Recreating Conservation

By: Kou Yang

A giant has fallen. It lays across the width of a river. Erosion, beavers, or—simply—time may have been the cause. To us, the number of generations since the thundering fall is unknown. What is known, however, is that a world of unseen beauty lies just beneath the surface. Millions of organisms of all shapes and sizes find shelter in, on, beneath, above, or around every inch of this tree. It is now called “home” to the critters that inhabit its wood. This single tree, if left undisturbed, will provide to the overall health of the river—who in turn—will help nourish earth’s land. Today, my crew and I will cut and relocate bits and pieces of this giant for safe passage.  

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I gaze into the broken reflection of the river below. The sun shows no remorse as it stares intently at the back of my neck. Starved mosquitoes swarm my body with hopes to nourish their own. The sweet juices of a river’s musk are nulled by the expansion of exhaust filling the air. No words are spoken. All that is heard are the deafened sounds of water, and the idle of the saw. 

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Habitat restoration was the bulk of my first year as a Conservation Corps member. Countless hours of buckthorn, months of aspen girdling, weeks spent scouting and harvesting native wildflowers. With such previous feelings of accomplishment, the idea of disrupting functional and crucial habitat for the joy of humans gave me feelings of unease. Is this truly conservation work? How much stress and hurt am I putting on this river? Questions, upon questions remained unanswered. For a while, the quietness, the independent nature of our work kept us distant from those who knew these answers. 

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A child sits in the bow. An older, wiser man in the stern. I am perched in between silently listening, speaking, and remembering.   

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He said to me, “you are the ones who will lay the stepping stone for future generations. You will give the opportunity to young stewards to return the favor and continue the fight”. At this point in time, conservation changed. It was no longer just countless hours of buckthorn removal. The picture was much larger, and I felt like such a fool to have not seen it before. Recreation became conservation. 

I learned of the true importance of our water trails work. Endless days of what felt like seem less cutting, broken bodies, and tempered minds. It all came together in the end. We maintain water trails so that others do not have to worry about the same risks and dangers we encounter. We strive for people of all ages to enjoy and experience the natural awe of our existing ecosystems. We do this in return of the duties and hardships that those before us endured. We conserve recreation today in light of a brighter future.  

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The sound of flowing river, everlasting. Kingfishers visit with greetings of laughter as they pass by the gunnels of our craft. Leaves of silver maple sway and dance to the melodies of the wind. The gentle crashes of paddles against the flow of current creates a song of sweet percussion. The air is warm, and fresh. An eagle—perched—flies from the tops of trees, guiding and leading our journey.