Balsam Roots

About me, Carolyn Devine.

I’m someone who is passionately curious about the natural world and our connection to it and each other.

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My Favorite Things

A Bit about My Dad Dr. Tom Ryan, 4-15-1929 — 10-7-2015

From being a wee girl, then graduate student at UMichigan and now today, I’ve been driven by the need to understand – really understand at a molecular level – how chemical reactions manifest at an ecological scale. Obviously I didn’t know those words then. But what I remember from a very young age:

  • Robins convulsing in our garden due to DDTs.
  • The river we lived on was too toxic for us to swim in; previously a cattle ranch, upstream was agriculture and industry; across the river a golf course.
  • Adults discussing PCBs and the contamination of our food supply (beef specifically) in Michigan.
  • Dandelions grew and flowered (and made poor bouquets), then went to seeds that I could blow away.
  • The wonders of the Belle Isle Conservatory. In the middle of winter, I could see flowers and leaves.
  • Rivers nearby not far from home had burst into spontaneous flames.

At the age of 4 or 5, not satisfied with the explanation supplied by my brothers or teachers or whomever it was, I decided that’s what I needed to do was understand the underlying causes of all of these.
There are lots of photos of me early on playing around in and exploring plants. 70 CD redoutfit019.begonias

Here’s a photo of my sister Monica and brother Matt (both at least 7.5 years older than I) in a raft on the “Clinton Drain” adjacent to our back yard.

Matthew & Monica

I realize now that it is a channelized irrigation ditch for the former dairy farm that was there prior to our home being built. And looking at the plants with my current filter, I see a slew of invasive plants.

I don’t think the river ever flamed on us, but I distinctly remember my brothers and I hoping that it would – just like others we’d seen on TV or heard about. I was fascinated by the direct link between these minuscule chemicals and the destruction of a river and the critters that lived in it.


PCB production was banned by the United States Congress in 1979 and by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001.

It all seemed too magical and horrible at the same time.

I was driven to understand those missing steps between sunshine and sugar; PCBs and having to kill 30,000 cows.  Biochemical mysteries:  photosynthesis, pesticide poisoning, water quality – all propelled me through semesters of  chemistry, physics, genetics, organic chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology and plant cell biology, limnology, ecology, developmental biology and more. I still think things like electron transport, DNA synthesis, phytochemcials – it’s bio-magical. And while I’ve come to understand the ranching decisions that drove someone to risk the lives of thousands to make a few bucks, I still think the result is horrific.

Along with the science, there was always the relationship between human and environmental health. Our daily activities:  farming, industry, golfing, cleaning the house, washing the car — they all have a direct impact on the health of our water. The health of our water and the chemicals dissolved within have a direct impact on the health of us.

In a graduate-level conservation class taught by Terry Root ( I took the course as an undergrad – I was that determined to increase my understanding, I risked competing with grad students. ) I learned that the most effective way for one human to make a difference at the ecological scale is to become a teacher. To show by example. Famous conservation biologist after famous conservation biologist visited the small group of students over lunch and then for an hour long conversation. The take home message of Paul Ehrlich, Steven Price, E. O. Wilson, etc. etc. was the same. The only way we’ll be able to change what happens on-the-ground is to be a communicator and educator of regular folk. We needed to reach kids, and most importantly, across the world, we needed to be a teacher-preacher to the daily decision-makers for families. Because it’s the daily activities of the collective families that have the greatest impact on the environment. For each issue, we needed to find the lever that would change behavior.

I was compelled to become a teacher. We needed to reach communities and help them make short-term decisions that would benefit long-term outcomes. It wasn’t in my original plan, but I received a secondary science teaching certification. Luckily, I had excellent mentors.

Ted WhatleyPBKThese two teachers are both dear to my heart. They were highly influential in my becoming the person I am today. They challenged me. They laughed with me. They encouraged me. I am blessed to have had them in my lives. Ted Whatley, my headmaster, home-room teacher, counselor, friend, American history teacher. He hinted at the wonders of Oregon while I was in High School having been the previous head master at Catlin Gabel. “Doc” Kaufman (Peter B. Kaufman) taught me plant biotechnology as an undergrad and I was his student teacher for both Practical Botany and Plant Biotechnology as a graduate student. He, too, has Portland, Oregon connections having grown up in SW Portland. He attended Ainsworth as a kid.

Other exciting things happened. A masters degree in plant science, a marriage, a move across the country to Oregon, working at a tiny botanical garden that had international connections, a divorce, training gardeners at OSU extension, and then a position as communications coordinator at a state agency. About 2 days in to that job, I was told  two things:

a. the agency was going to be involved in a ballot measure campaign; and

b.during the campaign, I was to provide information to Oregon’s citizen’s but not be an advocate for any particular position.

To make my day job easier during the ballot measure, and to honor my commitment to not use state funds to push for a ballot measure, I spent many personal hours during the campaign assisting in the messaging.

That is, the simple easy messages that the campaign often wanted to use made great soundbites, but didn’t really have the data to back them up. I didn’t want the campaign making claims and then having to us show up in the “Lie-O-Meter” in WillyWeek. So I worked to make sure that the campaign’s messaging was accurate and defensible. As the ballot backers had hoped for, there was nothing the news media could bite into that was gritty or false. Who could argue with the pressing urgent need for clean water? healthy habitats? supporting the lifeblood of Oregon’s economy, for future generations?

The ballot measure passed with flying colors – a huge 69% of the vote statewide. In the end, I was at OWEB for 5 years and 9 months. It was a great ride, during which I learned a lot about grants, campaigns, bureaucracies, and more. However, there was no Up. It’s a bureaucracy, which by definition, is a Box. The first week of June 2013, I learned my Limited Duration position wasn’t in the 2013 budget, which meant on July 1, 2013, I was unemployed. Between then and now, it has been a much-needed sabbatical.

I took inventory, reconnected with what’s important to me, tended my garden, pulled out my guitar, took some great hikes, and landed on a new grand adventure: Coordinator for the Oregon Invasive Species Council. That was a great rid as well that ended December, 2014.

Now I’m self-employed, Executive Director of the Willamette Light Brigade; and loving the adventure, and the entrepreneurship. I have multiple projects in progress. I like it. I’m defining my schedule. I’m meeting marvelous people. I get to determine how I focus my efforts. However, I’d love a full-time job, too. So am looking for opportunities that fit my skills.

Stay tuned!