Updated: Mar 18, 2021
I have heard different perspectives on what “work” should be. For some, it is a means to an end, while for others it is the pursuit of a passion. Most people fall somewhere in between, I would guess. When I think about what work could be for me, I think of Franz Dolp, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and a patch of forest among timberlands in the Oregon Coast Range.
Franz Dolp bought a piece of land on Shotpouch Creek in the Oregon Coast Range that had been clear-cut timberland, and before that been the homelands of the Ampinefu or Marys River Band of Kalapuya, Wusi’n or Alsea People, and the Yaqo’n or Yaquina People. He set out to heal the land that had once been lush. He set out to plant an old-growth forest. The cabin that he built on the land became Shotpouch Cabin, which is now a central location for the Spring Creek Project for Nature, Ideas, and the Written Word, which he co-created. It is also where I imagine Robin Kimmerer sitting as she wrote a morsel of Franz’s story. Her essay eventually went into her book Braiding Sweetgrass that I read in preparation for my own visit to Shotpouch.
It is my story, layered on Robin Kimmerer's, layered on Franz Dolp's that informs what I want my working life to be.
Picture yourself planting an old growth forest. I close my eyes and see a version of Ali, letting out a long exhale as she pats dirt over the last seed. First pat, pat, second pat, families of Cedar, Sitka Spruce and 400-foot Douglas Firs sweep up around me, the exhale of their rise knocking me back to the earth from which they came.
In retelling Franz Dolp's story, Kimmerer writes, "To plant a tree is an act of faith." An act of faith because, one can't plant old growth, the second pat on seeded earth will bear no 400-foot giants. One can only plant saplings that may one day become old growth. The second pat around the sapling's base is a slower kind of magic. It is a promise and an act of faith.
Though I don't want to plant trees for the rest of my life (maybe I do?), I want my work to be what Kimmerer might call an act of faith. Faith in what? We might ask. Faith that our children will grow up in a world that is bursting with joy. Faith that humans will cultivate a relationship with our environments that is mutually beneficial. Faith that the right to exist in one's truest form will be awarded to all creatures. In a place where decades of people only saw value in Douglas Firs as a commodity, Franz had faith that an old growth forest could again thrive. The trees he planted would one day, long after he is gone, be old in tree time.
I have faith. I know that even I, decades behind Franz, won't live to see those small cedars become elders, but I have faith that lifetimes as elders is what is in store for them down the line. None of us has to look far to see centuries of harm written on our landscapes and cultures. Our way of living has led us to steal from nature and abuse one another. There are so many clear-cuts to heal. But healing is slow, and taking the first steps will always be an act of faith.
An ancient Sitka won't ever change from seed to grandmother in an act of temporal compression right before my eyes. I won’t wake up tomorrow in a world where we no longer burn fossil fuels. But the slow magic of moving together toward a better world might instead be what knocks me on my ass in astonishment.
First pat, pat, second pat, rise.