When people ask me how my internship has been, there is always a moment of fraught silence as I wrestle for a place to even begin. How can you give a glib watercooler answer about an eternity of grass, silence so deep that only the gulls and ospreys dare break it? To hours and hours pouring over hundreds of species of plants, becoming intimately aware of their endless variations? The carefully nurtured, by now almost instinctive reflex to look for diagnostic characteristics in grasses and sedges that had you in tears six months ago?
Over the course of the past few months I’ve learned that unexpected beauty can be found everywhere. I didn’t anticipate finding much in the sense of wild spaces in the history laden, densely settled northeast coast, but New England continued to surprise in how resilient it’s natural areas continue to be, as well as how passionately the region’s residents will defend these spaces. Five miles from a drag race track, in an old ATV area, we found one of the most botanically biodiverse sites on our collection list. A barren, at risk mudflat in one of our estuaries exploded into greenery and yielded more than fifteen collectable species. In the the saltmarsh we took careful steps as native grasses sheltered nests of baby birds and mice, the only indication of their presence a quiet chirp or squeak that would startle us as we worked.
Although at first I was intimidated by how many private landowners we had to work with, I soon found the people of New England to be not only accommodating, but also genuinely interested in the work we did. Email inquirires would be answered with offers of maps, inventories and other potential locations. Passerby would stop to ask us questions and suggest other parks they knew about when they found out what we were doing. Even when apprehensive park visitors called the rangers on us while we were doing permitted work it was, in it’s own way, refreshing – people were invested in their local ecosystems. They were proactive in learning about what was happening to them, what kind of work was being done, and in the event of a perceived threat, were willing to call authorities – never have I felt the bystander effect to be so lacking.
To answer the question I began with, to any who might still be wondering – this internship has been a summer of change, of personal growth, frustration, victories, and quiet, meaningful, beautiful moments where I’m suddenly made all too aware of how very precious these places are, and how worthy they are of our care and support. A sentiment that’s a bit heavy to carry back from the watercooler perhaps, but one I hope will refresh and satisfy nonetheless.