On To Post-Apocalyptic 2013!

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Every year in my environmental-science class, I have a sort of review where I go around the class and each of the students can ask any question they want — maybe something we haven’t covered, or that they were confused about, or just always wanted to know. It’s usually fun and interesting, and in my last class, which ended early in December, I got a question I wasn’t expecting — “What’s up with this Mayan apocalypse?!” Everyone laughed, but the student said she wasn’t joking, she really wanted to know, and it led to an interesting discussion.

Anyway, the Mayan deadline has come and gone, and here it is, 2013! The year that wasn’t supposed to arrive.

A lot happened, naturally, since my last post in July. I taught a summer field course about the Geography of Narragansett Bay, which was a lot of fun, since we were outside exploring, every Friday for six weeks. The students and I started in Waterplace Park and worked our way around the Bay, from East Greenwich to Prudence Island and Newport, talked with a lot of people, and learned a lot. And I taught the Intro to Environmental Science course on campus in Providence that I teach every fall semester.

I wrote a bunch of stories for our local colleges and universities, and got to interview lots of amazing scientists and lawyers doing interesting work, from geology and biology to mediating high-tech patent disputes. I wrote the cover story for Rhode Island Monthly’s December issue, about cosmetic surgery. This wasn’t a topic I had much interest in, but it was assigned to me, and it turned to be fun talking to a variety of doctors about their work and their motivations and to see how they relate to their patients.

I also got to write a travel story in October, for About.com’s Caribbean travel website. I spent a few days at an all-inclusive resort on the beach in the Dominican Republic; it was very interesting, and a different way to have a travel experience! I enjoyed meeting the other writers on the trip, and the staff treated us great. The weather was perfect, and it was a very fun intro for me to travel writing.

Every week I also write and post about six news stories for AVweb.com, the aviation website, plus a podcast, which consists of an interview with someone in the news. I gripe a lot about doing the podcasts, because they are hard to schedule and time-consuming to produce, but I do enjoy talking to all of these newsmaking individuals. My favorite one recently was a chat with Col. Joe Kittinger, who held the record for highest skydive for more than 50 years. He flew to above 100,000 feet in a balloon and then jumped out, to help test pilot-ejection gear for the Air Force. Then last year, he helped Felix Baumgartner to finally break that record. He’s 85 years old, and barely stopping to catch his breath before moving on to his next project!

I’ve also started to write more frequent posts for the Rhode Island Monthly online blog. These are fun to write and I get to choose my own topics, and do them on my own schedule, so it’s a fun outlet to have. Here are a few of the stories I’ve done recently:

Then of course there were festive holidays, winter snows, hikes and parties with friends and family, drawing at the museum, the days and nights of life here on the edge of the Bay, and the moments to reflect on how improbable and lucky it is for each of us every day to wake up again to another day on Earth, and another night to watch the Moon and planets wander across our skies.

Geophilia

Opening this week at the Warwick Museum of Art is an exhibit called “In the Field,” showing work inspired by the Bioblitz. Bioblitz is an annual event organized by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey that aims to explore the species diversity in our own backyards. Two years ago, the Bioblitz folks invited artists, writers, and photographers to join their teams of naturalists and scientists. This curated show exhibits a selection of their work, along with work from artists-in-residence in national parks around the country.

My own contribution to the event is a photo book with words. The show is open July 7-31, with an opening reception on Thursday, July 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. Click here for more info and a preview of the book. Hope you can get there to see the show, it’s great!

In Like a Lion

Winter barely skimmed us this year, a nice respite, with lots of warm sunny days even in February, and just a dusting of snow to start March after seeing hardly any all winter long. The big wet flakes were pretty to watch, falling in the late afternoon light yesterday, but then I’m one of the lucky ones with a commute that doesn’t require battling the weather…. wherever my laptop is, that’s my office!

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I kept busy in January working on a feature for Rhode Island Monthly, my first one for them in quite a while, and I got a little carried away. I interviewed too many people and spent too much time, for the space I had to fill…! But that tends to happen with that kind of story, they become my pet projects, and I feel lucky to have that kind of assignment. I always think I’ll find a way to publish a longer form of the story sometime soon, but the time to do that never seems to appear….! The story is set for the April issue.

In February, it seemed like all of my steady clients had a load of work to get done, and it all had to be done right away. I usually try not to get so overloaded, but I figured since it’s February, I might as well buckle down and get a lot done. A few late nights and weekend work sessions later, I’m seeing some light at the end of that tunnel, but not quite finished with all of it yet.

I shot a video to go with my RIM story, which was good practice, and I’m working on another one now for AVweb. I hope to find time to shoot a couple more, to improve my camera skills, before I head to Florida to cover the Sun ‘n Fun air show. Sun ‘n Fun is early this year, just a few weeks away, so it will give me a nice jump start on Spring.

So, besides the R.I. Monthly project, I’ve been working on two features for the Roger Williams University Law magazine. I’ve done a handful of projects for them now, and it’s fun to interview their law students and professors, who are always smart, interesting, and hardworking folks, involved in a wide variety of projects. I’m also working on a long list of airplane profiles for Robb Report magazine, a couple of short items for the RR website, and the usual weekly news and podcasts for AVweb.

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In my educator capacity, I got to take a cool tour of the Okeanos Explorer, a scientific research ship docked at Quonset, with a bunch of teachers who’ve been working with us on the Oliver Hazard Perry project (we’re building a new Tall Ship for R.I. that will help teach kids about the oceans).  Click here for some pix of the Okeanos tour taken by Matt Hodge, a fellow geography teacher (and former shipmate on the Tall Ship Rose!).

ImageAnd just for fun, I’ve spent a couple of Saturday mornings at the Museum of Natural History drawing from the collections, which is a nice way to spend some time with some special friends and an excuse to meet for breakfast at the Liberty Elm. We’re looking forward to organizing an Art Team again for the Natural History Survey’s Bioblitz, coming up this June in Jamestown — it will be here before we know it! Maybe we’ll have clear skies for once, this year, and the astronomers can join us there.

Launching A New Year

I can’t remember a New Year that so many seemed so ready for — 2011 was challenging, it seems, for lots of folks. But 2012 dawned fresh and clear, with a balmy winter day that drew thousands to the beaches, where I got my feet wet while a friend plunged clear in — good for her! The ocean was icy, but the day was warm enough to walk barefoot in the sand. That sure felt good for a January day, and a good start to the New Year.

So, this month, I’m working on a story for Rhode Island Monthly, but it won’t run till Spring, so will have to wait until then to say more about it. It’s an interesting topic, though, with a lot of different angles about how we humans interact with our natural environment.

In December, after finishing up with school, I wrote up a grant proposal to the R.I. Foundation, something I’m not very good at, but they offered a kind of local “genius grant” for three years, and required just a one-page letter of interest. I wasn’t the only one intrigued — they got over 400 applications! — so I’m not expecting to win the award. But it was a good exercise in thinking about some of the projects I’d like to take on if I could, so maybe I will look for other ways to move forward on some of these community initiatives.

I also got in a couple of interesting interviews for AVweb last month. One was with Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. If you’re old enough, you might remember that book — it was a sensation in the 1970s. It was a special book to me and my friends, since it celebrated the free thinker who didn’t fit in with the crowd — that was us! So it was a treat to talk with him. Richard is also a pilot, and wrote a few books about flying. Our chat went on for well beyond the 10 minutes that I had to edit it down to for the website. The other interesting interview was with an actor who plays one of the Tuskegee Airmen in Red Tails, a George Lucas film coming out in a few weeks. Click here to listen to either of the podcasts.

Holiday events and a Christmas trip to Pennsylvania took up the rest of the schedule last month. And one Friday, a phone call from my pal Noah asking, “What are you doing tomorrow?” — I knew the answer: “I’m going flying!” Noah just finished building his RV-7, a little two-place airplane, after several years of hard work, and has been eagerly piling up the hours. We didn’t go far, just a hop over to a couple of nearby Massachusetts airports to have breakfast and visit some of Noah’s pilot friends. But it was great to be in the air over the Bay, sailing along at 1,200 feet above the ground, the most spectacular way to see our planet. I should have taken more pix, but I brought my big Olympus camera, which I don’t use much anymore, and it was acting up. I like this pik, though, because the little airplane looks so happy, and eager to go!

So, onward to 2012! January offers some time to sink into that RIM feature story, which I’m looking forward to! And of course there will be aviation news and podcasts for AVweb every week. And hopefully, lots more warm sunny days!

Warm Winter Days

We’ve had lots of warm weather this Fall, but no question that Winter is on its way — the leaves are pretty much gone off the trees, and the sun sets by 4:15. The consolation for me is that with the leaves off, I have a wider view of the ducks and geese swimming in the Cove across the street, and with the sun setting more to the south, those deep winter sunset colors — yellow and violet and red — gleam through the big south-facing window across from my winter workspace. And I try to adjust my schedule so I get some time outside during mid-day, to ward off the winter gloom.

My class at RIC is over already, it went by ultra-fast. The students were great (as usual!). They worked hard and I believe they learned a lot. We had some excellent guest speakers, including solar expert Bob Chew and a pair of hardworking young farmers from Cranston, and one class we spent at Save The Bay, where the students spent time with Baykeeper John Torgan. Hopefully the students now have some better ideas about the place where they live, how they relate to it, and how they can do their part to take care of it. I still have lots of papers to grade, though — that seems to never end!

I also wrote up a proposal for a new field course about Narragansett Bay for next summer. It’s scheduled to be highlighted in the summer catalog, so I hope we’ll get enough students enrolled, so we can run it.

Since my last post, I’ve finished a couple of stories for Robb Report to go in the print magazine, but they haven’t come out yet. And I’ve got a couple of ideas in the works with my editor at Rhode Island Monthly, that I think will start to gel soon.

I spent a day in October at Project Oceanology in Groton, Conn., learning about lots of cool ideas for ocean education, including how kids can build their own remotely operated submersible vehicles for research. This is useful for some of the plans we’re working on for the Oliver Hazard Perry tall ship (I’m on their education committee). Another fun trip was to Norwood, Mass., for an afternoon, to be a guest on a local public access show about aviation, produced by a couple of nice guys who are flight instructors there.

My pet project for the Fall has been the Great South Coast Saunter. This involves walking all the beaches along the south shore of Rhode Island, from Point Judith to Watch Hill. So far I’ve made it nearly halfway. It might take me into the spring to complete the Saunter, but it’s been beautiful so far, and I’ve explored lots of places I hadn’t visited before. I’ve been writing about it on a blog (not public yet). My goal is that the Saunter should be on the life list of every Rhode Islander, along with hiking the North-South Trail, visiting Jerimoth Hill, and lots more!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be finishing up my to-do lists, writing a grant proposal, grading those papers, reporting the AVweb news, and making travel plans for Christmas. A busy 2012 looms, just around the corner. I know I’m lucky to have steady work and great clients to work with. Here’s hoping for a merry New Year for all!

Stumbling into Fall

October means Fall should be here, but it feels kind of summery still. The trees are green, the days are warm, the tourists are gone from our beaches, it’s really a fine time of year to be in Rhode Island.

My story about a scientist studying the effect of the full Moon on crime rates came out in the Roger Williams University magazine, click here for that. This was my second story for them, and I was glad to see that the final version was virtually unchanged from the story that I filed. That’s the kind of editing I appreciate!

I wrote a short story for Robb Report’s website about Airventure, the big airshow I go to every year in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It’s been a challenge to create new content for Robb’s “New & Noteworthy” pages, since production has slowed down dramatically in the aviation biz since the economic downturn. So I was glad they were up for this story, it’s kind of a departure from the usual format for that site.

Fall semester is under way at Rhode Island College, with a bit of a late start. My class (Intro to Environmental Science) meets just once a week, on Mondays… the first week was cancelled due to Tropical Storm Irene, and the second week was Labor Day. But we’ll catch up over what’s left of the term. We’re off to to a good start, with the students learning where their water comes from, and what watershed they live in, and where their wastewater goes. We had an excellent visit from Mike Clark, a water-supply expert. I always try to bring in a lot of guest speakers, it’s great to help connect the students to their local community.

September 21-24 was the annual Aviation Summit held by the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association. It was in Hartford this year, which means it was my turn to go cover the show for AVweb. I met our editor Paul Bertorelli there. We shot a lot of video and did a lot of podcast interviews, as well as daily stories and photos from the show. It was busy, but manageable! All of our content is posted on the AVweb site.

I’m lucky to have the chance to work with Paul, who knows the biz inside out, and has patiently been helping me to learn video production.  I am working on a video that I shot about the Kestrel aircraft company, and hope to have it posted on the site soon!

The pik here is of Hollywood star Cuba Gooding Jr climbing into a WWII-era P-51 like the ones flown by the Tuskegee Airmen. Gooding came to the AOPA event to promote a movie about the Airmen, coming out in January.

Dark Skies

The first of September usually still feels a bit like summer, with a hint of fall, but today with the power still out (post-Irene) it’s an even more unnatural season. The dark sky reveals a hint of the Milky Way, and the crescent moon seems extra-large and bright.

Life has been busy, and family duties drew me away from blogging updates in the spring and summer. Now with a new season it feels like time for renewal, for fresh ideas and new directions.

I’m lucky to have steady work — AVweb and Robb Report keep me busy, and since my last post I’ve been to the Sun ‘n Fun air show in Florida, the Rhode Island show at Quonset, and the big one — EAA AirVenture, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I was scheduled to go flying in the Zeppelin, which was making its first appearance there, but weather intervened and I never did get off the ground. In a few weeks I’ll be heading to another aviation event, a pilots’ convention, but just for a few days, and a short drive away, in Hartford.

I also wrote a story for Roger Williams University’s alumni mag, which should be out anytime now, and I’m working on another short feature for their law school mag. I haven’t written about lawyers before and I have to say these are very smart people and a lot of fun to talk to.

This summer I taught an online course for Northeastern University, a seminar in Science, Technology, and Society. The theme was sustainability, and we looked at how technology has transformed our relationship with nature, from the start of agriculture to urbanization and on to the challenges we face today. We just finished up this week, and now it’s time to start Intro to Environmental Studies at Rhode Island College! It was kind of nice to have the start of the term delayed a bit by the hurricane.