Get to know your nature: Whidbey Institute hosts Lyceum

Next time you turn on the water faucet, don’t be surprised when nothing comes out. Water, the life-giving compound that occupies 80 percent of the Earth’s surface, isn’t as abundant as once thought. Pollution and overworked aquifers could leave places like Whidbey Island high and dry, according to scientists.

This year’s Lyceum series offered by the Whidbey Institute will help address growing concerns for one of Earth’s most precious resources. “Vital Waters: A Lifeline to Whidbey’s Future” will be held Tuesdays, March 30 through May 4.

Lyceum began five years ago when a friend of the Whidbey Institute, Mark Jordahl, witnessed a lecture series in Colorado about the natural history of the state’s region. Once a proposal for a local series of talks was made, people like Johnny Palka helped put things in motion. Palka, a professor emeritus at the University of Washington and former head of the university’s environmental programs, utilized his links to the university to seek out some of the nation’s top environmental scientists and speakers, who also happen to be UW professors.

Lyceum is a community education project to deepen the knowledge for the environment for some, to offer an introduction to the world of natural science for others.

“The more we learn about our natural world, the more respect we have for the earth because of it,” said Larry Daloz, associate director for the Whidbey Institute.

The series name Lyceum comes from a famous public education series held during the mid 1800s in New England at which Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa Mae Alcott were speakers.

From the beginning, the Whidbey Audubon Society has been a Lyceum partner, with various other organizations joining in along the five-year journey. This year, sponsors of the series include the University of Washington Program on the Environment, Island County Water Resources Committee, Marine Resources Committee, Maxwelton Salmon Adventure, WSU/Island County Beach Watchers, and the League of Women Voters of Island County.

Last year was the first year the Lyceum committee dabbled with an overall theme of “making the Invisible Visible.” But even then the individual talks was a variety showcase under the thought of bringing various aspects of the ecosystem to light.

“The Whidbey Institute and its partners have always done a good job of looking at so many aspects of life over the years,” said Elizabeth Davis, head of the Lyceum planning committee.

For the past 40 years Davis has had a strong interest in the environment, and has followed her concerns through participation in such groups as the Washington Environmental Council, the Institute for Children’s Environmental Health, and the Whidbey Island League of Women Voters of which she is currently the chairman of the state league’s Nature Resources Committee.

This year the strict topic of water will bring into focus a subject that every Whidbey Islander needs to hold near and dear, according to Davis.

“Living on an island we're restricted on resources such as water. By focusing on it we can thoroughly look at how we need to be aware of what we do and how it affects the resources we have.”

In the prologue from the program for the upcoming Lyceum, Palka said,

“Because human population growth has led to a huge increase in the usage of fresh water, the over-pumping of aquifers, the release of many pollutants, and major disturbances in watersheds and shorelines worldwide, many analysts have predicted that conflicts over water supply will soon supplant conflicts over oil as major factors in world political instability.”

Another new feature to the series this year will be that all six speakers will be introduced by a Whidbey-based nature writer.

Daloz said he hopes people who appreciate nature but seek to know more will attend the Lyceum series.

“If you hear birds singing and they all sound similar, how do you know the difference between them,” he said. “If you don’t know a bird by its name, then how do you know it’s not there anymore.”

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