Wednesday, The Food Project- On Wednesday morning, we took a charter bus to the town of Lincoln, near the famous Walden Pond where the poet Henry David Thoreau lived. We were visiting a farm that grew fresh fruits and vegetables for The Food Project, an organization that distributed them to hunger relief organizations in the Boston area and local communities that might not otherwise have access to fresh, healthy food.
It was a beautiful day, and the landscape around us looked just like back at home on Long Island, only with more hills in the distance. Our group helped harvest acorn squash, first clipping the squash from their stems, then arranging them in rows, and finally, placing them into the tractor. There were a lot of squash to harvest, but having so many people made the work go faster.
Even though it was hot and we all got really dirty, it was a lot of fun. We talked to each other, told jokes, and played music on MP3s. When the tractor came around to collect the squash, we made a short of chain and had fun tossing them along to the people who were closest. In the end, we harvested all the squash the farm had and filled three huge crates! It felt really good to imagine all of the hungry people we would be helping feed. (I hope they like squash...)
Thursday, Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary- The only time I'd been to Cape Cod before that I was old enough to remember had been for my cousin Dmitri's wedding, so I was eager to go back. The bus ride was long, but it was worth it to walk in the coastal forest, dunes, and salt marsh.
The environment we were working in was called heathland. (Yes, like in a gothic novel.) Heathland is a rare ecological zone, but fast-growing and thorny invasive species of tree called the black locust was threatening to crowd out the unique plant life of the area. Of course, being superheroes, our job was to battle this nasty space invader by clipping its stems. We dubbed ourselves the Black Locust Hit Squad, which is the second-coolest name any group I've ever been a part of has ever had. (The first, of course, being NASA.)
The hills of the heathland blocked out breezes from the sea, so the work was really sweaty, and even though we were all wearing gardening gloves, we still got a few scratches from the thorns on our bare arms. We were working in long grass, so ticks were also a big concern. Still, we managed to clear out of a lot of the black locust trees in the area. After that, we walked with a naturalist through the salt marsh and ate lunch on the beach. I didn't have a swimsuit, but I made a few little drip castles in the sand by the water's edge.
Friday, the Esplanade- For once, our group didn't have to get on a bus- we just walked across the highway to the banks of the Charles River near the university campus. Working with a group of students from MIT (which is on the other bank of the river), we cleared brush to remove more invasive species, provide an unimpeded view of the Boston skyline, and create more space for recreation.
It was basically a kinder, gentler version of the previous day's work- the plants we were dealing with didn't have thorns, and they had thinner stems than the black locust. There was also a cool breeze off the river that kept us from getting overheated. Through a lot of perseverance and creativity with leverage, I even managed to remove the weeds growing on a heavily overgrown small dead tree and yank the tree out. (It was lighter than it looked.) We found a lot of trash when we cleared the plants away, so we collected that as well. (Seriously, throwing beer bottles in the river is NOT cool. Find a trashcan.)
When we came back from our lunch break to work some more, we saw families standing in the area we had cleared, taking photographs of themselves with the newly-improved skyline view. That made all of us feel very proud of what we had done, both that day and the two previous ones. We may not have been able to see the hungry people our squash had fed or the Cape Cod birds our clearing had helped provide a habitat for as directly, but we knew we had helped them all the same.
And that knowledge made all the aches, pains, and scratches worth it.