My fingers are stained purple from mulberries, which taste like a cross between blackberries and cherries. The tree’s drooping branches overhang the path on the way to our work site at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, MA. Five miles of trails wend through this Massachusetts Audubon Society’s reserve of wetland, forest and grassland, our home for the next 10 days.
Since October, my home has been a quiet corner of the woods in Kenneth Dubuque Memorial State Forest, where 24 corps members of SCA Massachusetts live and work together as an intentional community.
During the spring and summer, we perform high-priority conservation projects – from building boardwalks to creating new trails – across the Commonwealth. We split into groups of six on 10-day "hitches," presumably named for the hitch on the back of a trailer, in which we store our tools.
Today, the only difference between the rest of my crew and me is that I am holding a shiny black clipboard, the symbol of my position as crew leader. Each of us in the program takes turns leading hitches, and thus our peers. "It's your time to shine – don’t choke!" says Jared Fehr, a member of my crew, this morning as I packed my personal camping gear into one of our vans.
In most cases, crewmembers are just as, if not more, capable than the so-called "leader" at implementing any given project, aside from specialty skills training like chainsaw and carpentry.
In all roles we play, flexibility is the keystone to the arches of progress and sanity. For instance: Two days before we were set to begin, my project priorities changed from building rustic timber steps up a hill to building rustic timber retaining walls. “Rustic” means we are felling our own trees, specifically black locust, an invasive species in the Northeast and native to the southern U.S.
Tomorrow morning our chainsaw will be buzzing, but today our efforts focused on clearing an area for the retaining walls. Under the summer sun’s unrelenting rays, we spent the afternoon removing an old clay pipe from a trail that used to be a trolley line.
It’s only the first day, and I am exhausted, a sentiment shared by the rest of my crew, who were lazing on the grass by our tents before we even picked up a shovel.
Sometimes it takes a bit to readjust to a more circadian rhythm, the natural cycle that so we so often fall into when we wake up with the dawn. Now, as the sun drawls its light into the later evening hours, I am drawn to the blissful respite of a sleep under the stars.