Interview conducted remotely aboard the R Heritage Too
Winds have been blowing between 20 and 30 knots all day and there have been heavy rains, the heaviest rains I have experienced in the 6 weeks that I have been in the Azores. It is a perfect day to shelter in place below deck and write. Movement restrictions will be relaxed this weekend and people will be able to explore other parts of Terceira island again. There has not been a newly reported case of the covid-19 on this island for over 17 days. I am very much looking forward to sampling some delicious Portuguese sweets and hiking up some of the steeper terrain on the island.
After a day, the storm cleared and I took advantage of the van my friend Emmanuel loaned me. He is not using it as there is no point in having his business open during these times. Even though he runs a tourist based business on Terceira island (Rope Adventures) he seems quite content to be at home helping his wife with their newborn infant. He is the type of person whose business you want to support. I had not driven anything except a dinghy in over a month and I was a bit surprised by the sense of freedom I felt driving up a beautiful cobblestone road
to have lunch and take some photos of the tirelessly turning windmills which occupy the ridge above port. A solar power plant and a natural gas plant could also be seen from the ridge. On the other side of the island there is a steam turbine. I very much respect the “all of the above” approach they have taken in the Azores.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about this website over the last months and recognize that the opinions of women are under-represented. In an effort to remedy this I have contacted a number of women and asked if they would be willing to contribute opinions. I am grateful that very few individuals of any gender have declined the opportunity to be interviewed and I continue to learn about the world and myself as I ponder people’s opinions. Katie is my good friend Shaun’s mother. She bought a house in Durango and provided us a very nice and affordable place to live in college. I knew that she had been a college professor, owned an investment management firm used on venture capital and buyout funds, and I thought that she might have some interesting opinions to share. Her words follow.
What is your favorite part about living in Arizona?
I live in Arizona because I love the sun and the forever long views. Together they warm my soul. I grew up near Mount Hood; it is beautiful there, but winters are constantly grey and rainy which I find depressing. In addition to the abundant Arizona sunshine, I love the amount of nature in the desert. This time of year it explodes with life. If you pay attention you become familiar with nature’s order and grow to anticipate it. There is a sequence to which the flowers bloom. They slowly march up the hillsides and the colors change predictably. Last year a bobcat came into the yard with her triplets.
Watching them play is something I remember, and the memories make me smile. We are in the middle of an important migratory route for birds from Canada to Mexico, so a diverse number of avian species visit at different times of the year.
What is your least favorite part of living in Arizona?
The heat in the summer can be overwhelming. You can work around it by doing outdoor activities early in the morning or at night, but it is not so enjoyable during the heat of the day. The desert is a place you either love or hate, and I personally love it.
Do you see the changes to the world where you live?
Yes, as a consequence of Covid 19, for the first time since the early 70s, the air around Phoenix is clear. I can see the distant mountains to the south. There seems to be almost no air pollution and the blue skies are so much more beautiful. Much of the air pollution is a consequence of the huge influx of people into Arizona. The associated urban sprawl and the expanding city is overrunning the desert. I do realize that I am contributing to that as I live in a new community on the outskirts of town.
How will this impact your community?
Eventually we will run out of water, and we are dependent on water from the Colorado river. People are not paying attention to water resources, or to the impact of urban sprawl on the natural habitat of birds, animals, and foliage in the desert. I think there is a lack of appreciation for the balance between quality of life and the quality of environment.
Can you give me an example of something you are doing to improve your community?
I am active in conservation. For example, I was on the board of directors for the Nature Conservancy of Colorado, the Yellowstone Foundation, and on GOCO (Great Outdoors Colorado). Every year Toyota donates 10 Priuses to different conservation groups and I was able to purchase the one I drive at a conversation auction. Every penny of the purchase went to conservation initiatives. I get a surprising amount of ridicule about driving it, especially by board members of some of the for profit corporations I am a part of. Some of them seem to construct a part of their self worth by purchasing less environmentally friendly vehicles like Mazserati’s. But, I love it.
A big part of my conversation work focuses on education. For example, the Yellowstone Foundation supports educational classes for visitors and the park bookstores. One of the goals of Greater Outdoor Colorado (GOCO), is to teach grant writing to community leaders in small town Colorado. Many of these community leaders of Hispanic women. GOCO also builds playgrounds in schools, hike and bike trails connecting towns in Colorado, and supports outdoor summer programs for inner city youth. This too is rewarding and feeds my soul. Most of the money to support GOCO comes from Colorado lottery revenue. These communities are very grateful, and they remember our efforts, which builds great trust, and I have made some lifelong friends. I always feel a special connection when I visit these parks and towns. I know that I have received more than I have given from these volunteer efforts.
Is there anything you would like to ask or tell me?
I have been noticing a difference in animal behavior around our house as we shelter in place. The animals seem to be appreciating their greater freedom of movement. I wonder often about how much the animals in Yellowstone are enjoying their break from the tourists. I have a number of questions for you. Are you planning to write a book?
Katie, writing has always been difficult for me. It was something I never worked hard to learn in school. Part of the reason may be the outdated dogma that boys are good at math and girls at writing, but perhaps numbers just came easier to me. The requests to write a book about my life started 15 years or so ago but I never considered what I am doing all that unique or interesting. I do realize that I have put a higher priority on being an explorer of the world than most people. During these times I’ve found myself enjoying wandering through fishing villages and farmers fields, finding working class individuals and attempting to understand their lives. One of my most influential teachers was my octogenarian neighbor Elaine who stated, “Life is about learning new things.” I couldn’t agree more and people have been the hardest things for me to get my head around, so these wandering have been something I’ve done to satisfy my own curiosity. Apparently people like the story of explorers so I am beginning to consider writing a book more seriously. I’m discovering that people from various cultures and backgrounds have quite a lot in common and I feel it is important to share this insight with people.
(Katie) Is this a new phase of your life, or an interlude?
I believe this is a new phase in life. Like all phases it can not go on indefinitely, but as long as my body will allow it, I’ll think I will continue learning sailing. I feel very lucky to have found this boat and Captain Bruce. It is hard to imagine a sea captain with whom I would be more compatible. My mind does still wander about question what else I could be doing. During my times off the boat I’ll be helping people with remodelling. I also am scheming about buying a couple acres and building a few small affordable rental houses and a large shared garden space. It would be an urban refuge of sorts. Someplace for people to retire in a small easy way to maintain home or for young people to save for their first home. Ideally both, so they can learn from and help each other. I love building and always felt bad for the young scientists who worked for me. Even with degrees and being paid above the market average they were hard pressed to buy a starter home in today’s market, so maybe this would be a way I could help others in my community.
(Katie) How did you come to be doing what you’re doing and what have you learned about yourself as part of the choices you’ve made to end up where you currently are?
Katie, it took a lot of introspection. I really didn’t fit into the corporate world. I was smart enough and very driven to do excel at my work but clung too hard onto youthful ideals. There is a balance between perfect science, launching products in a timely fashion or treating people kindly and I never could conform to these realities. I also watched how big corporations treated my father, who dedicated his life and heart to a place, only to be replaced in his old age. I don’t feel this is wrong but just not something I wanted to be a part of any longer. I feel I was not stearn enough at times with my employees but can’t see myself being happy doing it any other way. I will miss doing science though as it was very good to me.
Another motivating factor was taking care of dad when he was dying of cancer. He stated that he wished he would have taught me more about navigating corporate politics and that he could see me ending up living in a cabin in the bush like one of his good friends who also struggled with the demands of the corporate world. I only came home once every other year for most of my life and it surprised me that my father knew me so well. As I reflect upon this conversation, I am glad he didn’t teach me those things. He hated those aspects of the corporate world. Life just seems so precious, too valuable to spend the majority of it working yourself towards the inevitable end.
One aspect I appreciate about Katie’s comments is that she is able to reflect upon both her contributions toward improving communities and is also aware that aspects of her lifestyle were contributing to the problem. I thought about this while I was driving for the first time in over a month. I do realize that taking public transportation is not something I seek out and is an opportunity for self improvement. I also listen to Greta Thunberg’s call to eat vegan and know that it is best for the planet, however I still eat meat. I have reduced meat consumption and strive to purchase meat, eggs and seafood from local sources. Each small step we take towards making the planet more livable for future generations is important and I view making the changes that you are willing to is most important.
Talking about the environment is relatively easy for me. I have read the literature with my scientist’s skeptical eye and believe that the rate climate change is occuring is largely due to man’s activities. A recurring topic of the last few interviews that I haven’t read much about is how challenging it is to be a woman in today’s world. Perhaps as a white male scientist I shouldn’t even try to go there, but Katie’s story about her dissertation defense pushed me over the edge. Apparently one of the professors stated something like, we can’t have a woman passing their defense the first time. Katie’s a remarkable individual and it is not surprising to me that she did pass her first time around. There have been two times in my life I would like to talk about, both from my time in academia. I was applying for professor jobs at two different universities, one in Canada and one in the US and was married at the time. I obtained job offers but was worried about opportunities for my wife who also aspired to be a university professor. When I communicated to the department heads one stated that I could just leave her behind, and the other that they would find me “a nice southern girl to take care of me.” I can remember being taken back and felt like these potential future bosses who seemed to think of individuals as commodities. Despite the quality of the academic institutions, I decided that this was not the work environment I desired. I feel fortunate to have grown up with older sisters and tried to learn from seeing what they dealt with as human beings. I can recall occasions when I have offended people with jokes or comments that were in poor taste and for this I am sorry and apologize. I am fallible, but do try and think about and learn from my mistakes.
One final aspect of Katie’s interview that I would like to reflect upon is her observation that the skies around Phoenix are much more clear and that animals seem to be enjoying new found freedom as humans have limited their movement. Her observations are not alone. People in Punjab in Northern India are reporting seeing the mighty Himalayas for the first time in decades. Further south near Mumbai a great number of Flamingos have been observed resting in the waters of this usually busy city. From China to New York the stories are the same. As humans limit our activities, mother nature is healing. Even in places where our activities have led to horrible mistakes (eg the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima exclusion zones), when humans leave things alone nature takes advantage and thrives. Covid-19 is nature’s warning to us that things are out of balance. Seeing how quickly balance can return provides abundant hope. Here, natural gas used in conjunction with wind, solar and geothermal energy shows attention is being given to the balance between lifestyle and the environment in parts of the world. It gives me pause to think about other changes I can make to my behavior that will enable both quality of life and the environment. I know I’ll never be perfect and that I am trying to make change. I am not doing it for myself or for the old, but for the very young and humans who have yet to be born.