A Big Year... During Work and School

Student and Audubon activist Carly Zeis will live in a fifth wheel trailer for her Big Year while at the same time working and studying remotely

Like many birders and environmentalists, since I was a child the awe I felt when experiencing our natural wonders has been deeply ingrained in my mind. To be clear, I am of Mexican-American descent, and much of my childhood was rooted in diverse cultural experiences that defined my appreciation for our environment and my passion for conservation.

My abuelita, my dad’s mother and my grandmother, often regaled me with tales of my tía Dolores and herself, wandering from Nova Scotia to the Oregon Coast, down to the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park, and every place in between, all in search of the natural beauty and wildlife that our world had to offer. Growing up on these stories only fueled my fascination for the world around us, and my appreciation has taken a serious dive into birding and environmental conservation.

For a long while, it has been my dream to pursue traveling across the country, experiencing not only the diverse landscapes, but also the wildlife. Specifically, of course, the birds. With my work being remote for the foreseeable future, I have taken the opportunity to pursue this with full force by doing my own Big Year (socially distanced and safely, of course)!

It’s funny because I’ve lived my entire life in the Midwest, so the ‘common’ birds for the states I’m visiting, such as Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, and quite a few more, will likely be entirely new to me, expanding my life-list beyond what I thought would be possible. And of course, I hope to see some iconic birds such as the Gambel’s Quail and Greater Road Runner.

But the most important lesson I’m learning from all this turmoil, which moving across country in the middle of a pandemic certainly is, is that we have to be flexible enough to be able to recognize and take opportunities as they appear to us. This ‘Big Year’ will be wonderful for many reasons, but not the least of which is that it is an opportunity to keep advocating for inclusive, equitable conservation advocacy, something that is very dear to my heart given my family and community background.

It is without a doubt imperative that Audubon continues as an organization that is inclusive, empathetic, diverse, and equity driven. This includes welcoming younger generations of all ethnicities, races, sexual and gender orientations, and socio-economic backgrounds with open arms, and most importantly, letting them lead the way.

When participating in my first Audubon chapter meeting and meeting others within the Audubon network, it was very apparent that diverse representation, at the time, was lacking. This isn’t to say that the attitude was unfriendly, quite the opposite in fact! Just that there were not people my age, nor of my background that were present.

That is not what conservation looks like. We need to raise up others who wish to advocate for our natural world, our communities, and each other. That is why Audubon on Campus is an important step. It is an initiative to include college students across diverse sectors, reaching out and empowering others to guide the future of environmental conservation, environmental protection, land stewardship, and Audubon itself.  

~ Carly Zeis, Executive Board, Miami University Audubon

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