I am studying Environment and Community at Antioch University Seattle, and believe that creating strong and resilient communities will lead us to better environmental stewardship. I am so grateful for the time I spent with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed, because I saw the construction of these communities before my very eyes.
My favorite moment in a restoration event is a couple hours in: all the introductions and presentations are made, the work has begun, and people are starting to relax and really have fun. As I make my rounds, checking how well trees are planted, I mostly enjoy hearing the conversations amongst volunteers. Often, there are strangers that are sharing how they got into environmental restoration. Others are already friends but they’re sharing something new together. People discover things they have in common, make plans to volunteer together again, and become friends. Connections are being made, and that’s where the change lies.
Living in a densely populated area, like around Seattle, it’s easy to see that we have lost many of our connections to each other and the Earth. It’s rare to know your neighbors, and few of us know how to identify the plants and animals in our yards. This lack of connection leads to isolation and environmental degradation. As we stop caring for each other, we stop caring for the earth, and we stop caring for ourselves.
Yet interning with The Friends and helping lead volunteer events gave me hope that we can change this vicious cycle. Communities are coming together around common causes, removing invasive weeds and replacing them with natives. We are restoring native habitats as well as restoring human connection. These connections make us more resilient and better able to handle the change that the future will bring.
Collaborating with diverse groups of people allows us to be more creative and solve more problems. I have seen volunteers stand around a difficult weed, discussing options for successfully removing it. Rather than intrude with my experience, it brings me more joy to see them generate ideas. Sometimes people develop solutions that I never would have thought of!
The community building that occurs at restoration events is usually transitory, with micro-communities forming for a few hours and then breaking up. This is still incredibly important, because lots of ideas can be exchanged during those hours. But some neighborhoods are hosting regular events, allowing them to continually explore and build on what community means to them. Environmental restoration has become a vehicle for neighbors to know each other and learn the plants in their yards.
We are in an exciting time of transition. Communities are becoming empowered by environmental stewardship, and it’s opening the door for further exploration into the exciting world of community-based life. We can move away from an obsession with fancy stuff and technology that is harmful to the environment, and focus on healthy, happy relationships that actually benefit the Earth.
Thank you to all the volunteers that came out to events and gave me hope for the future, you’re doing beautiful work.