As I write this, the end of another calendar year is only a couple of days away. People around the world are preparing for the celebrations and resolutions that will mark the close of 2009 and usher in 2010, anticipating the promises of a new year and new beginnings. As with every year for hundreds of years, the coming first of January marks a very special moment on Earth -- at least for humankind.
Yet I can't help but feel that for nature, our much-celebrated transition into New Year's Day may seem a little trivial. After all, there's not much going on to mark the moment from an environmental perspective. Here in Colorado, a solid layer of snow has cloaked the landscape in varying shades of white, and many creatures are in hibernation or have fled south for the winter. Colder temperatures are the norm across the northern hemisphere this time of year, while south of the equator summer is already in full swing. The result is that in most places, the mechanical clock movement that crosses the line between 11:59 p.m. on December 31 and midnight on the next day won't result in any spectacular natural changes: the two most enduring seasons are already well under way.
Despite her aversion to a calendar-fixed transition, however, nature does welcome the annual opportunity for a fresh start. Spring famously marks the most visible period of this change in temperate regions. The celebration of renewal and return doesn't typically fall within a single calendar month (much less just one day), but the extra preparation time gives our planet the distinct advantage of being able to put on a display that puts every New Year's fireworks celebration in history to shame.
Earth welcomes far larger changes, as well. Our tradition of honoring the death of an old year and birth of a new one mimics the much longer cycles of growth, death and rebirth of species across the globe, while even these life spans seem insignificant compared to the destruction and creation of massive forests, deserts and bodies of water. On geographic time scales, climactic variations, mass extinctions and the division of continents serve as examples of natural changes we haven't fully comprehended, much less lived to see. In these instances, nature's tendencies towards change may seem even more foreign to us than the notion of celebrating the new year would for most other life on the planet.
Regardless of these differences, nature and humanity are inextricably linked, and environmental changes both large and small impact and are impacted by all of us. As a visitor to this web site, you are probably aware of this fact and the challenges caused by it, and are doing your part to ensure that these changes are for the good. As you prepare to celebrate the coming transition into 2010, however, I hope that you remain open to learning more about these changes and finding new ways to support a harmonious balance between humankind and the natural world -- and remember that one of the best places to start is right at home.
If you know where to begin on this environmental transition for 2010, congratulations, and I wish you the best of luck. If you need a bit of help to get you started, however, I'd like to offer the following pieces of insight I've gleaned from nine months of work as a Colorado correspondent for the Mother Nature Network. I'll be hanging up my weekly blogger's hat for this site with the closing of 2009, but I'll be taking these lessons with me into the next year and beyond, and hope that they serve you as well as they have benefited me:
Lesson 1: Learn something new
You may specialize in the environmental degradation and conservation movements in your city or frequent your local farmer's market on a weekly basis. On the other hand, you may have a firm understanding of national or even global environmental issues without knowing much about the use of energy or the management of wildlife in your home state. Either way, make 2010 your year to learn more about the environmental challenges and victories occurring in the place where you live. After becoming a correspondent with MNN, I prepared for my coverage of Colorado by writing out a list of article primers. What I wasn't prepared for was the massive influx of state news that ended up coming my way over the next nine months, featuring topics from Denver puppy mill closures to Earth Week celebrations at a ski resort, from coal power at America's "greenest" university to water management in a Colorado national park. I've learned more about my state this past year than in each of the ten other years that I've lived here simply through studying its environment -- and I haven't used my list of topic primers once to date. No matter what state you call home, I guarantee you're bound to be surprised by what you'll find going on.
Lesson 2: Look to the ground
The eco-talk of December 2009 was all about Copenhagen: the acclaimed names and organizations, the global discussions, the international prestige. What I've learned from covering Colorado, though, is that some of the most forward-thinking and fast-moving work being done on the green front is taking place on a level that's much more accessible for the rest of us. This year, I had the honor of interviewing a University of Colorado professor whose sustainable house changed the way environmentally-friendly building was undertaken in his city; partaking in an Arbor Day celebration that provided homeowners from all walks of life with free native trees for their yards; and discussing plans for a 2010 "Veg Week" with a Boulder animal rights activist. Even while talks at Copenhagen were facing hurdles, I found local Colorado residents determined to move forward with helping the environment regardless of what the world's leaders decided to do. It's inspiring to look up to large-scale environmental conservation and educated management initiatives, but if you feel like it's been a while since you've seen any good news, it can be encouraging to take a closer look at what's being done on the ground.
Lesson 3: Nature is everywhere
For my penultimate weekly blog as a Colorado correspondent, I interviewed local nature photographer Frank Weston about his views on professional respect for the environment and the changes taking place in his home state. My final question for Weston invoked his advice for aspiring photographers; however, his response was a universal one. "Nature is everywhere," he explained, adding that even in the heart of America's (and the world's) biggest cities it is present for those who are willing to search for it. "Don't have preconceived notions of what nature is," Weston added, warning that this makes it easy to miss what is actually there: "[It] is a state of mind, not a state of place." After the interview, I realized how easy it was -- and still is -- for me to fall into that trap: a correspondent's desire, in writing as well as in photography, to capture the natural beauty of a state in which magnificent landscapes and creatures abound, label it "Nature" and disregard all else. Writing about such topics as environmental challenges in one of Colorado's most polluted counties and eco-initiatives being undertaken by hospitals and housing developers, however, made me think twice about what constitutes our natural world and what environmental measures are needed to protect it. You don't have to live in an area with jaw-dropping vistas to find places that represent nature and are in need of your help -- making environmental connections with your own state one of the greatest ways you can ensure that the coming transition into a new year is one of the best yet.
Whether your environmental journeys lead you to explore your region, your country or the world during 2010 and beyond, I wish you good luck and good fortune. Thank you for joining me throughout this past year, and -- regardless of nature's calendar aversion -- I hope you are able to join the rest of us in ringing in a happy new year.