Greetings from the Gym,
Rewind seven months ago to a story Friday at the Orme School [where Ryan works as a PE teacher]. A few of us stood outside the chapel in the rain and watched the muddy water flow over the bridge with mixed feelings of awe and worry… But really, for all of the silver linings that we may find in these unprecedented times, I think we could all stand to take a moment of acknowledgment and reflection upon the positive ways in which these months have changed us.
This was a long summer, wherein I spent time outdoors with my partner, Elaine. Elaine coordinates crews who do an array of conservation work within the Verde River Watershed. This work is so underrated and invaluable, as the Verde River is a staple for the wellbeing of life in the whole of Arizona. Like in so many businesses, however, job positions and work duties were adapted respectively after March 2020. The prospect of having crews was no longer practical or safe in the short term. Naturally, I volunteered to be the second member of a two person crew, the only crew working in the field for Friends of the Verde River over the summer. I have to say that above other things, it was a true test of endurance and optimism.
Before my help was recruited, twenty baby cottonwood trees had been planted strategically alongside the river as part of a habitat restoration effort. For an example of what they look like when they are not babies, refer to the image of the tree above that I’m standing beneath. For the past 7 months though, most have stayed around my height. I will begin now to express just how daunting it was to water them by hand each week. We carried water in two 5 gallon buckets from the river to the trees that were scattered apart by relatively infinite spaces, walked through overgrown sticker patches and soft hills that your boots sink into and fill up with sand as you stumble up desperately avoiding spilling your precious, heavy water all over the ground. And then back again. Not to mention the heat.
Over the course of the summer we became more and more efficient as an extreme tree watering duo from our first bucket filling to our ceremonial dip in the river. Admittedly this is more than partially because we’d lose about a tree per week. This was honestly devastating to me. I was so frustrated by the absence of our fabled saving grace, the Arizona monsoon season. Early on, my whole motivation was just to make it to monsoon season, and then nature would step in and take it from there… or so we hoped. We had the driest monsoon season on record, and our passion project suffered for it. I suffered a bit too, both physically and emotionally, each time I would return to our site and see the green leaves from the previous week had turned yellow and begun to shrivel up in the sun, and then the shriveled yellow leaves had turned brown and begun to fall to the ground. I felt I’d failed the trees and also wasted the immense energy that I’d put into giving them an insufficient amount of hydration.
I learned to focus on the redeeming factors before I was eventually pulled back into my current reality, that of an Orme faculty member. Elaine all the while worked hard to safely employ crews to take over the tree watering duty, along with plenty of other, arguably much more important things. We have 5 living trees left out of the original 20, and I’m so proud of that. I’m looking forward to visiting that site throughout my years and seeing even one tree successfully tapped into the groundwater and thriving. I guess this is all to say that even if none of these trees grow, I know that I have. I understand now more than 7 months ago that I can’t control the outcome of things so much as I can control the attitude and the effort I’m willing to put forth. Or maybe I was just reminded of this, after all, it’s easy to say you know something in theory, but in practice, well that’s where it counts. I’m sure that you are all watering metaphorical (or literal) trees, so please, take a moment to pat yourself on the back, and don’t give up!