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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Mongaup Pond, Livingston Manor, New York, USA

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Mongaup Pond, Livingston Manor, New York, USA
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Registered: December 2008
City/Town/Province: Brooklyn
Posts: 1
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The roads are different here. In the city they provide order, a type of structure that would otherwise vanish among all the turbulent smog and daily pendulum-like swing between work and home.
The grids of streets and avenues bind the land down. They are almost like chains there, ensuring that we do not stray too far from balance. But here, in the forest, you can stand anywhere on a trail and behold the land as a thing monstrous and free. Around every bend the trees look almost the same, and in my childhood I had simply enjoyed watching their verdant canopies and gnarled trunks. Since then I have become more sensible, more analytic if you will, and have learned the names of the ascetic pines and the dense beeches clinging to the rocks on the shores of the lake with exposed roots.
These mountains proclaim a message that is easy to understand when you have traversed their paths and felt the sensation of being but a point in the vastness, when you have seen their layers of rock and bark eroded by floods but still standing as warriors. I can read it etched on the bark in the back of my mind. A few nostalgic syllables that only wait, not obstructing my everyday tasks. For even as I concentrated on studying economics, determined to realize a more practical path for myself, and the trees of both city and forest seemed to lose their former magic, the woodlands have remained as a harmonizing island of life. You only need to experience them for yourself.
Yes, the roads are different here, even the road on the sky. Once again I must compare it to the city for you. You see, while morning in the city arrives in a sudden, jarring burst as all the skyscrapers reflect the orange sun and roar up as though flames, here it is quieter. East of the lake stand two mountains and the sun emerges from between them as though through a gate and crawls over the sky until, after what seems like a moment but is really a span of many hours, it descends past the steep mountain wall on the opposite shore. Having pulled the last of the canoes onto the beach I looked out over the glassy lake reflecting the dusk and a torrent of memories flashed before my eyes as I remembered the storms and calms I had experienced there alone. I suddenly understood that it had been a part of my purpose to stand now as a teacher.
I did not need to question myself, for I had learned the art of conversation from my own economics professors in the city. My pupils were dispersing into the campground behind me, and I was pleased to see a few remaining on the beach, gesturing to their parents about all they had seen on the lake. I chained our canoes in place and walked up to them. I pointed them to one more secret of the forest, the dance of herons above us. I had studied the herons extensively the previous year and won the NYC science fair for my work.
Now I knew how to spot them even though their silhouettes were the exact hue of the night sky, and I showed them to my young students. The elegant, spiraling herons reflected the duality, the contrasts, of our world. Economics had taught me that one always has to pay for a choice with the loss of another, equally important one. Yet I do not believe we can forsake this land, nature, in favor of artificial cities. For I had been their teacher for that one day. I was not a ranger at Mongaup Pond Campground, neither a caretaker nor employed counselor, yet I felt it had been my duty to show them the forest, to teach them to protect the life around us.
I had been waiting on the shore since dawn even though we were not scheduled to leave until late morning. The vantage from the lake is astounding. It is really the same world that we might see through a window in a car driving by, but somehow experiencing it reveals its many layers.
Be gone cars and highways! We do not need you here, with your toxic breath and strident tongue. The highway to the city that I have oscillated on so many times hums in the distance, but here I can forget my investments in the automobile or construction industries for a while. Here I had to focus on my newest role! I was pleased yet nervous to see the first of my pupils were arriving early as well. This would be my first time leading a session of the Junior Naturalist Program. This program was an admirable effort by the rangers of Mongaup to engage youth with the wilderness. I had been an assistant counselor the year before. We busied youth by organizing scavenger hunts and collecting feathers, cones, and artifacts of the woodland to sculpt our own miniature houses and figurines.
I had more a precise objective returning in summer of 2008. Having been studying financial contagion in the city, I spoke with the park ranger about the expansion of the local housing economy and commercialization of public areas and realized that I through the Junior Naturalist Program I could gaze into the future and prevent the city from a deleterious collision with the forest.
The natural and urban have drifted to opposing poles, but they are not inherently separate entities. I have looked cautiously upon the void widening between them. In recent years I had noticed that the roots of those warrior-like trees were being infused with hints of steel and erratic floods were eroding the mountains faster than they could rise anew from the valleys. That is the first reason I led the youth of the campground and their parents across the lake. It was the first such endeavor by the Program and the rangers agreed to my plan. They had never had the time to devote an entire day to an expedition and required only that I be accompanied by a medical caretaker. I wanted to instill an appreciation of nature in the campers and teach them about the consequences of pollution, habitat encroachment, and climate change. They were in canoes, I in my kayak. You can see it in the photograph, my green plastic vessel. It is my second kayak actually, for my first was taken by an unseasonable flood two years earlier…
The dew had lifted from the grass in the last hours of dark and formed a heavy, earthbound cloud, but it was now dissipating. I showed those early arrivals the marsh that had overgrown the shallows of the lake and identified the warblers and vireos by their calls. I instructed my pupils to listen closely and try as well, and was thrilled when many soon succeeded. Presently more children came with their parents and I demonstrated how to maneuver in a canoe. I do not mind it when fishermen use electric motors when they need to concentrate on their sport, but I find that paddling makes the experience far more enjoyable and self-fulfilling. One can feel the cold and warm currents battling beneath the paddles. That is the second reason: experience. One must live wisdom in order to appreciate it.
We set out at noontide, a inconspicuous fleet of 12 canoes and 1 kayak. Ha, inconspicuous! Even 13 vessels can have an impact on the land, and I feared that any animals we hoped to see would flee before our naval might, but at least now we too were fellow creatures of the water. The lake reflected a deep green hue, and I smiled at one of the children’s thoughts that it was simply a reflection of the trees. This was eutrofication I told them. I had a fishing sonar with me that I had used to map the depths of the lake and turned it on to show them that thick colonnades of algae were germinating from the riverbed. This was once a glacier lake, and eutrofication, its gradual transformation into mere then woodland was inevitable. But it was far too quick! Climate change had caused the previous winter to be too warm and the algae to flourish and suffocate the underwater caves that northern pike depend on for shelter from the sunlight. I quickly turned off the sonar, as no fish were flickering on its screen.
We paused on the opposite shore. This was the farthest border of the campground. Few of my students had ever been here, and they were amazed by the new chorus of woodland birds. I spotted the nest of a sparrow built in the low branches of a fir, and we observed the parents meticulously surveying the earth for signs of life and quickly flitting down to bring the food to their young. One of my children suddenly asked me why the birds had used fishing line in building their nest. Indeed I crept closer and removed a tangled piece of translucent thread from the frame around the nest. Too often had I seen such carelessness. In my studies of the heron I had been monitoring a nest throughout spring and delighted in witnessing the birth of three chicks, but in autumn I returned to find the pine needles on the forest bed covering the a single body twisted by a fishing line and hook. I advised my junior naturalists that to protect the life that surrounds us, we must not only learn its song and tongue, but not intrude upon it either. This part of the campground was remote and hardly cleaned, and gave them the choice to either return early by road to their sites, or to help me clean the area. 13 vessels set out two hours later bearing the remnants of less intelligent visitors.
Sparse threads of sunlight broke from over the mountain and fled across the lake as we returned to our origin in the evening. We kept to the shore, but I directed us outward as we passed by the home of the beaver. This was their hour of awakening, and I wanted us to observe them from a distance. However, two of my students approached me in their canoe and told me that they had seen a bag of metal cans suspended among the branches the beaver stored in the water. They wanted to retrieve the waste, and I instructed them to do so quietly, slowly without incensing the beaver. I did not need to watch; they would succeed. The beaver drifted up to me and gazed at me with deep familiar eyes. How mysterious life was, how polluted and muddy its waters could run, yet how clear they emerged.
The campers would return to their own cities on the highways and perhaps remember me for a day or week. Yet our experiences define the shape of the lens through which we look onto the world, and I knew that their experience on the lake would remain with them.
I can write about environmental economics and pose pragmatic arguments for developing cleaner and more efficient industrial technology toward greater profit as well as sustainability. I can even speak before city politicians, as I have done as a member of the Newtown Creek Alliance, an organization that strives to purge the canal of my neighborhood of bacteria and oil. Yet only by taking control in the Junior Naturalist Program was I able to expose inchoate minds to a hidden world. I have been visiting the forest for years and still have not learned all the secrets it withholds, but each one of us interprets something in the world differently based on our past, and I had guided my pupils through it with the modest knowledge that I did possess. They had to experience it for themselves to understand that it is pointless to compare the world with some imaginary idyll but to leave it as it is.
I led 3 more such expeditions around the lake for the Junior Naturalist Program, stopping each time to clean a different area of the forest. Now, crossing the avenues of the city, a new sign emerges from the seed planted at the back of the mind.
· Date: December 30, 2008 · Views: 3745 · File size: 51.7kb, 236.1kb · : 1499 x 1030 ·
Hours Volunteered: 34
Volunteers: 24
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 6 to 45
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 250
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 40
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