Students will work across 11 states in the Eastern US this summer, engaged in conservation activities ranging from trailblazing to invasive species removal.
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In 2009, Fazena Bacchus worked in Vermont as part of the LEAF program. This transformative experience taught her so much about herself and, perhaps, more than she ever wanted to know about invasive plants!
The summer of 2009, unlike any other, was life altering. I was accepted into the LEAF program, so at the beginning of July, I, my mentor Christina and two other teenage girls, Andrea and Cynthia, packed our suitcases for Vermont.
Many fresh experiences awaited me in Vermont: the aromas of new foods; picturesque, solemn places; working on a nature preserve; and by experiencing nature without concrete barriers — “finding myself” a thousand times over.
I often think back to the trails of Buckner Preserve. My job was removing the invasive species hackberry, honeysuckle and Japanese buckthorn. Within a day, I became an expert at spotting invasive trees. Even from the corner of my eyes, I could tell a buckthorn from the countless other oaks, elms and other trees surrounding me.
The deeper I ventured into the soul of the forest, the more I hungered to discover new surprises. It felt like a crawling under my skin, inside the flesh and blood. My work shoes squelched the moist leaves and rich soil. Sighing, I wished I could feel the dirt between my toes because I knew that it would have felt cool and satisfying, like Jello.
I settled for gathering soft, chocolate-brown soil in my hands. I brought it up to eye level and scanned for worms. Seeing none, I took a whiff, and it smelled amazing. Like moist, fresh, cool, unopened books. I patted the dirt gently back into the ground and stood to look for another invasive tree.
I inhaled deeply the scent of the forest. Knowing I would soon have to return to New York City, I tried to fill my lungs to capacity.
As I glanced around again, I noticed this forest was not like the one I previously worked on at the Equinox Preserve. It was a place all unto itself. Tranquil plants were sprinkled over every fissure. The wind blew in rhythm with my heart. Small animals leapt from leaf to leaf. I saw no signs of humans.
For the first time, I felt freed from society’s hectic ways. This forest swept me off my feet and carried me safely to my fair haven. As I keep remembering all this, I realize that summer, like nature, will always be worth protecting.