Posted On: Sep 5, 2017 In: In the Spotlight
Left: Stan Herd’s rock art on the Kansas River Levee in Lawrence; photo courtesy of Kansas Geological Survey.
I live within a mile of the Kansas River. In spite of the Bowersock Dam and other infrastructure, this is a good place to connect with wildness. Walking on the levee beside the river offers a chance to watch birds soaring and fishing—great blue herons are frequently present at the river, and in winter bald eagles too.
Frequently people are making use of the water via kayak, canoe, or fishing boat. In spite of the nearby development, the river is a relatively wild place. At the other side of the broad continuum of local wild spaces are the richly-diverse Haskell-Baker Wetlands and also the expansive Clinton Lake Wildlife Area, yet there is value in every degree of wilderness.
My reflections are inspired from reading the book Wildness: Relations of People and Place. This new anthology includes creative and provocative essays, stories and poetry—it represents diverse understandings of our natural world by many highly regarded writers.
Posted On: Jul 4, 2017 In: In the Spotlight
I am hopeful that this 4th of July will inspire more than just a feeling of patriotism or nationalism. I am hopeful that it will instead encourage hope for social justice and move away from a nationalism that leans dangerously toward prejudice and injustices—especially during this national holiday.
I offer the books highlighted here as powerful tools for instilling hope to energize us towards social justice work and unify our differences.
Local author Diane Silver is writing a series of books using hope as daily meditations. Her first, Your Daily Shot of Hope, is a positive way to counter aggression and prejudice expressed by politicians. Meditating on hope becomes energizing fuel—energizing us to stand up to injustices and allowing us to trust that we can make a positive change if we take action. Read More..
Posted On: May 2, 2017 In: In the Spotlight
Being nearby to see a bird in flight can be a transcendent experience. The sensation of watching a bird flying overhead has inspired me to simulate my own flight, standing with my arms raised high. And this seems most powerful in a wide-open natural area like the Haskell-Baker Wetlands—in the presence of many red-winged blackbirds.
I’ve become more aware recently that most other people out on the nature trails have white skin like me. Author J. Drew Lanham poetically describes the phenomenon of uncommon black or brown companion birders.
His recent book, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature, shares lyrically-written storytelling of deep connections to family, his strong sense of place, a passion for nature, optimism and wit along with the frustration of being the singular African American ornithologist in a predominantly white field. Lanham is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University in South Carolina; he’s also a poet, naturalist, hunter, and birder.
“Birding While Black” is a poignant chapter in Lanham’s book reflecting fears similar to the negative experiences expressed by the phrase “driving while black”. A black man risks being accused of suspicious activity simply for being out in a remote environment.
In remote places fear has always accompanied binoculars, scopes, and field guides as baggage. …a white supremacist group [was] “organized” in the mountains of western North Carolina, near the places I was supposed to do a research project. They’d made the national news in stories that showed them worshiping Hitler and shooting at targets that looked like Martin Luther King Jr. Someone at the university joked about my degree being awarded posthumously. So though the proposal had been written and the project was well on its way to being funded—and as potentially groundbreaking the research on rose-breasted grosbeaks, golden-winged warblers, and forest management in the Southern Appalachians might be—I had to abandon the whole thing.
Author J. Drew Lanham
I look at maps through this lens—at the places where tolerance seems to thrive, and where hate and racism seem to fester—and think about where I want to be. Mostly those places jibe with my desires to be in the wild but sometimes they don’t.
The wild things and places belong to all of us. So while I can’t fix the bigger problems of race in the United States—can’t suggest a means by which I, and others like me, will always feel safe—I can prescribe a solution in my own small corner. Get more people of color “out there.” Turn oddities into commonplace. The presence of more black birders, wildlife biologists, hunters, hikers, and fisher-folk will say to others that we, too appreciate the warble of a summer tanager, the incredible instincts of a whitetale buck, and the sound of wind in the tall pines. Our responsibility is to pass something on to those coming after. As young people of color reconnect with what so many of their ancestors knew—that our connections to the land run deep, like the taproots of mighty oaks, that the land renews and sustains us—maybe things will begin to change.
I’m hoping that soon a black birder won’t be a rare sighting. I’m hoping that at some point I’ll see color sprinkled throughout a birding-festival crowd. I’m hoping for the day when young hotshot birders just happen to be black like me. These hopes brighten the darkness of past experiences.
Lanham is a terrific ambassador to inspire more people to enjoy the natural world, yet he also recognizes the empowerment shared by people with similar cultural experiences.
The “Sky Dawgs,” J. Drew Lanham and more colleagues of color
Lanham has created several entertaining short videos to advocate his mission of diversifying the community of naturalists; one of my favorites is witty-satire “Bird-Watching While Black: A Wildlife Ecologist Shares His Tips.” Use this link to watch the 2-minute video online, produced by BirdNote and featured in National Geographic Society’s Short Film Showcase.
This is a rallying cry to help more people connect to the outdoors, and I am inspired by Lanham’s message. I will be reaching out to be more inclusive in planning future nature-related events. As a Board Member and volunteer with Kansas Native Plant Society, I have organized and attended many outings over the last 17 years; almost all the folks who have joined me have been white.
Lanham and student birders
We need to be ambassadors to bring more kids and adults together from diverse communities to explore and connect with natural places—to imagine flight and experience transcendence with the birds.
I crave being outside in nature, but I was well into my 30s before I first enjoyed a wild environment. I wish someone had taken me under their wing to share wild places when I was a kid. I’ll be following J. Drew Lanham’s lead; when I visit a natural area I’ll respectfully invite new & old friends of different ages, varied hues and diverse origins to join me. I hope you’ll join me and we’ll exponentially increase the advocates for the natural world!
-Shirley Braunlich is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.
Cover Image: red-winged blackbird, credit: Audubon.org
Posted On: Feb 21, 2017 In: In the Spotlight
I treasure wildlife sightings. During the winter season I sometimes glimpse bald eagles soaring in the sky outside my kitchen window, and I’ve been fortunate on several occasions to see beavers swimming in the Haskell-Baker Wetlands. Last summer my East Lawrence neighbors and I were frequently serenaded by the territorial calls of barred owls. Being reminded that wildlife still thrives nearby is reassuring for the future of our environmental heritage. Read More..
Posted On: Dec 23, 2016 In: In the Spotlight
Charismatic singer-songwriter and human rights advocate Angélique Kidjo is an energetic powerhouse. She creates world-renowned eclectic, genre-complex music and works diligently to empower others.
She has championed empowerment as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002. In 2007 she co-founded the Batonga Foundation, which supports girls’ education in Africa and continues the legacy of advocacy of Kidjo’s own family.
I’m currently reading her book, Spirit rising: My Life, My Music, released in 2014. This memoir is full of inspiration, heartfelt revelry, and the humor of a fascinating, talented activist. She points out we are all descended from Africa and can join together to make positive changes where needed, but we also need to recognize that the African continent is diverse and not universally impoverished. Her words resonate, acting as a powerful salve-therapy against xenophobia. Read More..
Posted On: Dec 9, 2016 In: In the Spotlight
Let’s be honest, 2016 has been kind of a hot mess. Between so many celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Elie Wiesel… holy cow, SO MANY) and some, uh, general upheaval, most people are ready to write this one off as a loss.
But! As much as we’d like to say goodbye and good riddance to the year as a whole, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the very good things that came from 2016; this year has offered readers a wealth of fabulous new books. Debut authors and big-hitters alike have released incredible works in 2016, and the staff of LPL would like to share a few of our favorites. If you’re looking for great gifts for bibliophiles in your life, try one of these librarian-approved reads: Read More..
Posted On: Nov 1, 2016 In: In the Spotlight
(Painting of Lawrence by Brian Timmer)
Lawrence has a vibrant, diverse literary heritage. Read on to discover notable writers connected to Lawrence and learn about local author events. If you aspire to write and share your own writing, local opportunities are included as well. Whether you’re a reader or writer, there’s useful information for everyone. Read More..
Posted On: Aug 26, 2016 In: In the Spotlight
I have a deep sense of pride for our community’s most creative citizens; savoring local artists’ and authors’ works is often more satisfying than fine dining. Lawrence-based artist and author Stephen T. Johnson’s work is among the finest. His children’s picture books are award-winning: A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet was named one of the Best Illustrated Books of the Year by the New York Times, and Alphabet City was the recipient of a Caldecott Honor, in addition to other accolades. Read More..
Posted On: Dec 10, 2015 In: In the Spotlight
To honor Human Rights Day on December 10, here are recent acclaimed books, music, and videos to spur action to improve human rights. Human Rights Day is an initiative of the United Nations. All human beings are entitled to these rights and freedoms: civil, political, cultural, economic, and social rights, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Read More..