Sierra Magazine Bulletin: Sassafrass

Published in print and online by Sierra magazine, March/April 2014

Name: Jo Billups and Karen Harvil
Location: Lillian, Alabama, and Waveland, Mississippi
Contribution: Musical activist duo Sassafrass
Website: bit.ly/sassafrass_band

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING A LITTLE INTENSE. ARE PEOPLE LESS INTIMIDATED BY YOU BECAUSE YOU’RE MUSICIANS?
Jo Billups: We’re holding guitars, you know? Holding banners is wonderful, we’ve done that, but guitars are instantly a different thing for people. Our goal is a healthy planet, so the hope is that the music will bring that forward, that through the music and the message more people will get involved.
Karen Harvill: We were raised by mothers who said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Our joke is “Okay, we’ll just sing it.”

SHOULD SOME OF US STICK TO HOLDING BANNERS?
Harvill: Whatever your natural talents are, there’s a use for them in the environmental movement.
Billups: We feel there are enough people singing love songs that our skills can be better used with an environmental theme.

We were raised by mothers who said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Our joke is “Okay, we’ll just sing it.”

WHAT’S THE BEST PROTEST LYRIC YOU’VE WRITTEN?
Harvill: I think our song “The Trees Are Dreaming” sums things up. The chorus goes, “How do we fix our polluted waters / Our shrinking forests or the madness in the air? / Until we mend the madness of our minds / There will be no solution there, there will be no solutions there.”

HOW DID YOU GET INTO ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM?
Billups: Well, I’m a big Bob Dylan fan, so I started with protest music as a teenager. And I grew up fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, so protecting the gulf was a natural thing that developed, and that spread out to a more global attitude and philosophy. The activism just kind of followed as I became more aware.
Harvill: Even though I’m older, I also was taken by political music in high school. And then I had children. And I began to look at things going on around me, watching things be degraded. It’s heartbreaking.

SO WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE SPELLING OF YOUR BAND’S NAME?
Harvill: We added an extra s. We figured there’s two of us, so …
Billups: There were already five groups called Sassafras, so we added the extra s.
—interview by Julie Eng

Read online at SierraClub.org

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Why You Should Remember the Passenger Pigeon

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, January 27, 2014

An estimated 2 billion birds darkened the sky above John James Audubon’s head in the autumn of 1813, a flock of passenger pigeons more than 50 miles long that would take three full days to pass out of view. “The birds poured in in countless multitudes,” Audubon wrote. “The air was literally filled with pigeons; the light of noonday was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow; and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose.”

When Dr. Andrew Stern visits schools to teach children about the now-extinct passenger pigeon, he slowly dims the lights, turning up a radio until the sound of white noise shakes the building.

“It’s a little scary,” Stern said. “That’s what it was supposed to be like. More [birds] than is imaginable. The fact that they were gone in a little over 50 years is astounding.”

The passenger pigeon, now 100 years extinct, was once one of the most common birds in North America. Probably the largest number of birds of a single species that has ever existed on earth, says Stern. Naturalists of the time describe the enormous migrating flocks being more than a mile wide and 300 miles long, a billion birds passing overhead for several days at a time.

“That intense experience of witnessing a flock is gone,” Stern says. “No one will ever experience it again.”

In just 50 years they were hunted to near extinction. The last passenger pigeon alive died in captivity in 1914.

As executive director of arts-based environmental nonprofit The Lost Bird Project, Stern leads his team in their 2014 Fold the Flock campaign to share the birds’ story. The group calls on participants to fold their own origami passenger pigeons, symbolically recreating a flock of the lost birds. Participants can download the pattern from the Fold the Flock website, and add their own creations to the virtual flock, now numbering 7,829 paper birds.

The passenger pigeon is one of the five birds memorialized by sculptor Todd McGrain in the 2013 documentary The Lost Bird Project, the nonprofit’s first undertaking. McGrain now works with his brother-in-law Stern as creative director of the organization.

Unlike other groups that focus on extinction, Stern and his team have no plans to save a species. They instead hope to help America consider its loss. Fold the Flock is not a call to action, but a call for remembrance.

“The nature of memory for the natural world is very short,” he says. “There’s a thing that’s called ‘environmental amnesia,’ where you sort of assume unconsciously that the way the environment was when you were young is the baseline. And if it needs to be restored it should be restored to that. But that’s a completely artificial concept.”

Rather than place blame or induce guilt, The Lost Bird Project hopes to educate by preserving and sharing the memory of what’s been lost.

“Nobody alive has ever heard [a passenger pigeon], ever seen one. It’s gone, and most people know nothing about it,” he says. “So this is an attempt to shake up the amnesia, and say ‘We remember this. We remember the passenger pigeon and its lesson.'”

The colorful paper birds are intended to be a fun, family-friendly medium through which to spread the word. Most important, Stern says, the project creates much-needed community among participants.

“Separation is the cause of the whole thing,” he says. “We’re separated from each other, we’re separated from nature. So we create community, have everyone fold a paper pigeon so they feel like they belong, like they’re doing something together.”

Purchase the Fold the Flock passenger pigeon oragami kit for $12.95 or download a free folding pattern at foldtheflock.org

Read online at SierraClub.org

Green Stocking Stuffers for Everyone on Your List

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 17, 2013

Green Stocking Stuffers for Everyone on Your List

With only a few shopping days left before the holidays, most people have their big presentswrapped and ready to go. But don’t forget that sometimes great things come in small, stocking stuffer-sized packages. We’ve collected small gift ideas for everyone on your list, from the outdoor adventurer to the environmentally conscious shopper. Hang your stockings by the chimney with care, and fill them with a few of these green gifts:

For the budding environmentalist: Amateur artists will love recycled crayons from Crazy Crayons ($3-$10), which can help teach children about the importance of sustainable living, and to be conscious of what they consume and discard. If your youngsters are the more adventurous type, give them the tools to explore: try magnifying glasses, binoculars, and guides to your backyard flora and fauna. Gifts like Wild Republic’s plush birds play real bird calls, and encourage your little ones to get outside and start exploring. 

For the die-hard cyclist: Even the most devoted athlete has to take a break every so often. For a beer after a long ride, they’ll love Resource Revival’s recycled bicycle chain keychain bottle opener ($12). If your cyclist is a foodie, try Anna Brones’s beautifully illustrated cookbook The Culinary Cyclist (Elly Blue Publishing, 2013, $9.95). Beyond delicious and easy recipes, Brones’s book gives readers genuinely useful lifestyle tips, explaining how to shop by bicycle and have “an impromptu picnic without breaking your champagne glasses in your bike pannier.” (Check out a few of Brones’s recipes here on the Green Life.)

For the outdoorsy type: Practical and perfectly stocking stuffer-sized, the Lifestraw personal water filter ($19.95) is a great gift for campers and backpackers. If the hiker on your list has a favorite park, opt for Liberty Bottle Works’ Topo water bottles ($11.99-$26.69), which come printed with topographical maps of several American wilderness areas. 

For animal lovers: Animal lovers of all ages will appreciate a wild animal adopted in their name ($25-$100), or the sponsored care of a rescued farm animal, from Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary ($10-$50).

For gardeners: Greenaid sells small seed bomb tube kits for the guerrilla gardener on your list, packaged by themes like garden herb and golden poppy ($4.99-$11.99). For the more festive, check out Earth Easy’s Christmas tree grow bottle kit ($19.95). The green-thumbed recipient can raise their own Scotch pine for holidays to come.  

For conscious consumers: If your loved ones don’t yet own a reusable shopping bag, this should be first on your list. Pick up a pack of four from the Sierra Club ($15.99), or buyclassic Chico bags individually ($5.99). Reusable hand towels are another everyday essential for busy environmentalists. People Towels sells two packs of beautifully designed towels and a handy carrying bag for $15.99, or individually towels from $6. 

Read online at SierraClub.org

Book Review: EarthArt

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 12, 2013

Book Review: EarthArt

In Bernhard Edmaier’s EarthArt: Colours of The Earth, (Phaidon, 2013) we learn that chemical weathering is responsible for the vivid, highlighter-hued yellow of the Crozon Peninsula in France. Flip a few pages, and we read that the rusty-red shade of crusted salt lakes indicates the presence of halophilic bacteria, microorganisms that thrive in saline conditions. A few chapters back, electric blue seas are explained by the depth of their water, jade green wetlands by their algae, and on and on as Edmaier and Dr. Angelika Jung-Hüttl take readers through the rainbow.

A number of things make EarthArt much more than just a coffee table book, chief among them the geologists’ succinct and engaging scientific explanations of the colors and textures seen in Edmaier’s aerial photos of the earth’s surface. Accompanied by a quick introductory overview of color theory from Aristotle to Newton, the authors’ brief descriptions of the science behind the natural hues in each color chapter add a depth to Edmaier’s photos that make the book not just a work of art, but a genuinely good read.

Flip through the pages for a view of our planet as few have considered it before, jewel tones fading into deep and dusky hues, bumpy mountain ranges into smooth ribbons rivers and flat matte oceans. Grouping the images by color offers the reader an unusual and arresting picture of the earth’s surface as a whole. Seldom are we given the opportunity to see the world as a progression of color, from glaciers to lava and back again. The grouping highlights the unique textures only aerial photos can capture: were it not for the Pared Norte glacier’s velvety surface, its reddish browns would flow seamlessly across the page into the dusty, craggy mountain range of the Dolomites. For geology buffs and artists alike, EarthArt is a window into a very unique and fascinating picture of the earth’s surface. 

Read the full post online at SierraClub.org

New Styles for Fashionable Cyclists

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 6, 2013

New Styles for Fashionable Cyclists

The number of Americans commuting by bike continues to rise, and fashion designers are sitting up and taking notice. Neon spandex generally isn’t considered appropriate office attire, but the fits of most slacks and dresses don’t lend themselves neatly (or safely) to pedaling. Anyone who’s caught a pant leg in their gears or toted an wardrobe change in their backpack knows the importance of stylish cycling clothes. Fortunately, the number of sartorial options for style-savvy bike commuters are now numerous. Check out these designers for fashionable duds with your eco-friendly commute in mind:

Vespertine: Having had their reflective safety vest featured in Vogue, this company has certainly earned their “Haute Réflecture” label. Vespertine pieces are woven with threads that are invisible indoors but shine under a car headlights, making you visible from within 2,000 feet. In addition to reflective and work-friendly shirt dresses, trench coats, and jackets, the company sells a number of chic and shiny accessories. Choose from belts, scarves, bow ties, and jewelry, all designed to keep you fashionable and visible on the road. 

Outlier: The New York-based company began with a basic pair of sturdy commuter pants, inspired by “the intense feeling of exhilaration and liberation that comes from riding in the city.” Since then they’ve added blazers cut to allow greater range of movement, air-forged women’s button downs that defy sweat, and a number of other elegantly designed basics guaranteed to withstand whatever your morning commute throws at you. 

Iva Jean: Anyone who’s ever tried to ride a bicycle in a pencil skirt will be blown away by the company’s Reveal Skirt, which discretely unzips to reveal extra fabric, allowing for a greater range of motion and easier pedaling. To sweeten the deal, through December 15, 2013, 10% of all online sales at Iva Jean will be donated to World Bicycle Relief.

Levi’s: While the original Commuter line received some mixed reviews from the critics, shoppers seem to love the Commuter Trousers. With reflective cuffs, a high rise, and reinforced water-resistant fabric disguised as work-friendly khakis, these slacks have earned some serious fans in the commuting community.

Yakkay: The Danish helmet manufacturer has caused quite a stir since their high-fashion helmets hit the U.S. market last year. Yakkay offers traditional hard helmets with a number of interchangeable covers, from herringbone riding caps to striped fedoras, all U.S. CPSC certified. Obviously safety always trumps style, so do your research before you buy.

Read online at SierraClub.org

Slow Cycling Gains Momentum: 5 Ways to Slow Down

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 5, 2013

Slow Cycling Gains Momentum: 5 Ways to Slow Down

There’s a new cyclist in town, and he’s eschewing spandex and speed for comfy clothes and picnics. Slow cycling — intentionally setting out for a leisurely ride, with the goal of socializing and exploring — has become organized. Groups have cropped up in cities all over the U.S. as the slow cycling movement has picked up speed, and some even vie for last place in slow bicycle races.

Though bicycling at a leisurely pace is nothing new, organized rides have traditionally been the domain of those riders looking for a serious workout. But as urban transportation changes more and more Americans are taking to their bicycles as means of everyday transport, increasing the number of competent but casual cyclists on the road. 

“It’s getting really expensive to drive in the city,” says Sarah Murray, founder of Chicago’sSlow Bicycle Society, where dapper duds are preferred over lycra, and speed is capped at 8 mph. “To have something to do where you’re kind of getting around by bicycle and meeting different people is a win all the way around. It’s just an easy thing to do.”

When Murray started cycling, she was eager to share her new hobby with others, but had trouble finding her place in the bicycling community.

“I stopped driving, and I was exuberant about my new bicycling world,” she says. “I looked to see what groups I could join to sort of get in the mode and meet people, and everything was for fast [riders]. They’d say ‘Oh, we’re having a slow ride, it’ll be 15 miles per an hour.'”

Murray began gathering her friends for slow rides to restaurants, bars, and picnic spots, taking their time to socialize and explore the city. The rides caught on, and now the official Facebook group boasts 343 members of varying ages and backgrounds. 

“People are usually excited to participate [in part] because they’re afraid to cycle in the city — and that’s one of my goals, to get people not afraid to ride their bicycles in the city,” Murray says. “The streets are theirs too, and it’s so much better for the environment to jump on your bike to ride to Target versus getting in your car to go half a mile.”

Thinking of taking up slow cycling? Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Choose a comfy bike. Racing-style bikes have low handlebars that will leave you with a sore back after a long, leisurely ride. If possible, find a cruiser or other upright frame to take slow cycling. 

2. Stay safe. While you may not be rocketing down hills, safety still comes first on your bike. Bring your helmet, make sure to stop and signal at lights, and consider your clothes. Long, flowy skirts or loose pantlegs can still get caught in gears, even at a slow speed.

3. Choosing a theme isn’t necessary, Murray notes, but it certainly is fun. Some groups choose costumes, themed destinations, or specific geographic areas to explore as a way to bring their riders together. “The goal is to create community,” she says.

4. Remember to share the road, especially when in groups. Leave room for others to pass, and be prepared for faster cyclists to do so.

5. Keep an open mind, and welcome newcomers to your group. “There’s space for everybody on the road,” Murray says. “You don’t have to be any particular type of cyclist, just show up and ride.”

Read online at SierraClub.org

Give Green, Fight Waste, Make Change

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, December 3, 2013

Give Green, Fight Waste, Make Change

Black Friday has made the news in recent years for the frenzied and sometimes dangerous enthusiasm it incites in the nation’s most devotedshoppers, many of whom gather outside malls and big box stores as soon as they’ve downed their turkey. But the Environmental Protection Agency gives us another reason to think twice about having participated in the biggest shopping day of the year: the estimated25 percent increase in household wastein the United States between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That translates to about 1 million extra tons of gift wrapping and product packaging (including those endlessly frustrating plastic blister packs in which all electronics are packaged). A number of groups have come together to fight the waste that seems to come hand in hand with the Black Friday, claiming the holiday week for less wasteful and more sustainable causes. Here are a couple ways to give sustainably this month: 

Giving Tuesday: #GivingTuesday began last year as a charitable response to Black Friday, and had a pretty big impact. According to event organizers, 100,000 people across the U.S. came together to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving by making charitable contributions to more than 2,500 participating organizations, donating an estimated tens of millions of dollars online.  

This year, more than 7,000 charitable organizations will participate in #GivingTuesday, rallying their supporters to give generously on December 3. Charitable partners are listed online, and even sorted by cause and location, and you have almost 200 environmental partners to choose from. Help the Sierra Club Foundation fight dirty fossil fuels, protect ecosystems, and promote clean energy. Then check out the #GivingTuesday partner databaseto find more causes close to your heart.

Fair Tuesday: Another movement inspired by Black Friday, #FairTuesday aims to inspire conscious consumerism this holiday season by encouraging shoppers to buy fair trade, ethical, and eco-friendly brands this Tuesday. In its first year in 2012, the movement reached 3 million people and brought together 135 partners in 13 countries.

searchable database of partners accompanied by a handy map allows participants to browse for fair-trade and eco-friendly gifts and services, and in many cases enjoy special #FairTuesday discounts. You’ll find everything from organic and sustainable foods to clothes and home goods, all gift-worthy and benefiting a worthy cause.

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Outdoor Activities to Beat Holiday Stress

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 27, 2013

5 Outdoor Activities to Beat Holiday Stress

The holidays often bring families together, which can be both a wonderful and an extremely stressful thing. If you’re anticipating a full house of stir-crazy relatives this Thanksgiving, plan a moment to give everyone some much-needed breathing room and get outdoors. Younger family members can run off some energy and adults can work up an appetite with these outdoor activities perfect for your holiday celebration. However you celebrate, take a minute to step outside this Thanksgiving (if only to avoid your grandmother asking for the fifth time why you aren’t married yet). 

“Turkey Trot”: Many cities host annual Thanksgiving walks or runs to benefit charity. These events are a perfect opportunity to get outdoors and give to others. Most have kids’ races as well, so the whole family is welcome. 

Take a hiking scavenger hunt: If organized group exercise isn’t your thing, gather the family and head up the mountain. While many Americans post up on the couch for the day, enjoy having the run of your local hiking or biking trails. More active members of your group can work up a sweat in preparation of the feast to come, while others have the option of enjoying the sights and sounds of fall. And though hiking scavenger hunts are technically intended for children, you could totally find six different trees before your little cousin. 

Make a centerpiece: Though this activity is generally geared toward younger participants, holidaymakers of all ages can enjoy the search for the perfect table topper. Scour the backyard for leaves, branches, and pine cones — anything clean is fair game!

Visit a national park: Though many parks are closed for the holidays, some will stay open and welcome holiday visitors. In Florida, rangers at the Everglades National Park will be hosting guided programs to celebrate the holiday weekend, and others are even open to campers. Find an open park near you

Check out fall foliage: Go see the colors of fall before they disappear! We’re headed toward bare branches, and Thanksgiving is a great time to take a walk or drive to see the changing leaves in your area. Bonus points if you collect leaves for your centerpiece while you’re at it.

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Tips for a Low-Carbon Thanksgiving

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 21, 2013

5 Tips for a Low-Carbon Thanksgiving

Most of us are aware of that Thanksgiving can take a toll. Between the hours spent cooking and decorating, then arguing with your crazy uncle about politics, and pretending to like your little sister’s new boyfriend, it can be an exhausting holiday. For many, the meal makes it worth the stress. But don’t take too much comfort in your holiday feast. A University of Manchester study has shown that the dinner itself has a significant impact on the environment. The report finds that a turkey-n-trimmings feast for eight produces approximately 44 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 60% from the life cycle of the turkey alone. Here are a few tips for reducing the carbon footprint of your favorite dishes, and keeping your Thanksgiving meal green: 

1. Shop Local: Thanksgiving is a seasonal meal, which means you should find all of the fruits and veggies you need at your local farmer’s market. The farm-fresh goods should be pretty guilt-free purchases, as they’ve traveled little and bypassed refrigeration and storage. The trip may mean planning slightly further ahead than is convenient, but it’ll be worth the fresh flavor added to the meal. 

2. Buy Ingredients, Not Dishes: The Center for Food Safety recommends skipping pre-packaged and processed foods in favor of side dishes made from scratch with fresh, bulk ingredients. While more time consuming, this extra step eliminates or reduces the need for machinery and packaging, which have significant climate impacts. 

3. Eat Your Veggies: Since your turkey probably takes the most energy to produce, consider either going meatless or serving a smaller bird and increasing the number of side dishes you serve. You might also reduce the impact on your waistband and wallet as an added bonus.

4. Cook Just Enough: Thanksgiving has earned a reputation for excess. Most of us take our seat at the table planning to eat ’til it hurts, followed closely by a tryptophan-induced nap. But this expectation of overindulgence usually results in a lot of leftovers, and a lot of good food wasted. Make your food miles count by buying just enough to feed everyone comfortably, or inviting others to join in the feast. 

5. Consider Your Turkey Purchase: Avoid factory-farmed poultry and instead seek out a local, heritage, or organic bird. Localharvest has great tools for finding turkey farmers in your area, and learning more about heritage breeds.

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Healthy Takes on Classic Comfort Foods

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 8, 2013

5 Healthy Takes on Classic Comfort Foods

Whether it’s the changing weather, a hard day at work, or the approaching holidays, around this time of year many of us find ourselves reaching for comfort foods — the saltier, crunchier, greasier, or sugarier, the better. For those without iron willpower, fall is often a season of cheesy, fried, baked, deliciously unhealthy meals and snacks, sometimes from unknown or unsavory sources. However, there is hope, for your cravings, arteries, and food ethics: there are delicious and healthy comfort foods out there. We’ve collected a few of the easiest and most satisfying healthy comfort food favorites for you to try. Next time you feel tempted to turn into a drive-through or reach for boxed mac ‘n cheese, try one of these eco-recipes to sate your appetite: 

For Dinners and Snacks: 

1. The classic grilled cheese is not itself unhealthy — it’s when we get generous with the cheese, butter, and white bread that things start getting bad. There are a few quick variations, however, that can make this go-to comfort food less of a hit to your healthy diet, but still the cheesy, crispy treat you’re craving. Ditch white sandwich bread in favor of a whole grain or country loaf, and lose the mounds of mild cheese in favor of something stronger, like a sharp cheddar or mozzarella. You’ll end up with just as much salty flavor, but far less fat and calories. Or skip the cheese entirely and opt for one of these vegan sandwiches. Finally, some grilled cheese aficionados swear by a pan lightly coated in olive oil over the classic buttered bread to achieve a perfect, crispy gold crust.

2. In cold weather, a cup of hot chili can warm you up from the inside in the most wonderfully salty, hearty way. And thankfully, homemade chili is most often pretty good for you. Meat eaters have the option of choosing to avoid factory farmed beef or turkey, and buying lean meat to keep it healthy. One of the great things about chili, however, is that it sticks to your ribs with or without meat. Great vegetarian recipes aren’t hard to find — check out this easy one from the blogging chefs at Two Peas & Their Pod. 

3. Artichokes are the vegetarian’s ribs — a meaty finger food you really dig into, with all the fun of dipping sauces. And, even better, they’re incredibly easy to make. While the traditionalmayo and butter dipping sauces contribute much to the comfort of this food, there are healthier (and equally delicious) alternatives. Try substituting some or all of the mayonnaise in your dip for yogurt, and add herbs and olive oil. 

For Dessert: 

1. Holidays wouldn’t be the same without hot chocolate, which is generally pretty good for you. But the individual packets of coco sold in grocery stores are frighteningly full of unnecessary ingredients, including palm oil, corn syrup, gelatin, and a whole host of others that sound like they belong in a lab, not your food. This year, choose unsweetened cacao and add natural sweeteners and warm spices. If you’re going dairy-free, nut milks will add even more flavor to your cup. 

2. For a delicious and healthy indulgence, sweet cornbread drizzled with honey will fill you up and hit the spot, without saddling you with post-meal guilt. Better yet, if you have half an hour and a handful or basic ingredients, you’re all set. Try a basic recipe for a simple treat, or get adventurous with healthful alternatives like this recipe for sweet yogurt cornbread from Happy Wife Healthy Life.

Read online at SierraClub.org

6 Exercises for an Injury-Free Ski Trip

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, November 5, 2013

6 Exercises for an Injury-Free Ski Trip

As winter approaches, ski bums are checking off tasks on their ski season prep list: choose your resort, make green travel plans, choose sustainable equipment. But no matter how early you bought your lift ticket or gear, a pulled muscle or injured knee can still ruin your trip (or season). In Washington, The Inner Circle Gym’s Adam Vognild teaches ski conditioning classes to help participants get their muscles ready for the backcountry skiing, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing season ahead. “People don’t get hurt on the first day of their ski trip,” says Vognild. “They typically get hurt on the third or fourth day, when they don’t have the endurance to keep going.”

If you’re serious about getting in shape, working with an instructor or trainer is key, Vognild said. It may be hard to believe, but there is a wrong way to do squats, and “you only get so many bad repetitions before you hurt yourself.” Check out gyms in your area to see if they offer dry land training courses, or discuss your needs with a trainer who can give you tips for safe and productive exercise.  

Vognild shared with us six important components of dry land ski training, and recommended a few basic exercises to get started: 

1. Strength: To prepare your leg muscles for the slopes, Vognild recommends a simple classic: the squat, or the single-leg squat. “A strength set of any exercise routine [should be] loaded to the point where you can’t complete more than six repetitions at a time while maintaining proper form. This repetition structure will increase muscle strength and is usually done with a two-to-five minute rests between three-to-five sets of repetitions.” 

2. Strength-Endurance: Strength-endurance exercises should focus on beginning to utilize the cardiovascular system, rather than building muscle. Exercises include lunges, sit-ups, and push-ups in sets of 12 or more reps over roughly 45-150 seconds. 

3. Endurance: “Making sure you have a reasonable amount of cardiovascular training is important,” says Vognild. Running, biking, swimming at a low enough intensity to be maintained for hours can help to build endurance and get you ready for the season. For those starting from square one, Vognild recommends starting with a brisk walk several days a week, and slowly adding volume.   

4. Power: In Vognild’s class, participants do squat jumps and split jumps to increase power. You can also try short sprints at maximum effort, hill sprints, and stair climb sprints, all “explosive movements utilizing fast-twitch muscle fibers often throughout the entire body.”5. Balance: “Balance is key,” says Vognild. Improve balance by repeating movement that will require stabilization. Jumping, landing, standing, and squatting on one leg can all help to improve balance.

6. Mobility and Flexibility: “Become more mobile and flexible so that you can maximize your range of motion.” To increase flexibility, stretch quads, hamstrings, wrists, and try the downward dog yoga position. 

“You should make a point to include every component of conditioning into your workouts throughout the week,” says Vognild. “The goal for all of these workouts is to be consistent and, over time, to add volume and increase resistance.” 

For more exercises and tips, see Vognild’s more detailed description of The Inner Circle Gym’s dry land training program.

Read online at SierraClub.org

The Internet’s Best Live Animal Cams

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 4, 2013

The Internet’s Best Live Animal Cams

Every good internet procrastinator has explored the live puppy and kitten cams the web has to offer. Hours intended for studying or working can easily and happily be spent watching fluffy baby animals play on your computer screen. But it doesn’t stop there — there are more wildlife cameras broadcasting online than any one person could hope to view, from cockroach cams to bear live feeds. Viewers can observe animalsthey might never safely have the chance to safely approach the wild, and explore new places otherwise inaccessible to them, all from their laptops. We’ve collected a few of the more unique animal adventures you can explore right now online. Watch the live video feeds below. 

On the farm: Country kids who’ve moved to the big city can get their farm fix watching thecalves of South Mountain Creamery on the Animal Planet Live! channel. There is no bad time to watch baby animals play, but if you happen to be up early, there’s nothing to get you going quite like watching these little guys romp around, ready to start their day. For a little more variety, visit MareStare.com and peruse their extensive list of live feeds from numerous farms and stables, including the Pelican Acres’ Nigerian dwarf goats as well as the horses, donkeys, and sheep of many rescue organizations.

Read the full post online at SierraClub.org

6 Haunted Hiking Trails

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, October 30, 2013

6 Haunted Hiking Trails

What better way to celebrate Halloween (and work those old trick-or-treating muscles) than to set out on a haunted hike? Many of the country’s trails have rich and creepy histories, and you’d be surprised at just how many ghosts have apparently chosen to spend the afterlife spooking unsuspecting hikers. This year, celebrate the holiday on one of these six trails, then share its spooky story around the campfire. 

1. Norton Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, NC: Some claim the Great Smoky Mountains are home to more ghosts than any other national park on the map, and the Norton Creek Trail hosts one of the more terrifying. Utlanta, or “Spearfinger,” an ogress of Cherokee legend, is said to roam the area, appearing as a harmless old woman and tricking unsuspecting children out of their livers. As the story goes, she was ultimately defeated by the Cherokee, but hikers who are particularly attached to their internal organs might get a chill from this creepy tale.

The easily frightened can take comfort in knowing the trail is also stomping grounds of a friendly specter. The ghost of a murdered settler is said to lead lost hikers to safety with his lantern. Even if you don’t encounter ghosts, the trail winds past several old cemeteries, and you can even pitch your tent in one of the official backcountry campsites — among the crumbling ruins of an old town.

2. Batona Trail, New Jersey Pinelands, NJ: The marshes of Southern New Jersey are said to be home to the Jersey Devil, a kangaroo-like creature with the yellow eyes, the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns, and a forked tail. If that sounds like your kind of beast, then the 49-mile Batona trail is for you. Since the 1700s, thousands have reported seeing the Jersey Devil, and those who live near the Pinelands claim to hear the creature’s screams late into the night.

3. Transept Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ: The ghost of a bereaved wife and mother mourns the loss of her husband and son at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Both visitors and rangers report having seen the Wailing Woman, who appears dressed in a white dress with blue flowers and (as her name suggests) floats along the Transept Trail crying. This ghost story also serves as a sobering cautionary tale; the Wailing Woman of the Grand Canyon is said to have lost her family to the canyon in a fatal hiking accident

4. Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA: The depths of Lake Crescent are home to many secrets, and are rumored to be the watery tomb of many lost travelers. And like any good lake, it has a Lady. The Lady of Crescent Lake is said to be ghost of a murdered woman whose body washed up on shore several years after her disappearance. This particular woman caught the public’s attention because her remains had undergone the entirely natural but creepy-looking process of saponification, giving her a mummy-like appearance. The 8-mile Spruce Railroad Trail follows the water, giving you ample opportunity to spot the apparition. 

5. Grouse Lake, Yosemite National Park, CA: Visitors to Yosemite’s Grouse Lake often report hearing wailing as they approach the water. Some point to Native American folklore, claiming the cries are those of a young indigenous boy who drowned in the lake. But don’t be a hero; as any good horror movie fan knows, you should resist the urge to investigate the sound, as those who dive in apparently don’t make it out.  

6. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY: With more than 400 miles explored and “no end in sight,” Mammoth Cave boasts the country’s longest cave system, and an impressively haunted history. The cave system has seen more than 150 documented paranormal events, and is home to several ghosts. Rangers having reported seeing the ghosts of guides past, including frequent apparition Stephen Bishop. Bishop was among the slaves who were the first cave guides, and the National Parks Service credits him as “unquestionably one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known.” Visitors also claim to have heard the coughing of the long-dead patients who met their end in the cave when Mammoth served briefly as a tuberculosis hospital in the 1800s. Visit Corpse Rock and listen closely to hear their death rattles yourself. 

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, October 14, 2013

5 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes

Standing atop a hill after a long and grueling hike, it’s easy to feel invincible. You’ve pushed yourself to your limits, survived nature’s sometimes unpredictable conditions — what could stop you now? 

Turns out, it could be a number of simple beginner mistakes or time-saving shortcuts that even experienced hikers are guilty of taking. Even the most trail-hardened can be caught unprepared. Lisa Hendy, Yosemite National Park emergency services program manager, and Todd Duncan, Sierra Club program safety manager, share some of the most frequent and preventable mistakes hikers make on the trail — and some tips for staying safe: 

1. Underestimating the trail: This one is more common among beginners but can have disastrous consequences for anyone. Be honest with yourself. Think about how often you hit the gym and choose a trail that is realistic for your party’s ability level. There’s no shame in starting out easy and working your way up to more difficult hikes, but there may be a bit of embarrassment in turning around when you hit a wall on the first hill. So do your research: Many national park websites include handy guides to their trails that provide length, elevation, and difficulty ratings, and there are more hiking handbooks available for all skill levels than can be named in this blog post. 

2. Failing to prepare: Both Hendy and Duncan agree, being unprepared is one of the most common missteps made by hikers of all skill levels. “One mistake can change the face of everything,” says Hendy. “For example, this time of year, heading out for a day hike with only a light jacket and a headlamp could be fine provided everything goes well. However, if you twist your ankle and are out overnight, that could be a miserable mistake.” Gather the 10 essentials, anticipate changes in weather or emergencies that might delay your trip, and pack accordingly

3. Going alone: While a solo hike in itself isn’t automatically dangerous, Hendy says the most common mistake made by experienced hikers is taking off alone without notifying anyone. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. Many experienced hikers recommend investing in or renting a personal locator beacon (PLB), which can help rescuers locate you in an emergency. But remember, just because you’re easier to find doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safer. Hikers carrying PLBs should still trek carefully and tell someone ahead of time where they’re going. 

4. Traveling off-trail: Even if you have hiked these woods a thousand times, are a licensed cartographer, and were born on this very trail, a hiking trip is one time when it might be best to take the road more-traveled. Though many hikers safely practice off-trail hiking, most acknowledge the added dangers that come with it, as well as the specific preparation required to stray from the beaten path. Unless you’re prepared to hike off-trail, it can be a pretty reliable way to get lost or injured (or both).

5. Abandoning the plan: While turning back before you reach the end of the trail can be frustrating, it beats having to make camp unexpectedly. Hikers set turnaround times for a reason, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared as the sun goes down. Keep an eye on your watch, and determine when you’ll need to begin heading back to safely reach your car or campsite. 

How can hikers of all skill levels ensure they’re taking all of the precautions necessary for their trip? Hendy has a few hard and fast rules for a safe hike: “Plan ahead and tell a friend the plan. Tell your friend who to call if you do not return on time. Plan for something to go wrong and delay you. Always bring a headlamp, an extra small snack, and a layer of clothing that can keep you warm if you are delayed.”

Read online at SierraClub.org