I write from our Mercedes Sprinter – a 15-passenger vehicle named Zima in which we transport our ski team family. A handful of our graduate student athletes ride in the back. It is 6:30am and we drive to the trails at Tie City for our early morning run. I read an email string from two of our alumni skiers and advisees on my phone. Sierra writes to Ella and I; she explains her work to create an R Tutorial for the University of Colorado’s Microbiology class. She is using the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) One Health Framework alongside the 1959-2019 notifiable disease database. She is aiming to reconcile the One Health framework with the fact that the top 3 diseases in 2019 were STDs/STIs - chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. Her email inquiry asks Ella and I if we can offer perspective in linking One Health to STIs.
The CDC’s One Health calls attention to the inextricable link between human, animal and environmental health. All connected, the health of any of these impacts the health of the others. While this web of co-dependent wellness has been the backbone of my teaching for decades, the inability of many to recognize this has caused us to ignore animal pandemics, deforestation, and even climate change.
I read Sierra’s email aloud to the graduate students in the back of Zima. Ella’s reply states,
“STDs lead to antibiotic use and this can lead to antibiotic resistance (as evidenced by high rates of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea) which might be transferred to other bacteria and then impact environment and animal health. I think it would be really cool to still include STDs (maybe alongside the other types you mentioned) and have students explain how they think STDs relate to One Health.” I feel proud of Ella in multiple dimensions when I read this email because it not only shows her deep understanding of ecosystems but it also shows her prowess in teaching for even in a simple email she suggests that students be given ownership of the synthesis of connections.
We begin our run on the trails of Tie City with the rising sun casting shadows through the Aspen Sunflowers. Helianthella quinquenervis are often also called the nodding sunflower for the flowers appear to be drowsy, casting their gaze downwards. We run through the campground and along the single track, across the small wooden bridges. Our train of runners comprised of me, Christi, Ben, John-Henry, Eva and Ellen. Ben and John-Henry are graduate students in Botany, though both might also identify as microbiologists, ecologists and food systems lovers. Eva, a graduate student in Geology runs third an line and with sardony she relates that her department has, just yesterday, been moved to Petroleum Engineering. She says, “Most of our faculty have no link to petroleum; I just don’t understand.” We all commiserate about the restructuring of UW departments and express our sadness in loosing a college that is the icon of connectedness across disparate disciplines.
Yesterday’s heavy rain and hail has left the ground moist and soft. The smells, glorious, are a compilation of blooming wild rose, geosmin produced by soil microbes and fungi that have pushed up during the night. With each deep nasal breath, I ask myself to detangle to odors, pushing the limits of the sensitivity of my olfactory senses. With each breath, I feel the stress of the week dissipate; with each bilateral running step, I feel all pain leave my core. I caress the petals of an Aspen Sunflower – soft, almost velvety. I feel connected. I feel healthy and I feel love for the earth and the skiers around me.
My mind returns to One Health. One might ask, what is health? In our ski team class of two semesters ago we read Eli Clare’s book Brilliant Imperfection. Eli might say that we often conflate health with a normative icon. In this moment, I recognize myself as embodying that norm. I am temporarily able bodied. I am a fit athlete. But, arguably, that is not health. Health may take many faces.
If One Health reminds us that human health is inextricably linked to environmental health, I wonder why we generally tend to think about this in a unidirectional way? That is, we can often see how environmental health affects human health (the air we breath, the water we drink). However, we rarely think about it in the opposite direction. If we are healthy, how do we impact the earth’s health. If we run across her soils, bask in the smells of her blossoms, feel the velvety smooth bark of her trees, are we, in fact, improving her health? I think that Robin Wall Kimmerer would say yes!
Behind me in the running line Ben has begun to talk about mushroom gathering. He says, “I need to start remembering to go out mushroom hunting on mornings after a big rain!” He asks us if we will all pay special mind to look for the yellow color of Chanterelle. Christi replies that she thinks he will be better at spotting them than she will. He replies with a quick, “You never know!” Eva tells a story about her high school coach who did so much Chanterelle gathering that they finally put up as sign saying, No Mushroom Hunting. I remind them of Kimmerer’s book about the way in which harvesting, with thoughtful practices, improved the health of the Sweetgrass. One Health may include our mushroom gathering.
We end our run in a large field of Aspen Sunflower and I pause long enough to take a photo basking in my own health and the health of the life around me.
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This blog is a compilation of thoughts, essays, class projects, recipes, etc. from SNOW Athletes.
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