Rebekah Graham on Quinault and Queets land at Kalaloch Beach 4 | Photo by Kayla Craddock
by Rebekah Graham
former Young Birder
If you had met me as a 4-year-old, you would have found me running around barefoot in the snow or asking questions about slugs. I’ve always had an affinity for outdoor creatures, and while slugs are still a source of curiosity to me, I’ve since discovered the feathered wonder that is birds. Spending my high school years with Seattle Audubon’s Young Birders program nurtured that wonder through trips, mentorship, and community. My first Young Birders overnight was a weeklong trip to the Malheur area in eastern Oregon. I remember staying at the chilly field station, waking up early to spend sunrise with the grouse, strumming teasel like a guitar, and trying to catch lizards in the craters. Every excursion with Young Birders was much more than a birding trip, and encouraged my interest in habitats, plants, and conservation. Interacting with the program’s volunteers and coordinators also allowed me to build relationships with college alumni and AmeriCorps members, and inspired me to follow a similar path. After high school, I completed two years of service with the Washington Conservation Corps before enrolling at The Evergreen State College.
The beauty of attending a college that prides itself in interdisciplinary study is that even while attempting a Bachelor of Science, there’s still room for exploring arts and humanities. While my studies at Evergreen heavily emphasized field ecology, they also included wood carving, media studies, Indigenous histories, and community studies. Each subject was enlightening in its own way, yet it’s the community studies that remains closest to my heart. For my senior year of college, I wanted to take a break from the sciences and try doing an independent study. I wasn’t quite sure what would look like until I found a call for collaborators on something called The Brave Space Project. I sent the project team a letter of interest and within a few weeks we were navigating the red tape of creating a credit-bearing internship sponsored by Evergreen.
Ten months in, the project has become a multi-racial, women-led, radically collaborative creative team seeking to decolonize outdoor culture both in front of and behind the film lens. Our first short documentary film, Expedition Reclamation, seeks to redefine “outdoorsy” and reclaim belonging in the outdoors for Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color by highlighting their joyful, resilient, and transformative relationships to outdoor recreation. This film will help restore every Person of Color’s right to dream themselves into spaces of adventure and relationship with our natural world. It was this vision of a film that initially drew me in, and it was the people that made me stay. Working with the Brave Space team has been healing in ways I didn’t realize were possible. I’ve worked on many aspects of the project, from film production to crowdfunding tasks, and this process of creation has been life changing and life giving. In this project, we laugh ourselves to stitches in business meetings, we cry listening to stories on film production, we dream as work, and we work as rest. I cannot imagine any other culmination to my undergraduate career.
One of Evergreen’s staple books is Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. In her book, she writes of the earth loving us, and how if we knew this as true, our relationship to the land would be reciprocal, protective, celebratory. This type of bond is one of the values I see reflected in The Brave Space Project, and it adds a dimension to my studies in field ecology that I often felt was lacking. The concept of relationship is often sucked out of the sciences which I believe diminishes the potential of our work as conservationists and ecologists.
Yet what would happen if we worked beyond the preservation of wilderness? What would happen if we sought to build deeply reciprocal connections between humans and all beings on the earth? What would happen if we saw ourselves as belonging here with the rest of nature in mutual respect, care, and joy? I think we would feel the earth loving us as much as we love the earth.
Photo by Alden Moore
Rebekah enjoys many forms of outdoor recreation, including rock climbing.
Canyon Wren / Donald Quintana / Audubon Photography Awards
The Canyon Wren is Rebekah’s favorite to bird by ear for it’s cascading descent of notes.
The Brave Space Project: Expedition Reclamation
Seattle Audubon is a proud sponsor of Expedition Reclamation, created by The Brave Space Project. This short documentary seeking to redefine “outdoorsy” and reclaim belonging in the outdoors for Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color by highlighting their joyful, resilient, & transformative relationships to outdoor recreation.
Other articles in this issue of EarthCare Northwest
The next generation of bird advocates share with us their hopes for the future of bird and people.
Seattle Audubon established the NextGen Advisory Council in the fall of 2018, to elevate the perspectives and expertise of young professionals and student activists.
Young Birders teen birding club participants show their resilience, creativity, and continued passion for birds through a challenging year.