Forever, Interrogated

Note: the following is an early draft of a blog post that will appear on the NCLC website at some point. Thus, it appears without the usual introductory frippery. Please hold your collective sigh of relief.

My top five North Coast Land Conservancy properties are easy to list. Necanicum Forest, for being relatively pristine, wet, and most of all shady. Bradley Bog, for hiding so many treasures in the midst of impenetrable brush. Circle Creek, an obvious choice, for hosting me and a herd of thirteen elk side by side, and for the way afternoon sunlight angles through the spruce in the swamp half. Clear Lake, for how the mist rises off the water at night, and for how its hornets eventually leave you alone.

Finally, Reed Ranch. Yes, I did favor the alliterative ones, but that’s not the only reason. Reed Ranch is part of the Clatsop Plains series of properties, grasslands succeeded from dune habitats, all featuring oceans of grass swaying in waves. It has a fine shady spot by the river. The real reason for its inclusion, however, is a conversation I had there in June, early in my tenure as a stewardship intern.

While eating lunch at that shady spot, I asked Eric, our supervisor, what would happen to the slope after we cleared off all the invasive scotch broom.

He thought for a moment. “The blackberry will probably move in.”

This weighed on me for the rest of the day. Why work so hard with saws and loppers, clearing away one noxious weed to make way for another, pointier one?

All summer, I’ve wrestled with the same question, in different forms. Why fight back scotch broom or policeman’s helmet or purple loosestrife when the neighbors of our properties let them run free, spilling millions of seeds into our lands? Why dig yellow flag iris when bits of its rhizome hide in the soil, biding their time until next year? What, in short, are Ari and Jason and Eric and I actually doing out here?

There are many answers. For me, the truth lies in one of the core ideals of a land trust: the idea that what we conserve, we conserve forever.

What does “forever” mean in this context? It’s a fraught term, especially in a world where laws change, where erosion by wind and water might change the very boundaries of our eternal protectorates.

Forever does not mean that we defend these plots of land from invasives and aliens and zombies and what have you until the end of time–although we will if we can.

Nor does it mean that when the sun expands to engulf the Earth, we will obtain a grant to strap rocket engines onto Surf Pines Prairie and launch it off to the nearest safe solar system to remind humans of what used to be our environment before we ascended to become six-dimensional beings of pure energy–although that would be cool.

“Forever” is a decision. It’s not unlike “sustainable,” a word lots of people complain about, but which has a strict definition: if you could do this forever, it’s sustainable. If you couldn’t, it’s not. You don’t have to be literally planning to do it forever. The key is to behave as though you are.

Environment is experience. It is that which we can interact with. This experience is polluted constantly with ideas as prolific as the scotch broom at Reed Ranch: that we have moved beyond the need for these open spaces somehow, that they are nothing more than museum pieces in a world full of modern convenience. Why cut, when the blackberry will just move in? What is it doing for us anyway?

When we, the stewardship crew, venture onto the land, we are rebelling against this worship of the present. To clear weeds from Reed Ranch, and to clear noxious ideas from our understanding of what Reed Ranch means, are identical actions. Yes, the blackberry will encroach, but that has no meaning against forever. The land will still be ours. So, we work it.

North Coast Land Conservancy is dedicated to a timeless premise: that each time one of these places disappears, we lose a part of our collective selves. The chorus frogs of Clear Lake, the hawks of Circle Creek, sing to our consciousness in a universal way. When one of us fights for the land, even expecting the same battle to recur unto oblivion, we all fight alongside them.

This is what animates me when I put my hat on every day. Each cut stump, each yanked root is a victory. So Reed Ranch joins the top five as a fine place to begin anchoring oneself to eternity.

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