by Bob Neale
Things have changed over the years for me here at Sonoma Land Trust. I spend much more time inside, in front of the computer … emails, phone calls, meetings, meetings, meetings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the good fortune that brought me here. Great people, great community, great mission — a great job. And yet, I miss walking the land like I used to. So when I do get outside, I take advantage of it. I let my mind wander.
Last week, I found mind and body wandering across Tolay Creek Ranch, amazed, as always, by the land. Winter is almost here, though the dry December and blue skies make me wonder about rain and drought. Nevertheless, it is winter now. This is the time of year when many plants and trees go dormant, many animals hibernate and the sun takes longer naps. Winter is the time of year when we plant our native trees, shrubs and grasses at Tolay Creek Ranch.
I was out there working on erosion control projects with our volunteers. As I walked to the site, I looked over the fence to see how our restoration work is doing. Over the past decade, we’ve planted more than 5,000 native trees, plants, grasses and sedges out there. Most were planted by children with their teachers and parents in tow (special thanks to John and Isaiah, Point Blue’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed staff — my Tolay friends these past few years).
As I studied the plants, I thought of time, cycles, seasons, trips around the sun, lifetimes. This is my favorite part of the job … being with nature, getting my hands dirty, working with mentors like Harold Appleton, sharing time and sweat with eager volunteers, doing something that I can see and touch at the end of the day and then again a few years later. It makes me think of the poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver in which she says:
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
As those lines went through my mind, I thought, this is a New Year’s poem as well. What will we do, friends and neighbors, in the coming year(s)? That’s what I was thinking as I looked up to see the redtail hawk screaming. Already, together, we have done so much here in Sonoma County. As I look down the fence line and see the amazing people toiling in the winter sun, I feel so grateful, so hopeful. These cycles, the passing of the years, bring hope, don’t they? Hope that the rain will continue; hope that the willows will grow. These years working together create hope, don’t they? Hope that our communities stay strong and that the landscapes will heal. Hope that things will get better. So thank you, Sonoma County, for all that you do with your wild and precious lives to create hope and make the world a better place. Happy New Year to all!
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.