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Five Lessons I Learned as a Summer Stewardship Fellow

From Los Angeles to New York City to… Wisconsin??

“You do know what a tick looks like… don’t you?” This was one of the first questions my mentors asked. “Of course!” I exclaimed. But I didn’t. After being born and raised in Los Angeles and studying in New York City, I came to the Aldo Leopold Foundation’s Land Stewardship Fellowship with no idea what ticks looked like or even that mosquitoes liked the scent of the flowery scented lotion I put on every night. But these are only two very small lessons out of the many incredibly important, eye-opening, and life-changing lessons I learned during my six week fellowship.

Lesson #1: The hard work of conservation

Uriel spraying garlic mustard on the Leopold Memorial Reserve

Uriel searches for garlic mustard on the Leopold Memorial Reserve

As part of the land stewardship group, I worked primarily on the Leopold Memorial Reserve to target the invasive plant garlic mustard. Although I knew the work would be difficult before I came, I really was not expecting to be tangled and unable to move in prickly ash in humid 89 degree weather with 20+ bug bites all over. I’m proud to say I can now (somewhat) make my way easily in forest brush, walk around from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm with a two-gallon backpack full of herbicide, be calm when my legs are burning from nettle rashes, and still be able to be excited and eager to work every day. Although conservation work can be difficult and slow-going, the importance of the conservation process and results made the experience rewarding.

Lesson #2: Learning and working outside

8 hours a day outdoors is never enough! Uriel joins in on a Stewardship Walk, a new public program offered on the last Wednesday of every month.

After a full day of work, Uriel joins in on a Stewardship Walk, a new public program offered in the evenings on the last Wednesday of every month throughout the summer.

The longest I spent outdoors before this fellowship was, at most, about a week. To spend almost every single day learning and working outside is an experience I will take with me for life. Not only was I able to breathe the fresh air and be in the sun every day, but I was able to see wildlife and learn lessons that I would never have been able to experience in a classroom or the city. For the first time in my life, I drove a tractor, learned about the historic landscape of the region, witnessed mother turkeys, deer, and birds attempting to protect their nests or offspring, learned to identify deer paths and beds, and saw many strange bugs and frogs.

Lesson #3: Identification is appreciation

Land Steward Carl Cotter helps Uriel learn to identify prairie plants

Land Steward Carl Cotter helps Uriel learn to identify prairie plants

Although I’ve always loved trees and plants, I shamefully admit that I previously just assumed that trees were trees and flowers were flowers. I was introduced to a whole new world of hundreds of different flowers and realized there are so many different kinds of grasses. I learned the difference between pine, oak, ash, maple, and birch, and also learned to distinguish between all the many varieties of each of those species. Identification of all these species of plant life nurtured a greater appreciation within me for the natural world.

Lesson #4: Wisconsin culture and community

Uriel at Devil's Lake State Park.

Uriel at Devil’s Lake State Park.

I usually got the same surprised response when I told my friends and family that I would be spending half of my summer in Wisconsin. Yet the incredibly warm and welcoming community I found not only at the foundation, but from neighbors, local businesses, and people just passing by made me feel at home. I took trips to Madison, visited the International Crane Foundation, went on bike rides and hikes throughout the countryside and Devil’s Lake, went on the famous Wisconsin Duck tour, visited the University of Wisconsin -Madison Arboretum, ate delicious food, visited many small towns, and met new friends. Though short, my time here was wonderful and eventful.

Lesson #5: A greater understanding of Leopold’s words

Uriel helps plan a discussion using Leopold's essay "Axe in Hand" as a participant in the foundation's Land Ethic Leader program.

Uriel helps plan a discussion using Leopold’s essay “Axe in Hand” as a participant in the foundation’s Land Ethic Leaders program.

There is an unexplainable beauty in reading A Sand County Almanac only a mile away from Aldo Leopold’s shack. “The Land Ethic” and other essays that I had respected and learned about previously now resonate even more clearly for me. While re-reading Leopold’s work during my time here, I was able to fully understand and relate to the inspiring contributions he made to the conservation field. Not only did I learn about Aldo Leopold and his life here, but I’ve learned to take what he wrote and apply it to the rest of my life and future.