Nature has always been an integral part of my life. As a wee child, my mother brought me to Drumlin Farm, where I watched the foxes and the wild birds with the rapt attention only a three-year-old can manage. I grew up hiking through the woods owned by the water company. My dog loved to chase the deer there, despite the signs forbidding pets. A cozy white blanket of snow fell every winter, the cardinals and blue jays bright against it. I have dear memories of a grumpy possum I spied several times in my backyard, its storm gray fur and bare, wrinkled face.
When I lived in Connecticut, I was an avid observer of nature. That changed after I moved to California. I knew next to nothing about the local wildlife, only that there were lizards instead of chipmunks on my front steps, and my dog wasn’t interested in them. The cawing birds in my yard now had no name; the weather never changed.
I became more than a passive beholder when I started to volunteer at the Audubon Society. At Debs Park, we work to preserve and encourage our endemic flora. In the nursery, black chestnuts hide from the squirrels and California buckwheat struggles through the topsoil. Saturday mornings, I report to the supervisor for the day’s agenda. We plant, pot, transfer, mist, water, fertilize, register, and weed the plants until they, at age two, are strong enough to survive outside the nursery. On the sun-soaked hills, we dig holes and build berms to catch water. I used to go with friends; we’d chatter and joke as we replanted mint and washed pots. Now only I go, but that’s alright. Nothing compares to the smell of black sage baking in the morning heat.
Volunteering at Debs Park has taught me the delicacy of LA’s chaparral biome. When it’s 9:30 on a Saturday morning and I wish I were back in bed instead of digging through rocky soil, it’s hard to see where all the efforts are leading. But when I step back, I see that the plants fostered at the park provide the backbone of the ecosystem. Nature has always surrounded me, from Walden Pond to Sperry Woods. But only since coming to LA have I given back to it, protected her seedlings and nurtured her budding cacti, fostering generations to come. Insects, shrews, and nuthatches rely on our efforts. Even a bobcat moved in. Like me, he’s found a home at Debs Park among the island snapdragons.