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Earth Making

April 14, 2015

A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of enjoying a Gatsby-esque moment on a terrace of a luxury hotel in Tucson, Arizona. I was there attending a conference to initiate the new class of Udall Environmental Scholars. This was a gathering of amazing, high-powered young people, all committed to environmental causes. As a collegiate advisor to several Udall Scholars in my role at Virginia Tech’s Honors Program, I was there to support and encourage these young world changers.

In the saturated vermillion evening sunset, as the hallucinatory heat of the desert day gave way to free-flowing margaritas and free-flowing conversation, I struck up a pleasant conversation with an elder, a statesman of the convocation, an insider, a man who had been an adviser and counselor to presidents and statesmen. He steered me by the elbow and said: “You remind me of me, when I was young. Tell what kinds of things you are most proud of. Tell me what you have been doing.” All day, I had been in conference with people bearing the brunt of environmental degradation, wrestling with the complexities of environmental injustice, searching for answers to what might make a difference in these improbable times.

In the light and heat and drought of the desert air, I thought back to my green and wet Blue Ridge Mountain Highland home. And to the garden and orchard I had established and tended there for the past 15 years. I pondered his question for a while…and I said: “I have made and tended a garden on my farm and over the course of the past 15 years, I have probably grown an inch or so of earth and made the soil rich and brown and full of life, where it used to be red and hard-packed clay.” He looked at me, and with the practiced empathy of a seasoned politician, vaguely suggested a freshening of drinks, and disappeared into the crowd.

In the past two years, I have been discovering these guys, NCM_1384in my spring digging: They have never been here before. My garden is not especially wet or anything, and they are showing up now in my very low-till, no chemical garden. All over the world amphibian populations are in decline, or crashing. But maybe, just maybe, my decade.5 of care in this place, has invited them to come back.

I never got a chance to tell that guy that my other big accomplishment was encouraging amphibian populations to flourish in my verdant, food-abundant  garden. But if I had? He wouldn’t have been likely to have heard.

Let you who has ears to hear: Hear. Let you who has eyes to see: See.

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