When he’s thinking up ideas for his latest blog post on Kings Park Patch, Jan Porinchak takes a hike. In the great outdoors, Porinchak finds there’s inspiration all around him.
A middle school art teacher and a naturalist, Porinchak finds he can combine his love of educating with his love of nature while writing for Patch. Volunteering is in his blood so he’s been a hike leader for the Sierra Club and serves on the Environmental Committee of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation. A short film called "Ecosystems of Life" that he hosted is used in the science curriculum of the Kings Park School District. He's also a nature artist.
Suffice it to say Porinchak knows his stuff.
Still, he says that the research he puts into every blog post is exhaustive and he even learns a little something himself after writing every post.
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We sat down with Porinchak for a virtual chat to find out what makes him tick, how he goes about finding subjects to blog about and what is it he finds so icky about spiders.
Patch: Tell us, why you blog?
JP: I see my blog as an educational public service. Kings Park is especially well endowed with some wonderful parks and other open spaces.
My hope is to use my blog to inspire stewardship of these places and the plants and animals that live in them. Blogging, along with leading hikes, is my volunteer work.
Patch: Do you have a process for thinking up a new blog post?
JP: Sometimes I'll encounter an interesting animal or plant to write about while on a hike, or while running on some of our trails at a park. Other times a reader's response to one of my previous blogs will suggest a new topic to me. I have no shortage of ideas at all; nature provides plenty of story lines!
Patch: Where does your interest in nature come from?
JP: My interest in the natural world has been life long. A large part of that is because in my youth, the outdoors were my playground. As a kid, I spent more time outdoors than in, and I think that was typical years ago. Spending time outside was "imprinted on me." I still get grumpy if I don't get outdoors for a period of time each week. Sorry to say, most children's encounters with nature are through television and other media.
I hope my blogs provide inspiration for people to go out and explore the world outdoors for themselves.
Patch: I see you’re an artist. Can you tell us a little about your work as an artist? And how does your interest in nature influence your art?
JP: My artwork is detailed and narrative. I like to tell a story with my subjects and compositions. So in many ways, my artwork mirrors my blogs in that it's intended to be educational and enlightening, not just pretty. Actually, what I consider "pretty" probably wouldn't fit most folk's definition of the word. I tend to favor as my subjects some of the less charismatic creatures that are often overlooked by most wildlife artists. I've found a niche as a scientific illustrator, and have used my knack for detail to create some educational illustrations for New York Sea Grant, Cary Institute For Ecosystems Studies, Cornell, and Stony Brook University. I'm not too interested in private commissions that will hang over someone's sofa. I'd rather share my work and knowledge with the public. That is what fires me up!
Patch: You’re also an art teacher. How important are the arts to the curriculum in school?
JP: In addition to teaching studio art and digital art, I also teach interdisciplinary art. I use art concepts and techniques to enhance children's education about subjects such as science, history, and language. I taught about amphibian life cycles using clay, Chinese culture using traditional Chinese painting techniques, and about geological processes using digital technology. So art is important not only for it's own sake, but also because of the opportunities to learn that creating art makes possible.
Patch: If there was one thing about Kings Park (or Long Island) ecology you wish everyone would be more aware of, what would it be?
JP: Long Island possesses an amazing variety of landscapes. This is because of its unique location and the history of its formation, geologically speaking. We have the glacially shaped hills of the north shore, which is much like New England in character. The level landscapes of the south shore are much more like the mid Atlantic states in their appearance. Then there are the Pine Barrens with their unique plants and animals.
We even have a remnant of a landscape that is the same as the Great Plains of the Midwest. Unfortunately, most of that was lost and built on, becoming urban Hempstead.
Long Island is a crossroads for wildlife as well. In winter, arctic animals such as the Snowy Owl visit us, and in summer, tropical fish can be found in our waters.
So, there is a lot to appreciate here in our own backyard. Let's take care of it.
Patch: In your post about the return of the turkey, you mention that Europeans, upon seeing them for the first time in North America, equated them to a bird from their homeland imported from Turkey – the country. I bet most people think the county of Turkey and the bird are just coincidentally named for each other or that the bird was named first and the country was an English pronunciation. What is your go-to source for these great bits of information?
JP: When researching for a blog I make sure to check, and cross check. Certainly the web is a source of abundant information, but not always accurate! Also, I keep a journal of natural history observations that I refer to. These are records of animal and plant interactions that I've personally witnessed. The Audubon and Petersons field guides are helpful as well. Finally, I have as friends and associates some field biologists and naturalists who often provide their own anecdotes, or verify facts for me. Believe me, I've always learned something new by the time I finish writing a blog.
Patch: What was the last book you read?
JP: "Velvet Worms and Horseshoe Crabs" by Richard Fortey. It's a book about animals and plants we would consider living fossils. I'm also a huge fan of military science fiction. I'm reading "The Road to Damascus" by John Ringo. I'm an avid reader.
Patch: In your bio it says that you recently hosted the short film "Ecosystems of Life" in collaboration with the Kings Park Heritage Museum. How was that experience making the film?
JP: Well, I've hosted a couple of short films, which for the most part have been a lot of fun to participate in. The first one, “Ecosystems of Life: Nissequogue River,” and the second, “Ecosystems of Life: Sunken Meadow,” were produced and edited by Steve Weber. I admit to being a little intimidated at first by being in front of a huge camera. I didn't want to bumble my "lines" but after a while I got into it and just started leading a "hike", but on film. I've also been interviewed recently on FIOS Push Pause TV, with respect to my illustration work. It was a lot of fun, but I won't be quitting my day job.
Patch: Are you really afraid of spiders?
JP: Ah yes, the spiders. Well, I don't really care for them, and would rather admire them from afar. But I'm not so scared of them that I'd scream every time I see one. Well, not unless one dropped off the ceiling on to me, anyway.
Patch: Tell me, what do you think you will blog about next?
JP: I'm focusing on either writing about bats or White Tailed Deer, for my next blog. I had a request to write about bats, and that is timely as these creatures are suffering from an introduced disease, which is decimating their populations.
That's good news for mosquitoes, but not for us. I like to write about unusual creatures, and bats fit that profile. Deer on the other hand are not unusual, but their numbers are increasing, as we've all noted. So it would also be a timely subject, as we will be interacting with deer more and more frequently. It might be helpful to explore the impact of their expanding population on our natural and manmade environments.
Patch: Thank you for speaking with us.
JP: Thanks for your interest in "Kings Park Focus on Nature," at Kings Park Patch. See you on the trails!
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