land art.

I don’t know what is most intriguing about land art.  Simply that it is in the outdoors, displaced, making the ecosystem and the natural world the museum by default?  Maybe that it draws people out to the most random locations where they can then look back from a completely unlikely vantage point and reflect?  Maybe my hope is that it will give people an appreciation for nature.  Or perhaps it’s simply that many land art pieces are just extravagantly weird.  Like the mirror house near Palm Springs pictured below.  It’s a part of DesertX, a different kind of art exhibit, scattered across the entire Coachella Valley.  Link to it here.  It ends soon, and is so worth the roadtrip.

DesertX

Climate Change?

I was lecturing in an environmental science course this week, having students calculate the amount of carbon dioxide generated from burning gasoline in an average car driven an average number of miles per year.  The amount is fairly astonishing.

We then began to build upon that, multiplying that number by the number of people in the lecture hall, the number of people in their town, the number of people in California, the US, and so on.  I find that empowering students with the math and then allowing them to make calculations to see how overall impact grows in magnitude when a few million little-old-me’s are all doing the same things is very powerful.

Students are always kind of blown away by what they find.

Then one student asked, innocently, ‘but how is it that carbon dioxide is related to global warming?’

Sometimes, as a professor, I have to step back and get my bearings.  You think you have a basis to begin with, a good point of departure, and then you realize that as deeply mired as our society has  gotten in the highly politicized ’debate’ about climate change, what we are still lacking is a strong foundation in the science, which is all that should really matter.

Lecture was over.  Hold that question, I said, it’s a good one.

Next lecture, we talked greenhouse gasses.  And I shared this short video that explains the concept quite nicely.  It’s useful and entertaining.

A Simple Train Ride

I was recently coerced into riding the train in Southern California.  The MetroLink is sort of a commuter train that runs for the outer suburbs into the center of Los Angeles connecting with Union Station and the rest of the world.  The Riverside line goes through some of the more unsavory parts of the eastern LA expanse, so it’s just as well that people become engrossed in their work and electronic devises because there is not much to see.

But if you look, you get a picture.  What you see can be a bit of a shocking view of the other reality of America.  It is an image of run down dwellings, plastic trash in heaps, rusted out old cars, and homeless encampments dotting the empty fields that we pass.  We in the United States are not used to seeing homeless colonies, so this is something novel.  And what is truly interesting about it is the way they are deployed across the landscape.  I have traveled many a mile in developing countries and seen more than enough poverty.  But that poverty is usually centralized and entails a cohesiveness; we see slums, shantitowns, gatherings of tarpaper shacks.  Here, what we see are groups of a few tents here and there largely shunned from society, far out of reach and out of sight of the nearest neighbors, isolated in the middle of empty fields and visible only to the passing train.

But the assumption seems to be that no one is looking…  at least that is the impression that I got on the train.

Except for…

I often try to put myself in the place of a tourist, and experience the United States as a tourist would.  What things matter when you are a tourist?  Are people nice and helpful?  Is the food good?  Is transportation functional, and is there a hotel or hostel nearby?  I like to see what my world would appear to be if I was passing through, forming opinions as I normally do when I travel, based upon limited experience.  And so, this train ride painted a pretty unpleasant picture.  And that’s when I overheard the conversation of a group of German tourists experiencing what I had just been engrossed in trying to imagine.  Only for them, it may have been their first, may have been their only impression.

I am captivated by the fact that we often travel to escape the banality of our own lives and to see the world, but oftentimes it seems that what we leave behind is something that we scarcely know anything about.  As a college professor, I find that experiential environmental education often involves nothing more than taking students out their back door and showing them the world they have been seeing all along.  As a parent who beleives wholeheartedly that my kids benefit most from unstructured outdoor play, I find that the world outside our doors is immensely more engrossing than television and video games, if we will only look and see.  And if we are perceptive enough, we might see that our world is drastically different from how we perceive it.

That’s a lesson that I learn from my kids every time we camp outdoors or wander through a natural landscape, and it came to light in a hard-hitting kind of way when I took that simple train ride into Los Angeles.