Jan. 24, 2011

The Art of Exploration

by Milbry Polk

Fort Worth, Texas January 9-13

About eight years ago Ginger Head Gearheart, founder and Director of Imagination Celebration of Fort Worth, and I founded The Art of Exploration. Our goal was to combine the program she created that brings arts and culture to children in the Ft. Worth schools with the scientists and explorers I was working with in the organization I founded and lead, Wings WorldQuest. Every year we have organized one or two marathon programs bringing together people from all over the world to lead workshops for young people. For the last four days our workshops have reached hundreds of fifth, sixth, and seventh graders.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger
Diana Beresford-Kroeger is an Irish scientist now living south of Ottawa, Canada. She talked to the students about trees. She has written several important books that describe the particular contributions of individual trees to our own human health and explain why we should all care about the forests.

Diana stressed that right now forests around the globe are under severe threat of being cut down. She told us that the Canadian government just announced that 10% of the arboreal forests, the vast forests of the far north, are to be saved. What they don’t mention is that 90% have been opened to industrial logging. There are many reasons all of us should be very concerned about this horrible threat.

All trees play an important role in reducing pollution. Diana told us that there is a deadly new kind of pollution in the atmosphere that few people are aware of. It is the result of the wars being fought around the globe right now. Explosions from bombs and land mines are releasing very fine particulates into the atmosphere -- some only 1/10 the size of a pollen grain. These heavy metals are deadly in an invisible way that we are only beginning to understand. When you breathe in the contaminants, they attack the metabolism. This pollution affects children 5 to 10 times more than adults. The particulates also coat plants, which not only prevents pollinators like bees from being able to get at the pollen, but also contaminates the insects.

The best natural solution to this problem is forests. The leaves of trees act as combs that attract pollutants in the air. The pollutants are gathered in the resins on leaves. Then when it rains, the contaminants on the leaves are washed into the soil, where various fungi break them down and neutralize their potency.

Another feature of the great arboreal forests is that the trees produce essential food for the smallest of the plankton in the Arctic Ocean. Nutrients from the trees wash down the streams which flow north into the Arctic Ocean where they support the plankton responsible for producing some 40% of the oxygen we breathe. Lose the forests and you lose the oxygen.

The boreal forests are so far away from most people that they are off our radar. Diana is trying to reach the public to make them aware of this huge threat to the world.

Diana is fighting to save other essential forests also. One is a virgin forest in Nova Scotia that has been sold to a company for logging. The people in the region did not know about the sale and are now organizing and trying to raise the money to buy it back and protect it. Learn more about this at Friends of Red Tail

Check out Diana's books to learn about the amazing properties of forests and what each of you can do to help save them. Her books are: Arboretum America: A Philosophy of the Forest (2003) The Global Forest (2010) - A Garden for Life (2004) Arboretum Borealis - A Lifeline of the Planet(2010)

Michel Valiquet and I have made two videos of Diana that you can watch on YouTube:
Diana Beresford-Kroeger on Her Books
Diana Beresford-Kroeger on Climate Change

Helen Thayer

Helen Thayer is an explorer-educator extraordinaire, originally from New Zealand and now living in the Cascade Mountains. She has written three wonderful books about her expeditions. Polar Dream describes her trek to the Magnetic Pole accompanied only by her dog Charlie. Across the Gobi tells of her extreme adventure walking with her husband Bill across the Gobi Desert. Three Among Wolves is a fascinating book about the year she, Bill, and Charlie spent with wolves. From these and many more expeditions Helen has created an educational program for young people called www.AdventureClassroom.com Adventure Classroom is used all over the world and is used in schools. Helen gets emails from children living in dozens of countries and she answers all their questions.

Helen's Web site is www.HelenThayer.com. On the site, Helen and Bill share what they have learned from living with remote peoples around the world. Last spring Helen and Bill lived with the Bushman in South Africa where they saw first hand how stuff is not important. Next, they are about to go to live with the Desert and Atlas Mountain Berbers of Morocco. Life for Helen is full of wonder -- learning and experiencing the diversity of human culture and expression. She hopes that by conveying this message to the next generation, children will have respect for differences and welcome diversity.

Helen told me she is now working on the biography of her dog Charlie.

She explained:

Charlie is the polar bear dog who walked at my side when I walked alone to the Magnetic North Pole. Charlie died at age 23. He also enabled me to live a year with wild wolves in the Canadian Yukon. He was the ambassador between us and the wolves who eventually came to within 6 feet of us. We never touched them because they were wild. We lived 100 feet from the den but we were never frightened. Man does need to be frightened of a wolf. They are very smart. They will try to get away from you rather than attack you. The current killing of wolves is a disgrace. Shooting them from the air and from helicopters is horrible. Most people have a total lack of understanding of where wolves fit into the environment. They are essential for the balance of nature.

I asked her what was the scariest thing she had encountered in her years in the wild.

She replied:

The one thing I don’t like is snakes. I come from New Zealand where we don’t have snakes. Some snakes are heat seekers. When we were in the Amazon we realized we could not sleep next to the tent wall or they would strike us through the nylon. So we slept in the middle of the tent. We could see them crawl over the tent at night. Alligators, too walked around the tent at night.

Kayaking the length of the Amazon and its tributaries I realized just how important it is that we preserve that huge forest no matter what. We were in the most remote areas paddling through virgin forests. And we also passed through vast areas that had been logged. One of most atrocious thing we saw was huge pits filled with logs that were being burned to make charcoal. Since then we wont have bar-be-cues.

Lynda Brown and Heidi Langille
Lynda Brown and Heidi Langille are two Inuit throat singers who have come to the Art of Exploration from Ottawa three times to share their singing, drumming, and culture with the young people. Luckily, this year the program was in the winter so they did not swelter when they wore their traditional clothing. Last year they performed in the spring and it was very hot! They are both spokespeople for Inuit culture and have traveled all over Canada. They work at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre teaching traditional culture to young people. You can learn more about their work at www.icor.ottawainuitchildrens.com. This year Heidi won a prestigious award as an Inuit cultural ambassador for which she travels throughout Canada.

My Message
I spoke to the students about exploration. My main message to them is that they are all explorers. It is encoded in their DNA, telling of their ancestor’s ancient trek out of Africa (learn more about this at National Geographic Genographic project). I told them about some of the most amazing discoveries of the last two years and ended by suggesting that one way they call all be good stewards of the earth is to promise not to buy another plastic bottle of water and instead use a steel bottle. Not only will they save lot money but also they will keep the plastic from ending up in landfills or even worse in the gyres of the oceans where the plastics are killing fish. This is one important way we can all exert a positive effect on our planet. And why buy something that for now we can get free out of the tap!

You can see more of what I am doing on my own blog or my website. www.milbrypolk.com and http://milbry.blogspot.com

Check in next week when I will be blogging from Ushuaia the southern most town in the world.

Milbry Polk

About Milbry Polk

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