by Chris Volonte
Chris Volonte is the MassLIFT-AmeriCorps Land Steward at the Kestrel Trust for 2012-2013. Harvey Allen is an ornithologist and naturalist as well as a founding member if the Kestrel Trust Advisory Council.
It was 1:30, and we’d already spent a more than a half-day in the field: scaling a wooded hillside, pushing through thick mountain laurel, and navigating the side of a steep slope to follow a property boundary. By my estimation, we still had several hours’ work ahead of us to collect the necessary information for a current conditions report. At the moment, however, our route had brought us near the trail we’d originally used to access the property, and Harvey’s car was parked at the other end of that trail. I paused and looked at him.
“Harvey, are you tired?” I asked, trying not to sound too solicitous. “I think we have another couple hours here at least, but maybe I’d better plan on a second visit. Do you want to call it a day?”
Harvey gazed at me steadily and noncommittally from eyes that had observed the landscapes of the Pioneer Valley for more than three-quarters of a century. Characteristically, he did not answer right away. Equipped with a GPS unit in one hand and a walking stick in the other, he appeared no less brisk and able than he had when our day began. But, much as I admired his vigor, appreciated his field savvy, and valued his endless fund of knowledge about the region, I didn’t want to risk pushing him past his physical limits. We could certainly finish this fieldwork another day.
“Couple more hours?” Harvey finally responded in a meditative tone. I confirmed, showing him on the GPS unit the route we’d be following.
Harvey straightened up nimbly and looked at me with a sly glint in his eye. “Let’s do it,” he said with a grin. And we were off.
Moments like these are the ones that stand out most from my first few months of service as a land steward for the Kestrel Land Trust: moments spent with people vastly more familiar with this region than I am, who have shared their time, experience, and energy with me to forward the larger project of protecting the woods and fields they call home. Whether it’s having tea in the kitchen of a Kestrel board member after a chilly site visit; walking a property with a landowner who had carefully restored a lovely historic home; or meeting local volunteers who acquainted me with the protected areas they helped steward—these are all valuable moments of human connection, memorable to me personally, but also significant in a more profound way. People connecting with people in an affirmative spirit—learning from each other, assisting each other, creating community—this is how the best things happen, and it’s one of the main attractions of land trust work for me. I’m very glad to be a part of it.