Ela-Sita Carpenter is an urban ecologist and naturalist educator. Born and raised in Baltimore, she has spent the past seven years studying environmental and socioeconomic drivers of both birds and bats in her hometown. She is currently doing data analysis of 15 years of bird data collected as part of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study Long-Term Ecological Research Site and creating education content at Carrie Murray Nature Center. In addition to research and science communication she loves hiking, nature photography, and yoga. You can find out more about her and her work at https://elasitacarpenter.weebly.com/.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night Owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

A cat, leopard gecko, and a few fish

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

Yes

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Both

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Sweet

7 Do you speak any other languages?

No

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

An artist! I was really good at sketching and cartoons when I was younger. I currently do embroidery and some photography so I could see myself being a multi-media artist.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Marine biologist

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

Even with my long list of countries to visit, if I could go someplace right now I’d want to go someplace familiar, with lots of places to hike. I’d probably go to central California: so I could be amongst the giant redwoods, sit by the ocean, and hike in the mountains.

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Flying

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

Read: “Black Nature” by Camille Dungy, “Never Home Alone” by Rob Dunn.
Optimal Living Daily Podcast is one of my favorite little podcasts.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Start the day with some yoga and mediation. Breakfast. Go for a hike in the mountains and take pictures. Come home in the evening, order some delivery, and watch some tv.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Humor, nature, and love.

15 What beverage gives you life?

Chai! Not the chai latte at certain coffee shops, but authentic spicy and sweet chai.

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

Not a book, but a paper in grad school: “Parks and People: An Environmental Justice Inquiry in Baltimore Maryland” by Chris Boone et al 2009. It made me realize how much urban ecology isnt just studying wildlife in a city in the present, but studying the people in the city, and even moreso studying how people’s decisions and racism in the past have shaped what natural spaces are in a city right now.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

It was almost always some animal-centered career – wildlife vet, biologist, paleontologist, or zoologist. Briefly I wanted to be a cartoonist.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

I’ve almost dropped out of science twice and what ultimately brings me back is a gut feeling that I need to be here. I can’t really explain what that gut feeling is, but when I see other Black scientists, and see the impact my presence has on others (especially kids of color) I’m reminded that I belong here and need to keep going.

19 What got you excited in science?

I was always observing the details around me and asking questions even as a kid.I think I never grew out of that “why?” stage and my parents and grandpa encouraged my nerdiness and love of wildlife with books and outings.

20 What excites you about science now?

Urban ecology is such an exciting field to me – I just feel like there’s so much more we need to uncover about the interaction between humans and nature. That there are both human and natural variables both from the past and present that affect what species live here and that they are all intertwined.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Sweets, especially Indian desserts like burfi, halva, kheer, and gulab jamun!!

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I don’t think I have any secret talents 😦

23 What is your favorite game?

I don’t play games as much as I’d like, but Jenga is always fun. I played Codename Pictures a couple years ago at a friends house and would love to play that more often.

24 What is the last book you read?

“Crow Planet” by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Learn to have compassion with boundaries. I tend to give and help others at my own expense. In the past couple years I’ve realized how boundaries, self- care and self-compassion are also important.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Tandem hang gliding, so I could pretend I have my superpower 🙂

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

I was painfully shy and refused to step outside of that to experience new things. I wish I could tell 18 year old Ela to not be afraid to speak up, step out her comfort zone, try something new, and that its ok to be different.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

I take a few deep breaths, meditate, and try to think about the issue in context – will it matter in the long term or not? If that doesn’t work then journaling or going for a walk helps.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

I rewatched Disney’s Robin Hood for the nostalgia

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Deer bones. But is that really weird if you’re a naturalist?

31 What is your favorite animal?

Bats, specifically the hoary bat!

32 What is your favorite book?

Illusions by Richard Bach

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Macaroni and cheese

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

I’m not big on birthdays or holidays – maybe the first day of the year when I hear spring peepers singing – knowing that life is starting to wake up after winter gives me hope.

35 What is your favorite plant?

Jasmine

36 What is your favorite science fact?

I just found out at work last month that if you place a stethoscope up to the bark of a smooth-barked tree, you can hear the movement of sap, water, and nutrients!

37 What is your favorite season?

Spring

38 What is your favorite smell?

Magnolia flowers in bloom

39 What is your favorite sound?

Wood thrush song

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

My empathy and willingness to think about things from others’ perspectives.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Nemophilist

42 What is your proudest moment?

Surviving this 1.5 years! During which I defended my dissertation, got my PhD, went on a solo hiking trip, saved enough money to take my family on vacation, supported my dad as best as I could while he was in the hospital, learning to live without him after he passed, and now navigating the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. Its been a rollercoaster, and I’m proud that I’m still holding up through it all.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

A willow tree, blowing in the breeze by a lake.

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

Here in Baltimore, Maryland it’s a tie between the big beautiful parks and the many stunning murals painted around the city.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

My first name is Cherokee for Earth

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Micah Miles (@MC_Miles1 on Twitter)