By Nora Kaufmann, SCA Crew Leader
It’s that time of year again. The last traces of spring linger in the air, the birds are chirping, the grass is green, and coffee consumption in the state of New Hampshire skyrockets as the wonderful SCA staff here in Charlestown, New Hampshire prepares for yet another field season. Yes folks, it’s time for Crew Leader Training 2012.
Somehow the whole lot of us made it to Charlestown in one piece, which is quite a feat considering that rounding up SCA crew leaders can be a similar experience to herding cats. That evening, after satiating my palate with a delicious meal from the beautiful and talented cooks, I watched as the group began to mingle.
When this happens at crew leader training a wonderful phenomenon occurs: the hackey-sack appears, a group of leaders start throwing the Frisbee to one another, but the most amazing part, and the part that is truly unique about the SCA, is that this group of people, strangers for all intents and purposes, begins to find connections. You led a crew with my former co-leader, I led a crew in the park where you participated in your first high-school crew, we led in the same park but different years, we will be leading in the same place but different tracks this summer. Some crew leaders even get to see their past high-school participants become crew leaders themselves. This certainly is an inspiring group of people that I have the pleasure of calling my co-workers and my friends.
SCA Crew Leaders assemble for orientation. May 18, 2012.
The next morning, still bleary-eyed while I let a good six cups of coffee bleed through my veins, the lovely Liz Vogel led us in her infectious way through a leadership compass activity, Lori Robertson drew out our creative juices in an environmental education session, and Nelson Bruni begged us to please, for the sake of his sanity, PLEASE label our ripped tents and broken gear. Much to everyone’s delight, the risk management slides this year involved adorable kittens and rainbow-vomiting unicorns! Crew Leader training really does get better every year.
Late in the day, just as hunger was beginning to cloud our vision and the afternoon heat started to take its toll, a ripple surged through the group as Liz Putnam herself stepped nonchalantly onto the back porch. As if every eyeball in the entire place wasn’t on her. It was a solemn moment as this incredible woman regaled us with the tale of how the SCA was born. While she spoke I took a moment to steal a look at my fellow leaders; everyone was quite literally on the edge of his or her seat hoping, it seemed, to soak in just a drop of her eloquence, her courage, her audacity, her poise. Liz Putnam’s vision is truly an inspiration for young conservation workers, so to her I think I speak for everyone at training when I extend a very thorough and heartfelt thank-you.
SCA Founder, Liz Putnam and Adrian Willis, SCA Apprentice Crew Leader. May 20, 2012 at SCA in Charlestown, NH
To wrap up this whirlwind event, we made our way to the Springfield Rec Center where Robin Liston paid a bank-breaking fifty dollars to rent the entire place for one night. I saw my life flash before my eyes as I strapped roller skates to my feet for the first time since the fourth grade. The roller rink, which served double duty as a basketball court, was an interminable death trap, but as I hurtled through throngs of wobbly roller-skaters and rogue basketballs, realizing too late that the front-break was a major engineering flaw in the development of the roller skate, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s not just the coffee that keeps us going, it’s our shared vision, our enthusiasm, our commitment, and our creativity. Crew leaders, staff, high school students alike, we’re all in this for the same reason: to change the world, of course.
Originally featured on American Eagle Outfitters' blog Made to Last. This guest blog post was written by Claire W., Associate Design Director at American Eagle Outfitters. Claire participated in SCA's Alternative Spring Break this March with college students from across the country. AE has been the presenting sponsor of SCA’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program for five years in a row.
As I navigated the winding dirt roads of the Mojave in my totally impractical rented white sports car, my stomach was in knots. The directions read “pass a cluster of rocks and turn right at the first unmarked gate.” I’m used to Hopstop telling me which subway exit to take – how on earth would I find my fellow conservation volunteers in the middle of a desert?
Some quick background: I’m a CAD designer by trade, based in New York City. I work for American Eagle Outfitters, which annually sponsors the Student Conservation Association’s Alternative Spring Break. I am also an avid volunteer, and my company decided to recognize my community service by sending me to Joshua Tree National Park where I joined a group of college students who chose to restore a fire-damaged section of Joshua Tree National Park rather than burn themselves in the Mexican sun.
Just after dawn and a few tours of the wrong unmarked roads, I finally stumbled across base camp and quickly joined a huddle of young women and men planning the day’s activities. Next thing I knew, we were doing yoga poses to limber up for our work day. Doing a sun salutation was an entirely different experience at Joshua Tree. Standing below stunning rock formations, my face was warmed by the actual sun, and although it wasn’t easy twisting into a human pretzel in long johns and jeans, it was refreshing not to be crammed into a sweaty studio with high-strung New Yorkers adjusting their yoga mats to accommodate inconsiderate latecomers.
I’d prepped for weeks with my personal trainer—flipping tractor tires, swinging sledgehammers, running with a sandbag on my shoulders – but nothing could have prepared me for carrying pick axes and a backpack loaded with water up a steep hill in eighty degree heat. Hiking for me means ascending the subway escalators in heels, and I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really know what to do. So I swiftly donned my fresh-out-of-the-box boots (green suede, sweater-lined, very chic) and followed my crew mates up the trail.
Conquering my fear of heights and deadly weapons, I grabbed a pick and set about digging holes – not as easy as one might imagine on a steep slope where the arid soil is more like solid rock. We’d plant baby Joshua Trees between two plastic tubes that houses gelatinous, sticky “dry water” that would feed the seedlings for up to two years. We then encircled each plant in a chicken wire cage, or “manicure killers” as I like to call them, and numbered them for the Park Service to track in future years.
Thirty of us planted 200 trees in just two days. We were covered in dirt and dust, and while the sun was relentless, so were our spirits. We had been part of something really worthwhile, as in 20 years’ time the scorched terrain will look just as verdant as the surrounding hills. I ate lunch on a huge rock instead of in front of my PC, and for the first time in my life I nibbled on trail mix in an appropriate surrounding.
In subsequent days, we removed invasive weeds from a basin (I can now pick the evil Sahara mustard plant from a police line-up) and wandered the landscape in search of desert tortoises as part of a wildlife survey. I also pulled a cactus spike from a student’s leg, watch giant-eared rabbits race every which way, and successfully avoided the wrong end of numerous scorpions. Never again will I complain about the lack of bathrooms in New York when, for a week, it was just me and some bushes…and the occasional rattlesnake.
As my only prior knowledge of this region came from Road Runner cartoons and Saturday afternoon westerns, I was amazed by the desert’s diversity. I had no idea so many plants could flourish in this unique ecosystem. I was also surprised by the variety of backgrounds among the student volunteers; I expected to be the only textile designer, but sort of thought everyone else would be a geology major or environmental scientist. In fact, most weren’t there to pursue their studies. The majority of my new-found friends just wanted to give back. It was inspiring to be surrounded by a group of people who, despite looming finals, had chosen a different path. We are known as a generation of materialistic consumers, and purveyors of instant gratification, but my team’s selfless and painstaking efforts on behalf of this all-but-alien place left a deep and lasting impression.
Gazing up each night at constellations undimmed by city lights and waking up each morning with only the sunrise as my alarm clock was truly magical. No Facebook updates boasting of my travels, no gift shops in which to consume – just sheer, hard work in the pursuit of positive change.
I am extremely grateful to my employers for allowing me the freedom and opportunity to walk the walk. It would have been much easier for them to donate a few tee shirts or make an additional contribution. However, I would never have been exposed to the fantastic work that the National Park Service and SCA undertake every day. I came away with a renewed commitment to get back to nature, and even though I’m back to wearing dresses and heels to work, my hiking boots are waiting by the front door, facing a special place that’s 3,000 miles away yet never far from my heart.
Thanks to American Eagle for helping SCA give hundreds of college students the opportunity to give back to the planet during Alternative Spring Break. And, thanks to Claire for this blog post!
Check out this great video interview of four-time alum Takeya Meggett shot by SCA partner and Conservation Intern program supporter, Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS). Takeya talks eloquently about her experience as an SCA member and how her passion led to an amazing green career as a Migratory Fish Educator in scenic Hudson Valley, NY. Through the continued support of DPS and others, every year thousands of interns just like Takeya get the chance to serve in more than 500 national parks, forests and marine areas.
May is National Bike Month...and SCA encourages everyone to adopt a greener lifestyle and get on your bike! National Bike Month is an opportunity to celebrate the bicycle...and the many reasons to ride it.
This week is National Bike to Work Week, with Friday, May 18th being Bike to Work Day! Put your helmet on and get on your bike. Whatever you do, make sure you do it safely.
SCA staff, members and crew leaders in Pittsburgh and Charlestown are commemorating National Bike to Work Day in honor of our colleague Dan Yablonsky. Dan was struck by a vehicle while riding his bike earlier this week in Pittsburgh; we all continue to monitor his condition. Dan joined SCA’s Green Cities Corps in February to expand Bike-Pittsburgh’s Car Free Fridays and Bike-Friendly Businesses programs, while also serving with the larger Green Cities crew on city-wide sustainability projects.
For more information on National Bike Month, visit the League of American Bicyclists Bike Month website.
Hello! Hope ya’ll are having a great Spring and getting ready for Summer. If that means spending time at the beach, consider this:
In addition to my work with SCA – and a big shout-out to everybody who joined SCA’s Pacific Coast Cleanup with the Washington Coastsavers on Earth Day – I’ve been getting involved lately with the Cousteau Society! It is really cool to me, because so much of what they do deals with the ocean, which I am in every day.
I had the opportunity to sit down with some people at the organization, learned a lot, and talked about how I could help them. What we came up with is that every time I visit a beach, I stake a patch of sand and do a trash inventory. I send then an email describing what I have found, and it goes into a database of beach conditions worldwide. It amazes me how some beaches are extremely clean and others are totally filthy. If everyone just cleaned up after themselves (which is not hard to do), it would be such a simple solution to the problem and would make the world that much more beautiful. So I encourage you, when you see a piece of trash, just pick it up and throw it away. It is easy and eventually a bunch of little actions will make a BIG difference.
Recently, I enjoyed a two-month adventure in Australia and New Zealand, where I had some contests. It was so amazing seeing the countrysides and wildlife. One day in New Zealand we had the chance to take a helicopter to a place called Jurassic Falls. We flew along a beautiful coastline before turning into a huge forest and landing right at the base of a 150 foot waterfall.
Jurassic Falls is impossible to get to unless you go by chopper. The land was untouched, and the waterfall had the most pure water you have ever seen! It made me realize how important it is to continue to spread the word about protecting our environment.
That’s what I have been up to! I am now in Brazil for a surfing contest, so hopefully all goes well for me! Thanks so much for reading!!
Lakey P. xoxo