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

Albatross retraced

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

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 54 pages

First encounters

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

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: Mendenhall River Elementary. 1991

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 Juneau’s Mendenhall 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

Chilkat journal, 20190706-08

A first visit with LCC In July, 2019, Jessica Plachta, director of Lynn Canal Conservation, offered to host my family…

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 61 pages

Chilkat place names

Jilkáat and Jilkoot Aaní, land of Chilkat & Chilkoot people The 2012 cultural atlas edited by Tom Thornton and Harold…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | geopdf, 17MB

Glacial & cultural history of northern Lingít Aaní

A fireside presentation My talk at the Visitor Center in February, 2020 explored the past 20,000 years of glaciation and…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 27 minutes

Blackwell City Walk: info packet

Another great idea from Mike Cathy Connor and I (Richard Carstensen) have inherited a tradition spearheaded by our friend Mike…

2019 | Mike Blackwell, Richard Carstensen & Cathy Connor | 27 pages

2019 UAS commencement: honorary degree

Thoughts on wildness, and the scientific method On May 5th, 2019, I received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from…

2019 | Richard Carstensen | 9-minute video

Kaxdigoowu Héen (Montana Creek): presentation for SEAL Trust

Slideshow in two parts Kaxdigoowu Héen, going back clearwater has been one of my favorite places since I first explored…

2019 | Richard Carstensen & John Hudson | slide show in 2 parts: 38 & 22 minutes

Tsaa T’ei Héen (Admiralty Cove)

‘Lost village’ of Áak’w Kwáan Every Tlingit Kwáan in Southeast Alaska has at least one ‘lost village,’ known in oral history…

2018 | Richard Carstensen | 33 pages

People on the land

The central chapter in my 2013 publication Natural history of Juneau trails, pages 29-36, is a summary of deep and…

2013 | Richard Carstensen | 7 pages (full publication, 72 pages)

Áak’w & T’aakú Aaní: the natural history of resilience

Presentation for Evening at Egan On November 9th, 2018, I gave the second in a series of 4 lectures for…

Nov, 2018 | Richard Carstensen | 36 minutes