ECO-Tours only purchases trees and dirt to plant them in...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Taking the Long Way Home

How I have come to see my region. This is the part of the planet that I know best. What I do here affects the entire planet.
The Great Lakes are eutrophying, filling up with sediment, more than ten thousand times faster today than they did before the settlement by whites over two hundred years ago. The soils that took over ten thousand years to develop have been washed away in just the last hundred or so years. If we are to reclaim the planet, not only do we need to stop the abuse of the landscape, the watersheds and our soils, but we need to make positive change in the environment a priority. Living as if the Earth mattered is a sound first step to reclaiming the landscape for life, health and the well-being of the generations that will follow.

Years ago I found the value of the road less traveled. The routes we take through life are much like the paths and trails that we come across in the woods. As we accept the ease with which we can travel, we accept the perspectives shared by each and every other traveler along the way. Even the wayside rest areas begin to look alike as more and more of us stop, stand, hands in pockets, to "see" the unique overlooks and vistas. The routes less traveled can often be glimpsed from the main track, but cannot be understood or experienced in any other way. You have to go there, spend time there, live there for a while, then you begin to know them. ECO-Tours of Wisconsin has been devoted to finding unique ways through the landscapes of life, respecting that we are each in the process of finding our way. We are not in the business of taking everyone down the same road, rather we wish to bring a bit of light to areas that could not be seen otherwise. As we share our own perspectives and our own insights, we share information about routes that are just as valid, perhaps even more rich, and abundant with insight and awareness that would be unavailable on the well worn tracks that most institutions steer us toward. When I learned about deer trails, for a time I would follow them through the fields and forest. Over time I found that much could be understood about the deer themselves by following their traces across the landscape. Even their pace could be inferred by following their route, watching for their sign and hoof prints. When I began to understand just what I was seeing, it was exciting but over time I began to think differently about the process. As much as there was to learn from these trails, there was certainly something more out there beyond finding the easy ways through the brambles and bush.
I followed different routes and learned different things, for years growing up, I kept looking for paths less traveled. During my young teen years I became a huge fan of Louis L'amour, a Western writer who spent long hours researching the landscape and conveying what it had to say to him through words. A recurrent theme in his writing was the fact that far too many human beings, and wild creatures for that matter, follow a specified route day in and day out, not only for the sake of comfort and ease, but out of habit and a sense of efficiency. The dark side of this is that the organism puts itself at risk for being stalked by predators. As one might imagine, an impressionable young teen exposed to this sort of logic found over two dozen ways to get from home to school and back again. Although there were only three bridges across the highway between the two, I found not only a fourth one that was about a half-mile out of the way, but several tunnels that were just a fence hop out of the way leading under the highway as well. I imposed a strict randomized method for getting from one place to another, learning which back yards had dogs (to be avoided) and which back fences were easiest to jump. In my own way, I developed a great variety of paths which all led to the same place. This skill, once developed influences the way we live in other areas, especially if we remain open to it, not just moving about the environment, but tackling problems, riddles and puzzles that some cannot even fathom if they have always remained on the sidewalk.


Suspended particle plume at the mouth of the Mississippi River, courtesy of NASA
This photo shows the loss of topsoil that washes into the Gulf of Mexico day and night, year round. Deforestation, digging ditches and draining wetlands leads to impacts that are not intended but that combine to create massive changes on a global scale. Planting trees is one of the greatest acts of hope that we can participate in. Come, join us for a plant-in and we can begin to set things right between ourselves and the planet.
ECO-Tours of Wisconsin Inc. has led hundreds of individuals on what we call plant-ins. We have developed ecotours that appeal to all ages and as part of our tours we cover such often ignored aspects of the landscape as subsoil characteristics, depth to water table, climax forest species that were on site before human intervention started, native land management techniques, existing species at the time of the first survey, and we also share insight into the natural history of the site in recent times. Intimate knowledge of our place on the planet is both rewarding and costly. We cannot rush through the process of learning about our world, nor do we expect anyone to rely on the information we provide as the last word on any of the subjects we cover, but rather as a springboard to asking deeper questions.
As we circle around each subject, the heart of the matter slowly becomes more clear. We refrain from speaking as taskmasters in an attempt to fit people into a preexisting mold, but rather as taffy pullers, slowly allowing each person's unique perspectives to be defined in their own minds and elucidated for others to use as touchstones to help everyone find their way. This is the kind of knowledge that sticks. I have learned as much from a beaver lounging in a rain swollen creek, stretched out on a tiny island of grass as I have from the soaring eagle or the foraging mouse. Trying to put some of this information into forms that can be shared has been a life's work. Tree planting is a vehicle to get us into a deeper relationship with the planet. watching people develop a relationship with the landscape is worth every minute of fundraising, planning and preparing the trails that lead to their individual experience.
ECO-Tours has been developed as a way to create positive change in the environment, but also in people. We take the long way home on purpose, not to keep from becoming prey, but on some level this too is part of the experience. We do it to enhance the relationship and understanding of places that we might otherwise zip pat at sixty miles per hour, relegating our experience to a blink and you miss it kind of thing. Landscape as most of us know it has much more relationship to paintings or pictures. The sort of images that are static and long lasting. What ecotours allow the traveler to experience are the changeable nature of the land, exploration of various levels, understanding of both ecotones and the ecosphere as a whole. Knowing that the trees we are planting will stand for hundreds of years through storm and strife, drought and deluge creates a relationship to time that is hard to get across in any other way. Knowing that our grandchildren will be assured the possibility of sitting in the shade of the trees we might plant today is both hopeful and rewarding in ways that are hard to put into words. Once experienced, it seems simple, but the complexity of integration often eludes our ability to describe in any other way.
Our organization started out as a relatively small group of friends who worked as fundraisers for the environmental group Citizens for a Better Environment by night and occasionally did guerrilla tree planting by day. In our first ten years we planted over sixteen thousand trees and hundreds of thousands of tree seeds. The only funding we had was the tax returns of yours truly, but the desire to make positive change with very little resources carried us along slowly but surely. We organized as a not-for-profit less than ten years ago and began to accept donations to help us increase our effectiveness and in just the past half a dozen years or so, we have been able to more than triple the number of trees that we plant, share the experience with many dozens more people and branch out into areas that we never dreamed of being able to plant in before. This year for instance we were able to secure access for teach-ins and planting on over 110 acres of city owned property that needs reforestation. The only requirement is that we put time in removing exotic species that are encroaching on the parkway. What this allows is for us to drastically slash the transportation budget and focus even more energy on transforming the landscape for the better.
Donations can be made to ECO-Tours of Wisconsin Inc. through Paypal at: tnsaladino42@hotmail.com
For those more comfortable with snail mail, send checks to ECO-Tours at 1445 Porlier street, Green Bay, Wisconsin 54301-3334. If you prefer to make arrangements for your own tour, let us know when you expect to be in Green Bay and a bit about what you hope to gain from the experience. We have two city lots that are being managed for permaculture and organic food production, energy efficiency and we use some solar energy for both heating and electrical production. Our tours include more than just a diversion, they are designed to qualitatively change the areas around us in ways that will last several lifetimes, transform the culture for the next seven generations and perhaps lead us to expand the nature of what we call home. Some of the things that we have available for eco-tourists include bikes, canoes, snowshoes, tents, cook stoves and study guides. Our guides share the overarching goal of living lightly on the earth as well as teaching our guests how to reap the benefits of a more rewarding and comfortable lifestyle while simultaneously leaving  behind both a smaller carbon footprint and making lasting positive change on our planet Earth. After all, as has been said, "On Spaceship Earth, there are no passengers, we are all crew.-Buckminster Fuller