Tuesday, September 28, 2021

#RangerBetty100

 If you have only one hour to learn about the history of the United States, I recommend that you spend it with Betty Reid Soskin, National Park Service Ranger. 

I learned about Ranger Betty as many other people did, as the entire National Park Service -- which recently celebrated its own centennial -- celebrated her 100th birthday. The occasion came to my attention in several different ways over a couple of days. The most fun, of course, was the item above from the impish creatives at NPS Lego Vignettes, from whom I literally learn something new every day.

She is a ranger at the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in California. Her personal history is so deeply entwined in the mission and purposes of the park that they have created an entire web page for this particular ranger. The Betty Reid Soskin page includes a schedule of the presentations she gives on site, a biography focused on her relationship to the park and most importantly, that one-hour video I reference in the opening lines above. 

She is shown sitting as I've seen many other rangers do, on a kitchen stool at the front of a small theater full of visitors. She introduces the park and the park's main documentary video. The hour spent with her includes about 20 minutes with that professionally produced film. It begins, however, with her presenting both a general introduction to the concept of urban national parks and her own connection to this one. After the film is when the real learning happens; in a series of firm but gentle steps, she guides listeners from a superficial understanding of what the home front was all about to a deeper understanding of how that reality was shaped by race and how that might be relevant today.

Spoiler alert: a key turning point in the life of Ranger Betty Soskin was the evacuation of her family from a flood that ravaged much of Louisiana. Most of us were not aware of it until after Katrina in 2005, though Randy Newman ... and later Aaron Neville ... told us all about it in Louisiana 1927, first released in 1974.

Lagniappe

If you have more time to devote to learning about the Great Migration that is a big part of Ranger Betty Soskin's story, I highly recommend Isabelle Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. She focuses on the stories of three families in order to provide deep glimpses into the vast and complicated story in which millions of Americans moved over a period of half a century. For a link to the book and my own thoughts on it, please see my Warmth of Other Suns review on Goodreads.

I found the Ranger Betty video while I was looking for material about this book; I found it a bit after the fact. Wilkerson was featured on the TED Radio Hour, which includes a conversation with her and a link to her TED Talk.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP

Shortly after we arrived at BSU, a retirement gave me an opportunity to teach a course about Land Protection, while two outside events helped to shape the way I would teach it for the next two decades. One was the publication of Thoreau's Country and the other was the establishment of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

The namesakes of the park, courtesy of 
NPS Lego Vignettes

Each of these has shaped what we do in class, but more importantly they have given us places to go for the exploration of the interactions among forest ecology, land protection, and conservation. I teach the course every other year; the park in Vermont is a lot for a day trip, so I have only taken about half of those classes there. I have much more success getting the classes to Harvard Forest, which is managed by David Foster, the author of the book Thoreau's Country mentioned above.

Bothe places have extensive hiking trails that I have walked with local experts often enough that I can share some of the lessons to be learned among the trees. Both also have incredible indoor spaces that will not be part of our 2021 course as they remain closed to the public. When we return to normal -- and we will -- I highly recommend the Fisher Museum in Petersham and the mansion in Woodstock.

To learn more about the Marsh-Billings property from afar, I recommend the very cursory encyclopedia article I wrote in 2000 and copied onto my website, as well as A Place in the Land, which is a bit more interesting than its trailer suggests. It provides glimpses of some of the amazing artworks that were collected by the families who lived there and that are essential parts of the story of conservation in the United States.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Four Minutes on Fire

 By the title above, I mean both that this is literally a four-minute story about fire and figuratively that it is "on fire" in the sense that it conveys a lot of knowledge in a very short amount of time. Please give a listen:

Journalist Lauren Sommer and the experts she interviews convey not only the ecological importance of prescribed burns as part of long-term fire control but also the great variability in the legal and cultural context of these practices across the United States. 

Fortunately, land managers in dangerously fire-prone regions are starting to seek the expertise of those with long experience in controlled burns in other regions. Because the story also mentions the legal and financial considerations of burning on privately-held land, this is now required listening in my Land Protection class.

Controlled burn in Georgia. Photo: Morgan Varner





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