Hope is...

Denise Harris, Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary, AB (Photo by NCC)

Denise Harris, Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary, AB (Photo by NCC)

April 13, 2016 | by Denise Harris | 2 Comments

As I head into my 10th season with the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) Conservation Volunteers program, I am disturbed by news regarding climate change impacts, species extinction and so on. But whenever life’s challenges pop up, I often find myself reflecting upon my ancestors' histories; seeking a silver lining.

My parents’ lives started off on a rocky road; they were children during the Great Depression. My mother shared many of her experiences with me, such as when the family home burned down and her family lost everything they owned. They had to relocate and begin anew.

An old, abandoned barn along the road that leads to NCC's Coyote Lake and surrounding properties. It reminded me of my roots filled with youthful hope and life's lessons while growing up on the farm (Photo by Denise Harris)

An old, abandoned barn along the road that leads to NCC's Coyote Lake and surrounding properties. It reminded me of my roots filled with youthful hope and life's lessons while growing up on the farm (Photo by Denise Harris)

Grandfather acquired a quarter section of land with a pre-existing house and a few outbuildings. The two-storey, perhaps 1,700-square-foot home, consisted of four bedrooms. The second floor was split in two, with four boys sharing half and six girls sharing the other half. Each room contained a pair of double beds and a single three-foot closet, where their second outfit hung. Hand-me-downs, bare feet and underwear made from flour sacks prompted their classmates to pick on her and her siblings. United by the bonds of the family’s love, they worked long, physically challenging hours to create a new life.

Lighting was provided by coal-oil lanterns, water was packed by the pail full from the outside well. Trees had to be felled, bucked up and chopped for heating. Clothes were washed on the washboard and meals were prepared on the wood-n-coal stove. Milk, butter and eggs were stored in the ice house, while the vegetables were housed in the dirt root cellar, sheltered beneath their home.

In the spring, nearly an acre of land was planted with vegetables and about 40 acres (16 hectares) in wheat and oats. In the summer, the kids were sent out to the bush to pick wild berries. In the fall, Grandfather would cull a bore, curing the meat for winter. Whitefish were caught, then canned or smoked. A small herd of cows produced their milk and a couple dozen chickens laid their eggs. It was the sale of the fall steer or two that produced the family’s annual income. Each fall, the family harvested and prepared their and their animals’ food requirements to last them through winter and spring.

Although humbled and a family lacking in material possessions, they were enriched by the love and support of family members. Life taught them that no matter how hard times can get, when you pull together, great things are achieved. So it was no great surprise that as each child grew up and started their own life, they dropped whatever they were doing to support a family member in need. Why? They had known a time when they had not but each other’s loving support and a sprig of hope for a better tomorrow.

Although I cannot create life support (otherwise I'd be living on the moon), I can support the conservation of a biodiverse environment.

Conserving the Waldron (Photo by NCC)

Conserving the Waldron (Photo by NCC)

I can assist in the conservation, maintenance and protection of an ecosystem that has been supporting humankind’s primary needs since the creation of our species. So when I discovered NCC, and then their Conservation Volunteers program, I was ecstatic.

Now I have an outlet to share my love for all species; the trees and plants that support our lungs, the wetlands that pump nutrients throughout the land, the terrain that provides the foundation for our support structure and the wildlife, which like a spider’s web links it all together in some extremely complex and yet very fragile manner.

Although my grandparents’ lives were never easy or convenient, they were always filled with love and hope. They were never victims of their circumstances but rather believed that their actions would overcome life’s challenges. NCC has opened a door so that I, along with like-minded people, may support the life that resides in our backyard, including those that irritate, frustrate and annoy us, as well as those that we may fear.

I recognize that humankind and our life support system are codependent. I believe we must evolve and adapt so that all species may coexist in peace. I value health and well-being for all. I believe these are only attainable if balance and harmony with our natural environment is returned. NCC provides the opportunities to plant and nurture the seeds of hope: an investment whose return is always priceless!

About the Author

Denise Harris Is the recipient of the Golden Glove award in Alberta for her tireless dedication to the Conservation Volunteers program.

Read more about Denise Harris.

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