Leading a Volunteer Workday


The Botanists 4:2015The Botanists

www.melissabluefineart.com

Yesterday I had the good fortune to help lead a volunteer workday at a nearby nature preserve.  Almond Marsh is blessed with a large natural marsh and a nice quality upland savanna.  It is also blessed with a wet area accidentally created when a road was constructed. A low area filled with water, creating snags that attracted herons who nest there every year now.  When I arrived I saw a large bird fly right over the parking lot….a Bald Eagle!  That was an auspicious start to the day.

In a short while my charges for the day arrived~3 Brownies and their mothers.  My job was to take them out into the woods and teach them a little about what they were seeing and then have them pull garlic mustard.  I’ve done this before, but this was the first time I felt like an elder passing along knowledge.  It was really moving to see these little girls bend over, studying the Toothwort and Trillium I was showing them, and then learn to pull the garlic mustard.  Once they learned how to get the whole root they were all over it, triumphantly holding each one up for me to admire.  They were too young to be given detailed natural history lessons, of course.  I hope they loved the day as much as I did, and that they left with questions forming in their minds and wonder in their hearts.  I hope they come back.  They and their mothers were a delight.

The painting I wanted to share with you today is a celebration of the many citizen scientists it has been my pleasure to know over the years.  As I understand it, sometime in the early 80’s folks around here started to adopt parcels of land.  In some cases these were already forest preserves, but had not been managed.  In others they were parcels of land that people just wanted to save.  Organizations were formed, funds were raised, and land was purchased.  People began to study their field guides and historical records to discover what plants and creatures should be present.  Techniques were developed to restore the ecological health of prairie, wetland savanna and woodland.  Really, it has been a human blossoming as well as a natural one.  Every now and then I step back and marvel at these people from different walks of life teaching themselves botany, entomology, birdology 🙂 you name it, and then dedicating thousand of hours every year  to help restore natural processes in the land.  When I sit in stewardship meetings, I notice that all of us are growing old.  Will this have been a fluke, a passing thing that will die with us?  I hope not.  I hope it continues, and I hope it spreads to every region.  Spending a day with 3 sweet little Brownies and their wonderful moms gave me hope for the future.

To read more about this movement and hopefully be inspired to start it in your area, I recommend the book, “Miracle Under the Oaks”, by William Stevens.

May eagles soar above you, and flowers bloom at your feet.

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27 thoughts on “Leading a Volunteer Workday

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    You’ve reminded me that I have to go out and check our land for garlic mustard. Being the first green to emerge, they are easiest to spot now. Every year I think I’ve got the last of them, then lo and behold there are new ones. Hope springs eternal!

    • melissabluefineart says:

      Oh, Eliza, it seems like it never ends, doesn’t it? I understand that scientists are getting close with a biological control for garlic mustard. Hopefully it will prove as successful as the purple loosestrife beetles.

  2. Jim in IA says:

    Sounds like you had a good time showing the little ones around. Good lessons for them. I think you plant seeds that will bear fruit in time by doing that.

    There is a long history of people in the environmental movements. They come under different names and have dedicated memberships. One early founder is Aldo Leopold. He was born in Burlington, IA. Not too far from us. http://www.aldoleopold.org/home.shtml

    I have a good friend who has a 10 acre place out in the country west of here. They are always busy studying and restoring their piece of land to a natural state. They are seeing success such as bird species showing up for the first time. It is a nice place to visit.

  3. Coral Cottage Kim says:

    Oh Melissa, i love this post. What a triumph for you to share and pass along the torch. I’m sure they will remember that day, and hopefully in turn pass along what they have learned. It is all full circle, thank you for your good work. Best, Kim

  4. Steve Gingold says:

    That’s a great way to spend a day. Not only helping the earth but getting some possible future environmentalists started on the road.
    I go back and forth between hope for the future and a forlorn acceptance of doom. It seems that the Republicans in congress are doing their best to undo all the good (in our opinion) that has been accomplished. Selling off our national forests being their latest folly.
    But we must do our best to protect as much as we can. That is one reason why we support The Nature Conservancy. Rather than relying on the government, they raise the funds to purchase land and take it out of possible development but also work with farmers and hunters to maintain the possibilities for as many people to support the effort as possible.
    Your painting reminds me of this one. 🙂

    • melissabluefineart says:

      “Kindred Spirits”! How lovely, Steve. Thanks 🙂
      I’m a big fan of the Nature Conservancy too. I really have come to embrace the idea of organizations protecting land, and taking that out of the hands of the fickle government. It really is too bad that the Republicans seem determined to undermine all the good that has been done. I try really hard to be apolitical but they make it hard!
      My friend is a steward of one of the sites I talk about here. She often says we must put on our blinkers so we don’t see too much that is disheartening.

  5. myrsbytes says:

    Your paintings always pull at my heart strings :-)! The soft pastel sky… the bright green grasses. I like the scale of this one, its openness. Yet there is the person crouching over a little plant and the tree branch arching over the two people. Beautiful :-).

    I don’t know much about ecology, but you are definitely inspiring me to learn more. Mostly I notice the plants and environments around me. It is pretty cool that people can restore natural land and that animals come back. The forest I went to yesterday was fully logged 100 years ago, but the trees have come back. The thousands of acres of 80 to 100 year old trees are quite lush and wild.

    It is wonderful that you have valuable information to pass on to younger generations. I wrote down the name of the book you recommended and will check it out.

  6. melissabluefineart says:

    You make me so happy! I am absolutely thrilled that my paintings inspire you to learn more about ecology, especially what is near you. Thank you. I know that the more you learn the richer you will feel. How wonderful that the forest you enjoy has come back. That is what amazes me~given a chance, nature does come back.

  7. melissabluefineart says:

    Yes, I was. That massive branch was what really drew me to that tree, and I liked the idea of the tree sheltering the people bent on learning how to protect it. If you’ll pardon the pun. You seem to bring them out in me!

  8. shoreacres says:

    Among the people I’ve worked with, and among the most environmentally dedicated people I know, there is quite a political, social and cultural assortment. To imagine that only one sort of person could possibly be concerned for the environment is to risk losing the chance to work together on things that are important to us all.

    I loved the tale of the Brownies and their mothers. That’s exactly the sort of thing we used to do in Bluebirds and Camp Fire Girls when I was young. Today, in this part of the world, the kids are doing things like planting marsh grasses, and they love that, too. There’s wading in water, getting muddy, having picnics and learning to work as a team — all in the service of the environment. What’s not to like?

    One of my friends in Louisiana just won a CRCL (Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana) award for a children’s book she wrote ten years ago. You can see something about the award and the book here. It’s been wonderful to see it move through the schools, and touch a new generation.

  9. melissabluefineart says:

    Oh, yeah, wading in water, getting muddy~that is great. It is exciting to learn about coalitions forming in different parts of the world. I hope I didn’t imply that I think only one sort of person can be interested. My point is the same as yours~that anyone can turn their concern into action wherever they are. And I think these are the stories we need to share. Otherwise it is easy to get discouraged.

    • shoreacres says:

      Oh, no. I didn’t think that at all. It’s just that I’ve been amazed to see people who otherwise can disagree fairly strongly being able to unite in projects like the ones mentioned here, and I think it’s great.

  10. melissabluefineart says:

    Thank you very much, Otto. Your kind words mean a great deal to me.
    It was a great day, and I feel so privileged to have been able to be a part of the program that arranges it. Plus, they were so cute! 🙂

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