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Annual Report: Ghost Bear Institute

2023

Have you ever driven along a 10 kilometre stretch of road at 10 kilometres an hour for 10 hours straight in the middle of winter? No, just us? 

Anyway, here we were, in the winter seven years ago, looking for the elusive Canada lynx and failing miserably.

As people do when they’re bored out of their mind, we began discussing what ills our society. Like a stubborn string hanging from a favourite sweater, we started pulling at the thread of the problems facing Canada.

And pulling it. And pulling it.

Before we knew it, a wee little string ended up unravelling the whole darn sweater; what we thought were a couple of isolated problems, we began to realize, were interconnected and serious and eroding the democracy of the place we love and call home.  

And when you’re cold and bored and startled by a sudden realization, there is only one thing you can do: Pull out the trusty stack of Post-It notes, a sharpie and design Nature Labs. 

That, friends, is how Nature Labs was born. And, now, seven years later – SEVEN YEARS – we are on the brink of crossing the finish line. Well, the start line really, as completing the Nature Labs platform is really just about starting a much bigger journey as we push towards our goal of advancing nature literacy and creating a more thoughtful society.

But to get to this point? We had a few hurdles to clear.

Chocolate – our original main character for the project – disappeared on day three of production and then some really weird stuff happened. There was a bad car accident. A concussion. Another concussion. We had a fire and a flood in our apartment. Our home lost essential services and we had to move. Our new apartment lost essential services; we had to move again. Our next apartment’s rent increased by 50%; we moved for the third time in 15 months. Plus, there was that whole global pandemic thing, a round of nasty long-haul COVID, a rare neurological disorder, multiple family health crises, the family dog ran away (twice)…

You can’t make this stuff up.

Like Nature Labs itself, this wasn’t a simple journey. And if we knew how hard it would be, who knows if we’d actually have taken the plunge. But we did and here we are. Our dream has almost become a reality.

Since we first partnered with BC Parks and created our initial storyboard in November 2018, we’ve averaged 15 hours of work a day, 365 days a year,to build this mammoth beast. 

What we produced? It is an experiment. It’s the by-product of our passion and drive to do our part to help find new answers to old problems. And, yes, we followed an unusual path – one that didn’t follow the tried-and-true rituals of Silicon start-ups – in the hopes we could avoid political trip wires, adhere to the curricula of 13 different jurisdictions and create something relevant and fresh for both students and teachers, no matter where they live and no matter their world view.

Nature Labs isn’t perfect because, as you we have so clearly demonstrated, we’re not perfect. 

But it’s our sincere hope that the foundation we have nearly finished will be a chance to test and refine our vision; a chance to grow our team and augment our skills; a chance to take what we have and enhance it in ways you want to see. 

We’ve tried to tell nature stories in new ways – tried to make Nature Labs a little more TikTok than David Attenborough. And we’ve never allowed others to influence what students will see; we haven’t and never will tell students what to think.

We hope this tool makes education more exciting, more fun, more relevant. We hope students will see the connections between what can be boring, dry curricula and real-world issues. We hope students will better understand why nature matters – why every decision we make every single day interconnects and impacts nature and our future in ways big and small.

Mostly, we hope we’ve helped challenge and empower a new generation to be better stewards and citizens, today and every day. Because that’s nature literacy and that’s our dream. And thanks to you, we’re one step closer to realizing it. We’re forever grateful.

Simon & Jill

Welcome 2024!

Are we ever glad to see the backside of 2023. It was a year where pretty much everything went wrong – we both had/are having to stick handle serious health problems, both of our families had to withstand brutal health challenges, we moved for the fourth time in less than two years, and our work faced setback after setback.

That’s the bad news. On the flip side?

For one glorious three-week period, the clouds lifted on our personal dramas (in what was, in retrospect, merely the eye of the storm), allowing us to capture a laundry list of missing content for Nature Labs. And though it was work – often around-the-clock, slog through mud-and-bugs hard work – it did mean we were able to briefly return to our roots, living in a tent and spending time in nature.

With the last couple of years having been focused on web site construction and post-production editing of our platform’s 500+ stories, it was a rare treat to hear birds and see the sun and look for wildlife. Our time in the field took us to from our home in Alberta all the way to Alaska and Fort McMurray (the oil sands in northern Canada), as well as our touchstone Mount Robson Provincial Park, in just 19 days.

Most of our work was video-centric, with highlights including a toad migration, a very co-operative shrew (!) and a least weasel (!!) – only our second ever sighting.

Photographically, we were able to snag a few great grizzly images, but the best encounter was easily a great grey owl nest that we’ve been lucky enough to see for two out of the last three years. The family never ceases to entertain, but this particular encounter was special. 

Why? 

Well, the great grey female wasn’t looking at us in this photo, but rather a rambunctious deer that was feeding behind our backs. Apparently, the owl and deer had a long running feud because, before we could process what was happening, the owl dove over our heads and attacked the deer. I kid you not. It dive-bombed the poor ungulate repeatedly, pecking at its hide, until the deer retreated back into the forest.

We’ve never seen behaviour like this and, given it happened mere feet away, we were powerless to actually capture the moment, despite being surrounded by three cameras and a couple of phones. Look, we’re a bit rusty, okay? Regardless, the moment is captured in our heads and at least this image, the one taken before a sequence of poorly-cropped, out-of-focus flight images and video, helps bring it all back.

Here’s to wonderful 2024 – it’s gotta be better than 2023, right? RIGHT?!


Some of our favourite images & encounters from 2023

  • Simon & Jill

Interviewing an Expert

Learning interviewing skills is valuable for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Job interviews: Interviewing skills are crucial for job seekers. A well-executed interview can make the difference between getting the job or not. Interviewing skills can help individuals communicate their strengths and abilities effectively, answer questions with confidence, and make a positive impression on potential employers.
  2. Communication skills: Interviewing skills are also useful contexts beyond job interviews. They can help individuals become better communicators, be able to ask good questions, to listen actively, and to respond thoughtfully to the person they are speaking with. It can also spark curiosity and interest in something new!
  3. Research skills: Interviewing skills are essential for conducting research in many fields, including journalism, market research, and social sciences. A good interview can elicit valuable information, insights, and perspectives that might not be available through other sources.
  4. Networking: Networking is an important skill in many professions, and interviewing skills can help individuals make connections and build relationships with potential employers, clients, mentors and colleagues.
  5. Self-reflection: Interviewing skills can help individuals reflect on their own experiences, values, and goals. By practicing self-reflection through interviews, individuals can gain a better understanding of themselves and their strengths, and use this information to make informed decisions about their lives and careers.

Do you have an idea for a better balance between people and nature? Seek out more information on your idea from someone who works in a field relating to your idea.

Conduct Your Own Interview

  1. Identify the experts. You can contact 100 people and only one person may return your message. Where can you find an expert on your topic? Check Twitter, universities, media articles, local experts, government employees etc..
  2. Write an email template that briefly introduces yourself, states your purpose (eg. how you plan to create a better balance between people and nature), outlines what you would like to interview them about and adds a timeframe or set of dates to connect.
  3. Set an interview time. With any responses:
    • Research the expert further.
    • Reply with your exact topic, or questions and what you are looking for in the interview.
    • Set a date, time and method for connecting for the interview.
    • Remind the interviewee a day before and restate the topic you will be asking him or her about.
  4. Prepare five to ten questions. Don’t ask the obvious questions that can be found by conducting a google search. Apply it specifically to the topic you are writing about. Take your time and find the right questions that will help you answer your thesis question.
  5. Test your interviewing method and have all materials ready.
  6. Record the interview.
  7. Thank the interviewee before and after you ask your questions.
  8. Create a transcript of the conversation and highlight important information.
  9. Send a follow up thank you message, briefly follow up on your progress with the report and let them know what specifically they helped you with.

Now reflect and improve upon each time you conduct an interview.

We need your help!

Processed with Lensa with PT2 filter

We’re close. So agonizingly close to finishing Nature Labs and helping a new generation develop the tools required to balance the needs of people and nature.

But we’re struggling. Hugely.

You might remember our last couple of updates and the litany of personal apocalypses we’ve faced: Our grizzly bear main character dying on day four of production; a serious car crash; our apartment catching fire and flooding and losing heat and hot water in winter…

And then Jill got sick. Long COVID, 10 months of hospital visits, and still a long road ahead.

And then Simon got sick. A serious neurological disorder.

And then Simon’s dad suffered a massive heart attack last week and has a very long hill to climb in recovery. And Jill has her own family health crisis she’s battling, that’s equally overwhelming.

We’re still trying to get ourselves healthy and now we must do everything we can to help our parents through hell.

That’s on us.

But under the weight of all that, we’re struggling to keep up with our 15 hours/day, 7 days/week work schedule to complete Nature Labs for the start of the next school year.

To be honest, it was going to be a struggle to keep up this pace for nine more months in this five-year odyssey. Now it seems downright overwhelming.

We need your help to keep grinding.

How you can help:

1.     Help us raise $25,000. There are many ways to raise money, but few avenues that don’t inflame today’s political divides and the requirements of all school districts. We rely on the kindness of individuals to support us through donations, print sales and access to exclusive content through our Patreon community.

Why $25,000?

–       We need to upgrade our hard drives to smooth our editing process and back-up what we’re producing (we wish the cloud was an option, but it’s not);

–       We need to pay for significant server space to upload our content and renew a dozen software subscriptions to get us to the finish line;

–       And we need to maintain our workspace: We can’t afford to renew our lease in our two-bedroom apartment, but we need all of our living room and second bedroom space for filming and post-production – and we can’t afford the time delays of a third move in less than 15 months.

2.    Copy editing. We’ve written a lot for Nature Labs. Well over a million words. And everything needs editing – from overlooked typos to a human eye reviewing AI-generated quote transcriptions (from our interviews) in our produced written content. Help with copy editing frees us up to focus on our bigger video editing and web development tasks.

We can finish Nature Labs and provide students with a foundation of nature literacy for all that they do.

We can balance the perspectives of left and right, urban and rural, east and west through a storytelling-driven platform.

We can meet the diverse curricula requirements of 13 different jurisdictions while connecting ever-evolving current events to community realities.

We can do all of this – we can do it in written, video and audio form for different learning styles and at broadcast level quality – and we can do it without million-dollar budgets, Silicon-style development teams or big foundation and corporation support.

But we can’t do this alone.

With your help though? We can and will do it, together.

Simon & Jill

PS

Breaking news! Our car was just broken into while helping Simon’s dad in the hospital! There are significantly worse problems in the world today, we know. Still, some days, it does feel like being punched in the face repeatedly.

New Years Countdown Calendar

Right click to save the image!

  • This advent calendar program restrict the size of each image. If you’d like the extremely large file size right away, send us an email (jill@ghostbear.org)! We will create a link after the last date is opened with the actual file sizes. You know…in case you want to make a billboard!
  • Looking for more of our images to purchase? Want to donate to support Nature Labs? Join us on Patreon and view exclusive content we’ve been creating for Nature Labs?

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Proceeds of ALL sales support the development of NatureLabs.ca

PLEASE ALLOW 1-2 WEEKS FOR DELIVERY.

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16×24″ $200

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Image may be cropped slightly to fit print size.

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8×12″ $150

12×18″ $225

16×24″ $300

24×36″ $425

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Image may be cropped slightly to fit print size.

Looking for something else? Greeting cards? Wall murals? Send us a note and we’ll help you find what you’re looking for.

Limited Edition Archive

Click on image for full version

Purchase one of these limited edition prints!

Proceeds of ALL sales support the development of NatureLabs.ca

PLEASE ALLOW 1-2 WEEKS FOR DELIVERY.

We are unable to do refunds or returns at this time.

Fine Art Prints


8×12″ $75

12×18″ $125

16×24″ $200

24×36″ $300

40×60″ $500

Fine art print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper.

Does not include frame.

All prices are in Canadian dollars.

Image may be cropped slightly to fit print size.

Canvas Wraps


8×12″ $150

12×18″ $225

16×24″ $300

24×36″ $425

Ready to hang.

All prices are in Canadian dollars.

Image may be cropped slightly to fit print size.