you to know that this is important to me. I care that the land under our feet, and under the feet of all Americans and first nations, is respected, stewarded, protected, nurtured, loved, and appreciated. As California Coastal Commission Director Peter Douglas said:

“The coast is never saved. It’s always being saved.”

Taking care of the land is an ongoing effort, and I am committed to that effort.

You know what else the 4th of July makes me think of? Spending time with you eating BBQ, corn on the cob, and pie. Tonight we’ll go find a spot to watch the fireworks, but only if Karl the Fog isn’t in our way.

I love you,


From what I’ve gathered

Today is my last day on staff of the Bay Area Open Space Council.

For the past 7 years I have convened, organized, and fundraised for this small but mighty organization. Some of the things I have worked on include:

  • Creating, launching, and growing Outdoor Voice to engage Bay Area park users in supporting the natural places they loved
  • Creating and launching a Leadership Development Program for young adults to get a step up into land conservation
  • Producing an award-winning film about partnerships between Native Americans and land conservation organizations
  • Producing 7 Open Space Conferences and 30 Gatherings
  • Writing countless enewsletters, blog posts, and social media posts about projects like the Conservation Lands Network
  • Raising millions of dollars
  • And creating the governance structure, policies, and systems when we incorporated as a nonprofit after 20+ years as a fiscally sponsored project.

I know the Bay Area Open Space Council inside and out.

My mom can tell you that I’ve always enjoyed learning curves, particularly steep ones. Even as a kid I loved new situations where I had to figure out how it all worked. There’s something about the unknown and the discovery that energizes me. In the fall of 2016, I had that feeling that it’s time for something new. I was ready to stretch out my wings and see where the wind will take me next. I decided to take the leap, leave the comforts of the Open Space Council, and find my next learning curve.

I have gathered, learned, and gained a lot during my time at the Open Space Council. I mean, in addition to the mountain of chocolate that colleagues have showered on me. Because I will be taking all that chocolate. I will be also taking with me things like:

Respect for land conservation

During my time at the Council I worked with our 65 member organizations and many partners and funders to understand their challenges and opportunities, and to understand as deeply as I could how land conservation works in the Bay Area. I greatly admire and respect everyone who works in land conservation. You are doing some of the most important work anyone can do. You are protecting land from unfettered development and conserving parks, farms, ranches, trails, and other kinds of open spaces. You’re doing this for us living here today, and for generations to come. And that’s beautiful, powerful, and essential.

A deeper understanding of myself

We all have super powers. We all have skills and talents and ways that our brains work that allow us to do things that others can’t. Over the past 7 years I have learned about myself that I have a knack for communicating, convening, and leading. It’s work that doesn’t feel like work to me. More than that, though, my time at the Council has taught me a lot about my values and what matters to me. These are definitely things that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Friendships and solidarity

I am grateful for everyone I worked with at the Council, including the Board of Directors, Advisory Council, staff, and contractors. You politely nodded your head when I shared another off-the-wall idea. You were supportive, encouraging, and good partners. I have learned something from each and every one of you, and that is gold in my book. Thank you all.

Words can’t express how much I value our friendships and colleague-ships (that’s a word, right?). So I’m not really going to try here. The way I know to communicate this is through a hug, a shared joke, and by breaking bread together. We aren’t done yet, anyway. I’m not going away. I’m just changing email addresses.

My next step professionally is to work with land conservation organizations as a consultant. I’m currently on contract with some great organizations like Bay Nature Institute, East Bay Regional Park District, Sempervirens Fund, and Vizzit Places. I’m doing some work with the Center for Nature and Health at Children’s Hospital Oakland and Latino Outdoors. I’m working on projects that involve strategy, coalitions, constituency building, convening, communications, and fundraising. The need for our collective work is bigger than ever. And I look forward to contributing my skills and passion to the effort.

Sometimes we need to close one door in order for another to open. Today my time at the Open Space Council comes to an end, but it’s not “the end.” It’s the beginning of something new, and I can’t wait to see what happens. Somewhere out there is a new learning curve to climb.

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.

It’s not a battle of technology versus nature

Technology can be the enemy of nature. We can stare at screen instead of sunsets, and look forever online to find connection and purpose when all we really need to do is take a walk amongst some trees. Technology and “progress” has demolished landscapes and affected our planet and humanity in countless horrible ways. See Deepwater Horizon, the orchards of Silicon Valley in 1956 (then known as Valley of Hearts Delight), and average screen time of American teenagers as just a few examples.

The powers of technology can also be used for the good of nature, and for human beings. I like what Tiffany Shlain says in this podcast about how technology is really just an extension of us. It doesn’t dominate us. We can control it and use it for all the good we want to create. This view of technology puts us in the power position, and that is a much more productive perspective.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because yesterday we joined some new friends as they conducted their monthly monitoring of 1.5 miles of the California coast. Every four weeks Jan and Diane walk a bit of the San Mateo County coastline and write down what they see. They count birds and write it all down with code names like WeGu (Western Gull), TuVu (Turkey Vulture), and BrCo (Brandt’s Cormorant). They take pictures from the same spot every visit to show what’s changed and what hasn’t. They note how many seals they see and describe what those seals are doing (usually either swimming or laying on the rocks). When back home, Jan and Diane enter all the data into a centralized database in the cloud for scientists at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to analyze and compare to all the other 1.5 mile stretches along the California coast.

Jan and Diane are not alone. They are two of thousands (millions?) of citizen scientists who are collecting data for scientific study. Whether they’re collecting the data with an app or a pencil and paper, that data is turning into Big Data and influencing policy, land management decisions, scientific study, and more. That’s what got me thinking about technology as a tool for good. A cool app can entice people to go outside, and centralized databases can leverage the data for a bigger purpose. For example…


There’s iNaturalist. It’s an amazingly powerful collector of data on animals around the country. Sign up and learn more about what plants and animals you’re seeing in your world. Follow Alison Young on Twitter or Instagram to see how fun this can be.

Litterati is helping to clean up our planet one piece of trash at a time. I saw a lot more trash when I started with Litterati, and then started cleaning it up too. Data from Litterati is being used for advocacy and policy decisions, so that cigarette butt you document is making a real difference.

I love the Kings Tides because it means super dooper low tides that are perfect for exploring super dooper big beaches. But the high tides that come with Kings Tides are perfect for showing what sea level looks like. Enter the California Kings Tides project. They’re crowd sourcing pictures of the high tides so that we can plan for the rising seas.

And there’s this. Could it be that people are going outside more because of Pokemon Go, and what kinds of good things are happening when they’re there?


These are just examples. Of course there are more apps, databases, and technologies that are helping our planet be healthy. And there are thousands — no, I think millions — of people just like Jan and Diane who are taking the time to observe, monitor, and track what’s happening out there. All those WeBu observations and all those bags of trash add up. And that is powerful.

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.