I swung a pulaski today. Not familiar with the tool? Take a mattock, which is like a very heavy hoe, add an axe head and you get a very heavy hunk of steel that’s great for digging out roots. Professionals know them for firefighting where I suspect the ax is more important. Today, on Earth Day, I was part of a work crew that tore into blackberry bushes on land trust property. The berries may be great, but the plant is invasive and we were there to help the native species. Why volunteer when I could be home making money? There are more ways to be paid than with cash.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to get too altruistic here. I continue to work seven days a week with a day off every couple of months. My finances are improving – as long as I either ignore health insurance or income tax. Despite that, I decided that I’ll try to find at least some time for volunteering. I don’t do as much as I did when I was retired; but then, I went a bit overboard back then because I ended up volunteering about 32 hours a week for a while. If you can’t tell, I like helping – which is why I swung a pulaski for the morning.
Cue the inspirational music. Chant the slogans. Conduct the rituals. It is Earth Day, 2016. I’m old enough to remember the first one, and was young enough that I wasn’t allowed out of school to help. It would be possible to write this post as if today’s efforts were some grand plan and celebration, but it was simpler than that.
I’m one of two Site Stewards for Hammons Preserve, one of Whidbey Camano Land Trust’s properties. Hammons was donated to the Land Trust by Al Hammons, a farmer who owned a singular piece of land on South Whidbey about a mile and a half from my house. His goal was to provide a place where people could, “rest their souls awhile.” Gifting a few acres is never a good enough description. What had been a remote farm eventually became one of the few remaining properties that included acreage and an incredible view of Cultus Bay, Puget Sound, and the Olympics. Left to developers it would’ve been either one very large mansion, or a neighborhood of luxury homes. Left to developers it also would’ve meant that the natural environment that is Cultus Bay would only be visible to private landowners or people driving by. The bay has no easy access to the shore. The only way to touch the water is to own waterfront, or be in a neighborhood like mine that borders it. Thanks to Al, instead of celebrities the land has raptors, instead of pavement it has meadows, instead of being closed it is open (from dawn to dusk). Thank you, Mr. Alvin Hammons.
The creation of something valuable is worth celebrating. The maintenance of it can be far messier. Old farmland is fertile. Lots of things want to grow there. Originally, it was all tall forest. We could let it revert to trees, which would bring the land full circle; but there’s an awareness of the rarity and value of public or protected lands. Without the daily tending of a farmer, blackberries, scotch broom, english ivy, holly, and thistles march in and set roots. We’re taking two approaches to the battle. Uphill and away from the view and the wetlands, we’ve planted hundreds of trees – many of which are now twelve feet tall. Forests become relatively low maintenance. The meadow, the stream, and the wetlands are nicely situated for providing the view; but they are also the combat zone where we pull out the invaders. Hence, the pulaski, loppers, shovels, weed wrenches, rakes, and the occasional pick.
Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. As Site Steward, I assign myself some solitary work parties. After days of staring at computer screens and trying to decipher the internet, it is nice to tackle something tangible. When in doubt, pull out blackberries. So far I’ve been surprised to find other plants growing under the thorny canopy: lilacs, crocus, lilies, crocosmia, tulips, and even a walnut tree. The tree was far taller than the bushes, but the blackberries were so thick it was hard to look up and see what was growing there. After a couple of hours of whacking weeds with big tools, I took a break. Naturally, my thoughts drifted to my finances. If I had more money, I’d have fewer worries, or at least different ones. I know I’m not alone with the train of thought. About twenty years ago I realized that what I wanted was a small house on a big lot with a nice view. For a few seconds I wondered if I’d ever get that, which conjured images of winning the lottery jackpot; and then I realized I had it, just not in a way I expected. The land wasn’t mine, but I was partly responsible for it. The farmhouse was gone, but the remaining tool shed is larger than the tiny houses I find so appealing. The view is down a long slope, uninterrupted, and could never be blocked. I asked for one thing, and the universe provided it – somewhat.
One way to preserve such a place is to spend a lot of money and tend it myself, or hire someone else to tend it. That is temporary. Eventually, any individual will have to relinquish control through age or a shift in interest. Al understood that. Placing the land in trust is more sustainable. Complain about corporations if you want, but non-profits are frequently corporations for a good reason: sustainability. There’s a continuity to an organization that can survive generations. It isn’t guaranteed, but the structure provides the possibility that something valuable will last more than a generation. Two things are required: someone to get the idea going, and many others who maintain and sustain it. I’m glad to be part of its longevity.
There is a lot to do in the world. Simplistically, money cures all ills; but realistically, people do all the work. We progress in stages: ignorance, awareness, advocacy, action. There are so many things to do in the world that no one can be aware of every issue; ignorance is inevitable. Each person becomes aware of something, whether by choice or necessity. A news item from today reported that after people spent some time unemployed they were much more likely to help others. They passed from awareness to action, and I suspect a fair number of them spent some time saying and advocating, ‘Hey, someone should do something.’ And they did.
Spending a morning killing blackberries postponed hours of work, which I managed to catch up by working a little later on a Friday. What I gained, however, was something I couldn’t afford otherwise. Frugal folk will appreciate the value. I’m glad so many others volunteer in so many similar ways. To those who volunteered on Earth Day (and really any day); thank you, all. You’ve helped preserve our small home in this enormous universe. I think it has a marvelous view.
PS For more views of Cultus Bay, check out my twelve month photo essay of the area. There’s a lot more color than a glance would suggest.