Children and outdoors once went together like creeks and exploring, rain and jumping in puddles, snow and making angels. Those connections seem to be fraying. Play dates and scheduled activities are too often taking their place. The Deschutes Land Trust can be a bridge for parents concerned about the indoor pallor on their kids’ faces. We know that children and outdoors are a natural; and kids and the holidays just makes sense. When we learned about MountainStar Family Relief Nursery, we knew we had a way to make a difference for families and kids who might otherwise have a less radiant Christmas.
A group of Deschutes Land Trust staff and board members (Collins Hemingway, Kim McCarrel, Geoff Barnard, Larry Weinberg, Sarah Mowry, and Karyn Verzvywelt) headed out to the Metolius Preserve on December7th. Their mission was to cut two dozen trees for donation to MountainStar. The trees had already been marked for the thinning project on the Preserve.
Here, in board member Kim McCarrel’s words, is a story of volunteer lumberjacks giving their time and energy not just for forest health, but for Bend families and children.
“The Metolius Preserve was sparkling that morning. There was fresh snow on the ground, but the sun was out and the sky was a brilliant blue. Our first challenge was getting to our cutting area. We drove our 4-wheel drive trucks along forest roads through snow unmarred by tire tracks, but saw plenty of elk, deer, and rabbit tracks along the way.
About a mile before we reached the spot where we intended to cut our trees, we were blocked by two huge fallen trees across the road. We quickly changed our plan and decided to cut where we were. With some difficulty we managed to turn around the truck and trailer that would be hauling the trees out, and quickly set to work.
We tromped through the forest for several hours, kneeling in the snow to cut each tree, then dragging it back to the trucks so we could haul it to MountainStar. One of the most challenging things was keeping our perspective. We had been asked to provide trees that were up to 5 or 6 feet tall, but in a forest of 150-foot Ponderosas and firs, it was easy to lose sight of just how small a 6-foot tree really is. Over and over again, those beautiful 6-foot trees we could see across the meadow turned out to be more like 12 feet tall once we waded through the snow to reach them.
After we got all the trees loaded on the trailer, we followed our tracks back to the highway. When we arrived at MountainStar, we were greeted by cheerful staff members who helped us display the trees along a fence to make it easier for the families to “adopt” the tree of their choice.
I have to admit that the best part of the day was watching Geoff try to turn his pickup and long trailer around in the foot-deep snow, bouncing it over fallen logs that were invisible under the snow, and praying to the snow gods that he didn’t get stuck!”
Collins Hemingway, Land Trust board member, chimes in, “I don’t recall that cutting Christmas trees was so much work! I managed to fell a tree so that it fell directly on my head. I enjoyed watching Kim and Geoff maneuver the vehicles through the snow so as not to damage the forest and so as not to get stuck in two feet of snow. I really enjoyed that everyone was in great spirits to be out there. “
Larry Weinberg, Land Trust board member, “Wet feet, sore back–but all for a good cause. Inconsiderate tree across the road, but it would probably have preferred to remain standing. Helping people by helping the land. A great combination.”
I missed the tree cutting, but looked forward to watching the tree distrubution to the families. It was dusk when I drove to the MountainStar Relief Nursery. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to drive out to the tree cutting because in spite of (maybe because of) Mapquest, I found myself lost in a Eastside suburb. Luddite without a fancy phone, I finally parked, sat long enough for my mind to calm down and remembered seeing a sign that said something about human services. I back-tracked and found MountainStar.
The part-time lumberjacks were gathered on the front porch of the relief nursery. A few dozen grand fir trees leaned against a storage shed behind them. Fran Satterfield, Administrative Assistant for MountainStar greeted me. She was fifteen different places at once, bringing out a box of free ornaments, beginning a search for a light for the dark porch, intruducing nursery and Land Trust folks to each other. She offered me a tour of MountainStar.
We were in the toddlers’ big cheerful play and nap room when she said something that would later seem to sum up what the Land Trust and the Nursery were doing that icy December night. “We’ve got all these great toys and activities for the children,” Fran said, “but so often what they mostly want is to be held. So we hold them.”
We went back to the front porch. The husband of one of the staff members had raced to their near-by house and brought back his big garage light. He hooked it up. The first family pulled into the parking lot. The borrowed light shown on the faces of mom, dad and kids as they approached the trees; on us Land Trust folks, on Fran and the execuitve director. Everybody was smiling. Not polite smiles, but smiles of pure joy. I watched the family go to the trees and take their time finding the perfect one.
Fran’s words came back to me: “...what they mostly want is to be held. So we hold them.” The borrowed light shown down on us. The scent of fresh-cut fir filled the cold air. Light, scent, our smiles held all of us. I saw that holding each other is the glue for the web of real community. And, that night, it was the children whom we held.
*********MountainStar Family Relief Nursery is dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect in Central Oregon by providing services to keep children safe, parents successful and families together. The Nursery provides crisis intervention and a therapeutic classroom for babies and young children aged 6-weeks to 4-years-old.