Our Wildlife Neighbors
Life in the Mad River Valley is all about connections. Whether we live here year-round or pick and choose our seasons, we form bonds across the community and deepen our connection to this place. Many of us are lucky enough know our neighbors on a first name basis. And, in turn, they know us. That is, at least our human neighbors might know our names. But our wildlife neighbors live and communicate in ways that requires more than a handshake and a hello to get the conversation moving. Finding meaning in their stories asks us to attend to the context of the landscape around them. While we might imagine a brook trout having something say to an angler and ponder the poetry of a white pine sheltering chickadees mid-winter, we need to take the broad view if we want to understand our more wild neighbors on their terms.
Luckily, many very thoughtful people have been working for years to help paint a more complete picture of what the good life looks like for our wild neighbors in the Mad River Valley. Just this last year, Friends worked alongside other members of the Mad River Valley Black Bear Initiative to co-host a series of presentations by Vermont State Bear Biologist Jaclyn Comeau. In the spring, we teamed up with the North Branch Nature Center and the MRV Libraries to support long range, volunteer led amphibian research. And in some cases, the science is already clear, like with brook trout and their need for cooler, connected streams. As researchers help us learn from our wild neighbors, we continue to find opportunities to be better neighbors as well – like our work with the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps this fall to plant more than 500 trees along the Mad River or our ongoing partnerships with the United States Forest Service and United States Fish and Wildlife to replace old culverts with new fish-friendly passage.
An Environmental Legacy
We walk the land they helped set aside for conservation. We retell their stories and we strive to meet the standards they set as leaders and mentors in the care of a living planet. We remember them.
As we celebrate their memory, the next generation of environmentalists are given something to aspire towards. But the work of an environmentalist is not entirely about what we remember. It is also about what is left behind long after the memory has faded.
The environmentalist’s most lasting legacy can be found in wooded hillsides and soggy wetlands, in the chatter of spring birds and the bouncing hum of June bugs in summer. It lives on in the layers of soil that build up on the forest floor and in the braids and oxbows of a river free to stretch along its floodplain. Generations down the line, the full legacy of today’s environmentalists will reach maturity.
This dual legacy, the memories we hold and what has long faded into the landscape, reflects the way environmentalists are drawn to this calling in the first place. The day to day work of weaving together moral and scientific arguments is a deeply collaborative effort. From four-year old’s catching green frogs at a forest-preschool to tenured professors of climatology expounding on the dynamics of carbon sequestration, each of us stands as a social connection through which new environmentalists are invited into the fold. And, of course, nature has its own way of calling to us. Something as small and fleeting as the husky hoot of a barred owl at dusk can set one on the path to becoming an environmentalist.
However we arrive, over time we grow familiar with the rhythms of the earth around us and move from speaking on behalf to speaking from within. Long before any notion of legacy takes root, the boundary between environmentalist and the environment begins to break down.
As you contemplate your own legacy as a steward, as a lover of nature, as an environmentalist, take a moment to not only see the forest for the trees but to place yourself in that forest. Look around. These trees with their towering canopies, the soil of microbes and fungi underfoot, the cardinal puffed up in the cold, these are environmentalists too.
One of the privileges of life in the Mad River Valley is the way that nature helps us answer our most difficult questions. This Fall, our long-time executive director stepped down and I was given a moment’s pause to wonder where we go from here. But as the leaves turned from green to gold across the hillsides, I was reminded that this particular change fits into a bigger story of many changes – and with them, many opportunities. With your support, we can rise to the occasion to protect healthy land, clean water, and a vibrant community for generations to come.
Over the last two years, Friends board has expanded and brought on new energy and new leadership. For the last five years, our stewardship manager Ira has been crisscrossing the Valley supporting conservation projects at all scales. Over the last decade, our partnerships within and beyond the Mad River Valley have grown and taken on new forms many times over. Just this past year, with your support, Friends of the Mad River:
All of this work was supported by just over 200 donors but we know that tackling the biggest challenges, like those posed by a changing climate and landscape, will take each of us doing our part. Change is not always easy, but it’s happening whether we step up or not. Become a Friend of the Mad River and be the catalyst for the kind of change we want to see.
With your support we can meet our goal of raising $30,000 before January 31. Please give at the most generous level you can – and invite your friends to join you.
Katie Sullivan, Friends Board Vice President
Photo Credit (from top): Annie Parson, Ira Shadis, FMR, Clark Amadon
of the Mad River