Ode to a coworker
After four years of working for the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC) Saskatchewan Region, my friend and colleague Emily Little has left our rectangular province, and I’m trying to come to terms with our failure to make her fall in love with the Prairies and never leave. My attempts to convert her from an Ontario-loving temporary transplant to a bunnyhug-wearing prairie kid started pretty much our first time out in the field together and continued until our last field trip together last fall.
With Emily, I have had the pleasure of tromping through NCC’s Nebo property and its patches of prairie grasses, young stands of aspen, lichen-covered old spruce forests and the cleared area that she helped get planted back to spruce trees.
We’ve climbed the mighty heights of Asquith North 03’s stabilized sand dunes, an island of tranquility with a maze of paths around it. During annual monitoring, we battled swarms of mosquitoes while practically sprinting the length and breadth of NCC’s urban jewel of a conservation agreement, Chappell Marsh.
I have pointed, gawked and gushed with amazement and emotion at every beautiful sunset and windswept cloud during our drives to and from NCC’s many properties and conservation agreements in and around Saskatoon. She even twisted my arm and I told her my secret favourite pie store: Petrofka Orchard. And while her enjoyment of Saskatchewan was obvious in the pleasure she took in her work and the stories she shared of camping and gardening in Saskatchewan, it wasn’t enough to make her stay.
This fall, the Saskatchewan office celebrated our time with Emily. We gave her Saskatchewan-themed gifts, told fun stories of our time together and did our best to make her cry (success!). When she left the province to start a new set of adventures back in her home province, a lot closer to family and friends, I started to think about what it means to fall in love with a place.
I am starting to realize that it might be possible that she did love Saskatchewan the whole time while still keeping connected to Ontario. And I think it’s because both places are entwined in her life and changed her a little, just like she changed the places she lived.
During our last day together, as part of our monitoring at Redberry Lake Biosphere Reserve, we inspected a human-made feature on the property (an abandoned wagon). We check these properties to make sure no one has added anything to the area. The wagon was surrounded by a herd of bored cows. Now, the Emily of yesteryear would not have approached this group of grazing bovines without at least a heavy wooden fence between her and their dangerous four-chambered stomachs and cellulous-grinding molars. But the Emily of today has changed.
Emily spent the last four years working and living in this province, sweating through the heat, admiring wildflowers, discussing livestock AUMs (Animal Unit Months, a unit of measurement used to balance available forage with the size of a herd of cows. Don’t worry about it too much, but it is on the Saskatchewan citizenship exam) and turnout dates (when livestock will be allowed on, or turned out onto, land that is to be grazed) with ranchers, GPSing her way through a hundred different wild places all in the pursuit of maintaining and improving biodiversity outcomes in Saskatchewan. So, when Emily saw that herd of cows, she approached the herd with caution and experience and got the job done.
Anyway, the point is that I’m pretty sure that her experiences and opportunities to help conserve parts of Saskatchewan meant that she did fall in love with the province. She met the people, became part of the story and, maybe most importantly, she purposefully paid attention to the landscape and noticed things. And she did this all while continuing to value her experiences and memories of her home province and all of its beauty and wonder.
Supporting natural areas doesn’t have to be an either–or. We can protect and celebrate ecosystems near and far. We don’t have to save the rainforest to the exclusion of Saskatchewan’s native grasslands.
I’m looking forward to hearing about Emily’s adventures in Ontario as she continues to explore and conserve nature. And, yes, Saskatchewan has lost a great force for conservation, but, really, it’s not a total loss. She’s still working hard for conservation, and the sourdough starter I gave her survived her trip from Saskatchewan to Ontario.