A mantra for Discovery naturalists

Since our founding in the late 1980s, several expressions have served our naturalists, leaders and members as pithy summarizers, reminders, mantras, or mission statements. The earliest, maybe, was Everything is a track!  Another, invented by a Merli-protegé, was Keep your space, save your face, a devil’s-club-mindfulness chant. Also important to our early evolution was Northrup Frye’s advice: Don’t ask who am I; ask where is here?  Not sure that’s a direct quote, but something ‘writerly’ like that

Always eschewing statements when a good query’s handy, we more recently adopted Why do we live here? I first used this to title a 20-minute presentation to a 2012 teachers’ conference on place-based education. At that point, it was primarily a natural historian’s quest, beginning with emplacement of gold in the early Age of Mammals, and not including much about precontact Northwest Coast culture. But that changed when Discovery began assisting in classes by Goldbelt Heritage Foundation and Sealaska Heritage Institute.

Why do we live here? Our 63-page Goldbelt/Discovery course manual by this name describes a ground-breaking synthesis of natural and cultural history in 2013. Our semester class for highschool students was an early collaboration between Goldbelt Heritage, Discovery Southeast, and UAS.

Why did Áak’w Kwáan live here in the depths of the Little Ice Age? Why do we continue to live here in the age of Costco and electric cars? Why (and when) did Aangóon, isthmus town (thumbnail, upper right) become established on the spit enclosing Xunyéi, northwind tidal current (Mitchell Bay)?

Page from my Habitats workshop journal, summer 2018. We’re standing at what was probably a serially occupied storm berm near Kaalahéenak’u, inside a person’s mouth (Peterson Creek at Outer Point). At peak Little Ice Age, none of these trees had sprouted except the old hemlock on right. Photo by Floyd Dryden teacher John Wade.

Since 2013, that guiding question, Why do we live here, underlies almost everything I do these days. For example, in June 2018, Steve Merli and I taught 2 complementary courses for teachers on local landforms, and on habitats and succession. Throughout, we kept bringing attentions back to the human connections to these classic natural history studies. So, not only what geologic forces created this place, or what biotic trends led to this unique forest or wetland habitat—-but who lived or foraged here, and why?

In this section

Teachers visit Angoon

Weekend in Xutsnoowú Aaní On the cusp of March and April, an inspired and inspiring group of teachers, organizers and…

2023 | Richard Carstensen | 41 pages

Xunaa Ḵáawu: Why do we live here?

‘Syllabus’ for a course at Hoonah, 2014-15 Seems high time I got this and several other ‘scoping’ documents out there…

2014: updates 2023 | Richard Carstensen | 66 pages

Bishop 1985 North Douglas road extension

Twenty-seven crossings of Ḵaalahéenak’u North Douglas Highway’s irritating dead-end has always seemed an affront to public-spirited builders. According to Dan…

1985 | Dan Bishop | 34 pages

Bay&Valley day: marine&glacial landforms

Morning: In the morning we visited coastal sites at Aanchg̱altsóow, nexus town (Auke Rec) and K’aan Héenak’u, porpoise little bay…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | Landforms class archives

Evening class-4: Jilḵáat debrief & roadtour prep

Wow! these cross-fingers worked! What an amazing trip! Even better than pure-blue skies, there were enough puffy clouds and mixed…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | Landforms class archives

T’aaḵú X̱’aka.aan: mouth of the great Taku

Perfect location (except in an ice storm) In 2012, L’eeneidí historian Liana Wallace sent me a high-res scan of Waggoner…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | 22 pages

Discovery naturalists at Asx̱’ée

Cybertracking the ‘power outlet’ On July 29th, 2022, 14 Discovery naturalists and their 3 visiting instructors gathered on tidal sand…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | 23 page journal excerpt & pageflippers

Natural & cultural history of Asx̱’ée

Exhuming an early slideshow Back in 2011, preparing for a Charter School/Goldbelt Heritage overnight expedition to Methodist Camp,’out-the-road,’ I created…

2010: uploaded 2022 | Richard Carstensen | 16 minute slideshow

Rockslide snagswamp

Unraveling the origins of a fascinating pond Til’héeni, dog salmon stream (Salmon Creek) is a new addition to featured Áak’w…

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 4-minute slideshow

Albatross retraced

If Harriman had been serious About 120 years ago the steamer Albatross conducted watershed surveys, interviews and salmon distribution studies…

2019; updated 2023 | Richard Carstensen | 60 pages

First encounters

Áak’w & T’aaḵú country in 1794 Back in 2010, when first collaborating with Goldbelt Heritage, I began to mine the archives…

2011 updated 2021 | Richard Carstensen | 36-minute slideshow

Pocket wildlands: forests and ponds of Áak’w Táak

Fifty friends on backloop moraines On a sunny July 17th, 2021, Discovery Southeast and the Southeast Alaska Land Trust hosted…

2021 | Richard Carstensen | 8 minute slideshow

Roads of ‘Northeast Chich’

Slideshows: Xunaa Káawu Each summer, I try to get over to Hoonah to help my wife Cathy with her research…

2021: 2019 | Richard Carstensen | Slideshows, 8- & 4 minutes

Roads of Xunaa Káawu

Impacts and opportunities: logging roads of Northeast Chichagof Visits to Hoonah rank among the highlights of my year. Especially so…

Nature near the schools: Landforms

Powerpoint & script for Discovery Nature Studies I didn’t come to geology by natural inclination. I was gently nudged by…

1990 | Richard Carstensen | powerpoint & script

Nature near the schools 1991: Mendenhall River powerpoint.

Materials from the Eisenhower Math and Science series In February, 1991, with Gustavus master-naturalist Greg Streveler, Discovery director Cinda Stanek…

1991 | Carstensen, Streveler, Stanek & Merli | workshop materials

Cemetery mapping, 1990-2017

College-level field mapping in elementary school Probably the most ambitious project undertaken in my pilot Nature Studies program at Harborview,…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 46 pages

History and future of the Refuge

Rebound, succession, fish&wildlife, and aviation on our frontyard wetlands In 2011, Jeff Sauer at Juneau Audubon asked for a presentation…

2011 | Richard Carstensen | 36-minute slideshow

Outer Point Raven’s-eye

Kaalahéenak’u, inside a person’s mouth (Peterson Creek) For Clan Conference in autumn, 2015, I prepared a 7-minute animation exploring the…

2015 | Richard Carstensen | 7-minute slideshow

American road trips

An appreciation of 7 good books My father Edwin died in June, 2016 at age 96, in Rochester, New York.…

2016: Update, July, 2020 | Richard Carstensen | 13 pages