Time to Unplug

Grover Hot Springs, Markleeville, CA

“Remember, you’re here to relax and get away from it all,” my boyfriend says as I frantically try to post one last photo of my roadside lunch on Instagram. We’re in a hot car, driving in the middle of nowhere for a long-awaited camping trip that we scheduled months ago as a way for us to escape from our busy schedules. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but with the fading reception of my trusty smartphone and one final text message (To my cat sitter: “please make sure you use the blue plate to feed her, she does NOT like bowls because they touch her whiskers”), I can’t help but feel a little bit anxious. I’m not worried about the fact that we might get mauled by bears or that a meltdown might happen at work, but I can’t shake the eerie feeling of suddenly being disconnected from my friends and networks, from an outlet for my thoughts. As we pass historical ruins and kitschy roadside tourist traps I find myself composing posts in my head that I know would make my friends laugh or probably collect a lot of “likes,” only to be unable to share them. It is weird. With the realization that there is no outlet for these musings (and that my phone is more-or-less useless to me at this point), I reluctantly hold down the power button and shut my phone off.

When’s the last time you unplugged? I mean REALLY unplugged. No phone, no games, no need to share (or even think about sharing) with others what you are doing at that moment—a true break for your brain from the chatter of the world around you. The answer might surprise you.

As the Online Communications Manager at Save The Bay (and a full-fledged millennial), I not only spend a good portion of my life staring at a screen, but the majority of my waking hours thinking about what I’m going to share with my social networks and how I’m going to portray the story of my life. It’s ingrained and, some would argue impossible, to turn off the compulsion to compose my thoughts in 140-character snippets and take numerous selfies of my daily happenings for my devoted followers. It’s a way of thinking that I’ve been trained to follow – short, snappy blurb, meticulously angled photo (don’t forget the filter!), funny or popular hashtag. Maximize the share-ability. However, while this skillset has certainly been an asset in my career, in my personal life I often have to ask myself, am I judging the value of my experiences for their authenticity or for the number of likes and comments they collect? I know having a community makes life more enriching, but if you never escape from the pressures that network provides, can you truly ever be in the moment?

It’s an interesting conundrum—one that, during my camping trip, I’m glad I had the time to reflect upon. It took a few hours for the anxiety to subside, but without the physical means for me to post to social media, I suddenly found my senses heightened. I scanned the mountains with greater care, breathed deeper, listened closely to the crunch of the dried pine beneath my feet – all with the intent that, without any external aids, I would commit as much as I could to memory. I would never be here, at this exact spot, with these exact emotions ever again and there were no posts, likes or shares that would fully capture or validate the simplicity, honesty and integrity of the moment. For the first time in a while my thoughts were my own, not meant for public consumption.

As summer turns to fall and the Bay Area comes out to play, I’m becoming a believer that unplugging is absolutely necessary for people to truly enjoy the wonder and beauty San Francisco Bay and California have to offer. The Bay is precious, unique and valuable on its own. Maybe you don’t need to post that photo of you posing at the top of a mountain or checking in at a state park to enrich your experience. Instead, maybe you just need some mental peace. I know those are the moments that I will hold onto as I return to the daily grind.

We at Save The Bay always appreciate and enjoy your posts and comments, but we also encourage you to take some time to mentally unplug. Explore the amazing place we live! Turn the phone off, don’t worry about the moments your followers are missing and breathe deeply – you might just find that you are able to see the beauty around you more clearly than ever before.

Fish out of water

By Chiara Swartout, Canoes In Sloughs Field Educator

It’s mid-afternoon at Bothin Marsh and we are approaching the turnaround point of our canoe adventure. It is at this moment that I realize I should have checked the tides more carefully, because I have no memory of this marsh ever coming even close to draining as I am seeing it now. We watch gull fights from the island newly exposed in the middle of the marsh as we head back, pushing our paddles off the mud rather than through the water to move back to the launch site.

It is a day where I particularly relish being in the lead boat with students, because the two girls in my canoe need no introduction or motivation to being fascinated by the natural environment, which includes serenading pelicans and a peregrine falcon fighting a crow overhead — clearly, today is an epic bird day. We are met by two boats of kids who, undaunted by the sluggish task of paddling through mud, have taken it upon themselves to tie their boats together in the form of a raft to increase their power. “Row, row, row your boat!” they shout as they power back home.

I am thoroughly impressed by these kids as they are neither frustrated nor tired at the end of a thorough day of paddling. As we approach the beach, the shoreline jumps alive with what appear to be perch that have been driven onto shore by our boats! The two girls from my boat step out of our canoe and instantly jump over to the squirming fish, excitedly, but gently throwing them back into water, which is quickly filling up with an ever-increasing number of canoes of sixth-graders negotiating the narrowing channel.

I realize I am clearly not going to motivate anyone to carry a boat up to shore when they can be chucking perch back into water, running along the shoreline towards their yelling classmates, who are spotting perch from the water. So I watch and wait, taking in this beautiful demonstration of care in ensuring that these fish are thrown back to the water, shallow though it may be.

It was a teachable moment that required no explanation from the teacher. I know the students were just as struck as I was by the show of a vibrant ecosystem thriving in the wetlands in their backyard, and they demonstrated this understanding in their eagerness to discuss ways to protect it as we debriefed the day.

It is these days that motivate me to continue teaching day after day in the ecosystems about which we educate our youth. This setting creates unexpected and unrepeatable experiences for youth – who are often fish out of water themselves – to witness and enjoy, turning the San Francisco Bay from a mass of greenish brown waves and mud into an ecosystem to celebrate and protect.

Click here to learn more about our Canoes In Sloughs program.

A slew in the slough

By Trisha Allen, Education Coordinator

Have you ever wondered what 1,137 middle and high school students navigating the San Francisco Bay sloughs in canoes look like? It looks like gaggles of excited and nervous kids clad in Save The Bay’s finest PFDs, outfitted with paddles, and all geared up for a sensory exploration of the estuary in their own backyard.

This year nearly 70 Bay Area middle and high school classes participated in Save The Bay’s Canoes In Sloughs program for a perfect blend of ecology, fun, and teamwork. For most students these canoe trips involve many firsts: first time out on the Bay, first time working together with classmates to steer a canoe, first time nibbling on the popular marsh plant pickleweed, first time handling slimy Bay creatures. And if we’ve done our job right, the canoe trip will make clear to the students the need to celebrate, protect and restore the Bay; thus transforming this handful of firsts into life-long stewardship of our great natural resource.

So why canoes? Well, travel by canoe has its advantages. This slow and sleek vessel allows students to intimately explore the Bay. They are able to venture into the narrow sloughs and cozy up next to egrets poised to spear lunch and black-crowned night herons resting quietly in the vegetation. These wetlands support an abundance of wildlife, and through observation and hands-on investigation, students discover this unique ecosystem and the billions of organisms living within it.

Using San Francisco Bay as a classroom and laboratory, Save The Bay’s field trips teach and inspire environmental stewardship and community leadership in today’s youth, who often spend most of their time inside and disconnected from the natural world. Through the Canoes In Sloughs program, students are allowed to experience the beauty and wonder of the outdoors, increasing their environmental science knowledge and inspiring a sincere appreciation for the Bay.

But don’t take our word for it. See what teachers are saying:

“If you are looking for team-building, connecting with the Bay, and fun…this is the trip to go on.”
Fadwa Musleh, Granada Islamic School, Palo Alto

“It’s a great way to experience local ecology through active learning, collaboration and the Save The Bay staff is excellent.”
Julian August, Alameda Community Learning Center, Alameda

“It was an awesome way to get into the sloughs by touching, tasting, hearing, seeing and smelling the Bay.”
Vandy Shrader, Explore! Camp, East Palo Alto

“Save the Bay is an excellent organization that makes a significant impact on our Bay, enhancing young people’s understanding of the important Bay issues.”
Patricia Williamson, Alameda Community Learning Center, Alameda

Learn more at www.saveSFbay.org/education.

Global Warming Plan (A)dapation and Plan (B)ackup

By Amy Ricard, Communications and Policy Associate

A series of recent articles published in the San Francisco Chronicle detail the urgency in California – and perhaps more directly, the Bay Area – to address the very real issue of sea level rise as a result of global warming.

On Wednesday, the Chron reported Governor Schwarzenegger’s call for a backup plan on global warming; and just yesterday readers were left to ponder this: “adapt to climate change or die.”

According to recent reports, sea level may rise as much as 18 inches in the next 40 years and over four feet by 2100. Experts are recommending that local governments adapt to the effects of global warming, which includes developing backup plans to “prepare for the worst.”

Much of Save The Bay’s work gets to the core of these recommendations, which include restricting development in areas vulnerable to climate change impacts and considering higher water levels in planning transportation. We are currently fighting to save over 1,400 acres of retired salt ponds in Redwood City, where agri-business giant Cargill plans to build a mini-city with up to 12,000 housing units. With the site currently sitting right at sea level, any development on these ponds directly opposes the recommendations.

Further, experts are advocating for better flood control systems to mitigate the effects of sea level rise. That’s why Save The Bay is working diligently to re-establish 100,000 acres of healthy wetlands around the Bay, since wetlands work like sponges, absorbing runoff and acting as buffers as water levels grow ever higher. Restoring more wetlands sooner will help Bay Area cities combat the effects of climate change and protect our communities.

To learn more about Save The Bay’s work, visit www.saveSFbay.org.

Local youth take on trash

By Sigrid Mueller, Education Director

As you may know, Save The Bay works hard to curb the steady onslaught of plastic bags and trash on our local waterways and the Bay. And now the Education Department is joining the fight with a new partnership with StopWaste.org, integrating watershed with waste reduction education for students and teachers in Alameda County.

Save The Bay and StopWaste share a common goal: to reduce the harmful impact of trash, waste and pollutants on the Bay and our community. And we share a common approach: using hands-on, experiential environmental education and service-learning to support young people with developing the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to adopt a sustainable life-style.

During almost all of our Canoes In Sloughs field trips, students find trash floating around the wetlands and they often wonder where it comes from. It is then that a proverbial light bulb goes off. An 11th grader from Berkeley High School had this to say:

“To tell you the truth, I littered even after our teacher has done all that recycling work with us. But when you took us out to the sloughs I saw for myself how the litter from my community washes down to the Bay and I was appalled by it. Since then,I have stopped littering.”

Analogous to “a picture is worth a thousand words” students leave our field trips deeply touched and motivated to change their attitudes and behaviors.

And this is where StopWaste comes in. They provide students with the perfect opportunity to turn their motivation into action through a year-round, on-campus program called Service-Learning Waste Reduction Project (better known as SLWRP). SLWRP trains and supports teachers to educate students about waste and to engage them in waste reduction projects in their schools and communities. This school year, Save The Bay is partnering with five SLWRP schools closing the loop for many students by helping them understand how the Bay is connected to their campus and why it matters that they’re doing their part to keep trash off the ground.

One of our partner schools has already kicked into gear! A teacher at Wood Middle School started to notice the rapid increase of candy wrappers in her own neighborhood and at school weeks before Halloween. She brought this issue to the attention of her 8th graders, who quickly recognized those candy wrappers are not just an eye sore but are potentially harmful pieces of trash. The students decided to take action by writing letters to the editor of their local newspaper, demanding more public awareness around the threats of litter to wildlife, the Bay and the ocean. Here’s how one 8th grader put it:

“Every year I realize that happy, candy-loving children throw plastic candy wrappers on the ground. Well, for one thing piles of non-degradable plastic go into the drains and right into the ocean. The fish in the sea think the plastic is food. And the seagulls — who eat ANYTHING — eat the wrappers and the fish. The plastic blocks the throat and the stomach and kill the animal! We throw the trash on the ground and don’t bother to pick it up because a) no one is watching; b) it’s now stepped on; and c) you’re just not going to bother. If we could just remind parents and children to not litter, there is less work for the environment and less work for the trash collectors. Please help us save Alameda and the world. The world lies in our hands.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.