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  • Writer's pictureLutzR2

Meaningful Labor on the Land

“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” ~ Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield

Schurch-Thomson, Prairie, flowers, field,
The view of the Blue Mounds from Schurch-Thomson Prairie.

Having moved to Mount Horeb, Wisconsin from western Pennsylvania in 2012 one of the first things that struck me were the many nature areas and parks to be found. I have always had a deep connection and attraction to wilderness areas. As a child I grew

up in a very rural area and the “woods” were my playground. My fascination and artistic inclinations led me to a career as part of the Exhibits Department at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. There I spent years not only helping to create educational displays, honing my artistic skills, but also learning about various sciences.

Though I have left that type of work behind me, I still retained my curiosity and love of the natural world. It’s what led me to begin volunteering doing invasive tree and plant removal in Stewart County Park. Working alongside an older neighbor I helped to begin the restoration of what had once been pasture land that had been allowed to become overgrown with thickets of buckthorn and prickly-ash. I found the work immensely rewarding on a personal level and it gave me a sense of feeling connected to the land on which I lived.

These are photos of Stewart County Park. The earlier ones are from 2014 and show how buckthorn once choked the view and smothered the native prairie plants. The latter are from 2022 and illustrate at how well the ecosystem has been recovering.

This sort of work then led me to eventually being employed at the nearby Cave of the Mounds, where for over I year I worked at eradicating invasive plants. Garlic mustard was my primary target and I spent many hours on their 30-acre property hunting down patches of this horribly invasive plant. I was trained by them to handle herbicides and would carefully apply them so as not to contaminate the landscape or endanger my own health. There was a limited window of using sprays which then meant removal of the plants by hand.

Alliaria petiolata, or garlic mustard, was both sprayed by herbicide and also handpicked from the small forest on the Cave's 30-acre property. Burning the giant pile that had taken weeks to build was one of the most satisfy things ever!

I also would remove the thick underbrush that had enveloped the property over the years. The property hosts many old growth oak trees that were spared of having been cut down. Ebenezer Brigham who originally settled on the hill, had enclosed the area and utilized it as his night pasture leaving the trees as shelter. Though they were large trees the density of undergrowth blocked one from even seeing them. Using a sharp hand saw I would methodically remove the brush, opening up the understory and revealing scenic little vignettes of these old giants. It was very enjoyable work, and I found it very personally rewarding but at that time I wasn’t considering it as a long term employment so eventually left.

Before & after photos of one particular tree that I freed from the chocking undergrowth. I used a handsaw to remove the smaller trees and carefully carried them off without tearing up the ground cover. This particular scene was done in less than a day.

Aside from tending to the natural areas on the surface, I also tended to the Cave itself. Once a week I would travel into the total darkness wearing a red-colored headlamp while using a water hose to cleanse the formations of debris left behind by the passage of visitors.

Let’s fast forward past the pandemic of 2020, my photography business has basically become nothing more than a personal art project highlighting the beauty and life of the natural areas surrounding my home. As restrictions loosened up I began to volunteer for Dane County Parks helping to perform controlled burns at various locations throughout the county. I had also built up an audience of nature lovers who found a sense of enjoyment in my nature photography. This led me to connecting to The Prairie Enthusiasts, a grassroots environmental organization aimed at the restoration and preservation of native flora and fauna.

I was invited to be a featured artist for their 2021 annual conference, which was held virtually that year. Besides sharing a collection of my best nature photography, I also attended their fire training course which was held both virtually and in person. Though I only participated in one small burn with them, I found it just as rewarding as the ones I had done with Dane County. It always lends me a sense of connection and achievement that I find very satisfying.

Photos from various prescribed burns in which I volunteered with Dane County Parks Department. I found their professionalism, methodical approach and safety protocols to be absolutely stellar.

Fast forward again, past a divorce and establishing my own home without a lot of drama and finding myself employed with the USPS. I spent the past two years as a mail carrier. First as a City Carrier in the village of Mount Horeb, and then as a Rural Carrier based out of Blue Mounds. I enjoyed my job working in my community and the interactions with many customers. I switched positions for the opportunity to deliver in the area where I had spent so much time taking nature photos. It was a very pleasant job for most of the time, but unfortunately began to wear me down. Working six days/week and having to do parts of two to three routes, covering hundreds of miles was both isolating and exhausting. Other than financial security the job wasn’t fulfilling.

I participated in both online and in person training, as well as volunteering on one burn with The Prairie Enthusiasts. My photography is also used by this organization for their publications.

Now I am trying to find employment at something I know I will truly love. While being an artist and photographer is a core element to my personality I crave working with a dedicated team. I had the good fortune to attend a facilities tour of a local company that specializes in land restoration and conservation. Having seen such a professional establishment dedicated to something I have willingly done for free inspired me to seek employment in the field.

On February 17th, 2023 I successfully completed the SWCG standards Wildland Fire Training, classes S-190 Intro to Wildland Fire Behavior, S-130 Firefighting, & L-180 Human Factors on the Fireline. Hopefully this, plus my previous experiences, will make me eligible for employment doing something I am sure I’ll find personally rewarding in a variety of ways. I bring to the table not only my experiences but also my passion for working to better the world we live in.

These are random slides from my nature photography collection.

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