Working in conservation is fighting a war

“It was too much to try just as unsuccessfully to save whole species and ecosystems. Every primatologist I know is losing that battle, whether their animals are being done in by habitat destruction or conflict with farmers or poaching or novel human disease or shit-brained government officials bent on harassment and maliciousness. The full-time primatologists I know always remind me of stories I read of Ishi, the last member of a particular Indian tribe, a person whose mother tongue was a dead language. Or they make me think of someone whose unlikely job would be to collect snowflakes, to rush into a warm room and observe the unique pattern under a microscope before it melts and is never seen again.”
— Robert M. Sapolsky, A Primate’s Memoir

Working in conservation is fighting a war.

Waking up every day to fight a war you know you’re losing, on every front you can count.…

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Covid-19 Quarantine, Day 6



“If they fast-track some vaccine for coronavirus, how are all of us going to defend ourselves?” she asked. “I’ll let them vaccinate my daughter over my dead body.”

Other members of the group, Tarrant County Crunchy Mamas, chimed in.

“Hide in the floors like they hid the Jews from the Nazis,” one suggested. “Hide them in our gun safe (yes, it’s a big safe and yes, we love our guns),” said another.

“Researchers are calling on citizen scientists to play a free online game called Foldit, in which they help design and identify proteins that may be able to bind to and neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that it uses to invade host cells. The scientists hope that players’ creations will yield insights that will allow them to create an effective antiviral therapy for COVID-19.”

As the coronavirus pandemic shut down cities and cloistered people indoors around the world, images began to circulate online of what appeared to be nature retaking territory it had previously ceded to humans.
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conservation personal

Dinner & A Reading List: A California Thanksgiving

While schoolchildren still learn that Thanksgiving marks the day that Pilgrims met helpful Indians who gave them food and farming tips to survive the winter, a group called the United American Indians of New England established Thanksgiving as its National Day of Mourning in 1970. The fact that UAINE mourns on this day poses a question to socially conscious Americans: Should Thanksgiving be celebrated?

To celebrate the current Thanksgiving mythology is to celebrate the act of land expansion through ethnic cleansing and slavery — most of which happened at the point of a gun. It is masked recognition that this country was founded on the actions of generations of Europeans who depended on the joint violence of genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African people to conquer this land, the legacy of which is still felt today.

Stories told about the first Thanksgiving often perpetuate harmful stereotypes and racism.

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Retrospective Premonition

– Read this, – she says.
– I thought of you immediately, –
she says by way of explanation
for the magazine she’s placed in my face.
So I obediently murmur through the first
few paragraphs as she continues,
– Burma,it’s horrible, just tragic! –
And I nod, yes, yes it’s (unspeakable,
intangibly tracing patterns a tattoo
outlined repetitively; just twitching;
a lizard tail still moving; a beaten dog)

–Yes! – she interrupts,
– That’s it, that’s what they say, exactly!
Just less poetically than you put it, and –
(the place I had visited, the people I had met,
they had been past pain)

– Yes! – she interjects.
– Did you ever, – she starts to ask
(I started, I had tried, but I could never
bring myself to…)
It was not mine.

– Oh! But you will when you read this!
It will draw it out! – she enthuses.…

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That didn’t we all

I come from a place where the paint peeled off the wall,
she said, trying to explain. Trying to explain the
what and the why of wherefore the words, her words, were
slipping off her tongue at angles obtuse.
She had come from a place where the paint had chipped
– it was flaking still – it had come off in jagged
sheets of plastic skin. The off-white had given way
to eggshell, beneath which the sage had become visible below
the salmon pink which could be scraped away like chalk.

It was just sometimes – it was just sometimes that –
when the talk turned the conversation to the side
and left her sidled, it was those sometimes
that she let her tongue slip along the freshly plastered,
stuccoed wall – only to find it smooth.
These new-build, purpose-built, all-of-a-kind, one-of-a-piece,
monoliths in which she could find no layers, no sediment, no edges.…

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conservation travel

Borneo’s Forests

A piece I wrote about land surveys and conservation work in Indonesian Borneo.

Surveying the Land: by foot, by boat, and by air

A large part of OFI’s work to save orangutans from extinction involves protecting the forests of Borneo. Orangutans must have a place to live.


With our surveys, we watch the towns spread with octopus-like arms. We watch the expansion of the gridded plantations with their artificial lines and right angles – but we also get to glimpse the forests of Borneo as they were before. When we’re lucky, having trudged in deep black water swamps, crawling along the streams that snake through the underbelly of the forest or flying with our drones near the clouds, we get to see a different view. We get to see the Borneo that the orangutans know, the one that they call home. The one that we are trying to save.

Read the whole story on OFI’s website

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