Sunday, December 23, 2012

THE WRITER'S LIFE, CAT FISHING IN SCHENECTADY, (with apologies to Richard Brautigan) by John Angilletta

We extend many thanks to John Angilletta who furnished this heart-warming memoir just in time for Christmas. John lives in Scotia and served as editor and chief writer for both the CSEA Local 690 newspaper and CSEA Region 4 newspaper, The Communicator.

Those of us who love our cats and dogs will find a comrade in John who is often able to transform his love of people, animals, music and the outdoors into passionate memory stories. Happy holidays to all, hug the creatures tight, and dream of fishing season.  

     When I graduated from college in 1972, my future wife gave me a graduation gift of a small tiger cat that I named Ranger. Ranger became my constant companion and went everywhere with me. He was the smartest cat that I have ever owned but also loved a good fight and had a very impressive record of battles. As far as I know, he lost only twice, once to a raccoon and the other to a possum.
    Ranger moved to Syracuse with me after graduation and finally in 1974 we moved to Schenectady after my fiancĂ© landed a job with the phone company. I also was able to find work here and we rented a nice studio apartment in the Stockade area of Schenectady two doors up from the Van Dyke Restaurant.
     Since there were more than a few nasty-looking stray animals around the apartment, I was reluctant to let Ranger roam free as I had at school and in Syracuse since I knew that he couldn’t turn away from his natural urge to fight.  He had a tough time adjusting to the life of an indoor cat, and I began to take him out for short walks around the neighborhood on a leash which he thoroughly detested.
    We finally came to a compromise when I started tying a fishing line on his collar and allowing him to walk around by himself for awhile. If I felt that he was too far away, I would simply reel him in. He seemed to enjoy the freedom and I was pleased with my ingenuity.
     One beautiful summer evening I was sitting on the front steps of the apartment building with my fishing pole in hand and Ranger happily wandering up and down Union St.  My wife Debi was working a late shift and I heard the phone ring inside. I set the pole down and went inside to answer the call. The call happened to be from my friend Pete who was in the Army, stationed in Hawaii.  Since we hadn’t spoken in quite awhile and with Pete getting free long distance from the military, the conversation lasted for nearly an hour.
    After hanging up the phone, I put an album on the stereo and waited for Deb to get home so I could tell her about the call from Pete.  After a few moments I sensed that something was missing inside the apartment and then remembered that I had left Ranger outside on the fishing line!
            Rushing outside I was relieved to see the fishing pole where I had left it on the front steps. My relief was short lived, however, when I saw that all of the line was off the spool. This began a very unscheduled tour of the Stockade.
     As I began reeling in the line, I was taken down a narrow alley on the side of the apartment. Next I had to climb over a backyard fence and then through some of my neighbors’ back yards. All of this had to be done very carefully and slowly so as not to snap the fishing line which hopefully still connected me to my beloved cat. 
     After the tour of the neighbors’ yards, the line led me up a driveway and back to Union St. where I was led around a large maple tree twice and then back toward my apartment.  By this time I had also attracted a group of my neighbors who were following me and laughing hysterically at the “crazy guy with the cat on his fishing pole.”
     As the line once again led me past the front of the apartment, it now took me down an alley on the other side of the apartment and began to tighten. I knew that my “cat fish” couldn’t be far away now. As the line went around the back of the Van Dyke restaurant, I was finally reunited with Ranger as he sat happily finishing a plate of leftovers given to him from two cat-loving cooks from the Van Dyke who had been wondering about the visitor with the fishing line attached to his collar.
     After thanking the two laughing cooks, I gathered a purring Ranger in my arms and headed home with my fishing gear to a smattering of applause from my neighbors who had tagged along to see how my fishing trip concluded.

     Needless to say, this was Ranger’s last trip out on the fishing line; however, I did bring him to the kitchen door of the Van Dyke about once a week to get a free meal from his new “private” chefs. Ranger lived to be 20 years old and had so many adventures that I would love to write a book about him someday. I will always remember, though, the night of cat fishing in Schenectady.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

THE WRITER'S LIFE, Essay by Daniel T. Weaver

We now introduce Daniel T. Weaver, owner of The Book Hound,, an antiquarian and used bookstore on Main Street in Amsterdam, NY. This store specializes in books on religion, New York State history, non-fiction and children’s books and also hosts a Friday evening (5:00-9:00 p.m.) open writing workshop when the store transforms into CafĂ© Edie. Weaver has had poems, articles and essays published in many periodicals. He is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette in Schenectady, NY.

This essay was previously published in the debut issue of Upstream, A Mohawk Valley Journal and is reprinted here with the permission of the author. We love the way in which this writer expresses compassionate, moral ideas in a lyrical way.

                        *                      *                      *                      *

It was the first snowfall of this winter, and my wife and daughter and I were walking to the car.

"Step in the footprints daddy made earlier so you don't get snow in your shoes," my wife said.

As I watched my daughter, in the twilight of her teen years, stretching her thin legs beyond their normal stride to walk in my footsteps, I felt the hammer under my third rib strike hotter and harder than usual. And I knew that whatever happens in life, I have to do the right thing--sometimes the hard thing--because eventually the sun will come out, and my footsteps will be lost to her forever.

And then a few days later, I was in our computer room and I saw a beautifully bound book with a sewn in bookmark on the cot. I picked it up to see what it was, opened it and found words in my daughter's handwriting which said I was the person she most respected in the world. I slammed the book shut, feeling bad that I had invaded someone's privacy but feeling good about what I had read.

And it happened again on Christmas Day. My wife gave me a letter, instead of a card, because she couldn't find a card that said what she wanted to say. And the letter said in part, "You are the yardstick I would like our children to measure what a man is by."

Who could ask for a nicer Christmas present than that?

The truth is that all three events were precious gifts to a fifty-three year old man. Middle age can be a scary time for both men and women. Nothing is what it used to be. In a single night, the temperature can drop and black ice glaze your dreams. Already your body and brain are beginning to fail you in subtle ways. Your children are leaving home. You become restless with your job or get laid off and no one wants to hire you. And if you have a job, you worry about how you will make it when you retire. Worst of all, many of the self doubts of adolescence erupt again like a bad case of acne.

Then a stranger enters your life and you look into her eyes and see the stark beauty of swamps and marshlands, the owl meditating in a dead tamarack, the water below unmoving, silent, seemingly empty of life to the careless passerby, but brimming to the more observant.

Maybe you’ve been married for twenty-five or thirty years. For all those long years you never climbed over fences or rock walls to trespass on your neighbor’s pastures or even neighed at your neighbor's wife. Sure, when you were younger, you often looked at the bodies of other women and felt strong longings. But they were no more than the springtime longings of a stallion--blind reflexes--the doctor hitting just below the kneecap with a rubber mallet and the leg springing forward with no will of its own.

So why not wade into the deep waters? Everyone else seems to be doing it. A governor from another state runs off to Argentina, not telling anyone where he is going, and makes an ass of himself. Your own governor and former governor have both turned the television set into a confessional booth.

But you know that kind of thing is not for you. You can’t slink around behind your spouse’s back, no longer able to look into her eyes. No sordid visit to a motel for you, followed by rumpled sheets in the morning and the weary feeling that what you got was not really what you were looking for.

Besides, the woman is not a tramp. She is a lady. And your wife is a lady. And you know full well you would be the worst kind of bastard if you betrayed either one of them.

So you pull back from the edge of those deep waters--thankful however for those sweet words that removed some of your self doubts--but knowing also that many men and women have drowned themselves in similar waters.

And you realize that what you first saw when you looked into the depths of those eyes--what you thought you fell in love with--was not someone else, but your own image reflected in them. And you realize also that you haven’t lost anything by not diving in. True love is still there, in that pure mountain stream that you drank from and swam in for decades, and that knocked you off your feet the first time you waded into it so many, many years ago.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This past October I had the good fortune to run a series of four workshops at the Middleburgh Library in Schoharie County as part of their Authors Among Us series, supported by NYSCA and the Mohawk Valley Library System. The Middleburgh Library is the phoenix that rose from destruction, except this time the ashes were the floodwaters of Hurricane Irene, now called “The 500-Year Flood”. With enormous community support, the library has been reborn with a fresh renovation and a gracious community room that became our home for two hours a week.

Arranged in our horseshoe design that let us get closer and closer to the past histories of people we had just recently met, we absorbed every word of the memories and reflections of an extremely talented group that ranged in age from thirteen years to senior citizens. Once we entered the room, our small universe became the only one that mattered each Saturday afternoon, as we grew into a word society, and wrote inspired by personal photographs, memories of color and place, and moments in time that were revelatory or profound to each of us. One of our writing prompts concerned the place where we write, and the following writer examined her moment of inspiration and her attempt to follow the whisper of a story.

We grew hushed as she read this dreamscape of her writing process which inaugurates our series, “The Writer’s Life,” examining all phases of the writer’s world.

Writing Sensation
                                                                        by Geri Manchester
      When writing I feel as though I am driving through a blinding snowstorm. There are tall wood poles marking the sides of the road, and I do my best to stay within these limitations. I cannot see where I am going. Oddly enough, I do not care; it is only important that I am moving forward, no matter how quickly or how slowly. It requires my complete attention, intense attention. Attention so intense that a quiet calm serenity spreads across my brain.
      My insides relax and I feel my mind and body become one. It is a moment of holiness that I want to last forever. All other information and sensation are blocked; I am one with myself. It is the most wholesome, happy, serene existence and when I am interrupted, when I am required to re-enter my ... ah... reality on earth again, I am annoyed, frustrated and angry. Then I struggle to contain these foreign emotions and I reluctantly, regretfully return to my everyday world. A fallen angel.
      I write to see what I'm thinking and I write novels and short stories to see what I am feeling. I have never seen a blank sheet of paper.  When I think about it I feel I am writing for a blind person. The person who reads my words is blind and it is up to me to put down the words that enable him/her to see. Something. A picture, an idea, a feeling of emotion. The only way out is through. Once I'm at the other end, I can look back and see the tracks of where I have been. For good or ill, this is my writing process.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


American Farmland Trust is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to saving America’s farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally-sound farming practices, and keeping family farmers on their farms. American Farmland Trust was founded in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to sprawl development.  Since then, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland and created innovative programs to encourage the use of environmentally-sound farming practices, thereby conserving even more farmland.

In 2011 they hosted 2 forums entitled Transitioning Farms to a New Generation of Farmers in New York”. These forums engaged farmers, agricultural and food organizations, land trusts, government leaders and others in an active dialogue about the challenges and promising opportunities for helping a new generation of farmers to succeed in agriculture in New York.

In March, 2012 they held their third annual No Farms No Food Rally at the State Capitol to urge state leaders to strengthen the farm and food economy, protect farmland and the environment and increase access to nutritious food grown in New York. In November, 2012 they held a conference entitled “Harvesting Opportunities in New York” to inspire and educate New Yorkers to strengthen local food economies and save precious farmland. We salute them and are grateful for their work!

American Farmland Trust
112 Spring Street, Suite 207, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

Phone:             518-581-0078

Monday, December 3, 2012

Spotlight on one of our Business Heroes


Green Conscience Home and Garden is a local business dedicated to providing inspiration and education to people who are interested in a sustainable lifestyle. Located in Saratoga Springs, they carry a variety of organic and eco-friendly lawn, garden and home improvement products for consumers throughout the Capital District region and North of the Adirondacks. They will even be able to help you create a completely "green" baby nursery.

Green Conscience strives to be the leading source of sustainable building materials, natural products and skilled craftspeople to help customers create healthy and beautiful spaces, using products from ecologically responsible sources. This is a fabulous place to shop. Check out their informative website.

Friday, November 30, 2012



Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre were fascinated by mushrooms growing on wood chips, and observing how the fungal mycelium strongly bonded the wood chips together. This inspired them to think of new ways of using mycelium as a resin. In 2007 they formulated a new process for binding together insulating particles, creating some remarkable materials that could replace Styrofoam™. Rather than just decreasing the environmental impact of conventional polystyrene foams, this invention created a whole new paradigm where composite materials are literally grown, harnessing the incredible efficiency of nature. Since the first offering as “EcoCradle Packaging”, Ecovative has supplied packaging solutions to a growing number of Fortune 500 companies.

Ecovative Design is now racing to increase production of these revolutionary materials. As people across the world want to eliminate environmentally damaging plastics and synthetics, today Ecovative has grown to 35 full time employees at their facility in Green Island, providing a radical solution to live sustainably on planet Earth.



Youth Organics (YO!) gives inner city teens the experience of hands-on gardening under the tutelage of experienced gardeners, educating them about where their food comes from, nutrition and healthy eating habits. The program assists participants and their families in establishing their own garden plots and helps neighbors with tools, seeds and technical advice.

The South End neighborhood in the City of Albany is chronically under-served by community organizations, and in particular services for young people. The Youth Organics (YO!) program enables youth to develop and foster deep connections with their neighborhood. The program helps energize neighborhood youth and their families to work in their community, build relationships, learn about locally grown vegetables and plants, and have a hand in creating a safe space. Leadership development among the teens is a key element and guides the future of the program.

Monday, November 19, 2012


During this time of gratitude and thanksgiving, we are delighted to announce all of our Local Environmental Heroes for 2012.

We extend our congratulations and heartfelt thanks to these undaunted, inspiring, forward-thinking individuals and organizations responsible for transforming our lives and environment. We salute their spirit of commitment, community and hope.

The winners are the following in the five categories of businesses, farm organizations, schools, advocacy organizations and legislators:


Whether new on the block or longstanding companies and stores, these cutting-edge businesses and non-profit organizations allow consumers to make enlightened choices about what they put in their homes, their bodies and their property. Their sustainable solutions benefit the entire community. We encourage our clients and neighbors to patronize these businesses and learn about these organizations.

Ecovative Design, Green Island
Green Conscience, Saratoga Springs
The Green Grocer, Clifton Park
Honest Weight Food Coop, Albany
The Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, Albany
Youth Organics, Albany

Farm Organizations

These organizations work with the community to conserve the farmland, forests, wildlife habitat, and rural character of our area, strengthening connections between people and the land. They promote environmentally-sound farming practices and work to keep family farmers on their farms. They have helped to save millions of acres of farmland.

Columbia Land Conservancy
American Farmland Trust, local chapter: Saratoga Springs


A few schools are actively trying to reduce their waste and carbon footprint while also investigating how science and math can improve their community. We applaud the efforts and successes of two schools, one in Schenectady and one in Schoharie, involved in school team-building, partnerships and problem-solving. We hope other schools will follow their fine example.

Steinmetz Career and Leadership Academy, Schenectady
          Science Teacher, Deborah Katz
          Social Worker, Ron Levine
Schoharie High School
          Teacher/Advisor, Amy Hausmann

Advocacy Organizations

We thank the individuals of these organizations and their indefatigable support of the environment. Working day and night for a variety of environmental causes, they lobby legislators, canvass the community, run rallies and conferences, and write press releases and reports that change minds and lives.

Capital District Against Fracking
Frack Action
Water Equality
The Sierra Club, Atlantic Chapter

Legislators from the Albany Common Council

We celebrate these legislators for their unflagging support of environmental and social justice issues in the city of Albany. Four individuals co-sponsored a bill banning hydro-fracking in Albany and courageously fought to achieve a super majority against the practice.

Hon. Dominick Calsolaro, Ward 1
Hon. Barbara Smith, Ward 4
Hon. Leah Golby, Ward 10
Hon. Anton Konev, Ward 11

Sunday, July 15, 2012




Big Mind Learning is thrilled to announce our list of 2012 Local Heroes for the Environment. This week we will salute those activists, legislators, businesses, and schools working to make altruistic contributions to our local scene. We thank them heartily and encourage their commitment and spirit of solidarity. We also know that a dedication to environmental values makes good business sense.

Before we name our recipients, we want to honor all of the individuals associated with Schoharie Recovery, In light of the crisis precipitated by Hurricane Irene, residents of Schoharie, NY rose to the enormous challenge of rebuilding their community. We name Schoharie Recovery as the number one recipient of our Local Heroes Award. Since the flooding occurred, this organization has valiantly worked to rebuild, to recover, and to support those in crisis.

                                                          Photo courtesy of Seth Sholtes

    Photo courtesy of Seth Sholtes

Katie Farineau, Lily Caza, Allen Rossetti, and Seth Sholtes from Schoharie Central School participated in a reading devoted to Schoharie Recovery at The Carrot Barn on June 14, 2012. The dream of this event started from my own desire to spread the word about Katie Farineau's moving essay about Schoharie which won first prize in the Big Mind Learning Scholarship Contest. 

We reprint Seth Sholtes's poem here.

The Field of Dust
by Seth Sholtes, 8th grade, Schoharie Central School                                

I walk across a field of dust,
that once was lush and green,
with oiled ground as red as rust,
I wish it was a dream.

The crops are sculptures made of sand,
curved downward like a bow.
Their leaves crumble in my hand,
their coating falls like snow.

The field of dust holds empty shells
of memories now long gone,
replaced with that of screams and yells,
that lasted until dawn.

Debris is the new crop of the field,
piled high in large mounds.
The trees are dead, their bark is peeled,
toys buried in the ground.

As I walk across this field of dust,
I wake up from my dream.
I look outside and see only just
The field I had just seen.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Artist and Writer Anthony Thompson and the Martinez Gallery

In our appreciation of artists interpreting the natural world, we now focus on Anthony Thompson, a painter, teacher of studio art, and a student of psychology and neuroscience. He is involved in understanding the way in which artists make “non-conscious perceptions concrete” in their art and, in his words, “seem to be agents or mediums through which someone or something else is creating.” In both his writing and teaching, this artist compellingly explores the roots of creation and perception.

Living in the Hudson Valley, Thompson has been influenced by the American Hudson River School of landscape painters such as Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church (of Olana). This movement incorporated pastoral settings and showed harmony between human beings and nature. In addition to his traditional landscapes, he also produces contemporary landscapes and drawings combined with abstraction, showing his intense investigation into cognitive psychology and the creative process.  

Thompson has had numerous solo shows in Boston and New York, and his work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC and the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston. Locally he shows his work at the Martinez Gallery in Troy, NY,, located in Monument Square at 3 Broadway, in the district for arts and antiques. This gallery features contemporary art focusing, but not exclusively, on Latino and Latin American art.

Samples of Thompson's work:

"Olana" (2004)

“Cohoes Falls” (2002)

“Wiltsie Bridge” (2005)

“Pond” (2007)

Check out Tony’s website at

Monday, May 14, 2012

Big Mind Learning 2012 Scholarship Essay Contest Winners Announced

Big Mind Learning is delighted to announce the winners and finalists of our 2012 second annual Scholarship Essay Contest. The judges were very impressed by the quality of the entries, and we are always happy to celebrate personal essays that express directness, maturity, and style while discussing compelling subjects. We honor all the students who submitted their work and hope they will continue to write with candor and expressiveness.
To the schools and students who submitted, thank you very much for your participation. We look forward to your continued interest next year.
In 2013 we will expand the scope of our contests to include a competitive fellowship for teachers concerning a project related to the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. Please look for the announcement of both contests in August.
Congratulations to our winners and finalists!
Read the winning essays at

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Jojo Ans, Photographer

Jojo was raised in New York’s Hudson River Valley, and remembers having a Kodak Instamatic X-35F camera as a girl. The best part was after sending the film off in the mail, she would get the package back, addressed to her, with her prints from the weeks before. It seemed like magic.

She went on to study photography before its digital age, and continues to shoot with film. She processes the black and white photographs herself now, and still has a moment of heart skipping excitement when she sees what has been revealed.

After her formal education, she traveled across the U.S., then Europe, and had extended stays in France, New Mexico and New Hampshire as an artist in residence. She also worked in the fashion photo world of New York City for many years.

Half House, Hudson Valley

Canoe, Hudson Valley

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Jeanne Finley’s Garden

Jeanne Finley is a freelance writer, poet, fiction writer, and editor. She was employed for many years by the New York State Writers’ Institute. To many people in the Capital District, she is also known as a tireless activist for human rights and environmental issues. Besides writing, Jeanne finds artistic expression in her inspirational garden and her photography. Her photographs are available for purchase.

To contact Jeanne, you can reach her at: finlandia [at]

Enjoy these two photos!

Morning Glories

Praying Mantis in the Spirea

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Bell" by Cecily Parks

Writers, artists and photographers help us appreciate the natural world through the lens of their sensitivity and unique vision. Our selection of responses from the arts begins with a poet who transforms snow through her associative genius.

Cecily Parks is the author of the poetry collection Field Folly Snow. She recently earned a PhD in English from the CUNY Graduate Center. A resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, she teaches poetry writing at Columbia University.

This poem first appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of Orion magazine, located in Great Barrington, MA. Their website is


This newness of snow. This boot-ringing 
as the snow warms in the sun to crush. These holes 
we wind around the witnessing pines. This
violation of white. This slowness of moose. 
This counting of steps. This counting of scars 
in the bark: the warty burl bulging low 
on the trunk, the black-scratchings left
by a bear learning to climb. This counting
of sleeps between this country & the next country 
we call home. These branches shucking off 
the statuesque in avalanches of needles & ice. 
This progress, as in the wind-scalloped snowmeadow 
pretending to be moon. This love that sets us scrambling 
over the map’s last ridge, our red hoods bright
in shrunken sky. This metallic weather in which we 
are the ore. This alder. These crimson-tipped willows 
reverberating next to a river of turquoise ice. This 
following the deep tracks of one coyote stepping 
where another has stepped. This wilderness 
that we trespass, burning like berries in the juniper 
& becoming the air in the belfry.
                           By Cecily Parks

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Organic dairy farmer Sam Hendren of Clover Mead Farm in Chesterfield, NY tells about his journey to making award-winning artisan cheese

Sam Hendren grew up on a dairy farm in central Ohio and has been farming in the Champlain Valley of New York for over a decade. Clover Mead Farm depends on certified organic Jerseys and a functional farmstead. Wanting a flexible operation that invigorated the local economy but didn’t demand the doubling of his herd, Sam started making cheese twelve years ago. Since then, Clover Mead Farm has offered a variety of organic cheeses including Couronne, for which Sam won a bronze medal competing against 14 countries and 120 entrants in the International Cheese Competition in Trinity, England.

Using a tradition dating back to the French settlements in his area, Sam has been garnering accolades for his cheese. He and his wife Denise have been featured in Gourmet magazine and Three Farms, a film showcasing innovative farms in the Adirondacks.

Interview with John Armstrong, outdoorsman

  1. When did you first become involved in outdoor activities? Where did you live and how did you become interested? 
I grew up in the Catskill Mountains of New York and my family spent most free time outside doing anything and everything from hiking to canoeing. That love of the outdoors, instilled from a very young age, has stuck with me to this day. There’s something pure and beautiful about being outdoors and surrounded by nature.

  1. How did your activities evolve? Who did you do them with… alone or with others?
I have always been fortunate to have an older brother with whom I am very close, and we have always done a tremendous amount outdoors together, as well as with the rest of my family and friends. When we were very young, we would explore the woods, play in the stream, and make bike paths in the woods. As we got older, we tended to drift toward more adventurous outdoor pursuits. Now we seem to have found our calling with rock and ice climbing.

  1. Can you give a brief description of one or more of the places you enjoyed? Why was it (or why were they) special to you?
John Armstrong, climbing in the Gunks
One of the places that holds a special place in my heart is the Shawangunk Ridge, more commonly called the Gunks. The Gunks are a series of exposed cliff faces about 250’ tall on top of a ridge right outside of New Paltz, in the Hudson Valley of New York. It’s one of the best rock climbing destinations in the world, as well as being home to many hiking trails and beautiful streams. As you’re climbing, you look down across the beautiful Hudson Valley and old farms. Since you’re already climbing on the top of a ridge, as soon as you set off the ground it is as if you’re high above the ground, up amidst the birds. There are always many Turkey Vultures swarming, and you often see Peregrine Falcons swooping by at eye level. I learned to rock climb there with my brother and friends from college, and I continue to spend a great deal of time there each year.

  1. Did you become involved in environmental activities in college? If so, what did you do?
In college, I focused mostly on ecology research and understanding ecosystems. I was most interested in high elevation ecosystems, generally the top portion of mountains. Those high elevation ecosystems are some of the most interesting, but also the most fragile. In fact, they are under the greatest threat from climate change. Many of the animal and wildlife species that have carved out a precarious existence in the harsh and very specific conditions of high elevation ecosystems are at risk of extinction with climate change. What happens it that as the climate warms, the harsh conditions near the top of mountains becomes less harsh, and the more aggressive species that thrive at lower elevations can move farther up the mountain, stifling and eventually destroying the fragile high elevation inhabitants.

  1. I understand that you were one of the organizers of Power Shift. What is the vision of Power Shift? Who got the original idea for it? What were its accomplishments?
The idea of Power Shift is to unify and empower the youth climate movement. It’s run by a coalition of many big environmental groups, Energy Action Coalition, which is now the overarching umbrella for the youth environmental movement. This past Power Shift brought 10,000 youth from all around the country together for four days of grassroots organizing training, campaign planning, inspiration, and action. It served as the launching ground for hundreds of local campaigns run by trained, motivated youth activists.

  1. What is your work now with Frack Action?
I’m working with Frack Action to protect New York State from the grave threat of fracking for natural gas. Natural gas threatens New York’s health, environment, and economy. It’s a dangerous form of extreme fossil fuel extraction that has a long history of water contamination, air pollution, and devastating communities. We work on a mix of grassroots organizing, communications work, and advocacy to spread the truth about fracking and mobilize people to take a stand against it.

  1. Do you view your current job/activism as a natural outgrowth of your love of the outdoors? In what ways?
It is natural that people who love the outdoors want to take action to protect it. People like me have a great appreciation for keeping the environment healthy, protecting the beauty of nature, and not destroying that for our future and future generations.

  1. What do you see as your next step? Please include your dream job, if possible!
I’m definitely going to continue working to stop fracking in New York State. At some point I will go to grad school in a PhD program with an environmental focus.

Link to Frack Action:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mara Schechter explains Food and Water Watch’s Fair Farm Bill campaign

Food & Water Watch, a national consumer advocacy group, has launched a campaign for a better food system in Albany. Consumers need access to safe food from sustainable agricultural methods. Farmers who’ve farmed for generations are being forced to sell their farms or are struggling to compete against the big agribusinesses that have come to dominate the food system. This is not the way our food system has always been, and it is not the way it has to be.

Food & Water Watch’s Fair Farm Bill campaign is working to level the playing field to support small and mid-sized farmers so they can thrive for generations to come. The Farm Bill, the most important piece of national legislation that determines how food reaches our plates, is up for review. This happens every five years, and because New York’s US Senator Gillibrand is on the agriculture committee, she’s making decisions right now about what protections the bill will include for small farmers, consumers, and the environment.

All New Yorkers have a stake in this issue. Our ongoing campaign is showing Senator Gillibrand that across the state, New Yorkers want to see new policies to increase competition in the food system so that small farmers can compete. You can get involved with our call-in campaign. As a constituent of Senator Gillibrand, you can call today and show her that you want her to be a leader on this issue and a voice for change. We can create a healthy food system for everyone.

To make a call:

You can use either of these numbers: 518-431-0120 or 212-688-6262.

Here is a suggested script: "Hi. I'm __________, a constituent in ___________NY. I strongly believe that we need to level the playing field for all family farmers and consumers, so I'm calling to encourage Sen. Gillibrand to introduce a competition title, or section, in the upcoming farm bill, so smaller farmers can compete and are treated fairly. Thank you."

Here is a link to learn more:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Thomas Friedman, columnist and author, connects sustainability with patriotism

Thomas Friedman is the influential Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist at the New York Times and the author of four books. In these short videos he talks about the crucial importance of sustainability both in the natural world and in the marketplace.

“Thomas Friedman 8: Why Green is the new Red, White and Blue”

 You can find more information at

Voices for the Earth

In connection with the new Environmental Prize from Big Mind Learning, we are launching a blog to showcase a variety of individuals working tirelessly to enrich or protect our environment. We celebrate their efforts. We thank them wholeheartedly. We support them whenever we can.

In some cases these people or organizations are nurturing and protecting delicate ecosystems, forest land or farmland, animals or sustainable energy, urban gardens and architecture. In other cases people have explained in their blog posts why they love wildlife and wilderness experiences such as rock climbing, ice climbing, or fishing.

In art, poetry, photography, science and technology, they are making their mark, inspiring the rest of us, and encouraging our involvement. We hope that their example will re-charge the community to participate with them and enjoy the fruits of their labor. They are changing the face of the earth as we race to save our planet.

We hope that high school juniors and seniors will enter the Big Mind Learning contest for the Environmental Prize and let us know what work they have done in any area. We want to celebrate them. Please help us spread the word!