September 2, 2015

Discovering My True Nature

by Mikaela Karlsson '18

Mikaela is an iProv Summer Intern at the Rhode Island Land Trust Council to support the 4th Annual Land Trust Days - over 50 events at protected spaces all across the state, including guided hikes, stargazing, and family festivals.

Rhode Island, as small of a state as it is, is actually home to over 45 land trusts. 

But what is a “land trust?” I didn’t fully know myself until a week into my internship. Land trusts are nonprofit organizations formed by people who want to protect open spaces, natural areas, scenic character, watersheds, drinking water sources, farmland, forests, historic sites, and shorelines that define the character of their respective communities and the state. Every land trust is different and reflects the uniqueness and priorities of their community. Only 7 Rhode Island land trusts have staff — the others are volunteer organizations. Land trust leaders and dozens of people across the state volunteer hundreds of hours to preserve and manage our communities’ most valued open space lands.

One of the goals of Land Trust Days is to raise awareness of land trusts by getting people outdoors and exploring the special places in their greater backyard; our slogan is “Discover Your True Nature.” There are many Rhode Islanders out there who are just like I was two short months ago: oblivious to the existence of land trusts and unaware of what they actually do. How can people enjoy and help support something they know nothing about?

Despite all of my research and subsequent Tweeting about the physical and mental health benefits of being in nature, I was doing so from the confines of an office. It wasn’t until the night of our kickoff event that I truly experienced the magic of the Rhode Island outdoors that I had worked all summer to promote.

Our kickoff event was a blue moon celebration at the South Kingstown Land Trust Barn at Weeden Farm. People of all ages (attendees ranged from senior citizens to a twelve-day-old infant) started arriving with their own lawn chairs and a dessert to share as their ticket to enter.

The night began with our speaker from the Tomaquag Museum explaining the importance of the moon cycles to Native American culture. Following the presentation, a geologist led a hike along the stone walls that meander through the fields of Weeden Farm. The Astronomical Society of Southern New England brought multiple world-class telescopes and pointed them at Saturn, double star Albireo, and of course, the bright, blue moon.

An astonishing number of people were surprised to see that Saturn does in fact have rings. My favorite part of the evening was not looking into the telescopes themselves, but rather standing next to somebody else looking into one and listening for their reaction in the darkness. There would be a “Gasp!” followed by a “Wow!” or “It really does have rings! Look at that!” For many, seeing Saturn for the first time that night had given life and truth to the almost cartoon-like satellite imagery that one grew up seeing in elementary and middle school textbooks.

As the night wound to a close, I was walking from the telescope area towards the barn and in front of me an elderly couple was talking. I have no idea who they are. The woman says to her husband, “What a wonderful evening; the Native American talk, the food, the walk around the field, and looking at the planets. And all this beautiful land. We are lucky there are land trusts.”

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