Restoration Through Destruction

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I never thought that spending three hours on a bitterly cold Saturday morning cutting down trees could be considered fun. Yet my experience with a local volunteer group has shown me otherwise. I have found it surprisingly enjoyable to do the same task for several hours week after week. The physical process is quite simple and rather monotonous. One person takes a saw and starts cutting near the base of a tree while a couple more people watch to make sure that the tree doesn't fall on anyone and then help to push it down. Once the tree is down, a couple more people trim the branches off, and other people collect the wood and throw them onto a pile. Then, when the weather is right, they set the piles on fire.

The group that I have been volunteering with is, in fact, an environmental group. It seems strange that a group dedicated to the environment would be cutting down trees, but they do so with a specific purpose. Technically, the goal of this group is to restore the prairies of Illinois; they do this by spreading the seeds of the native plants and getting rid of non-native plants. The trees that they cut down are European buckthorn, which were brought to the prairie by settlers and are very invasive plants. By getting rid of these trees and other non-native plants, the group is helping to restore the prairie to its pre-farming state.

When I signed up in the fall, the group was not yet cutting down trees. Instead, I was picking seeds. To be honest, this was quite boring, but I stayed with it as part of my contract with the group. I did this for the first few weekends. However, when winter came around, they shifted gears, as seeds were rather hard to come about in the cold and snow. Instead, I started cutting down buckthorn and another plant called dogwood. This turned out to be much more gratifying and enjoyable than collecting seeds, because it was easy to see the progress that was being made, both by the growing pile of wood and the stumps that signified the trees that were previously there. The cold also didn't bother me much, as the physical work helped to keep me warm, and the fire, when they were burning the piles, also helped to keep the area warm.

The people that I worked with were friendly and proud of their work; some people there had been working with that group for over twenty years. I imagine that it has been great for them to see the work that they've done over the years and the amount of progress that they've made. In fact, they told me that when they started, the entire area was bare. I couldn't believe it; it was nearly a mile walk to the place that they are currently working at. It's gratifying to know that the work that I helped to do will be enjoyed by others many years from now.





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