I’ve just finished my first year of graduate school, in this case my first year of law school in a dual degree program at the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy here at the University of Miami where, in the years to come, I hope to earn both my law degree as well as a Ph.D. The last year has been incredibly interesting, fascinating really, but everything you’ve heard about the first year of law school being rigorous is, well, true. Reading hundreds and hundreds of pages of cases and related work every day has led to countless late nights and more than a few occasions where I found myself having fallen asleep on my books, but I’d not trade it for anything in the world. I’ve learned a great deal, made some incredible new friends, and been inspired by my professors.
I’ve also been honored to be selected to join the Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic; organized a wonderfully received symposium on campus related to the Juliana v. United States climate lawsuit and Florida Rule setting goals for 100% renewable energy by 2050 that was led by my friend and Senior Litigation Attorney Andrea Rogers from Our Children’s Trust, who visited from Eugene Oregon; and to top things off no sooner than the school year ended, I learned that I’ve been chosen to attend the Conference of the Parties (COP) 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt this coming November. Thanks so very much to Dr. Jessica Owley and Professor Abigail Fleming for your friendship, inspiration, and dedication to the law, our environment, and, well, me. I am grateful.
With the arrival of a much needed summer break I have spent the last month away from the law library, books, and computer as much as possible while traveling to some of North America’s truly beautiful places. The start of the summer saw me travel to upstate New York to visit my brother at Cornell University and while there check out the gorgeous nature that surrounds Ithaca, including some of the tallest waterfalls I’ve ever seen. When I typically think of New York I think of New York City, a place where I’ve met some incredible people and done important work over the years, but I am here to say that upstate New York is stunningly beautiful.
After a quick stop in NYC my next stop was a visit to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia where I drove the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, hiked on the Appalachian Trail, stayed at the nearly 100-year-old Skyland Lodge, and explored the mysterious Stony Man trail amidst some of the most fabulous rock formations, while being followed for several minutes by the largest deer I’ve ever met. Shenandoah is simply breathtaking, a treasure for sure and my visit there allowed me to check off having visited my 11th of America’s 63 National Parks (one of my life goals is to visit all 63).
And speaking of National Parks, my next trip was to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, a stop that allowed me to check off number 12 on that loft list of 63 National Parks. Talk about a great way to start my summer! Congaree was once owned by a Chicago logging company and as you kayak through the park’s South Cedar Creek River, as I did early one morning, or hike the Boardwalk trail, as I did one afternoon, you can understand why that would have been the case. The Cyprus, Tupelo, and Loblolly Pine Trees that the park is well known for tower one to nearly two hundred of feet above the forest floor.
The park is a fascinating place for many reasons including the fact that it floods by as much as 12 feet several times during the year and thus much of the habitat is a dense, near swamp like, environment filled with mystery. 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, then the largest natural disaster to hit North America, did an estimated $4 billion in damage in the region and while it thankfully missed most of Charleston to the South, much of the dead remains of its damage can be found in Congaree as once majestic gigantic trees killed by that storm lay decaying amongst their cemetery of the forest floor. Seeing those trees ominously silent in their final resting place three decades after that storm led me to think about the increasing number of devastating hurricanes you and I will face from our global climate change crisis that is warming earth and makes me wonder what special place will next suffer the fate so many in Congaree did in 1989.
A few days after my time in South Carolina I enjoyed my first visit to the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Pisgah is comprised of over 500,000 acres and is the home to America’s first School of Forestry, a site I visited while there that includes a wonderful exhibit hall with a large section related to our climate crisis. While there I also enjoyed hiking on a part of the Appalachian Trail, a horseback ride through the mountains, a picnic along the South Mills River next to a rushing waterfall, and exploring the highest elevations of the Blue Ridge Parkway where the views of the surrounding mountains were nothing less than stunning. If you love the pink blooms of wild mountain laurel and endless mountain views in every direction, then the ridges along the top of the Pisgah are for you.
As I write this I am back home on my beloved No Name Key here in the Florida Keys. Like much of North America, the summer temperatures here are high (as are the high tides) but the water over the past week has been glass calm while the Royal Poinciana trees in our yard are in full bloom in a blaze of orange that fills their canopies. Now that I have returned to South Florida I am back to work on a range of important topics including research with my friends at Field School (www.getintothefield.com), progressing my research for my Ph.D., working on the implementation of the energy rules that will allow Florida’s power system to transition to sustainable energy by 2050 and, of course, The Sink or Swim Project’s many initiatives. My studies in recent months, along with the Florida Petition of Rulemaking, kept my schedule full but with the school year behind me I am excited about a summer of work that’s filled with promise and progress including my hope to be able to post more often than was possible during the school year.
I’ve shared some of my early summer adventures with you in hopes that you, too, will get out and enjoy our incredible natural environment. Here’s to hoping you can spend a lazy day floating down a cool river, take a hike off into the woods on an adventurous trail, snorkel amongst a sea of fish friends, enjoy an evening filled with the “fireworks” that only fireflies can provide, or something equally amazing. Our natural environment is endlessly filled with wonder that soothes the soul and is most certainly worth enjoying and protecting forever more, so here’s to you having a fantastic summer and getting outdoors.