Mother Nature kind of saved Jason “Journeyman” Wise.
Educating others about plants and the environment has given him satisfying work outdoors,far from his old career doing policy work in a windowless office.
And his ongoing nature studies have given him insights he wished he’d known years ago, as a teen in a conservative religious community near San Luis Obispo trying to deny that he was gay.
It didn’t work. It was the early 1990s, with AIDS fears swirling and his peers calling him the “F slur” no matter how hard he tried to hide his identity. Wise said he felt like a freak, afflicted, wrestling against sin as Satan whispered in his ear.
It might have helped, he said, if he’d known the things he knows now about queer ecology: that gender ambiguity and sexual diversity are very much a part of the natural world.
“There are so many ways of existing and creating new life on our planet ... but our cultural constructs and Western way of thinking have tried to erase those as much as possible, and put everybody in a nice little box,” said Wise, a certified California naturalist and self-described “plant nerd” based in Silver Lake.
“Just seeing examples of homosexuality in nature, for instance, might have given me a little bit of relief. Because if penguins are doing it, maybe I’m not such a bad person. Seeing it in other animals, in nature, would have felt more normal to me,” said the outdoors environmental science educator.
Much has been written about penguins who have formed same-sex relationships— there’s even a children’s book, “And Tango Makes Three,” about the famous male couple Roy and Silo at New York’s Central Park Zoo, who performed mating rituals and then tried to “hatch” a rock like an egg until the zookeepers gave them a fertile egg another penguin couple couldn’t handle. Roy and Silo hatched the egg and raised the female chick, Tango, who went on to pair with another female penguin called Tanuzi. Meanwhile, Roy and Silo drifted apart. Roy stayed single and Silo mated with a female.
But Wise thinks butterflies are a better example of how nature deviates from our Western norms because of their many transformations, from caterpillar to a kind of goo inside a chrysalis to butterfly.
“So many young kids struggling with their identity or identifying as trans could be comforted by the lovely metaphor of the butterfly who totally disintegrates and turns into a whole new thing,” he said. “Changing your appearance is completely natural in nature, it happens in so many ways, so why aren’t people able to do this — come out of the womb, visualize who they are and change?”
Queer ecology findings have been growing for decades, Wise said. In 2012, the student-run Yale Scientific Magazine published an article saying homosexuality had been documented in 450 species. Nearly 10 years later, the number was more than triple that when the Natural History Museum of Bern, Switzerland, opened its special 18-month exhibit “Queer: Diversity Is in Our Nature” in September 2021.
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The curator, Christian Kropf, a biologist at the Institute of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Bern, told swissinfo.ch — a branch of the Swiss Broadcasting System — that same-sex behavior has been observed in about 1,500 species, from dolphins to rams, “and is probably present in all social vertebrates. Many people think that homosexuality and being queer are marginal and perverse phenomena. They say they are unnatural, but this is nonsense!”
Kropf said he hoped the exhibit would fuel more tolerance in Switzerland, where the same month the exhibit opened, 64% of the nation’s voters approved same-sex marriages. “I don’t know if it contributed to the acceptance of the new marriage law in Switzerland,” he said, “but it certainly had an impact on my father. He is 87 years old and has never spoken well of homosexual people. But since he came here [to the exhibit] he has changed. He realized that same-sex behavior is absolutely normal.”
Wise plans to use examples closer to home when he conducts three Queer Ecology hikes this month. For instance, mallards defy norms of male dominance by putting the females in charge of picking a mate. And redwoods, like many plants, have male and female parts, but they often reproduce asexually by cloning themselves and growing new trees as “stump sprouts.”
He typically charges for his adult hikes and foraging events on weekends and evenings, but in honor of Pride Month he’s offering his Queer Ecology hikes for free on June 8 and June 29 at Griffith Park, and on June 22, in cooperation with Friends of the L.A. River, at Lewis MacAdams Riverfront Park in Elysian Valley. Advance registration is required to get the meeting locations, and you can find out more on Wise’s popular Instagram page, @jasonjourneyman.
There are several other plant-related events and activities coming in June, so scroll down and start planning. If you have events you’d like to include in the garden calendar, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by the third week of the month preceding your event, and it may be included.
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June 3 Carbon Culture Hands-on Hugelkultur Workshop, 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in Pasadena. Regenerative garden designers Leigh Adams and Shawn Maestretti of Studio Petrichor explain how to build a hugelkultur berm, where mounds are constructed of felled trees, wood chips and other compostable materials to create raised planting beds. Lunch is included. The exact location will be provided upon registration, $40. eventbrite.com
June 3-4 San Gabriel Valley Chrysanthemum Society Chrysanthemum Plant Sale, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days in Ayres Hall at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia. Entry is free with paid admission to the arboretum, $15 ($11 students and seniors 62+, $5 children 5-12, free for members and children under 5). arboretum.org
Bonsai & Fuchsia Show & Sale sponsored by the Orange Empire Bonsai Society and Orange County Fuchsia Society, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sherman Library & Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Hwy. in Corona del Mar. The event includes two interactive workshops each day — a demonstration of ways to display bonsai trees at 11:30 a.m. on June 3 and a Q&A about the proper care of fuchsias at 1:30 p.m. On June 4, there will be a discussion about what trees work best for bonsai at 11:30 a.m. and a tour of the garden’s fuchsia collection at 1:30 p.m. The show is free with $5 admission to the gardens. (Free to members and children 3 and younger.) thesherman.org
June 17 Favorite Trees Walking Tour at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia. Learn about the arboretum’s trees from all over the world on this mile-long walk as part of the garden’s 75th anniversary celebration. The tour is free with $15 admission to the garden ($11 seniors 62+ and students, $5 ages 5-12, members and children under 5 enter free), but advance registration is required for everyone. arboretum.ticketapp.org
Community Service Day at Descanso Gardens, 8 to 10 a.m. at 1418 Descanso Drive in La Cañada Flintridge. Help care for the garden while getting hands-on lessons in mulching. Volunteers must be at least 16, be able to lift, bend and stand for long periods of time and bring their own gardening gloves and water. Space is limited and advance reservations are required by June 10. Additional instructions will be sent upon registration. descansogardens.org
Horticulture workshop for habitat gardening, 10 a.m. to noon at Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive in La Cañada Flintridge. Learn how to design and maintain an underused portion of your yard or garden to support local wildlife and biodiversity. Advance registration required, $35 ($30 for members.) descansogardens.org
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June 17-18 Culver City Garden Club 70th Plant Show & Sale, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 17 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on June 18 at the Culver City Veterans Auditorium, 4117 Overland Ave. The free event includes a wide variety of plants on display and for purchase along with workshops, vendors and advice from master gardeners. show.culvercitygardenclub.org
Southern California Carnivorous Plant Enthusiasts Carnivorous Plant Show & Sale, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sherman Library & Gardens, 2647 E. Coast Hwy. in Corona del Mar. Club members and vendors will be selling plants and supplies. Talks about growing carnivorous plants are scheduled for 11:30 a.m. both days, and guided tours of the garden’s carnivorous bog are scheduled at 1 p.m. both days. Tours require advance registration, but entry to the show is free with paid $5 admission to the garden. thesherman.org
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June 24 Summer Solstice Walkabout at Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve in Ojai, 9 a.m. to noon, with author and naturalist Lanny Kaufer. The walk will begin in the garden’s Australian plants section and move into the wild plant areas, with Kaufer identifying and discussing plants and animals along the way. Pre-registration is required, $40. taftgardens.org
The Botany of Fire, 1 to 3 p.m. at the Theodore Payne Foundation, 10459 Tuxford St. in Sun Valley. Plant biologist Terry Huang, director of living collections, learning and engagement at the South Coast Botanic Garden, will explain how many native plant species are able to come back following a fire and many seeds require fire to emerge. Admission is free as part of the foundation’s Rethinking Resilience to Wildfire series, but registration is required. eventbrite.com
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June 25 Summer Camp for Adults: Bizarre Botany, 4 to 8 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, 301 N. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia. Here’s a half-day “camp” experience for people 21 or older who want to revisit their childhood summer camp experiences with an adult twist, such as “adult juice boxes” of wine, an adult-themed tour of the garden’s “bizarre botanical wonders,” a fun science experiment and, of course, a nature-based craft. The light dinner includes grilled cheese, tomato soup and Goldfish crackers. Advance registration is required and you must be at least 21 to register. $55. arboretum.org
June 30 Landscaping for Wildfire Resilience, 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Theodore Payne Foundation, 10459 Tuxford St. in Sun Valley. Learn how garden design and maintenance can protect homes in high-risk fire areas. The class is free as part of the foundation’s Rethinking Resilience to Wildfire series, and will include a short walk and talk in addition to classroom time. Registration is required. eventbrite.com
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Jeanette Marantos started writing for the Los Angeles Times in 1999, doing Money Makeovers until 2002. She returned to write for The Times’ Homicide Report in 2015 and the Saturday garden section in 2016, a yin and yang that kept her perspective in balance. In early 2020, she moved full time into Features, with a focus on all things flora. She is a SoCal native who spent more than 20 years in Central Washington as a daily reporter, columnist, freelancer and mom before returning to the land of eucalyptus and sage. Her present goal is to transform her yard into an oasis of native plants, fruit trees and veggies.