Jessica Clark - Life in the Trees / by Matt Clysdale

Many moons ago, when I first started my portrait series, MY ANIMAL AND II was describing the concept of the work to a curious barista at a local coffee house, and before I could even ask her what animal, she said with a quiet assuredness, "my animal is a flying squirrel". 

I was thrilled.

First, by the fact she loved flying squirrels, which are downright amazing, and actually quite common but rarely seen and almost never, ever discussed in everyday conversation. Secondly, I have a fondness myself for flying squirrels because one became an instant hit in my urban wildlife documentary, ANIMALS AMONG US, because of a shot I captured of it flying right towards the camera at night. Thirdly, by the fact she knew precisely what animal she identified with, and it wasn't the all-too-familiar top predators, like wolves, hawks, eagles, etc. 

I knew immediately that I wanted to do her portrait, and only after I began work on the collage did I come to realize how thoroughly she was like a southern flying squirrel

"Jessica Flying Squirrel", the newest edition to MY ANIMAL AND I. Southern flying squirrel photo by Joe McDonald

Many years passed between that first encounter and the creation of the portrait, and during that time Jessica was doing some significant work in environmental activism.

In response to the disastrous 2010 Enbridge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, Jessica joined MICATS and began actively working to stop further expansion of the Enbridge pipeline that was the source of what is now known as the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.

How did Jessica decide to fight one of the largest energy companies in North America? By doing a tree-sit to halt construction of Enbridge's Line 6B tar sands pipeline in LaPorte Indiana. She tree-sat not once, but twice! On the second sit, her wooden platform was held up by a rope that was tied to a bulldozer, thereby incapacitating any progress on the pipeline (learn more about it HERE and HERE).

Jessica tree-sitting in protest of tar sands pipeline expansion in 2013. Photo Credit: MI CATS

Eventually deceived by the police into coming down from her tree, Jessica was arrested and eventually appeared before a judge in a La Porte County courthouse where she made a brave and compelling statement explaining her non-violent protest. In the end, Jessica was sentenced to 26 days in jail for two counts of trespassing and one count of theft, all for what she believes was a necessary defense of the environment and everything within it, including ourselves.

All this corroborates Jessica's connection to flying squirrels in a beautiful and profound way. I'll add as well that she's small in stature like flying squirrels, but when she fans out her spirit and persona she's able to glide through life with a tremendous amount of grace and agility. If you meet her, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Great video by National Geographic - but I'll argue they're not a weird animal at all, and let's not assume that's a "he" up there!