The Sun Rises

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” ~ Nelson Henderson

My two sons are now 8 and 11 years old. They talk about what they want to be when they grow up, including a pitcher on a major league baseball team. They talk about going camping with their kids at the campground where we go every summer. I love listening to their dreams and ideas for the future. I’m so curious about what, if anything, they say now will actually come true.

But the future is all doom and gloom according to the news. And according to those paying attention to global warming. Animals are dying. Droughts are longer and drier. The ocean is getting bigger and higher. I find it all scary and depressing. All of the news about the future makes me want to stick my head in the sand.

I can’t stick my head in the sand. I can’t give up. I can’t do nothing for the planet, for my kids, for your kids, for all of our kids, for the kids’ kids. I want to take action for future generations of people, animals, and plants. I have hope. I want to be part of the solution for our unhealthy planet. But I don’t want to do this alone.

So I’m launching The Sun Rises project.

The Sun Rises project is a source of hope, inspiration, and actions you can take for a healthy planet for future generations. I’ll deliver positive stories and ways to get involved to your email inbox once a week. Subscribe to The Sun Rises and you will:

  • Watch stories like this about the kids who saved the parks.
  • Learn about projects like this that are mobilizing thousands of people around the world to clean up our planet.
  • Read stories like this that open eyes and hearts to different perspectives.
  • See how small actions like this can have large impact.
  • Join thousands of people for events like Coastal Cleanup Day and MLK Day of Service.

My goal is to make you feel more hopeful, more connected, and more engaged in the future we want to create for kids today and our kids’ kids. And our kids will know we rose up and took action on their behalf.

I hope you will subscribe.

~ Annie Burke

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,


Dear kids, there’s sand in between your toes.

Dear kids,

How many hours have we spent at the beach? I’m not sure we could count even if we tried. The beach and all of its wonders are part of you at some deep cellular level. The sound of the waves. The cold Pacific water. The sand between your toes and in your ear. How exactly does sand get in your ear??

The US Government wants to destroy the California coast that you know and love. This breaks my heart in so many ways. Why, in 2017, are we extracting more fossil fuels from the earth? Why would we permanently destroy habitats and ecosystems on which our life on this planet depends? The greed and short-sightedness that drives this is breathtaking.

Thank goodness that people around the country are speaking up and telling our federal government that this isn’t okay. On behalf of you, the future generation, this is not okay.

The US Government is asking for comments about their recommendation to drill for oil near our beaches. Before July 26, 2017. That’s now.

Kids, this is a great opportunity for people to show they care about this stuff.

Adults are providing public comments here. Learning more about it here. Following the conversation and posting with #StandUpForSanctuaries. Even fisher-people are standing up and making their voice heard.

I am hopeful that the US Government won’t start drilling for oil near the beaches we love. Or any beach for that matter. I have to have hope that we’ll put our planet first, not an outdated and wrong-headed notion of what this country is/was. I have this hope for you, for the future generations.

All this talk of beaches has got me thinking that we’re due for some sand between our toes. It’s summer and time to go to the beach.

Love you lots,


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 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,


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.