ATHOL, Massachusetts — Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Dictionary.com has this definition: “A person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment.” That definition suits me, and I assume it’s valid for all or most Rag Blog readers.
I belong to some local and national environmental groups, and I’ve attended demonstrations over many years related to the dangers of nuclear power and the fossil fuel industry’s expansion of pipelines. I’ve become informed about the danger of climate change and the need to respond to it. I also choose candidates with strong commitment to environmental protection.
Being an environmentalist is made more authentic through my membership in a local land conservation trust and my day-to-day enjoyment of the natural world. Being outside in nature, taking a walk or a hike, perhaps paddling or pedaling, are some of the most fulfilling things that we can do, especially in the midst of this pandemic.
Land conservation trusts exist nationwide, with lots of them in Texas, as shown in this impressive list.
The one I belong to serves North Central and Western Massachusetts and is named after one of our prominent geological features. It is the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, and its website is illustrative .
The essay that follows was published on the front page of the Trust’s newsletter. While it is about my experience and attitude toward Nature in the area where I live, I think it will be meaningful for Rag Blog readers, and if you are not already a land trust member, now would be a good time to join — and enjoy!
A nature-lover but not a naturalist
By Allen Young
Walking on a country road or hiking on a forested trail are my favorite things to do these days, a good activity given the threat of COVID-19. I enjoy saying that I am a nature-lover but not a naturalist. I am satisfied with my casual non-scientific way of observing and appreciating what my senses reveal to me during my time outdoors — and at home, too, just staring out the windows of my house or lounging on the deck watching the trees sway in the wind (or remain amazingly still), taking in the blueness of the sky and the shapes of the clouds, and at night checking out the moon and the stars.
I’ve been wanting to get to know Marielena Lima, Mount Grace’s Communications and Engagement Coordinator. We decided to take a hike together, so we met at Mount Grace headquarters, ambled through the Skyfields Arboretum and crossed the property line onto trails within Lawton State Forest. As we chatted, real examples of my attitude toward nature surfaced. We heard birdsong, and were quiet for a few minutes as we listened. I did not say, “It’s a wood thrush,” because I simply don’t know birdsong (except maybe a crow). I do know some amazing birders I’ve met through my involvement in the Athol Bird & Nature Club, and being with them on a hike enriches the experience. But I don’t “need” the experts to enjoy birdsong.
The late Elizabeth Farnsworth conducted a fern workshop sponsored by Mount Grace in Royalston about a decade ago. I attended the session, fully attentive as she named more than a dozen kinds of ferns and described their traits, and I had a good time, but as I told Marielena when we saw many of these lush, beautiful plants on our walk, they are just unnamed ferns to me now.
I have my list of go-to people for questions about nature. For example, on our walk I pointed to some mushrooms and mentioned that my neighbor Rob Jalbert knows a lot about mushrooms and when I’m in the woods with him, he names them and declares which ones are edible.
Marielena and I saw some flowers as our walk drew to a close on Willis and Old Keene roads. First was a small wetland filled with water lilies. For fun, I later looked up the Latin name, Nymphaeaceae, which I certainly won’t remember! And then we stopped and smelled some white and pink flowers on a shrub that I could not identify, but I sent a photo to Rob who, with his great collection of field guides and apps, identified it as Spiraea Alba (common name, meadowsweet).
Finally, right across from Skyfields, I noticed a very large deciduous tree that I could not identify, though I enjoyed staring up it curiously for a few minutes. I confidently can identify oak, maple, beech, and birch, but what was this stately tree? It’s an ash, according to KimLynn Nguyen, Mount Grace Stewardship Manager.
[Allen Young has been a member of Mount Grace since its beginnings and served several terms on the board. He was a reporter and assistant editor of the Athol Daily News and from 2009-2019 wrote the paper’s weekly Inside/Outside column. He is the author of North of Quabbin Revisited and 14 other books. He is also a member of the North Quabbin Trails Association, the Millers River Watershed Council and the Athol Bird and Nature Club. Young worked for Liberation News Service (LNS) in Washington, D.C., and New York City, from 1967 to 1970. He has been an activist-writer in the New Left and gay liberation movements, including numerous items published in The Rag Blog.]