Who would have thought that on a freezing day in January on a bare-tree, brown slope of an urban park you would find an occasion for laughter, joy, and triumph? Not me.
I had dressed for the weather including my waterproof boots, and brought along my ivy-fighting tools to fight the good fight against English ivy at a local park.
Our local Master Naturalist group was holding a regularly-scheduled pull there on a major mission to clear the park of invasives. I just checked their website. Twenty two lines are given to the description of amenities at the park, which include playing fields, picnic tables, and so on. What they don’t mention is that the park is also the site of several 200-year-old trees, more than 40 acres of native woodlands, and a magnificent magnolia bog with several species of endangered plants growing there.
The value and importance of native plants is already a subject dear to the hearts of this blog’s readership, who can probably recount for others the oft-mentioned benefits of habitat for wildlife, preservation of biodiversity, and maintenance of critical eco-system services.
Our own backyards and gardens are obvious places to invest time and money into efforts that support these goals, but it’s important to expand our reach, when we can, into the surrounding public spaces. We can help increase the amount of land that is available to produce these desirable conditions by investing sweat equity, and by inspiring others to join us. Showing up and being informed can give us more influence with local governance, too, and often very important decisions are made by the people who run the local governments.
Getting off the soapbox and returning to the scene, however; imagine the surprise of our little group when an unexpected flood of participants began to pour in to our meet site that morning. Unfamiliar faces, children and older folks, we were suddenly a crowd! What had happened? Turned out that they had found us by typing their zip codes into the search box on the MLK Day of Service website. Wow! The power of the mighty Internet!
All of the people I talked to had chosen to come to give service to the park because they loved it and often enjoyed its resources. Some had come with tools to help with the ivy, but many had just come. We didn’t have nearly enough tools to share, but we did have lots of trash bags, and those who didn’t have tools were happy to haul trash away.
After giving the group a little background on our goals at the park, a representative from the MLK Day of Service organization also discussed goals. She said that one of the hopes of her group was that people would realize the importance of their volunteer work and give serious thought to making a commitment, right then, to ongoing service. She carefully explained that not everyone had a lot of time to give, but if everyone there gave only an hour a month, it would be a meaningful contribution.
Next to me, a mom and her young son were discussing what they could do. The mom asked, “What do you think? I think an hour a month is something we could reasonably expect to achieve.” The little boy looked up at her and said, “An hour?! I think we should give a day!” One of those moments. I had only come to pull ivy. The joy of that spark has been an ongoing gift.
OK. I promised some laughter, and here it is. The group that was sent up the hill to fill the trash bags had evidently never ventured off the bike trail, because shortly after they left we heard screams. Not panic-type screams, but loud enough to send me running. They had come right up to the edge of a small stream and split into two groups. The adults going around, and the kids of course, going over.
Now the stream was not wide, but the sides were deep mud. One girl was clinging to the end of a huge tree trunk which spanned about half the stream, and her friend was on the other side. Triage. Girl number two had left a shoe embedded in the mud and was standing on one foot in a quandary. No way was she going to re-enter the mud to get the shoe. The mom in charge was begging the girl on the tree to retreat. No way was that going to happen either.
“I’ll get the shoe,” I volunteered, “I have waterproof boots on.” ” No, no,” said the mom, “I’m the mom, I should do it.” While we were debating the moral ramifications of this issue, the previously mentioned little boy, I don’t know how he got across, darted in, snatched up the shoe, delivered it to the girl in distress, and ran on up the hill in the wink of any eye, without bothering to wait for any thanks, either.
In this brief interval, the little girl clinging to the tree had also come up with a solution to her problem. “Can I jump onto the trash bag,” she queried. “NO!” said the mom, just as I shouted, “SURE.” I have to hand it to that mom, she didn’t drag the wet-footed kid home to sit by the fire, and she just shrugged her shoulders now and laughed, heading off to the bridge. The jump was highly successful. I cannot attest to the residual properties of the trash bag.
The results of our ivy work were astounding. A small amount of money had been allotted by the county to spray the dense mat of ivy on the ground. Under the ivy are natives that are already starting to make their way back and will be supplemented with some new plants. We had made the money go farther by committing to hand cutting the ivy off the trees, and with the extra help we had that we had managed to finish an entire section. Triumph!
The volunteer work part of the day was over at noon, but we had about a dozen people stay and take advantage of our offer to participate on a tree walk. It was wonderfully gratifying to see how interested they were, and to hear their excellent questions. Our leader explained some of the many ways that it is possible to ID a tree in winter, a fascinating study recently explored in this excellent piece: Twigology
We had one visually beautiful moment when we studied a Liriodendron tulipifera tree, commonly called a tulip poplar though it’s a member of the magnolia family. The fruiting structure still supporting seeds waiting to blow away are a real “tell.” You can see that this tree is a good wildlife feeder.
When we all take action, our yards and our parks both can be lovely to look at and beneficial to wildlife. Make a commitment, and help make a difference!
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