(This is the text of my speech at the 5th Annual “Living Locally” Fundraising Gala
for the Lower Nehalem Community Trust, held on June 16, 2012.)
When I was seven years old I had my first encounter with the Lower Nehalem Community Trust. The Alder Creek Farm property was in the process of being purchased, and I can recall how excited I was to be on the land. The most vivid memories for me are the things you’d expect to entrance a seven year old… I can remember that there were two calves in what is now the main building, and that the dairy part of the farm was still in working order, with various kinds of milking equipment. I also remember the multitude of feral cats inhabiting the property—cats that were later captured, fixed, and found loving homes by Judy Sorrel. My first memories of the Alder Creek property are really of the way it was before the Land Trust got involved—Before the dream the founders had was truly realized.
As those involved sought to figure out exactly what that dream entailed, there was a lot to do for the Trust. I can recall helping in the planting of hundreds of baby trees: hemlock, spruce, and cedars. By doing this, we were both restoring some of the native species in the area and also bringing back native habitat for all the animals that passed through the property regularly.
The orchard and gardens also began to change according to the collaborative ideas of the people involved. The idea was to create a sustainable garden that would not only help to educate the community, but would also provide a way to give back and help those who needed it. Today, the Trust has definitely accomplished that, sharing over 2000 pounds of fresh produce with the North County Food Bank every year.
Until recently, I mostly associated the trust with the Alder Creek property. I didn’t realize the impact that the other properties had on me. Several years ago I was exploring the Sitka wetlands with a group of friends when we were startled by a sight I know many have experienced: a huge herd of elk crossing the water. As of last year, the trust is now protecting that beautiful driftwood-filled property—a legacy that, with all the properties, will be around long after we are.
Throughout the years, the alder creek property in particular continued to be a large part of my life. There were school field trips to participate in the Clean Water festival, animal-tracking expeditions in the snow, and Harvest festivals that I spent making apple cider and chasing away yellow jackets for hours on end. The property provided a central base for the community to both share and learn about nature and also come together for gatherings.
Recently, I was at the farm with a bus full of 20 elementary schoolers during Mr. Walczak’s Forest To The Sea day camp. It was miserably rainy, but the kids were still fascinated by the greenhouse system and completely enamored with the new ducks. I realized then what I may have taken for granted when I was younger—how lucky the kids in this area are to have access to protected wild areas.
We are lucky because open space is becoming increasingly scarce in today’s world of fast growing populations and urban expansion. As cities grow, natural areas are falling lower and lower on the priority list of those in charge. We are lucky because we happen to live in a place where there are people who DO prioritize preserving open space for future generations. Organizations like the Trust are working to save and protect land, and create a better community in the process.
My generation is living in a frenetic, fast paced world. We are obsessed with technology and communication, helping older generations figure out complicated things like computers and cell phones with skills we seem to have been born with. And yet, I believe that we have lost something in this process. Having access to the simplicity of the natural world is inherently important to us. What with all the chaos of modern-day life, people scarcely have time to go and appreciate the world around them. And when they do, they discover that the natural spaces in their lives are becoming few and far between.
In past years, the relationship between people and the world around them was instinctual. Native Americans living on this very soil hundreds of years ago respected and preserved the land without any disagreement or doubt. For them, protecting the environment was just a way of life, the same way we take care of our children or grandparents when they depend on us. Right now, the relationship between us and the earth is once again a dependant one… But we aren’t being adequate providers. My generation doesn’t understand the problem with this. We haven’t grown up with the intrinsic idea that we should preserve open space, and many don’t understand why open space is important. Somehow this fundamental relationship has been lost.
And that is why it is so important that organizations like the Trust exist. The children at Nehalem grade school won’t realize now how lucky they are to be able to take hikes and pick pumpkins at alder creek farm. They may take for granted the 100 plus acres of natural land preserved in their community.
I certainly have. Driving down Neptune Way in Bayside Gardens or even on highway 101 through Wheeler, it’s no big deal to suddenly be in a corridor of wilderness, yet it is all thanks to the Trust protecting the Vosberg Creek and Cedar Creek properties. Especially as youth, and perhaps as people, we take for granted our surroundings, not realizing the implications of our realities.
But maybe this isn’t altogether a bad thing. Because we grow up taking that side-of-the road nature for granted, because we are used to having wilderness literally at our back door… because of this, we will have what so many others have lost—a basic understanding that open space is commonplace, normal, and something that we are entitled to.
Eventually, of course, kids wake up to the harsher realities of the world. When they find themselves in a maze of concrete and steel, they’ll realize that the microcosm they grew up in doesn’t extend to all corners of the earth, that this place of pristine beauty is really remarkable. And having this realization will drive them to make that changes, follow in the steps of the Trust, and create and protect the world to which they are entitled.
I’ve begun to see things differently. Growing up, the woods were my play place. We had spruce cones as a currency system, complex plans to survive out in the woods for weeks on end, and one year, a massive snowball fight at alder creek farm when it had snowed. Now, I see these same woods as somewhat miraculous. I have gained a deeper appreciation for protected wild space, because I have been so influenced by it growing up, and I am so grateful that this legacy of nature will continue to impact future generations as it has me.