My last name, for those that missed it, is ANDERSON. YO ARR SVENSKA ANTE KLUTINEK, translated “I am Swedish by my ancestors.” The Scandahoovian in me says “you must have the wrong person, my family would find it embarrassing to have one of us stand out in relief from the rest of our group toiling at the Ikea woodshop…”
But, I do accept this honor with gratitude from Bay Nature Institute on behalf of the staff, board of directors and volunteers of an organization that seeks to save land, by helping people save themselves, by the very act of reconnecting to land for the common good. I must point out, though, one person who stands out in supporting LandPaths’ work, and me on a daily basis, our Director for Strategic Change – Lee Hackeling, also my wife and best friend. My job as executive director at times is to be leaves waving in the wind and sunlight; Lee is the Tree and structure that enables this to happen – and this award in the same breath acknowledges her work. And in the same breath I acknowledge our kids Iris and Kai who know far more about ‘community conservation’ work by virtue of the topic being discussed over most family dinners…
I also want to acknowledge the hecklers - I mean friends and family some 30-strong - that are here tonight who cheer this work on AND going back three decades who have made this work possible. I thank my friend Sarah who 30 years ago was my college mentor, Gary my compatriot of those many years and I also wish to thank a special group of people, heroes in their own right with us tonight, who are private landowners that allow for public engagement on their PRIVATE land. To Jim and Betty, Will and Julie, and just as of last week Maria and Paul, we all salute you. This type of deep trust, shared values and neighborly goodwill is a hallmark of future efforts at connecting people, especially our children, to the land.
People Powered Parks translates to arriving into a landscape and community with a Purpose, and NOT a Plan. It’s trusting the community process that is messy and hard and frustrating. It brings partnerships to conservation and community work that we never imagined. And it brings our Latino friends and neighbors, and people of Eritrean and Vietnamese and Chinese ancestry in Sonoma County that are looking to live their lives with greater vibrancy and joy because of dinner outdoors with new friends, exotic weeds pulled and composted, culverts cleaned and weekends spent outdoors sharing their joy in a plurality of languages.
I am reminded of the importance of just listening to people with different ideas, the Farm Bureau head, the neighbor we could easily dismiss as NIMBY, the busy professional or the seemingly listless teenager…they ALL want what we All sell…. That is, Fresh air, clean water, species and vistas that will exist beyond our lifetimes, and a dose of health for our communities that we have just begun to realize in the past several decades.
Our volunteers are given not just jobs, but as a cherished staff member said who led LandPaths establishing of the Bayer Farm in a diverse, urban area of Santa Rosa – “we give people the dignity of responsibility.” It’s the impact of this dignity on people stewarding land for the common good that led our friend and General Manager of our Ag Preservation and Open Space District – Bill Keene - to openly weep when he visited the Bayer Farm for the very first time.
I recollect with fondness a number of waffle breakfasts I had as a graduate student while at CAL at the home of David and Ann Brower –and I believe that if David were alive today that he would embrace the credo that our conservation work is not nearly so much What Are We Against?, but What are we FOR?
I believe that We all need to be FOR our teens; FOR access to land on a weekly, if not daily basis, whether working landscapes or wild…because that connection heals people and land. I think everyone in this room believes deep down, that our collective work can actually heal nations.
I thank my mother, 91-years young and with us here tonight who still listens to KQED because “there’s always so may interesting stories, I love being a lifelong learner” – and who along with my father made a humble income stretch by feeding us packets of Knorr Soup so that we could spend as much time as possible in summers at 10,000’ in Tuolumne Meadows, savoring the orange light on Unicorn Peak and the gurgling water of the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River that flows over granite slabs that have barely been scratched since the time of Muir, of Miwok elders and glacial polish, that orange mountain light that calls ALL of us Californians back to the tent or trailhead or sidewalk which borders the urban green lot for our dinner, for rest, before another measureless mountain day. Days that stretch into years, and ultimately inspire young women and men into lives of service to nature because there is no cause more compelling than that of a relationship with land and the narrative that land etches into mind and body.
I thank our board of directors and staff members here tonight, chair Steve Meacham and Bruce Kinnison, along with staff members Rebecca Abbruzzesse and Bree Benton, who share in this work every day.
Finally, thank you to Bay Nature Magazine which publishes stories of meaning, which writes them articulately and writes them with heart. Thank you so very much to (publisher and co-founder) David, his wonderful staff and board, to my friend, coyote spirit and LandPaths director Michael Ellis for this nomination – and to all of you tonight, who are here because in your lives, you embrace protecting land AND connecting people to it for some purpose larger than yourselves.
Contents (c) 2008 by Land Partners Through Stewardship (Landpaths) Site Credits