by Bob Neale
What a year! As we enter the season of hope and renewal — the end of one year and the beginning of the next — I’m spending too much time reading the news.
The news isn’t great. Our animals are disappearing — giraffes and coho and lions and fishers. Climate change is all around us — we see it in the weather and in the tides. Political systems seem stretched beyond capacity around the world. It’s a distressing way to enter the season of hope and joy.
I read all this and put down my iPhone feeling powerless and glum. My dog gives a tail wag and I grab my coat and head outside. The sky is clearing from this welcome rain and a little sunlight shines through the yellow leaves of a maple tree. Walking towards the park, I wave to a neighbor, smile, check the creek running under the bridge — any steelhead? And I walk. Walking through the oak woodlands has been my tonic for years. The fresh rain smell wafts around me, my step lightens, Abbie the dog runs after the ball. By the end of my walk, my disposition had greatly improved. I was chilled on my cheeks and nose, but warm in my heart.
I felt better. Nature makes me feel better. I’m so grateful to live here in Northern California surrounded by the spectacular drama of nature, grateful to be living and working in communities that appreciate the natural world. That gives me courage, gives me hope, and helps remind me not to give up or give in.
Last week, I was reminded again when a group of 15 volunteers came out to Tolay Creek Ranch to get muddy and dirty and help us install some willow wattles, repair a willow wall and plant some willow stakes in the streambank. We hope that the rain and water will bring all the willow to life in the spring, protecting the bank from erosion and making homes for birds and critters.
Hope, not certainty, brought these folks out to the ranch. The desire to do what can be done, to do what is within one’s power. Many of these lovely people had never done this work before, but it didn’t matter — they showed up anyway. We dug out heavy clay and formed a bucket brigade, passing dirt back and forth up the bank. We bundled willow poles together and placed them at the base of the streambank, pounding stakes to keep them in place. We planted 100 willow trees. Just after lunch, we were rewarded by a pair of white-tailed kites chasing each other in the sky above us, locking talons and dropping from the sky in tight circles, only releasing each other inches before crashing into the ground — amazing. We returned to our work and finished four projects in that one day. We worked together, keeping it simple, doing what we can do.
All over the county, there are things we can do. In Sonoma Valley, our neighboring landowners are working with us to keep the wildlife corridor open so deer, mountain lions, river otters, wood ducks and all manner of animals can find shelter and food; so they can pass back and forth throughout their entire range, carrying themselves and their genes from Napa County to Marin, so that life can persist tomorrow and for generations to come. The thought of how to protect and restore this vast area could be overwhelming. It could make anybody just sit down for the lack of knowing how to do it all. But we can do what can be done one step at a time.
We at Sonoma Land Trust took down a bunch of rusty barbed wire fencing at our Glen Oaks Ranch Preserve. Other neighbors planted drought-resistant plants — good for water consumption, good for our native bees and insects. One neighbor is helping to remove blackberry in front of a culvert so animals can pass safely under Highway 12. Another couple changed the outdoor lighting around their house, reducing the wattage and pointing the lights down. These are little things we all can do that add up and make a difference in the world.
Sharing is another thing we can do to make our lives better. Today, give a friend a call and invite him or her for a walk. Head down to Sears Point and the new section of the Bay Trail. Look at the wetland restoration and all the migrating shorebirds and waterfowl. Breathe deep. Feel the calm of nature soothe your soul. You’ll feel better. And tomorrow, call some more friends. Invite them out to a Sonoma Land Trust On-the-Land event or to help at one of our volunteer workdays. Getting out in nature will heal what ails you. The act of doing the simple things that you can do will greatly revive your spirit. I promise. And when you come back, drop us a little note — by email, or snail mail, or a comment on this blog. Tell us what you did and how it made you feel.
As this year comes to an end, I want to thank each of you for all the simple acts you have done through the year to make the world a better place. I know that here at Sonoma Land Trust, we couldn’t do our work without you. Thank you for your generous support. Thank you for coming out to Tolay Creek Ranch to take care of a place I love so much. Thank you for bringing your friends with you, for your laughter and jokes and hard work. Thank you for coming on hikes and sharing your stories. Thank you for the kind notes you send us with your generous gifts.
You inspire all of us here at Sonoma Land Trust — your unbounded optimism and joy are a large part of what keeps us going here day after day. We are so grateful to be part of this wonderful community. Have a happy holiday season.
Bob Neale is Sonoma Land Trust's stewardship director.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.