My placement with Friends of Trees this summer has been a fantastic learning experience, but in a very different, and perhaps more rewarding way than I’m used to. At all colleges (Duke University being no exception) knowledge is frequently presented abstractly. Particularly in the school of Arts and Sciences, we’re almost never challenged to work with our hands. The only injury we’re prone to is chronically slumped shoulders from computer overuse.
But this summer I was challenged in a new way. I learned to efficiently cut through Himalayan blackberry with a weed-wacker, identify native (and non-native) plant species, and monitor tree health. In addition to the new skills I learned, I was pushed to look at environmental issues through a different lens. Instead of aloof environmental policy discussions and organic compound lectures, I walked through huge areas of clear cut forest, saw the shackles placed on the Columbia River by its fourteen dams, and replanted fields recovering from invasive species takeover.
This type of exposure is both sobering and liberating. Instead of ‘saving the planet from impending destruction’ it feels more like attempting last minute rehabilitation after critical damage has been inflicted. I am starting to wonder how much beneficial change can be accomplished working through the system that caused this destruction in the first place. Can our culture really value the land, trees, and salmon more than a 10% increase in profit? Can people really begin to identify with their own humanness instead of their locations on societies’ hierarchy (i.e. their vocations, salaries, and cars)? While I gained practical, useful skills working at Friends of Trees this summer, I think my experiences that catalyzed these questions, thoughts, and struggles were the most valuable takeaways. What more can ask you for as a summer intern? Thank you, Friends of Trees.
Jack Gavigan joined Friends of Trees this summer through the Duke Engage service program. His energy, sense of humor, insight, and get-it-done attitude are already missed. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors, Duke and beyond! And you heard it here first: We knew him when!