Welcome from President Patrick Lane (May 2018)

Adapt and Survive, Not Just for Lizards and Cactus

Like many, my first impression of the desert was of a desolate, barren place fit only for high-speed chases between a smug road runner and persistent coyote. To make matters worse, in my teens I watched Lawrence of Arabia for the first time. An amazing movie I still love today, but watching Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif toil across the Great Sahara in search of Alec Guinness for nearly four hours did very little to change my opinion.

It wasn’t until I began studying environmental science in college and a fateful trip to Arizona in early 2000 that I came to appreciate the full grandeur of the desert. Granted, an invitation from a beautiful girl to hike the Bright Angel Trail of the Grand Canyon may have had more to do with my change in perspective than the seemingly endless semesters of study I completed. Nonetheless, the incredible landscapes between Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff and ultimately the Grand Canyon cemented my love of the Arizona landscape. In case you were wondering, that girl became my wife.

In October we’ll be in the Sonoran Desert in Tucson surrounded by a veritable forest of saguaro cacti and making interesting connections between deserts and retirement. Deserts and retirement, you say? That may not seem like a particularly pleasant exercise at first glance – comparing droughts to budgets and funding levels may get a little too real for some of us. Let’s avoid that, shall we? Rather, it is the adaptive forces of nature where I find the more fruitful (and optimistic) comparisons.

Plants and animals of the desert have adapted to the areas they inhabit and can provide valuable lessons on remaining resilient and finding ways to overcome the challenges of our surroundings.

Desert animals fascinate me no end, but their survival techniques are usually fairly disgusting so I’ll spare you that. Desert plants, on the other hand, evolve and survive in a number of interesting ways. Some plants have extremely long roots to tap into water supplies that can be nearly 100 feet beneath them. Cacti and succulents have the ability to retain water in their tissues, while other desert plants have evolved to use pores instead of leaves to photosynthesize and minimize water evaporation. Most interestingly, some plants even “pre-plan” not to grow larger than their water supply can sustain. Who knew that even plants can learn to live within their means? Hopefully my children will catch on to this idea someday.

Deserts will always be places of unrelenting conditions, but they are not totally unlike the challenging environments we face in our personal and professional lives. It is our adaptability that dictates how we survive and even thrive in less than ideal conditions. I hope you’ll join us in Tucson this October for the 2018 NPEA Annual Conference as we learn new techniques to adapt and overcome the challenges in front of us.

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