activism

Trees, Public Lands, and Politics

“The second best time to plant a tree is today.”

I have this thing about adages, corny  or cliche though they may be.  I think I’m just wired to appreciate them.  And, I’ve found myself quoting this one on a regular basis, especially in the years since I began doing seasonal work with the Intervale Conservation Nursery.

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Bur Oak seedlings

This spring, I’m up in Vermont again, working with the tree planting crew based at my favorite nursery.  We spent a few weeks “harvesting” the trees – removing trees from their beds and preparing them for bare root plantings all over the state – and now we’ve moved on to planting projects.  For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been based in northwestern Vermont.  There, on a cattle farm that sold a riparian buffer to the Vermont Land Trust, we revel in views of both the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain as we plant a future forest to improve and protect water quality.

Up in this corner of the world, it’s easy to imagine that we live in peaceful times.  It’s easy, too, to forget that development is a pressure that landowners struggle to ignore, that, in most instances, land is moving into use rather than becoming open space.  In New England, where populations long ago became dense, the importance of setting aside land for natural resource protection and public enjoyment was realized generations ago.

But even these wildlands face threats by the current political climate.  When I was growing up, I remember hearing about acid rain and the damage it caused to northern forests.  Then, the commotion died down, and I didn’t hear about acid rain until I came to New Hampshire for a summer research project in 2010.

As it turns out, acid rain didn’t stop being dangerous; there just stopped being acid rain.  Midwestern and Appalachian coal-fired power plants, in the face of increased regulations, cleaned up their processes, and, as a result, the weather patterns were bringing less toxic rain to the northeast.  The forests were healing.

These days, I’m dreaming of a wonderful summer of hiking in the Adirondacks, of climbing to the top of all 46 4000-footers and learning about the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States.  My pre-hike reading is also making me concerned about the future of this amazing resource, faced with development pressures and potential acid rain resulting from policy reversals.

What’s more, the adversities the Adirondacks might face pale in comparison to the challenges awaiting other public lands, should we decide not to champion these areas.  Policymakers need to hear our voices loud and clear, and it’s never too late to join the conversation (because, as they say…).

Waiting on the World to Change

In my early teenage years, I was remarkably politically active.  I subscribed to a number of “action alert” email lists.  Every day, I logged in (via a dial-up connection) to learn of injustices in need of resolving.  And then, I wrote letters and emails to my legislators, absolutely certain that they’d take note of my eloquent missives and act according to the enlightened advice I gave them.

Ah, the optimism of youth.

Sometime in my teens, after an animal welfare disagreement with a local church, I became disenchanted with politics.  If I couldn’t get a small-town minister, a family friend, to listen to my case, I reasoned, what chance did I have changing the world?

And so, as many young adults do, I found myself hoping for change but no longer doing the foot work to make it happen.  Often, to assuage my inner 13-year-old, I comforted myself with the idea that engaging in the political realm just made me anxious and confrontational; it was better to spend my energies creating a perfect community in my little circle of friends and family and hoping that its goodness would spread outward.

I would still argue that there’s a lot about that idea that’s true.  But, it also seems to me that it’s impossible to seal ourselves away in our own perfect worlds any longer.

We seem to be careening toward war.  People without criminal backgrounds are being forcibly removed from the country they’ve called home.  White supremacy rallies exist.  Health care is in jeopardy.  Our public lands are under threat.  Ten days ago, a terrorist armed with a machete marched into my alma mater and assaulted non-Republican students.

I can’t be silent anymore.  I can’t ignore the injustices all around me, pretending that because I’m okay everything’s okay.  I can’t even pretend that I’ll go on being okay.  I’m done waiting on the sidelines.

 

On the PCT: Back to the Trail

As it turns out, I made it out of the woods — off trail for 2015 — before this previously-written post was scheduled to go online.  This post was written while I was rallying with a course of antibiotics, just before I headed back over Kearsarge Pass for a third time.  After the beautiful words of encouragement, comfort, support, and solidarity that I received in response to last week’s post about Lyme forcing me off the Pacific Crest Trail, I felt it was necessary to explain the context of the words below, as without context they might indicate that I’m still trekking northward.  I considered not posting them at all, but I’d like this post to stand as evidence for myself that I am stubborn when it comes to fighting Lyme; I’m stubborn and resilient and sometimes even follow my own advice, as I tried intrepidly to return to the trail before calling it quits.  (The tale of my farewell to the PCT is a fun one, but I’ll save that for another day…)



Once upon a time — when I dared to hope that my case of Lyme had been acute, when I was healthy and training for a marathon, and when I was poring over maps and guidebooks in my family’s living room in Kentucky — I drew up a plan for the PCT that included less than one week of zero days.  Now, after taking two weeks of zeros in one go while fighting off a Lyme relapse at Teresa and Laurie’s in Acton, I’m heading back to the Sierra.

Sometimes, I think my PCT hike is supposed to be a lesson in flexibility.  Or maybe that’s just Lyme.
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In any case, I’m not ready to give up yet.

Thanks to antibiotics and detoxing, my symptoms have diminished significantly.  One week ago, I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without becoming so dizzy that I needed to lie down; now, I’m capable of walking at least four miles without issue.  (Standing still is more challenging.)  I realize that walking around the neighborhood is a little different from carrying a large pack up and over 12,000-foot passes, but I’m hopeful.

At first, it felt strange to be off the trail and frustrating to think that the future of my hike was in limbo.  However, once I was able to stay awake between meals, my zero days gave me lots of time to write and think and catch up with family and friends.  I also enjoyed cooking with non-dehydrated fruits and veggies and binge-watching Doctor Who, Orange is the New Black, and Chasing Life.  And, I took it upon myself to be introduced to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which seemed important, given that my trail name is Rainbow Dash.  (I may have absolutely loved the show.)
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I think the most important outcome of this relapse and the time I spent dealing with it is the fighting spirit I cultivated toward Lyme disease.  Up until this point, I’d just sort of accepted Lyme as part of my reality, figuring that the spirochete population inside me would periodically grow and rebel and I’d just fight it off again with some antibiotics when it debilitated me.  One-on-one and in small group settings, I’d spoken to people about the problems inherent in testing and treating the disease, but I’d basically been overtly complacent about those issues.

Now I’m angry, ready to fight, and done fighting alone.  I’m going to start seeing a LLMD, and I’m going to try to end this, even if doing so forces me to feel a whole lot worse before I can feel better.  I’m going to participate more actively in Lyme advocacy.  And, I’m going to figure out some way to leverage the outdoor community in fighting back against this epidemic.  It shouldn’t be that those who are most ill with Lyme disease are the only ones advocating for more research, awareness, and education:  Hikers, backpackers, hunters, fisherman, mountain bikers, geocachers, orienteers, nature photographers, wilderness therapists, naturalists, biologists, conservationists, foresters, etc. have a vested interested, too, even if they don’t realize it yet.

But, first, I need to get to Canada, at which point I’ll be able to give $2703 to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society, which is a good start.  I’m not sure whether I’m more excited or nervous to hit the trail again.  I think I’ll choose the former.

Towanda!


I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the trail angels who helped me through this relapse.  Certainly, Teresa and Laurie (and Frankie and Laci!) are spectacular friends.  Pine Nut’s mother, an acupuncturist and herbalist, gave me priceless advice and encouragement by phone.  And, Chloe O’Neill of More Than Lyme inspired me and continues to inspire other adventure-loving Lyme fighters.  Thank you all!

Five Addresses in Eight Months, Part One

It’s funny which days are etched forever in our minds. One year ago today, I was enduring my second ambulance ride in as many weeks. A year before that, after having one of those life-changing, put-in-it-the-memoir family crises, I was living with 26 other people in a bunkroom in a very snow-covered Western Massachusetts as part of the SCA.

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SCA Massachusetts Class of 2013

Perhaps it’s the changing weather or perhaps it’s historical precedent, but this time of year sends me into a reverie, and I decided I’d interrupt our regularly-scheduled hiking story to share some of my recollections from my time with the SCA.

In this case, the SCA is the Student Conservation Association, not the Society for Creative Anachronism. I stumbled upon the former while searching for the latter. The Student Conservation Association is an organization for which I’ve had tremendous respect for almost a decade now. Most of the members of the SCA are young adults who serve with various organizations and in various capacities across the country as they work to conserve natural areas and promote environmental awareness.

Long story short, three weeks after I got my driver’s license (as a 23-year-old), I loaded my tiny little convertible to the gills and drove it 1000 miles to Hawley, Massachusetts.

Some SCA positions are “front-country” positions. Like AmeriCorps VISTA positions, these usually see SCA members working individually with organizations, in internship-like settings. Other positions are backcountry positions, where (generally) teams of SCA members serve and camp together. Most backcountry positions focus on trail building, and the position to which I’d been accepted in Hawley was no exception.

My interview with SCA Massachusetts was memorable. They asked a question that I’d spent a great deal of time thinking about but still did not have a concise answer to: “How do you feel about cutting down trees?” I suppose my rambling answer — about the way cutting down trees for trails leads to an increased awareness and appreciation of the natural world, which leads to more conservation of trees — must have been acceptable.

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My first attempt at using snowshoes

Because of everything that had happened at home, I was a mess when I got to Hawley, but the whole crew of SCA members who were already at the base camp greeted me and helped me bring my belongings into the bunkhouse. Soon, my upper bunk in a corner of the giant room started to feel homey.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much effort put into group building and communal living as that displayed by the leaders of SCA Massachusetts. They ensured that we had plenty of formal and informal time to get to know one another, led us in many reflections and games (that we could later use when we led classes of children), and set group expectations. They encouraged us to view our base camp as home and took us on outings to familiarize ourselves with the area.

Coming from the South, I wasn’t sure whether I could ever feel at home in a place like western Massachusetts in early March. The snow was three feet high, and new snow fell every few days. Winter was my usual running season (and my key stress management strategy), and I couldn’t run at all. I’d never used snow shoes, and I had no clue how to cross country ski. I didn’t even know how to split wood to heat our bunkhouse. I was eager to learn it all.

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Our bunkroom

Serving with the SCA did have its challenges. The 29 (27 SCA members and two leaders) of us who lived at base camp during training had 76 gallons of water to share each day. We rarely flushed the bathroom toilets and signed up for a couple short but precious showers at the start of each week. Our bathroom was up a hill, the path to which I watched go from snow-tunneled to bog-bridged. Sharing one room meant that this SCA member, whose Lyme Disease was slowly rising to the surface, could never get enough sleep.

But, it also meant that there were always great people around. It meant that someone could find a book recommendation, a service project buddy, or a head massage whenever the mood struck. Our living situation made for an unforgettable game of Cards Against Humanity by the fire one night, and it gave me a snowy sunrise that brought me to tears a few mornings later. The SCA’s base camp in Hawley earned a special place in my memories.

Unfortunately, my time with the SCA was cut short. It turned out that lots of reflection exercises and no space to be alone to process things weren’t very conducive to phase of the healing process that I was in at that time. Our leaders were incredibly understanding when I explained what had been going on and why I needed to leave the program; I was astonished when they invited me to apply another year.

Another year, in another mindset, I think a program like SCA Massachusetts would be right up my alley. I love communal living, love the backcountry, and love being around like-minded, passionate people. But, that year, I just needed to be around friends.

And so, on a bright sunny day, moments after I’d given my goodbye hugs to SCA Massachusetts, I climbed into my convertible again, turned up the Indigo Girls, and headed to Burlington, Vermont, where, sleeping bag in hand, I knocked on an old friend’s door.