The EcoGrrl Interview: Kara


kara crop with ruby

Kara works in events & marketing here in Portland, and writes some really interesting stuff on her blog, A Nudibranch, that you should definitely check out.  I originally met Kara I hired her as an intern with my last company (before I went independent), and loved her enthusiasm, generosity and smarts.  Kara rocks.

What or who inspires you most? My mother, who genuinely cares for everyone she meets, and refuses to let a negative perspective ruin a perfectly good day.  Watching how her refusal to feel jealousy, hatred, or fear has made her happy made me want to work for that, too.

What do you turn to when you need strength? I’m religious, so I turn to God.  But since nearly everyone I know is an atheist (it’s all good by me!), I’d repackage that as turning to a strong sense of love and gratitude.  If I can hold onto that no matter what and try to radiate it outward, it gives me the strength to get through whatever I encounter.  There’s no fear in love, and fear is the basis of most of the emotions that we hurt ourselves (and others) with – pain, anger, etc.  It starts getting easier to peel away other people’s actions from them, and see how they’re acting out of emotions that are hurting them as well – and stop blaming them for that.  They want to be happy as much as anyone else.

How can women best support and/or empower other women? For me, I’d heard plenty of people tell me I should feel empowered, but not had enough examples of women around me to look up to.  I think women can best empower others by being the role models they wanted to see.

What do you love to grow? What would you like to try growing someday? My favorite things to grow are peas.  When I planted my first garden, I was too nervous to really connect with it.  But when those first little snap peas began twisting upward, I sat with them every day.  They’re still my favorites – curious, twirling, reaching out to everything and grabbing on.  They refuse to believe there might not be something up there for them.  They just keep stretching.  There’s no doubt in a pea, and no harshness, and every bit of them is edible and sweet.

This year, I discovered berry bushes.  I went to buy a few blueberries on the outskirts of Portland, and suddenly there were seaberries, golden silverberries, jostaberries, gooseberries, golden raspberries, lingonberries – I was overwhelmed.  I spent every scrap of money I had on me.  It’s like discovering new colors.  You knew there had to be more, but could never put your finger on it before.  For me, my yard is now packed with the hope of freshly discovered colors – berries I’ve never seen, that I dream of tasting next year.

What are your creative outlets?  Is there anything you’ve always wanted to try but you haven’t? I’ve always been creative, but without particular artistic talents, one of the many that has to come to grips with being, really, not that good.  When I finally learned to love my art despite its questionable quality, I suddenly tripped over stopmotion animation.  It’s so simple a 5-year-old can do it, but can be made endlessly elaborate.  Like knitting or many game apps, it’s a repeated action with a pleasure response associated with each movement, which means five hours can pass without notice.  You suddenly look up, and realize it’s 3 AM, you only have 10 seconds of footage, and you feel like a prince. I’d recommend it to anyone.  I’ve always wanted to try cut-paper animation, as I remember when I was younger marvelling at The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest surviving animated feature film, hand-snipped in 1926.

In what environment(s) do you feel most in your element? With strangers.  I love hearing new stories, getting brief glimpses of new personalities, and new empathy.  I’m most in my element riding Trimet or wandering around town by myself.

Who are your top three nonprofits you support and/or volunteer with and why?

  1. Portland Fruit Tree Project – I discovered them recently, and I can’t speak to what they do personally, but it sounds great.  You can register your fruit tree with them, and volunteers will come by and harvest it, leaving you some, teaching folks how to harvest, and giving most of the fruit to those in need.

  2. Portland Women’s Crisis Line – provides crucial local assistance (did you know you can donate your used cell phone to them, by the way?).

  3. SacredFlight – they are music thanatologists, who play Harp music to the terminally ill and dying – they’re lovely people devoted to improving the lives (and end-of-lives) of others.

What recent “green” change have you made in your own life?  What’s next? For years I have watched the empty toilet paper tubes go in the trash and convinced myself to ignore it.  Last week I put a tiny box in each bathroom next to the trashcan with a single toilet paper tube in it.  I never said a word to the 7 people I live with, but within a week, both boxes were full of tubes ready for recycling.  I feel like a doofus for not jumping on that sooner!  Next is making a similar system to bring tasty food scraps out to the chickens.  I’ve learned that for myself and my friends, we need an obvious and easy system or we don’t change our habits.

Where in the world do you consider a sanctuary?  Why? Peng Memorial Prison, which is what we call our chicken pen.  They have a large enclosure with a tarped roof, so it’s dry in there, and you can see the whole yard.  It’s like being in the bathroom – no one can bother you, no one even sees you, you’re just removed to a space apart from time.  The hens just want to bob around you, hop on your shoulder, and peck at your shoes hoping for treats.  They sort of peer at you sideways, trying to size you up, but they’re happy you’re there.  It’s the best thinking space in the whole world so far as I’m concerned.

What advice would you give to your younger self? Definitely not to let bitterness creep in.  It’s hard to remember that through high school and college, and I would have been so much better off not to give into it and then have to root it out later.  Also, to be bolder about doing things I didn’t know how to; basically, that other kids were winging it too.

How can we as a society be more radical in supporting a healthy planet? To me, it’s all about education.  My mother was a very active environmentalist, but she didn’t start recycling until I came home from learning about it in 2nd grade and asked “why not?”  After 3 years at one of the most prestigious boarding schools on the East Coast, and 4 years at an excellent liberal arts college, I can write a research paper backwards and forwards but I can barely identify basic plants in my backyard or fix a toilet.  We’re lacking a lot of information that used to be passed down in communities and families.  As a society, I think we’ll be a lot healthier if we find a way to provide this knowledge – to make it easily accessible, and enjoyable.  Now that I’ve learned a few plants, I’ve stopped leering at my feet and started looking at the trees – which suddenly opens up all sorts of interests in having a healthy world around me.  I also think that in this culture of ever-shortening attention spans, gamification is key to this education.

What sparked your interest in environmental issues?   What’s the first “eco” thing you ever did? Two years ago -BAM- it suddenly hit me that food comes out of the ground.  I’d never connected the unappetizing weed-pulling exercises in my mother’s garden with anything pleasant, given that all they did at the time was put more unwanted vegetables on my plate.  But suddenly I was an adult, and a very hungry one.  For that first garden I ripped up the grass in my backyard, squared it off with spare lumber from the construction nearby, stretched a thin layer of store-bought soil over it, and told my plants that they’d have to do with that. I was pretty poor. Everyone told me nothing would grow, but I just trusted that plants wanted to grow, and knew how to even if I didn’t. I remember someone telling me I had to feed my plants, and blowing up at them.  “They’re supposed to feed me.  I can’t afford to feed them!”

How do you live simply? Err, poorly.  I mean I do a poor job at it; I’m still a clutterer.  Still, I’m learning to relax in doing basic things, and enjoy them.  I love eating, but I used to eat while thinking, ‘thinking’ in this case being code for furious worrying.  Now I try to focus on my gratitude – how delicious the food it, and that I’m eating, and I find that I enjoy my food so much more.  It relaxes me.  When I walk I try to be grateful for the beautiful view around me.  I’m a much happier person, and nicer to boot.  I’ve started to learn that what makes people happy is often not the things around them, but how they view those things.  When I view everything from a standpoint of gratitude and love, it unfolds around me, and I have the loveliest time wherever I go.

Could you leave us with a favorite quote of yours? “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~ Shakespeare (Hamlet)


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