We're very excited to be connecting with Charles Post for our Live Major series here on the Blog Cabin. The ecologist, art director, writer, and cinematographer has been passionate about nature preservation since his childhood and continues to work on projects that promote awareness about our local ecology. He just graduated with his Master of Science in Integrative Biology and spent the four years studying American Dippers. We caught Charles right before he headed out on a three month trip!
What about nature fascinated and inspired you as a child?
I’ve always been insatiably curious about the natural world. By the time I was about five years old I had a few nets, buckets and my trusty fishing rod; most days I didn’t leave home without them. I would spend hours exploring the forests and creeks that meandered through our sleepy town in Northern California. I remember looking forward to the first big rains of the season because that meant the stream just over our back-fence would once again be teaming with Coho salmon. During the summer months, I visited my grandparents in Cape Cod. They lived on the edge of a vast tidal marsh, which became my laboratory.
You had a laboratory as a kid?
I caught and studied everything I could get my hands on: snakes, turtles, horseshoe crabs, clams, oysters, fish of various species, eels, and even a rabbit on a few occasions. By the time I was 10 or 12, it became clear that I was intrigued by the way the natural world around me functioned. There was something fascinating about the seasons and chronology of events that unfolded in my backyard or just over the back-fence, be it the salmon migration or the scores of bird species who showed up at our feeders summer after summer.
It sounds like that time in nature really helped you find your passion in life. You just graduated with your Master of Science in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Congrats! What was the main focus of your research?
For the past four years I worked in a freshwater food web lab, which means we studied the ecology of freshwater systems, namely rivers and streams in the Western United States. My M.S. thesis investigated the Impacts of water depth on foraging by American dippers (Cinclus mexicanus) on a dominant grazer in the South Fork Eel River of Northern California. Simply put, I have been studying North America’s only fully aquatic songbird, the American dipper, for the past four years. When I say fully aquatic songbird, I mean that it dives like a cormorant and sings like a sparrow. The American dipper is unique in that it is a bird that eats essentially the same prey as a rainbow trout, a diet consisting of primarily aquatic insects. My graduate research focused on the ecology of this bird, and in particular, it’s predatory effect on a dominant grazer (aquatic insect that eats algae) in western North American rivers. You may ask yourself, why is this important? Well, the American dipper is what’s considered an indicator species, which means their health and presence or absence reflects the overall health of the rivers and streams in which they live. And my research aims to expose a significant relationship that likely has widespread effects on the river food web.
It must have been incredible to focus on a project like that. You're also a freelance art director and writer. How do you bridge that work with your ecology work?
My aim is to create content that bridges the gap between the scientific community and general public. More specifically, I peel back the ecological layers and subtleties that exemplify a moment in time. By doing so, I create content that not only can instill a sense of awe and reverence in my audience, but also sheds light on some of the rich scientific, natural, land use and conservation history that makes a particular patch of Earth unlike any other. When I’m working with clients, I try and find a middle ground that allows their story to be told in it’s most authentic form, while weaving in a ecologically minded narrative that can effectively contextualize a person, place or thing. By doing this, I can ultimately enrich and enliven the content we create and deliver.
That's what we appreciate about your work - you don't just take photos of the outdoors, you inform about the environment and local ecology.
That right there is my passion in life.
What have been some of the most exciting field research opportunities you've had?
That’s a tough one. There’s been a lot of research trips, epic research stations, amazing field crews and fascinating species, but the one that stands out was a two year stint working at a biological research station in northern California. Over that period of time, I studied canopy ecology and climbed 300 foot tall redwoods and Douglas furs to study leaf shape and structure over elevation gradients. I also had the opportunity to study Pacific giant salamanders, rainbow trout, foothill yellow-legged frogs, and my favorite species (also the star of my graduate studies), the American dipper – North America’s only fully aquatic songbird, which also happened to be John Muir’s favorite bird! Overall, those two years were what shaped me as a young scientist more than I’ll ever know. I spent that whole stretch living in a tent (8 months) and a backcountry cabin completely off the grid; water came from the creek, wood from the tan oak stand up the hill, and power from the sun. There were no phones, and for half of the year (when our solar panels didn’t have enough sun) I was without electricity.
And the most incredible place you've traveled to?
I’m not sure I can settle on one, but what I can say is that Great Basin National Park (America’s least visited National Park) which is situated on the border of Utah and Nevada has been an escape I look forward to each year. It’s an incredible oasis in the middle of nowhere, just a sea of desert and mountains; more specifically it’s six hours East of Mammoth Lakes, California just off Nevada’s highway 50, which is known as the loneliest road in the lower 48. Funnily enough, I’m actually sitting in my Treeline rooftop tent writing this from Upper Lehman Campground in Great Basin National Park. I love this place. It’s worth the 8 hour drive every time!
You recently co-founded the non-profit The Nature Project, tell us more about that...
I’ve teamed up with a few NFL players who happen to be passionate about the environment to create a non-profit that will bring underserved youth into the outdoors. We are teaming up with a celebrated outdoor education group called Nature Bridge, known for bringing 10s of thousands of youths into our National Parks to experience their outdoor classroom. We’re still in our infancy, but expect to have our first class of students on their way to Yosemite by this spring. Stay tuned, and keep your eyes on the Seattle Seahawks this season!
We're catching you right before your take off on a 3-month journey. Where are you headed?!
We are heading out from northern California and making our way to Mammoth Lakes, Great Basin National Park, Salt Lake City, Jackson, Wyoming and then onto Bozeman, Montana and eventually Alberta, Canada to shoot a film with Andy Best, Travel Alberta and Treeline Outdoors. As you might expect, this will be a film about adventure, but the lenses through which our story will be told will be rooted in the perspective of a naturalist. Once we wrap up shooting in Alberta, my girlfriend, Meg Haywood Sullivan and I will high tail it back to the Sierra for a photoshoot before hopping on a plane to Alaska to shoot a project with Chris Burkard and Huckberry. Come late September we will head back to California from Alaska and then hitch a flight to New England for a project on stewardship and my best friends wedding. I expect we’ll be home by November!
Any other projects you want to share?
I’m directing a film about stewardship because what I’ve found is that behind every endangered species, at risk landscape, imperiled ecosystem, National Park, refuge, farm, ranch, river, mountain or valley there’s a man or woman who’s dedicated everything to that particular organism or patch of Earth. These are the heroes of our day, and their stories should be told to excite our next generation of stewards hell bent on leaving this planet off better than they found it. Stay tuned!
Thanks Charles! Looking forward to following your journeys on your instagram.