Hi all! My name is Jessie Rack, and I’m excited to be the featured Master Naturalist for this newsletter! I am a relatively new transplant to Arizona. I grew up in New York and West Virginia and lived on the east coast until moving to Tucson in 2018. I have always been deeply interested in the natural world – the only family vacations we ever took were camping trips. I first studied music and creative writing, and then earned degree in biology from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania (yes, really). In 2016, I received a PhD in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut. For my dissertation, I studied larval spotted salamanders and their responses to predator chemical cues. I began working as a naturalist in the summers in New England, first at a nonprofit land trust in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, then for two summers at a family summer camp in Maine. Meanwhile, during the school year, I taught college freshmen writing in New Jersey. I moved to Arizona for a job with the University of Arizona – I am an environmental educator with the nonprofit outreach Community and School Garden Program. Each week, I travel to multiple schools around Tucson and teach science, using school gardens and outdoor spaces to get kids to do hands-on investigations.
When I’m not working, I’m usually found outside anyway. I love to run, hike, bike, and explore new areas in Arizona. My greatest interest is in herpetology – reptiles and amphibians – but I have been loving learning about mammals, insects, plants, and all other denizens of the desert.
I wanted to become a Master Naturalist to get myself up to speed on the ecology of the Sonoran Desert. The diversity of things here is incredible! I’ve been so delighted to learn to put names to the things I see. My favorite naturalists are naturalist-writers – Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Berndt Heinrich, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey – anyone with the patience to sit quietly and observe and then to translate nature onto the page, with lyricism and poetry and wit.
My volunteering strategy is to help out with a lot of one-off projects; because my schedule is so packed, it’s hard to have a regular volunteering commitment. I have helped Pima County Parks and Rec with environmental education outreach events, have sent emails to schedule Buffelgrass talks for the Desert Museum, have helped out with a Sky Island Alliance spring survey, and have led my own BioBlitz team in Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. This fall, I have begun doing library talks, and my first program, “Sickening Superheroes of the Sonoran Desert: Gross Animal Adaptations and why they’re Actually Amazing” premiered in early October. To me, being a good Master Naturalist is all about being eager to learn, eager to collaborate, and eager to share what you know. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to share my newfound love and knowledge of the Sonoran Desert.
Congratulations to Jessie as she was voted the new PCMN Chapter President-Elect for 2020.