Endion Schichtel, left and attendees of the solar eclipse at the Valle Del Oro Wildlife Refuge, can be seen from the interior of “The Green Machine” on Oct. 14, 2023. (Photo by Diana Cervantes for Source NM)
Stepping inside the Conservation Carnivale van, dubbed “The Green Machine,” is like stepping inside a delightful cabinet of curiosities existing along the Upper Middle Rio Grande Watershed.
Shells and specimens on the van’s walls invite viewers to touch and observe, and signs such as, “nature unites us,” speak of the central message of this traveling troupe of entertainers.
The group started in 2022 with funding from the city of Albuquerque and the Urban Enhancement Trust Fund with an idea to bring entertainment to engage people in environmental education along the Rio Grande ecosystem.
“Climate change, to me, is the most unifying thing we have as a species. No matter where you are in the world, climate change is affecting you, whether you feel it or [are] aware of it.” Endion Schichtel said.
As individuals move about the van they’ll discover games about water conservation, and even have the opportunity to write letters to the merpeople living in the Rio Grande.
Fellow friends and artists put on acts that relate to the Albuquerque ecosystem, specifically the Rio Grande and the endangered silvery minnow to name a few.
It is through personifying and humanizing aspects of the Rio Grande that Schichtel believes will foster a sense of place and care for the environment through this immersive little world she built in a 1974 Chevy Step Van.
On the dashboard, viewers will find a lit up mini carousel with horses posing the following question, “Where will the animals live if we don’t take care of the bosque? Your house?! Yeah right!”
Schichtel’s love for the environment, sideshow acts and the circus sparked her imagination to merge these passions, as well as a way to cope with her environmental anxiety and grief of losing her father.
“Through my grief and having a lot of climate change anxiety and a little burnout of [not] knowing the right way to help the world. I just started building it out the best way that I could with my skill set,” Schichtel said.
Schichtel’s means of reconnecting people from all walks of life and ages also involves performance art.
“So it’s gone through several evolutions of design and contributions from different artists and just kind of really trying a new way to get people to pay attention and reconnect to the nonhuman world,” she said.
The creative space in nature is something she wants to see spark imagination and empathy for the open space in the middle of Albuquerque.
“I think sprinkling a little magic gets people just to look at a place a little bit deeper.” Schictel said. “I mean, the imagination is an under exercised muscle, we are fed so much of our entertainment, I think if you could just take that spark of [people] being interested and then feed them a little bit of a fact or reinspire their curiosity, where you are in the moment or what you’re looking at in your hand. It’s a powerful tool.”
This sprinkling of imagination takes form as an acrobatic silvery minnow performed by Summer Rain Solon, or Yogi Coyote performing incredible yoga poses for a diverse audience.
“I can see some curiosity and hesitation initially, but then once people step out of the van, or they see one of our performances, they’re like, “Oh, I get it now.” It is a unique mashup of things.”
Despite the success of Conservation Carnivale, Schichtel still struggles with climate anxiety and dreams of returning to the river someday soon.
“My dream for the river is that my mental health is back at a state where I could physically visit the river,” Schichtel said. “And also that the work continues. And there is just a continue(d) movement of awareness, appreciation and love, just [a] basic understanding that this vein of life that runs through our city needs to be thought of and protected.”
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