Category Archives: Resilience

Reindeer and Climate Change

reindeer line art.jpeg

During my run north along the Arctic Trail in August, I will pass through substantial sections of Norway, Sweden, and Finland en route to Kautokeino from Sulitjelma.

The trail’s 500 miles, which traverses much ofSápmi, the homeland of the Sami, can be divided according to countries, border crossings, biomes, topography, habitations, and, maybe most interesting, by reindeer herding districts. The route I’m following passes through 25 separate named herding districts, each of which supports the structure of a complex and dynamic cultural/ecological Sami tradition of herding semi-domesticated reindeer.

As I’ve been tracing the Arctic Trail on its route through much of  the different districts in Norway, Sweden, and Finland (the full list is at the end of this post), I have been falling in love with the names — the language delineating placenames, relationships, and a complex system of ecologies, cultural customs, tradition, regulation, and contemporary political boundaries.

The principal goals of the multi-year Climate Run project are to

(1) bear witness to changing ecologies and cultures in the face of a rapidly changing climate

(2) cultivate conversation and build community around climate resilience

(3) change the narrative about climate change from one of resistance to one of resilience.

One way that I plan to engage in these conversations is by understanding the impact of climate change on reindeer herds across Sápmi as well as Sami adaptations to traditional practices made necessary by ecological change. Reindeer herding has been and continues to be an essential component of Sami identity, economy, and cultural tradition. By some accounts, up to 40% of all of Norway’s land is open to reindeer herding, and there are an estimated 700,000 reindeer across three northern Scandinavian countries. With a Sami population of just over 58,000, that’s more than 10 reindeer per individual!

Sami herders have already noticed significant changes in foraging patterns and the predictability of seasonal changes, which has led to an actual decrease in individual reindeer size — for example an average 12% weight loss over the past 16 years among reindeer in Svalbard.

Heikki Hirvasvuopio describes the problem on the mainland this way:

During autumn times, the weather fluctuates so much, there is rain and mild weather.This ruins the lichen access for the reindeer. In some years this has caused massive loss of reindeers. It is very simple – when the bottom layer freezes, reindeer cannot access the lichen. This is extremely different from the previous years. This is one of the reasons why there is less lichen. The reindeer has to claw to force the lichen out and the whole plant comes complete with roots. It takes . . . extremely long for a lichen to regenerate when you remove the roots of the lichen.

As we move into a political era of renewed climate change skepticism, and, as of this writing, the U.S.’s continuing role in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement is doubtful, it’s ever more important to demonstrate the real tangible impacts of a changing climate on not only global systems but on something as simple — yet devastating — as a reindeer’s ability to reach its food source — and the far-reaching impact this regional issue can have.

sapmi.jpg

Here’s a listing of the twenty-five herding districts along the Arctic Trail, listed from South to North through Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

Sjonkfjell
Svaipa
Semisjaur-Njarg
Luokta Måvas
Tuorpon
Hellemo
Frostisen
Skjomen
Sirkas
Sörkaitum
Baste
Girjas
Laevaas
Gabna
Altevatn
Dividalen
Tamok/Rosta
Talma
Saarivuoma
Lainiovuoma
Könkämä
Käsivarsi
Cohkolat ja Biertavárri
Fávrrosorda
Guovdageainnu cakcaorohat

3,000 hours

There are just under 3,000 hours left before I set out on my 500-mile run on the Arctic Trail in northern Scandinavia in August. I like thinking about the time in hours: I can visualize and wrap my mind around an hour pretty easily, whereas 4 months can seem a lifetime away.

If I think about the hours I spend training each week and the hours it takes to plan out this event, then thinking in hours gives me perspective, gives me pause, and also motivates and inspires me to make the most of each and every one of those hours.

But, I won’t spend all of them training (or racing 😉 ).

will work hard to balance an increasingly intense training schedule with spending time with my wife and son, teaching, coaching, playing with our dogs, and taking care of myself.

I am an athlete, ultrarunner, and advocate for climate resilience, but I am also human, and sometimes that’s what is most important to remember.


Today, for example, Orion (my 12-year old son) and I teamed up with one of his friends to take 7th place in the 6th annual Mud ‘n Ice Quadrathlon (a local affair consisting of a 9k nordic ski, 4.5-mile run, 3-mile paddle, and 11-milebike). My week’s mileage may have taken a dip, but I wouldn’t have traded the day for anything else.

Hold fast your hope

For our second class meeting in Sterling’s introductory A Sense of Place course, we read the introduction to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, in which she writes:

The thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.

Can we pull it off? All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.

Her book, published only 3 years ago, presents a dire outlook for the global climate, but also an audacious hope that *this* could be the catalyst for global cooperation, collaboration, and community building that would build the foundation for a resilient future for both humankind and the environment.

When we read her words in 2017, however, it is a lot easier to feel that hope slipping away, and the potential for disastrous effects on the global ecosystem seems inevitable.

It is even more important, today, for us to build strong and resilient communities — through conversations, collaboration, and open transparent communication. We need to recognize that everything has indeed changed. This work is not easy, and the results are not quickly forthcoming, but it is essential.

As Klein writes,”a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

Time to get moving.

img_0271

 

 

 

Climate Run is a 2016 SHIFT Adventure Athlete Award Official Selection

logo_on_screen-large

I am super excited to have been chosen by the great folks at SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) as an official selection for the 2016 SHIFT award in the adventure athlete category for my work with Climate Run.

Central to my ongoing work with Climate Run is to reframe the conversation about climate change as one of resilience — rather than our prevailing narrative of resistance — and build coalitions of athletes, outdoor professionals and enthusiasts, students, and teachers to make meaningful change in the ways we talk about and respond to climate change.

SHIFT works to “unite natural allies around the common goal of protecting our public land,” and I am proud and honored to be recognized as one of this year’s SHIFT adventure athletes!

 

What’s Next…?

 

ATRvwqx_lBPDw59EBEqUA0gw9fiG

Den längsta resan är resan inåt.
               -Dag Hammarskjöld

I talked about Climate Run: Iceland this morning with about thirty middle school students at the Albany Community School here in Vermont. Among the questions they asked during and after my slideshow was “what was your favorite part?”

I had just answered another question — “was it fun?” — by saying that overall the whole experience was life changing, incredible, and, occasionally even fun. Lots of the actual experience running was not what I’d call fun (…maybe Type II Fun). So it was harder still to come up with one favorite part.

This was the first time I’d been asked that, so I thought for a second before answering.

“This right here. Talking with all of you.”

Right now, my greatest adventure is sharing the story of Climate Run: Iceland and having many profound, moving, and motivating conversations about climate change, resilience, endurance, and vulnerability. I’m excited to keep up the momentum this message has begun.

All that said, though, I have been training hard all fall and winter–with the help of my coach, Jack Pilla–getting ready for a lot of terrific events over the coming year, but here are four of my standout distance races for 2016:

March 19-20
24 Hours of Bolton ski mountaineering race (approx. 80-100k ascent & descent).
Bolton, VT
Note: This race is a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sport. Please visit my giving page if you’re interested in helping out. 

April 16
Traprock 50 km trail race
Simsbury, CT

June 4
Cayuga Trails 50 mile race
Ithaca, NY

August 20
Leadville Trail 100 Run 
Leadville, CO

…and Climate Run 2017? I’ve whittled it down to a short list. Stay tuned! 🙂

Resonance

Over the past couple of months, I have been giving Climate Run: Iceland presentations around Vermont and the eastern U.S — from talks at Burlington, Vermont’s The Outdoor Gear Exchange, Mount Mansfield Nordic Ski Club, to a standing-room-only audience at The Catamount Trail Association, and to a packed auditorium at the Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hengill

descending from Hengill midway through day one

It’s always exciting to share my story of running across Iceland (which for me feels both recent and so very long ago), but I find even more rewarding the conversations that follow–about a range of topics grounded in concepts such as climate change, resilience, vulnerability, and endurance.

I’ve been asked, “what should we do” in the face of climate change? What roles should we as athletes play? How do you define resilience?

I have facilitated a conversation about the role of faith in climate conversations.

I have asked groups about how privilege can guide our thinking about vulnerability.

I have talked with students and faculty about how art, action, and science can help develop a resilient ecological and social relationship.

I have found that my story resonates with a range of different audiences — from skiers to conservationists to high school students — all of whom have different expectations and different relationships with and perspectives on the natural world.

John Meyer has recently written about the resonance dilemma, which points to the disconnect between systems as large and complex as the global climate with individual people’s actions. Meyer invites us to “imagine an agenda for environmental sustainability that emerges from everyday concerns and is … deeply resonant with the lives of” ordinary people.

I completely agree. In fact, Climate Run often resonates most strongly when I talk about the personal experience of being in the midst of wildness–and of realizing that as individuals we are inextricably part of a global ecology.

Nature can no longer be that place ‘out there.’ For the issues of a broader world to resonate with us, we need to recognize–and act as though–we are part of it all.

Of course, this is not at all a new concept, but it may be among the most difficult to act upon.

celebrating at the finish in Laugarbakki

celebrating at the finish in Laugarbakki after 150 miles

Everyday Ecology

I am reading two things at the moment: Donella Meadows’ “Dancing with Systems” and Pope Francis’ recent Encyclical Letter, “On Care For Our Common Home.” Disparate as these texts are—the first a reflection on decades of work with ecological systems by perhaps our leading evangelist of systems thinking, published in the year of her death, 2001–and the second, a provocation to more than simply the 1 billion followers of Roman Catholicism to think, discuss, and act upon issues of climate change in the context of our social and economic structures, choices, and philosophies.

I read “On Care For Our Common Home” on the urging of my friend, writer and activist John Elder, who wrote an Op Ed for the Rutland Herald about the recently released encyclical. In reading the whole of the papal letter, I had hoped to find a passage or two that epitomized the ecological sentiment—something I could draw from to write a pithy post related to Climate Resilience. Instead, what I found was paragraph after paragraph of rich, balanced, and nuanced engagement of many dimensions of climate change.

Here are a few examples:

I urgently appeal . . . for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. . . . We require a new and universal solidarity.   [14]

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. [23]

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. [25]

A delicate balance has to be maintained when speaking about these places [of great biodiversity—like tropical forests], for we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations. [38]

Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. [63]

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. [95]

There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes”.[118]

Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment. [143]

It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. . . .Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. [155]

As Pope Francis crafts an argument for an “integral ecology,” he outlines many concepts that are central tenets in the global conversation about climate change: the relationship between cultural and ecological systems, the role of politics and economy as a driving force for cultural and ecological change, the connection between our very bodies and the world we live in.

In short, the June 2015 encyclical proposes a model of thinking about our world that is based on systems, on ecology, and on intentional relationships among human beings and between humans and the world.

Donella Meadows’ short piece, “Dancing with Systems,” is a similarly accessible entree to thinking about systems. In her introduction, Meadows writes,

We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them! I already knew that, in a way before I began to study systems. I had learned about dancing with great powers from whitewater kayaking, from gardening, from playing music, from skiing. All those endeavors require one to stay wide-awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback.

It had never occurred to me that those same requirements might apply to intellectual work, to management, to government, to getting along with people. But there it was, the message emerging from every computer model we made. Living successfully in a world of systems requires more of us than our ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity–our rationality, our ability to sort out truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.

There is a striking resonance here between these two different texts. On one level, it’s heartening that the once more marginal language of ecology and systems has made its way onto the global stage in such a significant way. On another, I am buoyed that we, globally, are thinking (or at least being asked to think) about how we related to and how we treat one another, ourselves, and the world we are both a part of and that is a part of us.

What better way forward for building a community of resilience?

 

Resilience and Rebound II: Heima

IMG_6966

The Quiet Path, Stowe, VT

I went running yesterday…for the first time in a month. After being back in the States for two weeks now, I’ve made 6 separate visits to doctors, specialists, and my PT to try to figure out what was actually happening with my lower legs. The good news has been (1) no stress fracture and (2) no tendonitis. The less good news is that there is still inflammation of the tibialis anterior on my left leg. That said, a week of low-medium intensity biking, walking, stretching, and PT set the foundation for a not-quite 2 mile jog yesterday. On grass, in the sun, by a stream. Lovely…but it’s hard to wait to get back into the mountains.

IMG_0302

at the end

A few days after I returned from Iceland, a co-worker asked me, “what does it feel like not to be running 150 miles?” I surprised myself; without even a second’s hesitation, I said, “Frustrating. Very frustrating.”

I think was I meant was (at least in part) that I was missing being immersed in the experience of endurance, finding solace amid physical and mental vulnerability—not to mention the volcanoes, glaciers, and hot springs! The more I let the emotions and ideas from the event marinate, new ideas to germinate and some begin take root. I realize that the run itself was only a small piece of the story; the larger part began the moment I stopped on the edge of Miðfjörður, leaned over my running poles, and smiled, exhausted, sore, and swollen.

How do I tell this story? In one way, of course, the run is the story, but even more it is the , the intertwining of resilience, rebound, ecology, and athletics — this is the narrative through which I can best share what I experienced, what I learned, and what I think was most valuable from all that went into Climate Run.

Toward the end of her wonderful book, Runner, Lizzy Hawker, describes running as a place where “I can experience life beyond the limitations of time and space…a moment where I can almost touch reality. A moment where everything seems to make sense. A moment where I think I understand. Fleeting, ephemeral, short-lived. But real.”

The story I want to tell is just this: those moments where the endurance of extreme physical, bodily challenge helped me to better see not only myself, but my connection to the complexities of the world and to begin understanding what resilience really is. Resilience–not as adaptation, not as resistance to change, nor as a way to escape being vulnerable, but rather resilience as an embrace of vulnerability to help us build

an entirely new ethical relationship with the human as an irreducible entity, and the world that is forever transforming to the creation of new ecologies (Evans & Reid, Resilient Life).

Or, as Lizzy puts it,

What is our concept of self, and can we trust it?

I would add,

What is our concept of self in the world? And how can trusting that help us make that relationship better?

IMG_0179_2

approaching Thingvellir

Resilience and Rebound

Today, I was finally able to walk around Reykjavik without too much discomfort.

I started having twinges of pain in my from right ankle at the 48-50 mile mark of the first day of my run across Iceland–somewhere north of Þingvellir on Uxahryggjavegur. I hoped, of course, that it would subside by morning, but the ankle still hurt. After unfurling from the back of our rented vehicle after a few hours’ sleep, my wife, Jen, tape-wrapped my ankle and I was off. I opted for my running poles to help distribute my weight.

IMG_6256

The second day’s first 20 miles were a 10 mile climb up to a pass at over 700 meters on the Kaldidalur road followed by an equally long descent to a checkpoint at mile 30. The long descent from the pass only put more pressure on my ankle–what I’ve come to realize was tendonitis of the superior extensor retinaculum–less than ideal, but still bearable. I decided to shorten the second day from nearly 60 miles to 45, and by the time I reached the 100 mile mark at the end of day 2–a quiet nearly windless camp in the lava fields just north of Eiriksjökull–I *needed* to get off my feet. I’d planned to sleep outside, but after I lay back in the SUV, there was no getting up, and I slept for nearly 5 hours before rousing around 4:30 am.

More taping, and protecting the tape with temporary plastic bags in anticipation of my early-morning ford across Norðlingafljót, and I was off again. I knew that most of my elevation gain and loss were behind me–as  were most of my trail miles. The road across the Arnarvatnsheiði alternated between rolling jeep road and flat, straight gravel on which I could often see for several miles ahead.

I took a few ibuprofen and tylenol, put some music on low, and powered ahead, although my pace steadily declined over the day from 12 to 15 to 17 minute miles, I only thought one time about stopping. And when I did, 20 miles up a gated closed highland road, stopping was not a choice.

Instead, after a relatively pain-free morning, my right leg seared with sudden pain as I approached a backcountry hut–still closed and locked for the season. I stopped. I cursed, loudly, and hobbled to a bench beside the hut.

I sat there for about 5 minutes, willing my leg to stop throbbing.

It didn’t.

Another 5 minutes.

I realized my next support stop–still some 20 miles away–was getting no closer as I sat there.

Another 5 minutes.

I realized that I’d been sitting only a few feet from the hut’s latrine. Lovely. Clearly it was time to go.

I hobbled back onto the jeep road and aimed myself north–walking, then jogging, then running to the slow rhythmic percussion of my pole tips on the stones.

The miles passed–the kilometers passed even more quickly–and by day’s end, after a leg wrenching 400 meter descent to the Austurá river valley–I was overjoyed to see my support team and their news of only 18 miles to go to Miðfjorður and the northern sea.

I finished just before 11:00 pm, which in the timelessness of 24 hour daylight could have been anytime at all, amazed, humbled, and ready for rest.

One of the conversations I had in the last 15 miles or so with my crew of pacers–among them Michal, Brion, Jill, and my wife & son–was about the role of reflection in experience. I have done little but layer reflection upon experience upon reflection over the past two weeks, and I’ve begun to build a solid foundation for ways to talk about resilience and rebound–my own, our planet’s, and our communities’.

I look forward to the challenge of sharing what I have discovered–and what I continue to learn.