Service Learning through Stewardship

Going out on a stewardship day with Mike Brondi makes me feel like a kid again. True, he is old enough to be my father, but it’s his style of storytelling, his kind face and vast knowledge that puts me in a child-like awe. Mirroring my wonderment was Alexia, the three-year-old steward out with her grandma for the day. We were Mike’s biggest fans. This man is a field guide. No, not just a field guide, but a keeper of knowledge. He knows the history, stories, family and genus of almost every native (and invasive) plant out there. He’s got the stuff that Wikipedia will never have.

I got to experience this first hand at our event on July 23rd at Colonial Creek Campground. Prepared for a day of pulling weeds, we all showed up with our gloves and lunches and waited to get to work. Little did we know that the walk through the parking lot is filled with excellent teaching tools. How to guess the age of a young fir, how to harvest the seeds of a red currant, how identify edibles from bird behavior; the man knows everything. In this casual nature walk, we made our way over to the other side of the campground and found what we were looking for: the infamous Herb Robert, a.k.a. stinky bob.

Harvesting red currants for their seeds

The real work began. We pulled (not too hard, they come out easy) and got rid of a good chunk of the invasives in the area. Along the way, Mike taught us more about the plant we were pulling. Did you know that when a stinky bob plant releases seeds, it can launch them over 25 feet? Did you know that one year’s plants can create 2 new generations of plants in a season? I guess its good to know as much about your enemy as possible. And as with most enemies, its not really evil, just something with different interests as yours. I realized that had we been in this plant’s native habitat, Mike would be there giving just as interesting a speech, praising its pink flower and ability to grow in both sun and shade. All the properties that make this plant a pest here would be hailed as wonders of the evolutionary process. Our trash is another ecosystems treasure.
A young steward with a fistful of stink bob

Lunch and a nature walk followed. We walked down the old creek bed to the lake, on a rambling adventure through the life of the stream. Mike taught us about these streams jump their banks and change every couple of years. On a whim, the snowmelt finds a new “path of least resistance” and moves over, pulling hillsides, trees, and boulders with it. Just another example of how man cannot control nature. But we will try, oh how we will try…
A beautiful day at Colonial Creek

And so, a day of pulling weeds turned into much more. It was a day in the sun under a turquoise sky, a day meeting new people, and a day of learning from someone much wiser than most. Together, these memories all blend together in my mind. Volunteering means learning, and plant identification means stewardship, and they all get mixed into a delicious blackcap raspberry smoothie of appreciation for our wild places. The little we give we get back in droves. Thank you North Cascades.

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