Growing up, my family lived on seven long, skinny acres outside of Traverse City, Michigan. I could tell you a lot about those seven acres: where to find the black raspberry patches, which of the trees were the best to climb, where the one red trillium grew in the hardwoods. It wasn’t a very scientific kind of knowledge, but it was a profound understanding based on experience and years of observing the landscape. It’s a way of knowing a place that I haven’t had anywhere else, and I miss it.
Acts of stewardship, especially ones repeated year after year like removing garlic mustard, inspire that same kind of connection with a place. Working slowly and closely with the land gives us time to see what else is growing and when. We learn new ways of remembering the world around us. Was it colder this time last year? Drier? Was there more of one plant and less of another?
I’ve lived in my current house in Ann Arbor for two springs, and both springs I worked to remove all second year garlic mustard plants from the yard. In the process, I found narrowleaf bittercress, and noticed more of it this spring than last. But I also found bee balm, golden rod, and black eyed Susan. And this spring, like last spring, a pair of cardinals talked to me from the fence line and the established buckthorn where they built their nest.
Today, I’m hoping you’ll remember the bigger picture of the Garlic Mustard Challenge. It isn’t about pulling a certain number of pounds of garlic mustard; it isn’t even about pulling garlic mustard. It’s about re-establishing health, balance, and diversity to our natural areas. It’s about nurturing an awareness of the nature that surrounds us every day, and empowering a new generation of stewards, whatever their age. It’s about building connection with the land we live on, depend on, and love. Stewardship is not a goal we achieve in a year. It’s a process we will be a part of for our whole lives and which we will leave for future generations when we’re gone. 300,000 pounds isn’t a goal; it’s a milestone in a much longer journey. Thanks for walking this road with us!
Erin is Program Manager for The Stewardship Network, where she has gained five years of experience connecting volunteers and professionals to share resources and set goals for collaboratively caring for lands and waters.