Originally posted on June 29, 2015
We are continuing our series profiling the authors and artists featured in our latest volume, Metamorphosis. Learn more about the Metamorphosis volume here. Click this link to order this and previous volumes.
by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain
Kimberly Langmaid shares a piece of her academic, occupational, and lived experience in her superb essay, “Of Mountains, Glaciers, and Goethe,” appearing in Whole Terrain’s Metamorphosis volume. Feeling disengaged from the natural world that gave rise to her doctoral research questions, she spent time visiting the rapidly disappearing glaciers in Glacier National Park. Her essay provides a window into her personal reflective process, scientific data about glacier formation and retreat, a smattering of the history of glaciology, and Goethe’s rigorous, poetic approach to scientific observation. The stories and data are drawn from her PhD dissertation entitled, “Seeing Shifts: Ecologists’ lived experiences of climate change in mountains of the American West” (Antioch University New England, 2009).
Langmaid serves as the founder, vice president, and director of the sustainability and stewardship programs department at Walking Mountains Science Center. There she has established a graduate fellowship in environmental education partnered with Colorado State University and Prescott College. She describes herself as an “intrapreneur,” working within the organization of Walking Mountains Science Center to create new mission-focused programs and revenue generating opportunities.
We recently heard from Langmaid about her sense of her role in the environmental conversation, the background of the piece she submitted to our Metamorphosis volume, and the connections between her academic work and her role as an environmental practitioner.
Whole Terrain: Tell us a little bit about your work as it pertains to Whole Terrain’s focus on reflective environmental practice.
Kimberly Langmaid: My daily work at Walking Mountains Science Center and teaching sustainability studies at Colorado Mountain College keeps my schedule very full, working with people all day long. The mission of Walking Mountains is “to awaken a sense of wonder and inspire environmental stewardship and sustainability through natural science education.” To keep up and sustain my own personal sense of wonder and inspiration, I need to prioritize time for reflective practice and connect with the beauty and creativity of nature on a daily basis. I usually spend an hour or two after work hiking the mountains around my home with my dog Tarn.
WT: What drew you to the theme of metamorphosis?
KL: For my doctoral project I did a phenomenological study with place-based ecologists who do their field research in mountains of the American West, many of them studying the same plots of land for 20 or 30 years. Mountain ecosystems are experiencing a greater rate of temperature increase than lowlands at similar latitudes. I am very interested in how people, like these ecologists who are intimately aware of climate change impacts, are themselves undergoing metamorphosis and finding a sense of personal resilience to sustain their work in the face of so much adversity and complexity. Phenomenology coupled with conservation psychology is very relevant these days as we seek to understand and engage with the human dimensions of climate change.
WT: What inspired the particular piece you submitted?
KL: One of the ecologists who participated in my research, Dan Fagre, is based in Glacier National Park. He does repeat photography showing how the glaciers are shrinking over time, and he also studies the cascading effects of climate change on this mountain ecosystem. I went to Glacier to interview him and to see and touch the glaciers while they’re still around. I’m also very interested in Goethe’s view of nature. His approach was phenomenological and based very much on the concept of metamorphosis.
WT: What do you see as your contribution to the environmental movement, or how do you see your work affecting the way people view the rest of the natural world?
KL: My focus is very place-based. So far, I’ve committed to staying put in my home community. The mountain town has grown rapidly. I live in an urban corridor, along Interstate 70, sandwiched between two incredible wilderness areas — Holy Cross Wilderness and Eagles Nest Wilderness in the White River National Forest. My role is as an educator, community leader, and writer, working to inspire and create positive change in harmony with our fragile and precious mountain environment. Most of my work right now involves engaging with community partners such as local governments, land management agencies, businesses, philanthropists, schools, and nonprofits to create a shared culture of sustainability.
WT: What is the relationship between your dissertation research and what you’re doing now?
KL: One of the outcomes of my PhD work is a hyper-increased sense of my own assumptions: the values and biases that muddy and enrich the metaphorical water into which we’re trying to see when I collaborate with stakeholders holding different perspectives. I have an increased sense of empathy, patience, and tenacity that I didn’t have before. As a scholar-practitioner, I draw upon my PhD experiences to improve my approaches to student-centered teaching and environmental writing, always aiming to inspire and empower more people to participate in the sustainability movement in their own unique and creative ways.
WT: How is writing incorporated into your environmental practice?
KL: My writing takes many forms. Some of my writing is more artful, reflective and descriptive and happens when I want to understand a phenomenon more intimately and share my ideas with others. I also write grant proposals, project reports, letters to the local newspaper, speeches, and emails, which is perhaps more utilitarian writing. All of these forms of writing are important to the work I do.
WT: If you could share one piece of advice to those submitting pieces to Whole Terrain in the future, what would it be?
KL: My advice would be to become familiar with the type of writing that Whole Terrain represents, and to really bring out the reflective quality of your piece. Tell a story that engages readers in reflection and provokes their own experiences of reflective practice.
Bio: Kimberly Langmaid is a graduate of the Antioch University New England doctoral program in environmental studies. She is the founder and vice president of Walking Mountains Science Center in the Eagle Valley of Colorado, and she teaches sustainability studies at Colorado Mountain College.