Thursday, July 12, 2012


This past Sunday, my mom and I traveled to Mount Greylock in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts. This summit, taller than any other point in the state, was the site of an event for Orion Magazine. This magazine is in its thirtieth year of publishing articles and artwork on environmentalism. In commemoration of this anniversary, Orion brought thirty authors together to compile a book of original essays on what will be necessary in the next thirty years to ensure a decent future for our planet. The book, Thirty-Year Plan, contains essays from many well-known names, including Richard Louv, Ralph Nader, Pete Seeger, and Terry Tempest Williams. The gathering at Mount Greylock was a "kick-off" celebration for this new book.

The event at Bascom Lodge at the summit of the mountain hosted a panel of environmental authors, two of whom were included in the book. Authors Ginger Strand and Elizabeth Kolbert had essays included in Orion's book, and Bill McKibben is a well-known activist and author fighting against the causes of climate change.

left to right: Ginger Strand, Elizabeth Kolbert, Bill McKibben

The three came from a variety of backgrounds and each had unique ideas as to what needs to take place in the near-future in order to maintain a healthy planet. McKibben discussed how we need to become active and make a change that is visible to our policy makers so we can move our dependence away from fossil fuels. Through McKibben's discussion, the topic of wind power arose from a question in the audience. In Massachusetts, there are many people along the coast who believe that windmills would be better in the mountains than along the shore. However, many people who reside in the mountains would prefer to have the windmills offshore. McKibben addressed this issue by stating that as our society moves on, we will need to make changes and sacrifices in order to accomplish what we need. While a series of windmills may destroy the "wildness" of a region, it would be far preferable over a strip mine or oil rig at the same location.

Strand continued the theme of a shift of dependence, but she also emphasized how we need to improve and further utilize the technologies that we have to make them more efficient and beneficial. With these technologies and new-found powers, we must have the ability to say we were wrong and that we can fix our mistakes. Coal mining and oil drilling are dirty industries, and our society must admit that these are harmful practices. From there, we must move on and make improvements to what we found to be a problem.

To illustrate this important point, Strand shared a story of the atmospheric scientist Bernard Vonnegut, brother of the famous 20th-century writer, Kurt Vonnegut. As a meteorological researcher, Vonnegut was involved with the discovery of effective cloud-seeding methods to generate human-assisted rain and snow. This discovery struck the imaginations of the public: deserts would finally grow lush and green and areas with severe drought would find relief. The technology was hardly used for these purposes, a similar practice was used in Vietnam to create an advantage over the opponent. In this case, we took a technology with dreams of creating life and hope, and used it to destroy human lives. Soon after, Vonnegut, the same man who was a cloud-seeding researcher, became an activist against the use of the technology he had developed. Strand believes that humans need to be like Bernard Vonnegut. We all make mistakes, but we must be willing to have the decency to confess that we were mistaken. Beyond simply admitting a fault, we must work towards fixing what had happened and begin to do what is best for the world, even if we must face an initial loss.

Elizabeth Kolbert discussed an article she wrote about raising children. Apparently, this article had gained much more attention than any of her previous climate change articles that were more journalistic and based on years of in-depth research. This intrigued her. Why is the public willing to spend so much money on their child's future, whether it be SAT tutoring or college tuition, yet take few steps to insure a good future for Earth?

After a good discussion with the panelists, the group headed to dinner inside Bascom Lodge. My mom and I were seated in the dining hall with large windows that looked out over the western edge of the mountain. We could see for miles as we enjoyed our delicious dinner. Four others sat with us at our table: an older couple, a friend of theirs, and a staff member from Orion Magazine. We had great environmental discussions during the meal, ranging in topic from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to veganism.  

Near the end of the meal, we noticed the stunning glow of the setting sun. Amazed by the orange-and-red-covered sky, we headed outside. As we watched the colors slowly fade with the sinking sun, an evening bird chorus sang all around us. Clear whistles of White-throated Sparrows came from the spruces behind us, and the fast, high notes of two Winter Wrens rose up from somewhere off the edge of Greylock. Perhaps the most magical sounds of all were the Swainson's Thrushes. These olive-brown birds of the shadows are hardly anything to look at, but their songs are glorious, almost indescribable. As the sky became even darker, the birds quieted for the night.

By 4:30 the next morning, we were once again acquainted with birdsong. My mom and I woke early explore the habitats and bird life that existed on this mountain. Our first stop was along a small piece of the Appalachian Trail that cut through a spruce bog tucked in a forest of oak, maple, and beech. Sphagnum moss covered the soggy ground where a pair of juncos were nesting in a pile of fallen branches.

Before the sun lifted above the horizon, we were surrounded by the dawn chorus. Winter Wrens, Swainson's Thrushes, and a plethora of northern warblers all began the day in song, "singing the sun up," as author Ginger Strand put it. Even the nasal Red-breasted Nuthatches and ridiculously raucous ravens added beauty to the soundscape.

Our second hike was along an old road through the park. Again we were serenaded by warblers: Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Magnolia, and Canada. As we moved along the path, we could pick out the territories of each species with individuals evenly spaced along the length of our walk. At the farthest point on our walk, we were treated with a stunning view looking up and down at the surrounding mountains. Our vantage point was situated on a moderately-high peak, so were able to experience the depth of the valley alongside the immensity of the neighboring hills.

As we retraced our steps out of the woods, I thought through what I had just witnessed. I had seen true natural beauty: untouched forests with birds singing in every direction and endless views of distant foggy hills uninterrupted by buildings or roads. I don't want to lose places like this. I want everyone to be able to experience these places the way I did, and not only for the next thirty years. For eternity. 


Anonymous said...

Great synopsis, Corey. Missed the Swainson's thrush calling at sunset. Will have to pay attention for that one next time I"m up there. Glad you could join us,

Orion magazine

Karen Guise said...

You are wise beyond your years. Please keep doing what you are doing. The birds need all the champions they can get. I'm going to share your blog with my friends.

Julie Zickefoose said...

I look at the range of opportunities your folks afford you and marvel. It's no wonder you're who you are and that you do what you do, and do it all so well. Seems to me that sunset was a thank-you to all those gathered on Mt. Greylock who are trying to figure out the best way forward for this beautiful planet.

Corey Husic said...

Julie, you are so right. My parents have played a huge part in helping me pursue my passion. I am extremely grateful for having such an incredible family.

Thank you everyone for the compliments!