Six months ago I would have been able to tell you the latin names of maybe twenty different plants, usually only when they were in flower, and correctly identifying them would probably take a few tries. I didn’t know any coastal or salt marsh species, sedges and grasses were out of the question, my botanic vocabulary was very limited. Floras and dichotomous keys were intimidating books to only be touched if you wanted to induce a headache. I had only been camping two times. And I had definitely never collected seeds.
However yesterday, I was able to look at a list of 305 latin names of the species we collected from, and know which of these collections would be appropriate for a project manager to use at their dam removal and freshwater stream restoration site. I am probably able to identify a few hundred species on the spot, and can easily figure out a few hundred more using floras and keys. I realized a few months ago that I can look at a tray of seeds and identify what plant it came from.
We’ve traveled over 10,000 miles up and down the five coastal New England states, made over 300 collections (our goal was 200), and collected from up to 13 different species in one day. I’ve witnessed the breathtaking panoramic view from the tops of the Parker River sand dunes on Plum Island, the vast Atlantic spreading out beyond the horizon on the East, and miles upon miles of pristine salt marsh teeming with life on the West. I’ve been unexpectedly sucked knee-deep into mud more times than I can count (but managed to bring my boots back to the surface every time!). I’ve bounced through trampolines of sphagnum bogs, tip-toeing around rare plants that non-botanist eyes would never have noticed. I was humbled each time we came back and saw our footprints remaining in the same spots months later. I’ve felt the heavy helplessness of watching a freshwater marsh go through a drought, lily pads crunching underneath our feet on the dry, cracked mud. And I was lucky enough to see that same marsh finally retaining water when the drought let up – I will always be in awe of the resilience of plants.
During this internship, I was always thinking of a section of my favorite poem, Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”:
“Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest. Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold. Call that profit. Prophesy such returns. Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees every thousand years. Listen to carrion — put your ear close, and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come. Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”
I had always read most of this poem as a metaphor. However during the past six months I was literally harvesting what I never planted. We had to put our faith in the natural cycles being able to overcome droughts and man-made disturbances. We were simply collecting seeds that Nature had done all the planting, farming, and caring for. Granted, my job depended directly and literally on the harvest of these ecosystems. Yet having this new, close-up perspective from this season allowed me to take to heart even more the lessons of optimism and resilience from plants.
I am truly grateful for this incredible opportunity I had to contribute to the cause of native seed collection, and to be a part of the CLM internship program and the New England Wild Flower Society. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, and am excited to take all that I have learned with me into the future.
Here are a few pictures from the season that never made it into my posts – enjoy!Peace, love, and seeds,
Seeds of Success East
New England Wild Flower Society