Kaleidoscope: A ‘rest’ becomes a life’s work

Laurel Patrick shows a Mexican tree porcupine during an animal encounter program at El Refugio de Potosí.

Laurel Patrick shows a Mexican tree porcupine during an animal encounter program at El Refugio de Potosí.

When former Hood River resident Laurel Patrick began traveling regularly to Mexico in the early 1980s, she wasn’t thinking about its unique biodiversity or how she could bring attention to the many species that filled the region.

But then she created El Refugio de Potosí — and that is exactly what she has done.

For her dedicated work, Patrick was awarded a Recognition of Conservation Award from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (in Spanish, CONANP) on Oct. 31. The event was held in Lagunas de Zempoala National Park, one of the first established National Parks in Mexico, about two hours outside of Mexico City.

A panel of seven judges, including environmentalist Dr. Jose Sarukhan Kermes, selected winners in five categories. Four awards were presented to businesses, nonprofits and education programs, while Patrick won an individual award as Conservationist of the Year along with a 75,000-peso cash prize.

In the five years Patrick has made Mexico her permanent home, she has developed El Refugio de Potosí into an animal refuge and research center with a small staff of three to seven. Initially, however, her plan was to simply enjoy “a long winter rest.”

Patrick, who owned Hood River Ornamentals Inc. along the Dee Highway until 2007, spent about three months each winter in Zihuatanejo, along with the more rustic locale of Playa Blanca about 15 miles away, eventually building a small house on the beach near the village of Barra de Potosí.

“I started to see, for the first time, an array of plants and animals I had previously missed: wild orchids, bromeliads, flowering plants, bizarre insects, a parade range of birds, and exotic animals previously unknown to me,” said Patrick. “I was dumbfounded; after years of visiting the place, I had missed the best parts.”

Patrick found that many others seemed to be unaware the creatures were there, or that there was a lot of misinformation.

“When I spoke to the locals, there was a lot of odd feedback, myths that even I recognized, horror stories that defied any reality, and a lot of gaps in the middle,” she said. She eventually decided to make Mexico her home and help bring attention to the region’s rich biodiversity.

And in 2009, El Refugio de Potosí was born.

With help and inspiration from local biologist Pablo Mendizabal, Patrick developed a plan to create a nonprofit center to increase awareness of the flora and fauna in the tropical dry forest of Playa Blanca, Zihuatanejo, Guerrero.

But the name “El Refugio de Potosí” sent out an unintentional message to both local residents and the Mexican government, and the refuge soon become a safe haven for wild animals.

“There is no other place in the State of Guerrero to receive wild animals in need of sanctuary. This was not my intended mission. But once people started bringing me animals in need, I could hardly refuse,” said Patrick. “How can we ask people to care when there are no support facilities?”

With a volunteer veterinarian, the center receives animals that have been injured or orphaned. “We have received everything from coatimundi, jaguarundi, tree porcupines, macaws, parrots of all order, raptors and everything in between from poisonous reptiles to sea turtles to song birds,” said Patrick.

The staff consists of locals who, in the beginning, had no interest in the center’s mission — they were simply looking to survive. They have since developed what Patrick calls a “passion for the world.”

“They came without knowledge or general interest and now I am surrounded by people who care,” said Patrick. “These people make the difference.”

Patrick was nominated for the Conservationist of the Year by a biologist on staff.

“In reality, I am not the person who has done the most,” said Patrick. “I am the person whose story sounds the best. It is a huge surprise and bow from the Mexican government to award this prize to a foreigner.

“I am deeply honored. I believe it will help El Refugio de Potosí accomplish parts of our mission that have been a significant struggle.”

For more information, visit elrefugiodepotosi.org.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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