Carmen Marina Loughlin Field
April 14, 1963-May 31, 2016
Beloved Alaska naturalist and educator Carmen Marina Field died May 31, 2016, peacefully at home in the arms of her husband, Conrad. She was 53.
Her passion for the outdoors and the wild world around her could only be matched by her deep love for her husband, daughter Eryn, family, and friends. She inspired countless children and adults to go into the woods, out to the tide pools, and onto the ice, and those who knew her will always feel her sunny, smiling presence brightest there.
Carmen was born on April 14, 1963, to Charles and Janet Loughlin in Illinois; she was the first of three girls. A world traveler from the start, she took her first steps in Turkey, where her parents were stationed at the time. She must have taken off sprinting; she went on to run track and cross-country in high school and college. Over the next five decades, she continued to enjoy running, biking, and Nordic skiing, meeting many friends that way and competing in triathlons like the Golden Nugget and the Sea-to-Ski.
Fast though she was, she had the gift of slowing down and observing minute details of the natural world. This came from childhood days exploring the rural surroundings of Palos Park, Ill., and from summers spent swimming, sailing, and catching frogs at her family’s cottage on Lake Michigan in Grand Haven. Determined to spend as much time as she could discovering nature, she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and wildlife management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1985. It was there she met the love of her life, Conrad Field, in a forestry class; their first date was spent learning to identify winter trees on campus for a test.
After graduation their paths alternately diverged and joined as they pursued the lives of nomadic biologist-educators; Carmen worked as a zoo interpreter in Anchorage, taught marine ecology in Georgia and studied seabirds on a remote island in Maine. By 1990 they were married and had settled in Homer, where Carmen became renowned as a fixture of local natural history knowledge.
Her immense curiosity was rewarded while working as a naturalist for Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge aboard the state ferry. She taught students at Kenai Peninsula College and summer campers in the Pribilofs, proving to be as thoughtful a listener as a lecturer.
For the past 16 years, Carmen served as the marine science educator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Kachemak Bay Research Reserve. She brought the wonders and workings of the estuary and ocean ecosystems to thousands of people of all ages. She created engaging Discovery Labs in the classroom, but she was at her best leading people outdoors. Nothing could compare to the sparkle in her eyes as she plunged her arm elbow deep in the muck of Beluga Slough, to be copied by a dozen entranced 9-year-olds. She encouraged others to fully experience the habitat around them, and in that way helped them understand its value. She was an unforgettable teacher, whether at a BioBlitz chasing unusual insects or out on a frozen lake sharing ice fishing tips with families, because her joy in learning was palpable and infectious.
Her talents as a naturalist and storyteller led her to travel the world for 27 years with adventure travel expeditions, revealing the mysteries of the Arctic, Africa and the Amazon to others. She was in her element in Antarctica, which she visited 78 times. She was capable of maneuvering a Zodiac in the roughest seas, her demeanor serene even as her face met with wind, ocean spray, and an occasional penguin. Carmen achieved the rare distinction of having played hacky sack on all seven continents. Two of her trips in Alaska were documented by PBS: one was an expedition retracing the 1899 voyage of Harriman, and the other was a historic initiative in which she led a group of scientists and evangelical leaders in observing the effects of climate change.
She co-founded the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival and was a perennial part of the planning committee for what has become Alaska’s largest wildlife festival; she also served as past president of the Board for the Pratt Museum. Carmen was generous with her time and expertise, whether opening up her garden to the Homer Garden Club’s annual tour or capturing aquatic invertebrates to celebrate the Anchor River for Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. Notably, she was a founder of the Kachemak Bay Environmental Education Alliance; her experience with so many agencies and non-profits made her the perfect catalyst for collaboration. She was named the 2012 recipient of the Lifelong Learning award by the Friends of the Homer Public Library and the 2016 Woman of Distinction by Haven House. A few days before her death, she and Conrad learned that the Alaska State Legislature had honored them in an official citation for their over twenty years of environmental service.
Carmen also shared her keen naturalist’s eye with her photography; her striking images of sea ice were featured in a 2003 exhibit at the Pratt Museum. She was an avid reader and writer; besides the stories she’d write for fun and the outreach pieces she did for KBRR, she published a field guide on marine invertebrates with Conrad. She enjoyed gathering with friends for potlucks and once won a Kraft Alaska Seafood contest with the impromptu addition of Velveeta to her chowder recipe. She was also renowned as the co-founder and organizer of IBBLA, the highly exclusive international association that one can only join by “discovering” a new species of bird on a beer label.
All these accomplishments were nothing compared to Carmen’s vocation to motherhood. Her daughter was the moon to her tides, from the early months spent singing Eryn to sleep with inappropriate sea chanteys to family trips fossil hunting in Montana, skiing to Engineer Lake Cabin, ice skating to the face of Grewingk glacier, and even going on three polar expeditions together. Carmen was the ringleader for many multi-family camping trips, maintaining her characteristic cheer through pouring rain and keeping kids laughing with her vast knowledge of party games. Carmen extended this invitation to fun through her coalition, Nature Rocks Homer, which connected local families to their own outdoor adventures, including Family Farm Day and the infamous Mud Wallows.
In parenthood, in projects, and in so many aspects of Carmen’s life, Conrad was her inseparable collaborator and supporter. They worked and played together as such a unified force that their names tangle on the tongues of their friends. But they seldom tangled with each other, exemplifying the best of a synergetic married relationship. The one exception might have been when new plants followed Carmen home, like an unending parade of stray puppies, for Conrad to find room in the garden. For all her Midwestern modesty and gentle graciousness, she nevertheless knew how to make her vision happen.
When Carmen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, she approached it with her usual determination, adopting a strict diet and exercising through her treatments. She became Sir Ernest Shackleton in our midst: combatting adversity with hard work, adapting quickly to changes beyond her control, and enforcing a positive outlook in her crew through uplifting messages on the website CaringBridge. When she and Conrad learned of the cancer’s inexorable progress, she turned to him and declared “No regrets.”
Carmen is survived by her husband of 26 years, Conrad; her daughter, Eryn; her parents, Charles “Buzz” and Janet Loughlin, of Palmer; her sister Alysia Loughlin-Bushey, brother-in-law, Rick, and nieces, Taylor and Lydia, of Wasilla; and her sister Chantal Loughlin of Anchor Point. She will also be fiercely missed by a large tribe of friends and admirers around the world, legions of former students, and her faithful black lab Baily.
A memorial celebration is being planned for Oct. 1, and a project to honor Carmen’s legacy of learning from nature is being developed. A college education fund has been set up for her daughter, Eryn; details on how to contribute may be found at the Homer Bookstore (907-235-7496) and on Carmen’s page on CaringBridge.org.
Carmen knew there was a time for everything: when to pick elderberry flowers to put in pancakes, when to head out early for perfect crust skiing, when to seek out nesting terns, and when to finish off a hapless opponent playing caroms. She showed us that the best things can be found when we venture off the path a little and when we slow down to look and wonder.
On her CaringBridge site Carmen wrote, “What I do think about are all the great things in my life: my family, this community and all it provides our family, friends who continue to support and buoy me, healthy and local foods, opportunities to travel and explore, a cozy house in the woods, spectacular sunrises over the mountains and glaciers across the bay, a job I love, and so much more. I feel very, very lucky.” From her vantage point in the universe she would probably add: enough reading everybody—now head outside!