In defense of adventure

Me at age 3 or 4, checking out a lizard in Florida.

Me at age 3 or 4, checking out a lizard in Florida.

When I was a little kid, an adventure consisted of investigating every nook and cranny of my family's suburban Long Island backyard. Within the confines of one fenced acre, I'd wade through my mother's ferns and cattails pretending to be on safari as I searched for birds, squirrels, snails and praying mantises. When I found an animal I thought was cool, I'd carefully sketch in it a spiral notebook. When exhausted from crawling around in the dirt and grass, I'd retreat inside to a glass of lemonade and review my drawings, trying to assign names to the creatures I saw.

That was my wilderness.

When I grew older and had more freedom, I moved on to biking, running and walking around nearby State and County parks and beaches. Suddenly my world became filled with much more wildness. I could get up close to deer, snapping turtles, fish, raccoons, opossums, foxes. The vegetation was lusher, more green. When I got a car I began driving to parks further from home. Each park was different, each was its own wilderness, its own adventure.

The park I grew up behind from ages 6-20, photo taken by me at age 16.

The park I grew up behind from ages 6-20, photo taken by me at age 16.

Today, as a freelance science writer and artist, I go on adventures as a living. I pack up at least once a month and head off somewhere different to cover a different story. Some friends and family members have urged me to "settle down" like they have, to get a "steady" job with benefits like dental and health insurance and a 401K plan. "Want adventure?" they ask. "That's what vacation days are for. Go to a resort in Cancún or Miami or the Bahamas. You'll love it."

I'm skeptical. I believe we were all meant to really, truly adventure, to put ourselves in situations that may not be comfortable, or enjoyable even, but that are different than our everyday lives. That is where we can find the courage within ourselves to grow. That's where we learn things about the world, the life on it and ourselves. 

Last week I explored a region of the U.S. I had never before seen: The West and Pacific Northwest. What did I find there? Breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and diverse wildlife (orcas, auks, magpies, deer and more). Old friends and new friends. Steep city streets and gently sloping mountaintops. More confidence in my ability to navigate places I've never been and more appreciation for the many places I have been and excitement to explore those I haven't.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Leg 1 of my two-week adventure this month. September 2016.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Leg 1 of my two-week adventure this month. September 2016.

Leg 2. Pacific Northwest islands. October 2016.

Leg 2. Pacific Northwest islands. October 2016.

Leg 2. Me snapping some pics of this gorgeous fox in the Pacific Northwest islands. Credit: Jenifer Chiodo, October 2016

Leg 2. Me snapping some pics of this gorgeous fox in the Pacific Northwest islands. Credit: Jenifer Chiodo, October 2016

Leg 3, the third and final leg of my two-week adventure. Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado. October 2016.

Leg 3, the third and final leg of my two-week adventure. Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado. October 2016.

Going on an adventure is like unwrapping a surprise gift. You don't know exactly what you'll get out of it until you've finished unwrapping the whole thing. But as you unwrap it, bit by bit, you can see hints of the ultimate gift peeking through. But unlike a physical gift, at the end of an adventure you're left with things no one can take away: experience, emotion and memories.

That's my defense of adventure, why I've vowed to never stop exploring. If you're skeptical, give it a try. Spend a day off the grid hiking in a local park you've never before visited. Or even in a part of your city or town you've never spent time in. Bring a friend, or go alone. Get lost a little and don't worry about time, just focus on the adventure and the gifts you'll uncover at the end.  

Every piece tells a story: Why art is a key part of memory

As an artist, I tell stories through the things I create; I listen to others' stories by viewing or listening to or otherwise experiencing their artistic creations. 

Art, whether it's a priceless ancient sculpture on display in a museum or a flimsy photograph of a special moment in nature snapped by a disposable camera, is a key part of human memory. The things we remember while creating our own art or experiencing the art of others enables us to go back in time. 

Last month I spent several days camping in New Mexico. One night, around midnight, I lay curled like a cashew in my sleeping bag, painfully trying to stave off my extreme altitude sickness by thinking about the various animals I'd seen hiking that day: Elk, mule deer, ravens, red-tailed hawks, turkeys, frogs, skunks.... Then suddenly my train of thought was broken by quick, excited yips and a few long HA-HA-HAWOOOOOOOOs. 

My tent. Around midnight I had a few very special visitors come over to say hi. Credit: Erica Cirino

My tent. Around midnight I had a few very special visitors come over to say hi. Credit: Erica Cirino

Ah, the sound of coyotes. In real life. I grew excited; they were close by, within a mile or so radius of my tent, which I had pitched myself on a relatively flat bed of ponderosa pine needles. 

The coyotes' yipping and hawoooo-ing increased in frequency and volume. They were coming closer. I clutched my flashlight, but wasn't sure if it was better to turn it on or keep it off. I opted for off, relying on the white light of the moon to illuminate the shadows cast upon my tent.

The coyotes suddenly grew quiet, so I shut my eyes and again tried to sleep and forget about the altitude sickness. Cool, I thought as I began to drift off. Nice having coyotes around.

Seconds later I was jolted back to full consciousness: feet were crunching the needles right outside my tent. RIGHT outside. Then, an odd sound, kind of like a snuffly sniffing mixed with the rustling of my nylon tent. Did I dare to check whom it was? 

Of course I did. And when I slowly blinked open my eyes, I saw the black outlines of at least five lean, leggy dog-like creatures with big pointed ears. Their faces were inches from mine; their noses pressed up against my tent, they inhaled my scent.

Was I scared? A little. But I was also quite mesmerized. I was almost a little sad when they decided they had enough of sniffing me through my tent and yip-yip-yipped away to see what else was happening in the forest that night.

I can remember it all so vividly that I was inspired to make a collage of one of the coyotes that visited me that night. It will help me to remember just as vividly when my unaided brain has trouble doing so as time goes on. That way, I can remember. That way, I can continue to share my story.

Memory is sealed in art; art becomes a part of memory. It's incredible.

Related read: How Collage Made My Life Whole (Center for Humans and Nature's City Creatures blog)

A coyote visits. Erica Cirino, July 2016. (Cut and torn paper collage)

A coyote visits. Erica Cirino, July 2016. (Cut and torn paper collage)

Artwork...done!

So that octopus piece I was working on...finally wrapped it up this week. Feedback is welcome, and if you'd like to purchase it or another piece, please reach out by email (scroll to the bottom of this page).

-ELC

Octopus & Co. Erica Cirino July 2016

Octopus & Co. Erica Cirino July 2016

Artwork...in progress!

Lately I've been writing so much that it's been easy for me to forget to carve out time for creating art. Having both of these activities in my life are as necessary to me as breathing. I'm planning on setting up a shop here on my website sometime this summer for y'all to purchase my works and ask for commissioned pieces (if you are interested in the meantime, please feel free to shoot me an email).

In any case, check out this piece I'm currently working on!

Credit: Erica Cirino, watercolor pencil, graphite

Credit: Erica Cirino, watercolor pencil, graphite

I was writing about coral reefs and thinking about all the wildlife that live in these incredibly important ecosystems materialized in my mind. So I sketched then began to watercolor the creatures that were swimming in my mind.

It was so amazing to get back to art after a long hiatus, like putting on a favorite bracelet you haven't worn in a while. It's part of you that you'll never lose, but need to remember to show. 

I make art because the Earth without art is just "Eh."