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The Deacon Blog

A magazine staff blog with news of alumni and the WFU community

Maria Henson (’82)

Carlton Ward Jr.: Extreme explorer with Pro Humanitate spirit

Biology Professor Bill Conner stopped me at TedxWakeForestU a few weeks ago to ask whether I’d heard what one of our graduates was doing in the Florida swamps. With an obvious hint of admiration — Bill has a fair measure of Florida wilderness experience himself as a scholar — he announced that environmental photojournalist Carlton Ward Jr. (’98) was slogging through swamps and into remote areas on the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, a 1,000-mile trek up the Florida peninsula over 100 days.

Carlton Ward Jr.

The expedition began on Jan. 17 at the tip of Everglades National Park. Ever since, Ward, conservationist Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, bear biologist Joe Guthrie and filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus have been traversing swamps, ranches and the backwoods to demonstrate the need for a corridor that connects Florida’s natural lands, waters, working farms and ranches all the way to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. Their goal is for the state to safeguard a functional ecological corridor for the health of people, wildlife and watersheds.

For Ward and his band of explorers, the trek is intermodal and includes miles of kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding to reach the 1,000-mile mark, not to mention camping under the stars. Stoltzfus’ film about the expedition will air on public television.

Blue Head Ranch in Florida

By email I caught up with Ward, and he managed to send The Deacon Blog a Q&A dispatch from his journey and give us permission to display some of the gorgeous images from the trip. You can follow the group’s progress here and see more examples of Ward’s photography at his site.

Maria Henson: What are the environmental challenges Florida faces?

Ward: Florida faces many environmental challenges — depletion of the freshwater aquifer, draining of wetlands, habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are a few that come to mind.

Henson: How did you become involved in the expedition?

Ward: The expedition was my idea as a tool to raise awareness for the fleeting chance we have to keep Florida’s natural lands and waters connected. It was born out of my work photographing ranch lands in central Florida over the past seven years combined with expedition co-leader Joe Guthrie’s work on black bears and their wide ranging habitat needs (a story which was also my focus for several years).

I organized a steering committee in early 2010 to shape components of the Florida Ecological Greenways Network science by Tom Hoctor and colleagues into a more publicly accessible Florida Wildlife Corridor vision.

Henson: I love the notion that the journey is the destination, but I can’t help but ask what do you hope to achieve through this adventure, and will there be a book or documentary?

Ward: There will be a two-hour film for PBS for release this fall. My photography will be the basis for a traveling exhibit, online geostory and ultimately a book. These products are all part of the journey, tools to raise awareness for the importance of protecting connected habitat. The ultimate goal is for the Florida Wildlife Corridor to be protected.

Scrub Jay

Henson: What has been your most awe-inspiring moment so far?

Ward: The answer to that question changes every week. Paddling though the Everglades for a full week was definitely a highlight. We used push poles to push our way though the sawgrass for 3 days and nights without encountering another person. The wilderness experience was phenomenal. More recently, our team rode on horseback through ranches and conservation lands in the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, all areas proposed for protection through the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.

We were joined and hosted by nearly 20 cattle ranchers, many who I had known for years from my previous work and many from the newly formed Northern Everglades Alliance of which I am a member. It was a powerful and encouraging felling to traverse the piney flat woods with so many heroes who are taking the conservation of their land and heritage into their own hands.

Galloping Horses spotted on the expedition

When the ride ended at The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve, Rick Dantzler and LeeAnn Adams presented me with a limited-edition print of the Florida Wildlife Corridor map I had commissioned in early 2012 bearing (a) handwritten inscription from President Obama, which read, “Thank you for helping preserve our natural wonders! Barack Obama” Friends at the National Wildlife Refuge Association had arranged for (this from) President Obama at a White House conservation event the week prior.

Henson: What has been your most distressing moment?

Ward: We recently crossed Lake Kissimmee to Brahma Island facing a serious headwind. I had lent my Kayak to a visiting journalist and was making the crossing on a standup paddle board. When we emerged from the maiden cane fringe of the lake, the waves were 3-4 feet tall. Overall paddling was very difficult for all of us, and I realized that our guest was making little forward progress. Meanwhile the sun was dropping quickly and I had little control of how fast the wind was sweeping me and my paddle board away from the kayakers.

Before picking my own line across the waves for a nighttime arrival, I made a precautionary call to a friend with a powerboat. Our guest journalist was happy to accept a ride to shore. I would have considered it myself if I wasn’t so committed to the integrity of our continuous route.

Eastern Indigo Snake at Archbold Biological Station

Henson: I heard about your expedition when I saw biology professor Bill Conner at TEDx. It made me wonder how you chose Wake Forest for college? Who were your mentors? What’s your best Wake Forest memory?

Ward: I was attracted to the liberal arts education at Wake. Bill Conner was a mentor, though I didn’t have class with him. He and the bio department gave me a scholarship one summer that allowed me to study wildlife management in East Africa and marine ecology at the Duke Marine Lab.

Ned Woodall in anthropology was another mentor. His intro anthropology course really expanded my perspective about the course (of) humanity on the planet and instilled much of my concern for preservation of cultural and natural heritage. My intro to journalism course helped me earn my post-Wake internship in the photography department at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Henson: How has your liberal arts education helped you in your profession, assuming that it has?

Ward: As a journalist, I need broad understanding of a variety of fields and how they interconnect. The liberal arts base provided by Wake is the foundation for my more specialized ecological knowledge. The LA (liberal arts) education and many essay based tests also helped me develop writing skill essential to my work today. The LA philosophy allowed for my undergraduate education to be a process of discovery.

I came to Wake thinking I might major in physics and go on to grad school in engineering. I also considered majoring in business and going to law or business school. Then I discovered biology and anthropology, which led me down the career path I am following today.

Experience shooting for the Old Gold and Black and (Howler) was also very influential on my development as a photographer.

Henson: Tell me about your growing up.

Ward: I grew up on the Gulf coast in Clearwater, Fla. I was constantly in the water, swimming, fishing, diving, surfing, and still think I have salt water in my blood. I am also an eighth-generation Floridian with deep family roots in interior Florida. I was always connected to that world too and have been reconnecting to my heartland heritage through my work in recent years.

Scene from the expedition

Henson: What were your first camera and first shots that made you proud?

Ward: My first mechanical camera was a Pentax K1000 followed by a Pentax LX. One of my first successful landscape shots was on the Wake campus. I predicted a fiery sunset based on a growing cloud formation I had seen the previous September. I ran into position and created a number of intense sunset photographs of campus and the (chapel), which I ultimately sold to Wake as my first professional photography transaction. I think Wake bought nine photographs from that roll, and they were published regularly in campus and alumni literature.

Henson: You’re a world traveler. What’s on your list for future expeditions or adventures?

Ward: Well, I still have 45 days to go on this expedition! You know, I spent the first decade of my career traveling to the far corners of the globe to find stories of consequence that hadn’t been told in the U.S. media. Right now I am looking at another decade’s work focusing on untold stories of potential influence right here in Florida.

Highlands County ranch in wetlands reserve program

The pressing nature of conservation issues in Florida commands my attention and I am motivated to help foster a truer sense of place for the 18 million people (12 million who were born somewhere else) who call this place home. I still enjoy working abroad and will continue to do so when I have an opportunity and can make a difference. Continued work in Cuba and Latin America would be good fits for me.

Wake Forest’s Steve Reinemund: Giving back in his encore career

Today reporter Sommer Saadi at Bloomberg Businessweek introduces readers to Dean of Business Steve Reinemund.

Dean of Business Steve Reinemund

As part of the “How I Got Here” series, Reinemund talks about starting at the bottom — at Roy Rogers — and working his way up from the hourly-wage job to CEO of PepsiCo.

About becoming dean in 2008, he says: “I wanted to give back in the second half of my life. This was a way (I could) help young people figure out how to take their successes and desires and marry them into a meaningful business career.”

His “final word” will no doubt prove useful to students who are thinking more about job prospects than surf reports for spring break this week:  If you take a job just because you want to use that job to get to the next job, you’re going to be unhappy, and everyone around is going to be unhappy. There are so many factors that determine whether you’ll get the next job, you need to be in a job you enjoy with a company you respect.”

Read the full interview here.

Trash talk from Allison Orr (’93) at SXSW

“This lady’s crazy! How we gonna make trucks dance?”

Leave it to a Wake Forest alumna to do just that. Allison Orr (’93) will be walking the red carpet outside the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, at 1:30 p.m. today (March 10) to attend the world premiere of  “Trash Dance,” a documentary that follows her for a year as she choreographs and directs a 2009 dance performance of city sanitation workers and their trucks in Austin. One of those workers is Don Anderson, a crane operator who not only pronounced Orr crazy but also wondered, “How can I make a big ole hunk of machine be romantic?” With Orr’s direction, he did. He’s in the movie, too.

Allison Orr

Orr’s trash truck ballet, “The Trash Project,” featured Anderson, 23 other employees and 16 sanitation vehicles from Austin’s Solid Waste Services Department, now renamed Austin Resource Recovery. (There’s a reason those “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers are ubiquitous. As a former Austinite, I still keep the sticker on my car to celebrate eccentricity.) The dance performance drew 2,000 people to an abandoned airport tarmac in the city limits. So many arrived to see the show that people climbed the fences, one of them shouting, according to Orr, “Let me in! I recycle!”

The dance took top honors as the No. 1 arts event in Austin in 2009, beating out the ballet, symphony and opera. Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, an arts critic at the Austin American-Statesman, called the emotion-filled performance “simply one of the most outstanding and most moving arts spectacles Austin has seen in recent memory.” It “still resonates with a kind of quirky profundity.”

Last September Orr directed encore performances. And, now, as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, the documentary about Orr’s work by filmmaker and UT-Austin film prof Andrew Garrison will debut. He told the television station KXAN in Austin this week, “It was this unexpected, wonderful spectacle. It was emotional and it was just great.”

I talked with Orr by telephone Friday at her house in Austin as she prepared for the SXSW frenzy. Married to Blake Trabulsi, this mother of two children under six will not be sashaying down the red carpet alone. Nearly all of the employees in the film will be at the Paramount, arriving by shuttle vans flanked by trash trucks. “We’re hopefully going to make a dramatic entrance — a big splash — and get everybody excited,” she said. “It will be special for these employees to get this kind of Hollywood treatment.”

Orr calls her work “ethnographic choreography” and links it to her anthropology training at Wake Forest. She had often watched and wondered about the people who picked up her trash. Why not find out about them? “I’m often looking to showcase people whose work is often under the radar or invisible,” she says.

She went through employee training with the sanitation department and, off and on for a year, rode in the wee hours on trash trucks to learn about workers’ lives, understand their livelihood and earn their trust. Ethnographic choreography, she says, is “about observing a certain group of people’s work or daily life and then taking the movement that comes from that and using that movement as the basis for the choreography for whatever the piece is, and often casting the performers as those people.” The workers do what they are highly skilled to do. The result is “the artistry or the beauty that happens in those relationships they have either with each other or with the machinery or even with themselves as they’re working. Inside of that there are stories about who they are and what they do that are often not represented in wider culture.”

The film takes viewers into the employees’ homes. Viewers see the workers up close, and that’s what gives the documentary heart, she says. “They’re the lead characters.”

Orr’s work makes sense in the context of her experience at college and in life.

She was a self-proclaimed activist at Wake Forest, proud that she helped erect the award-winning Homecoming float that re-created Wake Forest students’ roles in the sit-ins during the civil rights movement. She helped build a shanty outside Benson University Center to promote her stance against apartheid in South Africa.

Her studies focused on anthropology, women’s studies and, naturally, dance. Her pantheon of favorite professors includes Steve Boyd in the religion department, Mary DeShazer in women’s and gender studies, Provost Emeritus Ed Wilson (’43), Jim Barefield in history and Peter Kairoff in the music department.  After college she was a social worker, then spent time as a student assistant to Kairoff at Casa Artom in Venice. (She got the job/title despite having already graduated.) Eventually, she choreographed a dance of eight gondoliers maneuvering their boats in a Venetian canal. Showing the sanitation department video clips of her previous work that included “The Gondolier Project” helped Orr win permission to embark on her trash dance study and production. Not to be overlooked are her dances featuring firefighters and Elvis impersonators, as far as I know, not dancing on stage together.

For now Orr will go in a new direction. Up next is a solo performance in July in which she has choreographed a dance for Austin Symphony Conductor Peter Bay. It will feature 13 musicians at the small theater in Austin’s Long Center, where (you can hear the delight in her voice) “there are already bathrooms and seats.”

“(Bay) is such a dancer when he conducts. At times he live-conducts it; at times it will be more abstracted.” For the fall of 2013 she plans “an outdoor spectacle” that will feature 20 to 30 utility poles and linemen employed by the city power company, Austin Energy. Already, she says, the linemen are boasting that their performance will be bigger than “The Trash Project.” We’ll have to wait until 2013 to know whether that’s just linemen trash talk.

*****

“Trash Dance” will also be shown at 4:45 Tuesday at the Paramount; at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Canon Screening Room; and at 7:30 p.m. Sat., March 18, at the Stateside Theatre. Tickets are available; viewers don’t need SXSW armbands to attend.

Read more about Orr and her dance company at Forklift Danceworks.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Eric G. Wilson

Overseeing a magazine, one picks up all sorts of magazines wherever they are in reach. That happened today at an appointment when I grabbed a stack and started perusing the latest issues. The hot-off-the-press March issue of O, The Oprah Magazine caught my eye, and when I flipped to the books section so did this version of a valentine:

This book got a mention for having a great title. What the magazine failed to mention is that it is the latest book by Eric G. Wilson, the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest. “Everyone Loves A Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away,” published this month by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, examines our culture’s attraction to evil and to darkness. According to advance publicity for the book, Wilson draws on findings of biologists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians and artists.

In a precursor to the book’s publication, Wilson discussed his fascination with the moral of the morbid in November in Psychology Today. “Renaissance scholars kept skulls on their desks to remind them how precious this life is. John Keats believed that the real rose, because it is dying, exudes more beauty than porcelain,” he wrote. In describing his trip to the Ground Zero Museum in New York, he encountered what is now “holy ground” born of “horrific terrain.”

“At that moment,” he wrote, “I understood the terrible wisdom of suffering: When we agonize over what has cruelly been bereft from us, we love it more, and know it better, than when we were near it. Affliction can reveal what is most sacred in our lives, essential to our joy. Water, Emily Dickinson writes, is ‘taught by thirst.’

“To stare at macabre occurrences — this can lead to mere insensitivity, gawking for a cheap thrill; or it can result in stunned trauma, muteness before the horror. But in between these two extremes, morbid curiosity can sometimes inspire us to imagine ways to transform life’s necessary darkness into luminous vision.”

My guess is that you will be hearing a lot more about the “train wreck” book and what Wilson as scholar has learned from his research. (He posted this at Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Work in Progress blog today for those of you not in the mood for chocolates, roses and sweet sentiment. It’s his take on why horror is good for you and lists his favorite horror films. No shock here: “I’m a serious horror film fan,” he writes. Yes, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Shining” are among them.)

Best wishes to the professor as he launches his book about what it means to be human, in all its shadow, not just its light.