Show-Me Skiers of St. Louis

By Outdoor Afro Contributor Danielle N. Lee
My first time skiing was an experience. I’m from the south, so frolicking in the cold or snow wasn’t a bog part of my childhood experience.  However, I love the outdoors and I love trying new things, so I joined a group of friends who introduced me to the basics of the slopes.

Preparing for my winter time Outdoor Afro adventure with Show Me Skiiers

It was an adventure!  I was far from great at it.  But I wasn’t deterred. So when I was invited to a Beginners Ski Trip with the Show-Me Skiers of St. Louis, the verr first African-American Ski club of St. Louis, Missouri, I decided to go for it.  Since 1983, this group of winter outdoor recreationists have been planning ski and snow boarding outings for adults and families.
It’s a rather popular outing because there were two busloads of skiers of all ages headed to Sundown Mountain Resort of Dubuque, Iowa.  One reason was the affordability.  The group negotiated a package that cost less $200 person (on average) for the weekend.  Related to skiing, the cost of lessons, equipment rental, lift and access to the slopes for two days of skiing or snowboarding was $60 for the whole weekend!  I know, super affordable and a great incentive to attract anyone interested in skiing or snowboarding.

Fellow Outdoor Afros taking a break from the slopes

I decided to give snowboarding a try.  I was no better at snowboarding than I was at skiing.  Both require muscles that I obviously have no command over! LOL!
It was a fun time and I recommend Show-Me Skiers, skiing or the Sundown Ski Mountain to anyone, especially to a newbie.  Here are more photos from the Ski Trip.

Douglas “Birdman” Gray

“African Americans have a somewhat unknown heritage in the historical realm of birding”

Outdoor Afro interviews Douglas Gray, an avid birder, who shares in his own words the gratification he experiences birding, and why it is an important and relevant activity for anyone.
How did you develop an interest in birds?
My interest in birds started as a young child.  I grew up on my grandfather’s farm outside Clarksville, Tennessee (actually Woodlawn, Tennessee, but “Woodlawn” is a lot harder to find on a map!).  Naturally I would see many birds on the farm, and I’d ask my grandfather, “Granddaddy, what’s the name of that bird?” My grandfather, who only had a 6th grade education, somehow knew the names of all the birds we would encounter on the farm.  I’m sure that’s what initiated my interest in birds.  I’ve been told I don’t “look” like a bird watcher, so this question is probably the most frequent question I get asked.
Where is your favorite place to look for birds? And where in the world would you like to bird you have yet to visit?

Many times I’m looking for a particular species of bird, so many times my “favorite place to look for birds” is the particular habitat of the bird I’m searching for. However, if I “had” to pick a specific spot, it’s going to probably be in the southern United States.  This past fall I went birding at a place called Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida…and had one of the best birding times of my life.  I look forward to returning there soon and often.  I like birding at National Wildlife Refuges across the US.
I would absolutely LOVE to bird throughout Central and South America, and also Africa. I’m also developing a good birding relationship with a friend who lives in Uganda, and will likely be going there next year.
Why should African Americans take an interest in birds and their habitat?
This is an interesting question.  African Americans, like everyone else, should take an interest in birding, because it puts you “outdoors” and anytime one gets in the Great Outdoors, it is a natural stress reliever. Being out in nature is possibly, I believe, the most calming, relaxing, and unwinding thing one can do.  It really helps put our sometimes fast paced and hectic lives into a better and more realistic prospective by slowing us down.  And while out in nature, what better thing to do than bird? Yes, I’m using “bird” as a verb; I suggest the book, “The Verb To Bird”.
And also, we African Americans have a somewhat unknown heritage in the historical realm of birding.  John James Audubon is the “Godfather of American Birding”.  Audubon’s mother was not well known.  The reason for this is because she was a Creole slave.  Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785.
Wow — that’s fascinating. So, if someone were to get started, what are the three most important things they need to have? Is it easy? What are some barriers (if any)?
I believe the three most important things to have in getting started birding are: 1) Binoculars, 2) Identification Guide, and 3) Desire.  Binoculars are important because birds have no particular interest in folks approaching them and observing them.  So the binoculars allow you to see birds up close, without actually having to be up close to them.  I usually tell folks to get a decent pair of binoculars.  You can get a decent pair of binoculars in the 60-100 dollar range.  A bird identification guide is a very useful tool also.  It will greatly assist in identifying the birds you do see…and just aren’t sure what they are.  And having a desire to see birds will never be extinguished.  Birding is a pursuit that will easily last a lifetime.  A very close fourth item is to go birding with more experienced birders.  Birders love passing along knowledge they’ve gained through experience.  Find a free bird hike in your area by checking out the National Audubon Society’s web site.

Birding can be both easy and challenging.  For example it can be easy identifying a bird as a “sparrow” that’s at your feeder, but it can be challenging differentiating the 3-5 different species of sparrows at your feeder, or the 20-30 different species of sparrows all within an hour’s drive of the feeder in your backyard at different times of the year.
Anybody can birdwatch.  There are no obstacles or barriers that cannot be overcome when the desire is there to see birds. (That includes obstacles like poison ivy and stinging nettle one may bump into off the beaten trail…lol.)  I’ve even had folks on some of my bird hikes who have been constrained to wheel chairs…and some of those have been my favorite and most memorable hikes.
What was the first bird to make your ‘life’ list? What bird do you hope to see in the future?
I’ll answer this question by mentioning the bird that reignited my interest in birds.  About 15 years ago I looked outside and saw a bird hopping around my yard and I had no idea what that bird was.  It led me to buy my first Bird Identification Guide since my high school years.  The bird was a juvenile robin.  The very common American Robin was the bird that pulled me back into the world of birding.
Name a bird species you hope to see in the future:

Wow…I can’t even answer this question, because there are so many birds that I hope to see.  I will say that it is my desire to see thousands of different bird species during my lifetime…and to enjoy and appreciate each and every one that I do see!

Douglas Gray resides in Indianapolis and works in Parenteral Engineering with Eli Lilly and Company. Most of his current birding takes place in Indiana, with a concentration on Central Indiana, where he leads bird walks for Backyard Birds.

Love Yo’ Mama

Outdoor Afro took a short trip over to East Oakland, California to participate in the community event: Love Yo’ Mama, hosted by the organization Communities for a Better Environment for Earth Day.

“Green is Good for the Hood” was this year’s theme, which was intended to create local awareness and a response to environmental concerns at a neighborhood level.
The event started with a rally to highlight environmental and health issues in Oakland at Tassafaronga Recreation Center, followed by a parade with Scraper Bikers, drummers, and youth dancing. In the afternoon, there was a health fair, vendors, youth performances, basketball tournament, and more at ACORN Woodland Elementary.
It was a privilege for Outdoor Afro to connect directly with its targeted demographic of adults and children. KIND generously donated bars and the local Berkeley REI pitched in a display tent we filled with the bars and Outdoor Afro stickers — a real hit and ice breaker that got the kids talking about camping.
Most importantly, there were many breakthrough conversations at the table that helped parents, grandparents, and children imagine new ways to interact with their local outdoor spaces.
“I don’t like bugs!” was a frequent comment that opened up discussions about biking or bird watching as other recreational activities to engage with the outdoors with perhaps fewer crawling critters! And I was able to share information about some of my local program partners, such as Feather River Family Camp, and Golden Gate Audubon Society to plug families into affordable activities right in their own back yard.
Click to learn more about the fabulous work of  Communities for a Better Environment.
Happy Earth Week!

SOS! Spotted on Sunday: April Showers Edition

I woke up this Sunday morning to the sound of rain that dashed any aspirations I had of heading over the bridge to meet another family at an outdoor children’s museum. Not that I mind the rain, I just don’t enjoy crowds plus rain. Instead, I will likely take a stroll with my kids around the neighborhood, feel the wind and rain on my face, until I can’t resist the urge to jump back inside for a hot cup of tea under a cozy blanket.
But others in the Outdoor Afro community were either unfazed by the rain, or saw brighter weather and Spotted on Sunday (SOS) in the outdoors — check them out!
Tokiwa was hanging out at Arch Rock in Marin County, California with a friend….

And here is Carter (8) and Cooper (5) in Torrey Pines State Park, La Jolla, California, where I hear there were lots of Outdoor Afros out on the hike today!

What did you do today in the outdoors?

Now is the time…

….to register for camp!
Whether it be a family camp, like Oakland’s Feather River Camp in Northern California, or Camp Atwater on the East Coast, there are many opportunities to connect with the outdoors that require you to act now as spaces are already filling up!

Also consider making reservations now for your favorite campsite for tent camping. For example, popular Samuel P. Taylor State Park’s reservation line is red-hot during the winter months that fill the camp solidly after Memorial Day weekend through early Fall.
So call your friends and family members now and organize your calendars to go camping this summer at your local state or national park!
Where will you go camping this year?
Not sure? Find a camp that’s right for you!: American Camp Association

Every Moment is Now

Last week, Outdoor Afro had a chance to chat with Audrey Peterman, author, motivational speaker, and founding organizer of the monumental Breaking the Color Barrier in the Great American Outdoors Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia last September.

Audrey Peterman (Photo: ncpa.org)

Here is the first of two parts of our delightful interview:
Rue: In the past several years you have cultivated a life where your interaction with natural spaces is a part of who you are. How did this happen?
Audrey: In a sense, it’s about returning to my roots. I grew up in the country in Jamaica, sitting on the banks of a stream in the woods to do my homework, walking miles with other children and adults to collect wood for cooking fires. So I always had an appreciation the wonders of nature, and the interconnectedness of things.

Drinking Warm Coconut Milk Recently in Jamaica

When I moved to New York with my 7-year-old daughter, Lisa, I still sought that contact with the natural world, organizing picnics in the local parks. Bear Mountain in upstate New York was my favorite. The really big reconnection came after I moved to Florida, met and married Frank, and we took off on the great adventure to “discover America.” We found so much more than we could have anticipated, and the grandeur of the scenery really impressed itself upon my heart – made me feel as if I was literally seeing the face of God, his perfection, His purity, His incomprehensible size. Some of the natural formations in the parks, like the Grand Tetons, are so high the tips are often covered with clouds, and the bulk is like a solid wall extending for miles. Acres of wildflowers of every color and description explode in the valley at their feet. I tell you, you can’t get tired from seeing so much beauty.
I take those experiences with me everywhere I go, and I see the face of God in the trees, in the skies, in the people. I am not thinking about the past, I am not thinking about the future. I am just in silent communion with God in the greatness of His creation – NOW.

Rue: You created the Breaking the Color Barrier Conference — What was your most surprising moment during the conference, and how have you been able to continue to hold the space for participants and the momentum it created.
 

Frank and Audrey, Photo: Dudley Edmondson

Audrey: The most surprising thing to me was to see some of the leaders of the public land management system so awed by the intensity and passion that all the participants brought to the table, and the fact that there are so many people of color are involved with the outdoors in so many different ways.  It just boggled my mind because we’d been doing this work for 14 years, and Iantha (Gantt-Wright) had connected people of color together with the public land managers and conservation groups in multiple conferences since the late 1990s. So how could these managers still be shocked to see the reality of it? I think that illustrates the essential problem: that we have eyes in power that will not see. And even though policy makers, corporations, and other organizers are exposed to the needs and opportunities for greater diversity in the outdoors, it still feels like progress is still very slow coming.

The Petermans

How have I been able to hold that space? I often remind myself – and my friends – that the Earth is rotating on its axis, pulling the moon behind it, hurtling through space. The same power that holds the cosmos in place, that created the Grand Tetons, also created me. So I just try to keep in harmony with that power and keep my vision clear with what we are trying to accomplish – a movement of people who consciously love and respect the Earth as our life support system, treasure it and see ourselves as part of one interdependent whole.