Category Archives: Environmental Conservation

Update from Baja California

We are in the open market in Ensenada. In about 18 hours we will head down the Baja California peninsula to Bahia de Los Angeles, affectionately known as “BLA”. Toni, (Antonio Resendiz Jr.) is helping us to choose food staples to take to the ranching families who live far into the interior, in amongst the tall cardon cactus and wild burro. A young man from the market appears with a 50-kilo sack of pinto beans slung over his shoulder, asking us where we want it. The van and Suburban are a few blocks away. Tyler jumps forward, “We can’t make him carry it all that way. Here, I’ll take it.” Tyler is strong and fit, but still he is winded by the time we get to the car.

Rice, beans, potatoes, oranges, onions, garlic – the list goes on. Everyone helps to shop, carry, and pack as much food as we can fit into the “Burb”. The food, and the Burb itself are making the long trek to “Cuatros A”, (Coo-atros-Ah) the ranch that Matilde and Andrea have lived on and worked their whole lives.

Cuatros A serves as base operations for the Big Horn Sheep Project. The ranch is gradually being converted to serve multiple uses. In addition to a working ranch it will host travelers interested in an adventure vacation experience that includes wildlife viewing, ranch life, incredible local food, and a chance to directly experience a bit of rural Mexico that has not changed for generations.

The project itself is a model in revitalizing rural communities using the resources that are available in abundance. Ranch life has never been easy. Neither has life as a fisherman. But the fisherman-turned-guides and the ranchers aren’t looking for an easy life – just a chance to live off of the land and the sea. When the land and the sea are diminished, poverty takes over.  The Big Horn Sheep Project is one answer to the declining fishery in the Gulf of California – and that decline has nothing to do with local fisherman. It’s a complex issue, and the Big Horn Sheep project is one response that can help to build a sustainable economy in a part of the world that has not changed for hundreds of years.

We started a crowdfunding fundraiser to bring food to the people, and also to provide the Suburban so they can bring clients to the ranch. We delivered it last night and the families involved in the project are so grateful and excited. I can’t tell you what a boost this is for the project, and therefore for the families and their ability to build a cooperative business. We have never been involved in micro loan financing to help start small businesses in the developing world. This is not technically a loan, but it is an investment and an opportunity to do a good thing. It is so gratifying to give the kind of help that Tom and I received so long ago when we were starting out. It only takes a few pieces of key equipment and a few dollars, and with imagination and hard work, an idea becomes reality that can have a profound effect on everything it touches.

There is still time to help. You can go to to make a contribution.

We are off to the ranch tomorrow. When we return, Ari will post another one of her wonderful blogs and tell you all about it. We’ll get some photos up too.

Till next time,

All the Empowerment!

The auditorium was so full it felt like the structure was bursting at the seams. There was the almost deafening sound of people chatting. And just when you felt like you were about to be overwhelmed, the beat of drums appeared. They appeared from one side of the stage, making their way to the center, all the while drumming. Drumming to let us know that it was time to listen. It was time to learn. Time to settle into a sacred space. Time to channel the beats in any way. Some people took it as the time to start dancing.

As soon as the two women finished drumming, a wave of calm seemed to roll over the room. We were ready to be empowered. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the tale of my learning at Bioneers.

Mike, Bryan, Sebastian, Annabelle, Chrissie and I, along with Alexis from Downieville, and Mia and Sierra from Sacramento all traveled down to the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael for the Bioneers Summit Conference. With the exception of Sierra, Mike and Annabelle, we were all new to the conference. I really did not know what to expect. I have been to conferences with my parents for their associations, so I was expecting it to be similar to these: mostly indoors, booths recruiting us to sign up to save one thing or another, a bar or three, and uptight, rich people dressed in suits and fancy clothing telling us about how much money they donated to “Save the Species”, trying to place themselves higher than the Average American. I was not expecting the conference to be full of people who were actually actively doing things for the environment, for women, for change. I was not expecting everyone to be in plainclothes, sipping fair-trade coffee, and talking to one another about their experiences and what they had seen.

I too want to share what I got out of the Bioneers experience, and how the new-found knowledge influenced my thinking on where we stand as humans and how to heal the wounds of the Earth. As a woman, I got a lot out of relating to the empowering female energy of the conference.

Eve Ensler, author of Vagina Monologues and a fierce women's activist.

Eve Ensler, author of Vagina Monologues and a fierce women’s activist.

On the first day of the conference, I listened to Eve Ensler talk about how Eve [the biblical one] knew what she was doing when she ate the apple. Eve knew that she was in the wrong garden and needed to find the nearest eject button. Ensler said that we, as a species, need to develop the capacity and vision to recognize that “Paradise is already here.” We need to stop searching for something we already have and are destroying in the process of our search. With the audience pumped, her final words were to, “Eat the f*****ing apple!” Eve Ensler was the first of many women to speak of female empowerment. And what a way to start the conference: not with a whimper, but with a bang!

Being a young woman, I of course wanted to go to every program about the “fairer sex”. Unfortunately seeing as I did not possess a Time Turner, I was unable to satiate my desire. I did make it to several talks.

One of the programs that was very intriguing to me was Archetypes in Every Woman. The panelists discussed their views on women’s roles and presence in myths and spiritual practices. I thought that it was interesting to hear three completely different women finding similarities in different cultural contexts.

Picture of Alixa of Climbing PoeTree

Alixa, one half of Climbing PoeTree

Continuing on the subject of strong women, there was a spoken word duo, Climbing PoeTree, whom I adored. They used hip-hop, art, words, and raw, beautiful power to bring up topics such as oppression, violence, interpersonal dynamics and self-doubt. I was in awe of how seamlessly they wove words to unheard rhythms, one voice uniting with the other, painting pictures with their arsenal of diverse terms.

Ari and Mia interview Luisah Teish

Ari and Mia interview Luisah Teish

The next new day started with the familiar beating of drums. After the main speakers, I, along with Mia, interviewed Luisah Teish, a woman who was one of the panelists for Archetypes in Every Woman. She had an aura of worldliness that humbled me from afar. Up close and conversing with her, she was a ball of warmth and endless knowledge. She spoke of her experiences as a child growing up in Louisiana – what she referred to as the Jim Crow south – while major changes in society were occurring. I wish I could bottle up the essence of her bravery and positivity and distribute that to the entire world.

The author Terry Tempest Williams

Terry Tempest Williams

On the final day, I was in awe of the stellar being that is Terry Tempest Williams. She is a very passionate advocate for the wild places that we used to call home, which are now disappearing. Her mastery of the English language made me feel what she was talking about in my heart, body, mind and soul. From her word-smithing, I was ready to lay my body down in protest of the environmental injustice that is taking place all over the world.

From the women at Bioneers, I have gained new insight into modern social and natural environments. All of these women come from different backgrounds and locations, but they seem to have a unifying theme: passionately empowering others to heal the Earth and ourselves and to mend our bridges to others.

The Unexpected Journey

Alex and Bryan carry a litter of trash out of the dumpsite. In the foreground is one of the many bags of trash we filled.

Alex and Bryan carry a litter of trash out of the dumpsite. In the foreground is one of the many bags of trash we filled.

The sounds of water rushing, people talking, laughing, and singing filled the air. Sweat dripped down tired, sore bodies. Muscles strained. People worked together in returning the landscape to its original form. Not only was the landscape changing, so was I.                                                                                                                                               

I have lived in the Bay Area for most of my life. I am used to the “bright lights, (semi) big cities”, where the only time people see and explore mountains is when they are in Lake Tahoe to ski. When I came to Synergia, I was in awe of how quiet it is up here. I started to forget the sounds of BART and sirens. I am continuously amazed at the overwhelming amount of stars in the sky. At a snail’s pace, I began appreciating the San Juan Ridge and its remote beauty. But I felt like I wasn’t completely synced with everything around me…

Loading up for one of our many trips across the river.

Loading up for one of our many trips across the river.

I am still grateful for the transformative opportunity I had to participate in the river cleanup. On September 17, Hanna, Mia and Oliver, youth from Sacramento, joined us along with Miles, and Cevin who came from Marin. It was really nice to see that other young adults care about the Earth. The Synergia staff, Mike, Nicole, Annabelle, Bryan, Sebastian, and I along with members from the Ridge community continued to clean up a section of the Middle Fork of the Yuba River that was overflowing with trash from an old miner’s shack. The miner’s dwelling was on the opposite bank from the trail so, like last year, we set up a haul line that spanned the river. We used a raft to transport trash to the loading area. From there, the waste was transferred to plastic litters that we hauled up the trail. I, for one, acquired a love-hate relationship to the litters; I definitely built some muscle but grew to dread the long, hazardous trek to the dump truck on the road. Over a two-day period, we carried out more than 2,000 pounds of trash.

Mia shows the camera some of the different types of trash we collected.

Mia shows the camera some of the different types of trash we collected.

It was amazing to see the range of trash we found. I lost count of how many cigarette lighters I uncovered. Like last year’s group, we found what seemed to be an endless stream of batteries. I felt like an archaeologist whenever I found a piece of the miner’s personal life. Just seeing the amount of detritus that one person can accumulate within a lifetime further cemented that I need to waste less and reuse all that I can. It resonated with me that, in a broader sense, no matter what measures we take to dispose of our garbage, it could still end up destroying nature and ruining historical areas.

The miner's shack

The miner’s shack

Mother Nature was clearly trying to reclaim that land. Plants were starting to grow over the trail; the metal scraps were decomposing into rust. We helped remove a blockage to the natural flow of restoration. This cleanup was the necessary kick-start I needed to feel more connected to this area. My muscles were so sore I was ready to collapse. Having sweated over this reclamation, I had a sense of ownership for the future of the project site. I felt like I was taking care of the Earth’s wounds and making sure that the “scar” would fade. This cleanup finally helped sync me to this region’s environment. By continuing a legacy of care-taking the land, I felt more at home here on the Ridge.

The tired and sweaty gang show off their bulging muscles.

The tired and sweaty gang show off their bulging muscles.

-Ari Frankel


Newts in Paradise

“I am the machine that reveals the world to you as only I alone am able to see it.”
– Dziga Vertov

It is that time of year again: the California newt-mating season. I have never seen this ritual before. There is some reluctance in the group; some of us feel it would be a better use of our time to stay and finish up schoolwork. Tom and Deb decide for us in favor of this outing because it serves a more subtle purpose. Today is our last full day before spring break. With the heavy writing and processing we’ve been doing, this outing is more about relief than media capture and sight seeing.

We drive to the entrance of the Independence Trail, gather up our equipment from the van, and start walking. The smell of bay in this forest reminds me of being a cabin leader and taking fifth graders on hikes in Santa Cruz County Science Camp. I take some bay to spread under my mattress and keep spiders away. We all separate on the hike to where the newts are; some of us walked slower and took pictures of the new spring growth. Deb and I are first to arrive at the small pond. The calming flow of water trickling in to this pool slowed me as I drew close.

I watched as the orange flames dashed inside the water. Many newts gathered into a ball of intense passion. An invisible dance occurred as singular newts chose their mate. Visual and chemical cues fired before the newt jumped onto its target, the intention being that the male deposits his spermatophore into the female’s cloaca. A white orb arose from the ball of chaos; a spermatophore missed.

I fell asleep waiting for the others to arrive; the night before I stayed up until 3:oo a.m. When I woke up it was time to have lunch. I had a dream that I was a salamander being born in the water, but surrounding me was fire. Nothing could be seen past the fire that began to change color, and each flame started to take the form of other salamanders. I ate my gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich, as I discussed this with everyone else. Then we prepared to film.

We set up two tripods and a monopod. Tom and Debra prepare a camera to start shooting. Debra holds a metallic disc in an effort to better provide lighting to the scene. The set-up looks delightfully silly. Others on the Independence Trail walk by not knowing what to think. Their whole walk ‘til this point was a beautiful sight of the growth, the river, and the sun shining through the emerald leaves. But now they are faced with an unexpected sight as they attempt to get by.

It’s funny how this situation could be awkward. I try to place myself in the shoes of someone who is walking by. I imagine its weird to walk by and pretend you haven’t noticed people taking footage of this newt orgy. This reminds me a lot of being in a street and ignoring people. I believe a certain disconnect has happened between man and nature. The way people duck their heads at the slightest chance of contact alarms me. Sometimes I find myself doing the same. When I don’t feel like saying hi as I cross paths with someone simply because I am lost in my selfish world, I am at fault of being disconnected from my surroundings and the people in my surroundings.

Once we felt satisfied with the media we had captured we packed up and hiked back to the car. Debra and I stopped on one of the bridges we passed to wait for the others. From this bridge you could hear the Yuba River growling. The sight was amazing; turquoise water flowed against rocks loud with splendor. As the others arrived we showed them this sight of raw beauty, and we all stared in awe of the mighty river dragon.

We continued our walk now feeling cleansed. This daytrip gave me something to hold on to; a reminder that beauty is, yet again, everywhere.


Back at Base Camp!

Well, we are finally back in Nevada City after an amazing adventure.

The drive home from Baja California was very conflicting for me. I was happy to be going back to a place where everyone spoke my language, where I could do my laundry properly and sleep in my comfy bed, in my comfy warm cabin, but I also didn’t want to leave! Crossing the border I felt panicked: Ah! No! I can’t believe it’s over! We’re already going back!? I found myself wanting to forever be surrounded by the generous, comforting, openhearted nature of the Mexican culture. America seemed so scary, dull and grey; the dry dead land filled with concrete buildings, the guards with their big guns held closely to their body, like a child. It all seemed backwards. Driving over the actual “border” and watching the line clearly marked on the road, looking at the plaque dividing Mexico and the United States, I wanted to run to the back of the van and get as far away from that division as I could, but I was already the furthest back in the van I could be and I just had to accept it.

Why was I so anxious about entering America? That’s saying something. There is so much wrong about this country and the world, why aren’t we confronting and admitting it? Maybe a lot of us are. I understand that in order to change how society has been living and evolving, it takes time, then slowly consciousness shifts and we rise up for the better.

We’re on the tipping point. Everyone can see what should become, what should change, but for some reason we continue our lives as if someone else will fix all the problems. It doesn’t work that way, we’re all in this together! We all need to participate and support greater causes. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, and hopefully we all have these same thoughts, but is a thought worth anything without an action?



I learned so much in Mexico; too much to even try and measure. From the people, the culture, and the Spanish language, but also a lot about the world as a whole. That is what I am working on absorbing and knowing what to do with. A personal goal I have been working on for years is how to be able to accurately portray how I feel about something and or someone, and share my appreciation in a full way–with more than two gracious words. This is something that I have been struggling with and growing from lately. I am so unsure about how I can appreciate those around me fully and share that with them. For the past few days part of our discussions, thoughts, and time has been on thank you letters and how we can thank the people that gave us so much while we were in Mexico. I have put a lot of thought into it, and in thinking about that I have started seriously contemplating how I can do that for Tom and Deb. They deserve it, and it is a vital part of the learning process for me. Being aware is a baby step, appreciating (and being able to accurately convey that) is the stretch of a lung in order to reach a point of true learning. In this instance I need to be able to state my appreciation in order to understand and be able to get close to learning fully. How I can share with them how much I truly appreciate what they are doing, how it is changing me, and how they are living along side me. What they do blows my mind. Not because it is so cool, unique, special, generous, brave, hard, full of joy, or any one thing: because it is all of those things, and so much more. Everything from the beauty we are surrounded by endlessly to the hardship that we see in the world, they are there to walk with us and share the knowledge that they hold. What can we do? What do I do? Am I being selfish if I only figure out what I want? Should I do something more than just what I want? How can I, as an individual, help participate in the big changes that need to for this world to be as full and loving as it should be? Wow! SO many questions and thoughts have been running around the labyrinth that is inside me. SO many of the sparks that started my mind thinking, questioning, and rethinking, were from something that Tom or Deb said and it did out of love. They love so much, and because they love so strongly (and they are none of our parents) they are in a position where they can step back and notice our struggles and let us struggle and see our glowing faces of satisfaction and self pride when we go inside the challenge and learn from it.

Our time in Mexico came to an end and the transitions that we faced when we returned to Nevada City were not easy. They were and continue to be a growing experience for each of us, a place where it felt ok to hurt in order to grow and love. I, for one, am very confused and unsure about the world. What it means to me, and what I should be doing in it. One of the things I am clearest about is how grateful I am every single day. Learning is everywhere. I knew that before I came, but now I am living and loving that in a different more real way.

Spring break is almost here: another transition and another start to another routine. Ironically, continuous change is becoming a routine for us. It keeps us strong, on our toes, and excited. I don’t know about the others but I am really looking forward to break while at the same time I do not want to leave this space and the feeling of what we have created and continue to strengthen everyday. I am already looking forward to the last day of spring break knowing that I will be returning to Nevada City and the new loving community that I have created there. Once we get back we are going to hit the ground running: preparing for what comes next!



We are coming to a close of this cycle of ourjourney. I am sad to see the faces that I have grown so tender with, leave my sight. But I am happy and trustful that they will continue on without us. Everything about this cycle of Finding the Good seems complete to me. It’s all coming full circle, and this makes me excited; excited to see what’s to come and what is yet to be born out of the new cycle. Going home is a guarantee of the end of what has just happened, but its ending is not a removal of me from it. It is both I and the journey that end, and we are reborn into the next stage. I face the mistakes and triumphs in it and embrace them with my heart and my mind. Like the Phoenix, we rise from the ashes of our own demise that was the only solid consequence of us even beginning the journey. The end is not the end, but only the beginning of something new.

~Max Tejeda