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Welcome to Nature Narrations!

We are delighted that you have found yourself in this space and hope you will be moved by the ecologically-themed art and narrative here. These pieces inspire a self-reflection and deeper consideration of the many different ways in which nature shapes all of the narratives in our lives. From cobalt mining and climate elitism to children's voices that speak loudest to our hearts.

 How can we create and work together to make the natural world a better place?

 

 

The blog will be updated intermittently; submissions are welcome.

Please send your submissions or questions to:

 

Holly Martis McCarroll, Editor

hlmartis777@gmail.com 

note that rights in the creative products featured here remain the property of their respective authors -

please reach out to the authors directly before using any of their work.

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Hope Lourie Killcoyne & Shakayla Brown


Good Morning Time for Owls

Written by: Hope Lourie Killcoyne
Illustrations: Shakayla Brown
 
My bedtime was an hour ago,
I’m
blinking through the blinds.
I know I don’t have long to go,
I’ve come to learn the signs.
 
They wait until the grown-ups
Are doing grown-up things.
Like paying bills or folding clothes
With not one thought of wings.











 










And when the night moves slowly,
And the kids no longer howl;

Twelve minutes more and one besides,
You’ll see the first night owl.
 
When Mom and Dad both yawn and stretch
And Cat begins her prowls,
My part of the world is saying goodnight;
It’s good morning time for owls.


The first flies by and signals the rest:
With a hoot they are out of the nest.
Brown, white, and gray bundles swoop by thick as towels.
It’s good morning time for owls.






















They’re heading for the playground.
They’re giggling inside.
The first one there’s the winner,
The first one down the slide.
 
T
he swings are pretty tricky,
‘Cause owls are low on weight.
With four to ride and four to push,
It does require eight.
 
A toy or two that’s left outside
Takes on a different use.
There’s nothing like a Barn Owl
On a trike whose wheels are loose.
 
The sandbox and the jungle gym 
Are filled with Snowy Whites.
To keep things looking natural
The old ones shield the lights.
 
The Pygmy Owls are secretive.
They whisper on the wires.
They tell their silly half-true tales
Then call each other liars.
 
The Evening Owls are show-offs.
They have a million pranks.
From loop-the-loops to playing dead,
I’d love to join their ranks.
 
The far end of the sandbox 
Is a Gopher Owl’s delight.
They burrow down then scurry up,
They’re there for half the night.
 
And if you think you’re decent 
On your playground’s set of rings,
You’d be floored to see a Screech Owl
Make those squeaky circles sing.
 
The Great Horned Owl, so very grand
Lets others have their fun.
Then majestically she points up high,
Purple prelude to the sun.
 
The owls assume their places,
And head off for the sky.

I rub my eyes and watch them go;
An Elf Owl waves goodbye.
















 





Not long from now I’ll fly with them,
And spread my wings in grace,                                   
By collecting the wisps they’ve left for me,
Each filigreed, feathery trace…
 
… Just as soon as I get a good day’s sleep, that is.
 
Follow @happysleepytimes for more bedtime stories!

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Hope Lourie Killcoyne is a writer, an editor, and above all, a storyteller. Currently a contributor to Extinction Rebellion’s reporting wing, Hope is also the author of The Lost Village of Central Park, a historical fiction novel set in 19th-century New York. You can find her collection of children’s stories on Instagram at @happysleepytimes.  Hope can be reached at hkillcoyne@gmail.com

Shakayla Brown - Illustrating and drawing comics have been a passion for Shakayla Brown since she was a child. She attended Queens College, graduating with a Bachelors in Studio Art, with a focus on Illustration. Shakayla has done numerous freelance illustration projects, including @happysleepytimes–-her first children's book illustration gig. Shakayla can be reached at shakayla.brown24@gmail.com  

Anthony Rodrigo Bright

Beneath the Peaks: The Scuba Stewards of the Adirondacks

 

During a cool and sunny early-August morning, I found myself on Upper Saranac Lake being battered by the winds on a fast-moving boat. This lake, a chain of connected waters which include Middle and Lower Saranac lakes, lies within Franklin and Essex counties, in the northern reaches of New York State. I am deep in the remote Adirondacks Park, the famed forest preserves replete with wooded mountains and countless lakes, streams, and ponds.

 

Alongside me were three rugged divers, their crew leader, and an older but even tougher-looking lake manager spread out on two boats. We were searching for an elusive quarry that no other hunter or fisherman was interested in- a water-borne plant called Eurasian milfoil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eurasian milfoil is a highly invasive aquatic plant that disrupts native ecosystems and most importantly, prevents human recreational activities such as fishing and boating, which are one of the most critical economic pillars of this region. Without the tourism and large nature-seeking crowds that the lakes attract every season, the economy of this region would simply not be able to function.

 

Observed underwater, a fully-grown milfoil plant looks like a dense, weedy and vaguely malignant organism rooted into the sediment and always reaching for sunlight. Milfoil features bright green leaves that are divided into 12 or more pairs of thin leaflets, with stems that can reach anywhere from 3 to more than ten feet in length, depending on the water and light conditions of whatever lake it finds itself in. The name “milfoil” refers to the tens of thousands of leaflets that make up the plant’s bulk.

 

This alien plant is unlike any other organism found in the Adirondacks and is not known to be consumed by animals.

 

Milfoil was first accidentally introduced to the Northeastern United States in the early 20th century by some unknown ship or mechanism and has now likely spread to nearly every major body of water in the Adirondacks region by unwitting recreational boaters, fishermen, and water skiers.

 

Sportsmen tend to find milfoil fragments (usually alongside other organisms) inside their motors, in their boat’s ballasts and live wells, or simply stuck to their equipment. These small fragments are then unintentionally released onto the lakes and ponds they frequent. Thanks to boaters, a varied assortment of plants and animals from all over the world can now colonize many of New York’s pristine mountain lakes, forever changing their ecology.

 

Holding on for dear life to the boat’s side rails and trying desperately to stay warm, I had to remember that this wasn’t the first time I found myself hunting this invasive life form.

 

In the summer of 2016, I moved from the sunny state of Florida to the frigid state of New York to work in the arduous but highly-rewarding job of diving for milfoil. This period of my life left a deep imprint on my mind. Being a milfoil diver, as we are commonly called, is a critical line of work in New York’s conservation history that has helped the restoration of this region significantly over the years. It is also a craft that is in danger of extinction due to competition from newer and cheaper mechanical and chemical methods of eradication.

 

The laborious effort required to remove thousands of pounds of plant material by hand while enduring freezing cold water meant that many the new divers in the crew simply left the job in the early stages of the diving season.

 

The company I worked for, Aquatic Invasive Management, has been shuttered down for several years now after the owners lost interest in conservation management. Back then, AIM was hiring a large crew of more than a dozen certified scuba divers on a 6-month contract to seek and destroy invasive species in several lakes across the Adirondacks. They were particularly interested in hiring military veterans that had proved to be able to withstand the brutal conditions the job entailed.

 

Having the gift of commuting with the natural beauty of the lakes and mountains of the Adirondacks during work was a reward onto itself, perhaps even more valuable than the relatively decent paychecks and three-day weekends.

 

Milfoil diving is seasonal work. Therefore, a contract is expected to end in the middle of autumn, once it’s too cold to be in the water for hours at a time. I, along with a small handful of other divers, made it through the entire season, but most of us would not be returning to work in the Adirondacks in the following years. It seemed like a large hole was left in the conservation landscape once AIM closed down, but new companies and techniques were still being deployed to fill in that gap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From internet research I learned that certain companies and lake management organizations had began to use more intensive mechanical extraction from massive barges to deal with the milfoil patches that now grew unabated in most lakes.

 

In certain lakeside towns, impatient lake managers and landowners had resorted to adding aquatic herbicides such as ProcellaCOR to their lake’s pristine waters in order to destroy the milfoil, which permanently alters the composition of the water. Lawsuits have been filed to halt the controversial use of these herbicides, which some believe have not been proven to be completely safe yet. 

 

Once milfoil is introduced, it will quickly spread and cover the entire littoral zone with thick and dense vegetative mats, outcompeting all native aquatic plants and rapidly altering the ecosystem of any lake it invades.

 

The littoral zone of a lake is where all the fun happens- it is the interface between rich lake sediment, pure water and warm sunlight, making it possible for aquatic plants to flourish. Fish, insects, birds, snakes, frogs and countless other organisms call these relatively narrow and shallow sections of lake their homes and their feeding grounds. However, milfoil will leave no suitable space uninhabited.

 

One of the most interesting aspects about this plant is its reproductive strategy. Since it’s a true flowering plant and not an algae, a mature milfoil specimen will send out bright pink stems with tiny bright white flowers to the surface of the water where it will attract pollinating insects to sexually reproduce, creating miniature fruits roughly twice a year. However, milfoil is also capable of reproducing asexually via fragmentation.

 

This means that each plant can produce hundreds or thousands of clones that will readily break off from the mother plant. Like a virus, it multiplies exponentially. Slow at first, but then easily doubling in numbers in ever-shorter spans of time.

 

After working the Adirondacks, I learned that the lakes of this region are like the deep-beating heart of an organism, and when the heart is sick, the entire body suffers. Without navigable bodies of water, the thousands of canoers, boaters, and fishermen that visit every year would have to abandon this veritable sportsman’s paradise. Not to mention the massive impacts to their ecosystems. 

 

Many years after leaving the beautiful waters of the region, I was curious to see the progress, or lack thereof, that had been made in the fight against this invasive species. I reached out to a dive crew leader I used to work under who told me to contact the Lake Manager of Upper Saranac Lake. They agreed to show me what their crew had been doing to preserve the natural state of the lake they worked in.

 

What I saw after spending a day with the crew of divers in Upper Saranac Lake actually gave me hope. Their management and conservation efforts have yielded positive results in the lakes they worked in, even as other unmanaged lakes in the region are still sadly becoming chock-full of Eurasian milfoil.

 

However, compared to the troubled homeowners and recreational sportsmen that live, work, and play in the waters of this region, the NY’s Department of Environmental Conservation was seemingly not as concerned about funding projects for milfoil removal. The only steady source of money for hiring milfoil divers usually came from foundations made up of homeowners and other stakeholders who banded together to tackle this problem, such as the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation.

 

The Upper Saranac Lake manager, who’s named Guy Middleton, is a stocky, somber, and knowledgeable Adirondacks native. Like many of the people that come from this region and the rest of the divers in his crew, he tends to be as cold, quiet and austere as the forested mountains that surrounded us. People that work in the lakes of the Adirondacks know to dress for success, and he was suited in a heavy black waterproof hooded parka and camouflaged rubber boots. During the entire time we spent together, he never removed his sunglasses.

 

“So milfoil was found [in Upper Saranac Lake] in 1996. There was about four years of limited hand harvesting efforts, but during that time they found that the milfoil was growing faster than the management efforts.” The Lake Manager said as he expertly piloted our boat through tea-colored waters rich in tannins. “In 2004, there was a fundraising effort that raised $1.5 million dollars from the shore owners and some small grants to fund an intensive three-year program. We hired 30 divers. We had multiple boats and it was really the introduction of management of milfoil on a widespread basis, a lake-wide basis anywhere in the Adirondacks.”

 

Mr. Middleton grew up around Lake George, the 32 mile-long body of water south of Upper Saranac that more closely resembles an inland freshwater sea than a lake, complete with huge landlocked salmon that live in its depths. Lake George formed from melting glaciers eons ago and as a result the water there is as clear and blue as the mountain sky itself.

 

“When I was a kid, there was no milfoil in Lake George.” Said Mr. Middleton, wistfully recalling how pure the lake used to be. “And then as I grew up, you can start to see it. And Lake George is a pretty clear lake. It's growing pretty aggressively. Without an aggressive milfoil management plan, it'll continue to grow… it’s hard to win the battle. It becomes more and more difficult.”

 

While we set out for Little Square Bay on the boats, we observed a pair of loons diving into the water. This productive area of the lake was chock-full of endemic and invasive aquatic plants and was where we would be spending most of our time.

 

Loons are water birds and are beloved by the people of the Adirondacks. These hyperactive birds with black-and-white plumage and haunting calls could be spotted playfully hunting for fish on most well-managed lakes. The conservation story of the common loon is an important and popular effort in the Adirondacks, and these birds get to benefit from many protections, such as guaranteed safe nesting sites.

 

As we approached Little Square Bay, I asked Mr. Middleton how Lake George was handling its milfoil problem now that large crews of divers were no longer a thing. Before he answered, he spotted a milfoil plant under the surface and called it out to his crew member. The young diver that was on the boat with us grabbed a buoy tied to a weight and expertly launched it next to the plant to mark its location. The rest of the crew would be diving in all the spots that we marked with buoys later.

 

“So in Lake George they have a company that does DASH, which is ‘Diver Assisted Suction Harvesting’. It's basically a vacuum that the divers still hand harvest the plant, but they put it in this vacuum. It sucks it up to the surface where they have personnel there…and they remove the milfoil. It's similar [to our] hand harvesting method but it is slightly different than what we do. We're strictly hand harvesting here.”

 

The DASH technique requires far fewer divers but is much more mechanically intensive, and a massive, fuel-hungry boat is needed to house the expensive and complicated mechanical suction system, meaning that it’s limited to only large bodies of water.

 

“Now that our density levels are so low it doesn't make sense to have a big operation where you have to have a boat that with a lot of moving parts, suction harvesting.” Milfoil is evidently somewhat of a rarity now in Upper Saranac Lake thanks to the efforts of Mr. Middleton and his divers, but they are still somehow pulling it out year after year, in ever-decreasing numbers. Eradication is so tantalizingly close.

 

Despite gaining the upper hand in the war against milfoil in Upper Saranac Lake, many of the lake’s tributaries and state-owned camping areas still have a milfoil problem. In Fish Creek Campgrounds, a popular camping and recreation area that sits tucked away in an area far from the rest of the lake, the lack of any persistent stakeholders have made the eradication of milfoil from the water almost impossible. This is mostly due to the lack of financial grants to pay divers to remove the invasive plants from the campgrounds.

 

The crowded Fish Creek Campground is interconnected to the main body of Upper Saranac Lake, which means that any aquatic plant or animal can freely travel between the well-managed area and the mostly uncared-for lakeside campgrounds. I saw a veritable wild-west of campers, boaters, swimmers, and big milfoil plants at the edges just under the surface. The plants we spotted were sending fragments out with the currents to the other parts of the lake. A series of floating booms had been set by Mr. Middleton to catch most of the fragments, but many mature milfoil plants had set themselves up barely out of reach in the state-owned land past the floating obstacles. This is why real eradication was basically unfeasible.

 

I asked the Lake Manager what ends up happening when there are no property owners in the shore and the only true stakeholder is an abstract bureaucratic entity, such as the State of New York. Mr. Middleton’s answer was carefully worded- "So our funding for Upper Saranac Lake is generally from the shore owners of Upper Saranac Lake. We had we received a $100,000 grant for Fish Creek Campground from the DEC (the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation). That was a three-year grant and we are no longer receiving funding. We continue to receive grants from Lake Champlain Basin program but it's hard to, you know…” He paused. “How far is the Upper Saranac Foundation responsible for harvesting and managing milfoil outside of the Upper Saranac area?”

 

The crew leader of the dive team, Mr. Middleton’s trusty lieutenant, was a scruffy Adirondack native with shaggy blonde surfer hair in his mid-to-late 30’s named Chris Burnham. His knowledge of the behavior and life history of invasive aquatic plants and where to find them was as ample as his knowledge of the geography of the Adirondacks. His bearded face was locked into a semi-permanent and disarming grin. All his clothing was well-worn and faded by the sun to the point where it seemed as if he had just returned from some incredibly long expedition in a far-away land.

 

I had a chance to work with him a few times in the 2016 season, but I could sense that his view of the mission had changed.

 

After I asked him about the difference that 7 years had made, he told me in his trademark rough and rumbly voice that the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation who he worked for operates in a manner completely different than the way the now-defunct AIM had. “So [we do] whatever we can do to accommodate the divers so they're happy, that way we get experienced divers returning. Every one of our divers this year is a return diver. So we have 100% return grade.” A shocking statistic for someone like me, who is used to seeing diver attrition rates decimate our crews.

 

“With that, comes experience and knowledge. And every year it gets better. I remember like that was one of the major reasons why working at AIM was so difficult. Even in the middle of the season it was so high that they would get scuba divers that had no idea what they were doing working with more experienced crews, and everything was a mishmash of experience. It was really difficult.” He glanced around where the buoys were and scratched some numbers on a nearly destroyed notepad while simultaneously using a handheld GPS system and maneuvering the boat he was piloting. “And a lot of attrition. More than 50% of the dive crew just left within the first couple of weeks.”

 

After putting the motor in neutral, told the divers to suit up and get into the water to remove the dozen or so plants that had been marked with buoys. However, only one of the three divers actually got fully suited up in a neoprene wetsuit, the others snorkeled out only wearing bathing suits in order to stay lightweight and nimble, despite the chilly water and cool breeze. The heavy and stifling set of scuba diving gear I was so used to wasn’t necessary here, since the invasive plants were so sparse and divers could finish picking them in much less time. Quickly getting in and out of the water was the operating procedure here.

 

Chris continued- “So if we're finding plants shallow, to me that's an indicator that there's something we're missing somewhere deeper. There's no reason for milfoil to grow in a foot of water, it doesn't really want to. It's sandy over there anyway. So it takes fragmentation to blow in. You know if there's milfoil in the shallows, you can’t pick that and think there’s nothing deeper.”

 

Using a GPS marker to mark the number and location of each individual plant picked allows him to store and access information season after season. This well-oiled unit relied on a mixture of historic GPS data, expert surface spotting, and experienced divers to create a much more effective and fruitful way of managing the invasive problem.

 

Chris brusquely declared that this was how they kept both the stakeholders and the divers happy. “Putting divers where we know there's been plants and then also looking at historic places where the plants don't really grow anymore and then balancing that time. 'Cause there's places where there hasn't been no ‘foil in a few years.”

 

From my vantage point as an ex-milfoil diver and after speaking and observing the Upper Sararac Lake Foundation’s manager and his crew of divers, it appears that the current patchwork system of citizen stakeholders and different conservation organizations spread throughout the 3,000 lakes of the Adirondacks have made it difficult to systematically eradicate this problematic plant once and for all. Nevertheless, the narrative of Upper Saranac Lake stands out as a brilliant example of effective management and conservation efforts, serving as an inspiration for individuals and organizations throughout the watery core of the Adirondacks.

 

Anthony Rodrigo Bright is a Sustainability Management student at Columbia University's School of Professional Studies. Anthony can be reached at arb2263@columbia.edu

Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone

Leah Mpinga

Made in the Democratic Republic of Congo: The land and lives behind the promise of cobalt - why we should feel compelled to unpack climate elitism.

 

It had been almost a month to the day of living in New York City. 18 days of graduate school and approximately 3 hours since I had finished my last class of the day in 601 Schermerhorn. Coincidentally, my uncle was in town, having just come off the heels from a conference at the Harvard Kennedy School, the topic of discussion; the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a dim smokey Club Macanudo, myself and his acquaintances were enthralled in conversation about the conference, last night’s gala, the bright-eyed students at the other Ivy, and the future of a potential net-zero Congo. Once again caught between two worlds, one where I was privy to the inner thoughts of the Congolese political class and my new cohort of climate scientists. One where I had a birthright, the granddaughter of a Prime Minister (the reeking privilege of a nepo-baby), the other where my uncle jarringly pointed out, “just a number”. Suddenly, conversation halts.

 

“Le président vient de finir son discours” (The president has finished his speech).

 

Besides the unplanned family reunion, it was also the U.N. General Assembly. President Felix Tshizekedi of the DRC has just finished addressing the Assembly, in his delegation Minister of the Environment Eve Bazaiba. During his speech, the fifth president of the nation said it was time for the country to take full control of its destiny. The president also addressed the issue of fair carbon pricing and the unsuccessful 2009 $100 billion dollar pledge for climate finance initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa. Undoubtedly, these topics were at the forefront of African current affairs with the African Climate Summit having adjourned three weeks prior in Kenya.

 

The question is why should you care? Well, you could choose not to, but if you plan on driving an EV or taking a plane that is powered by fuel, or having any kind of device with a microchip you probably should. The magic ingredient in all these items: Cobalt.

 

According to Our World in Data, the D.R.C is responsible for 0.01% of global emissions since the 1700s, producing less than 0.02% of annual global emissions in 2020. Nevertheless, it holds the top spot for cobalt production at an astonishing 300,000 tons a year. Today, cobalt is seen as one of the world’s most important critical minerals, a by-product of copper mining essential to the creation of lithium-ion batteries. Yes that’s right, the batteries found in the cute EV you’ve been eyeing up or convincing your family to commit to.

 

Government, artisanal mining and multinationals: Who pays and who benefits?

 

Questions of environmental justice have often been centered around who pays and who benefits. In this context, who sees the positive ends of the trade-offs of mining cobalt? Nearly 80 years on, countries like the United States who turned to Congo for the uranium in the Atomic Bomb are turning to its government and population to help them out again. Amongst the largest multinationals mining for Cobalt include; Microsoft, Glencore and Tesla.

 

The issue remains however, in the southeastern region of Katanga many Congolese people are living in abhorrent conditions. These conditions can only be described as dating back to the era pre The Industrial Revolution. In an article published by the New York Times, it details the locals of areas like Kinsafu seeing next to no profit from cobalt extraction. The early supply chain of cobalt is plagued by informal artisanal mining and the imminent relocation of indigenous tribes, like the one chiefed by Kinhayle Mangi. Unfortunately, little distinction can be made between the cobalt produced by legal industrial projects and the cobalt extracted in mines by men, women and children.

 

The exploitation of the Katangan people is not new. It has been historically exemplified in the Belgian backed secession war of 1960-1963, the harassment of populations by Mobutu Sese Seko during The Cobalt Crisis of 1979-1982, post nationalisation of mines and now the geo-political race between the U.S. and China.

 

Whilst global powers are making transition investments and advances, rural populations in the DRC are still without clean and affordable energy. While our consumer issues are debates over whether we should thrift, follow plant based diets and make efforts to compost, families in Congo are cooking their food and lighting their homes with timber and dung.

 

In the context of the “climate bubble”

 

So whether it be in the clouds of smoke in an Upper East Side bar or in the hallways of Columbia University, it is here or anywhere that you realise no one with the privilege of education on climate change is “just a number”. Those who are carrying our transnational burdens and the pressure of correcting our past mistakes are those who bear the consequences of being a number. They are forgotten. Yet, they survive without the megaphone of an Ivy league education, a country with strong institutions and the common decency of the world’s interest. One thing that is clear in the climate bubble is the reconstruction of language and education coded in elitism. We focus on the individualism of our ambitions, the issues that we perceive as important, and accept the lack of perspective within the hierarchies created by paternalistic entities of the past and present. Whether we now say Global North or Global South, which came from developed and developing, earlier western and local, and at the core coloniser and colonised. Nonetheless, we blindly take the privilege of being able to learn and selectively choose. We are happy to make change, if the change is good for us. We take our biases and project them onto those who we’ve deemed as behind, who’s words and cultures we’ve decided to exclude, and to quantify as immeasurable. We use our language to cleverly ask those why they’re in our space and what qualifies them to be here. Fundamentally, we’ve been taught to care without caring enough. Whether it's with a laugh, an eye roll, a comment or deafening silence our climate activism has not expanded far enough. Our relationship to land and to people remains anthropocentric in nature and dismissive in practice. A lot of the time in my writing I discuss the principle of Ubuntu. I am because we are. I recognise that I denounce elitism whilst also sitting on my high horse. However, my wish is solely for “just numbers” to become people, for people to become voices and voices to become change. Change that denounces the individualism we’ve been taught and the communities we’ve forgotten. Those who have always paid, must at some point benefit.

Leah Mpinga can be reached at lm3873@columbia.edu

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Mining Technology - Credit: Foreign Brief
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SWI - Courtesy of Dorothée Baumann-Pauly
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