Vermont

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.

 

Wordless Wednesday: In Vermont, with Friends

Mountain Goat and I, taking the AT at the AT/LT split

Mountain Goat and I, taking the AT at the AT/LT split

Signs of civilization at the water's edge

Signs of civilization at the water’s edge

A gentle cascade

A gentle cascade

Disco, enjoying a break under some power lines

Disco, enjoying a break under some power lines

Friends from Hubbard Brook who hiked with me for a day

Friends from Hubbard Brook who hiked with me for a day