November 10, 2007
It wasn't the best weather for tree planting: temperatures near freezing and a cold rain. But the community service project had been planned months ago. When we — that is, me and thirty college students — arrived at the site, the other volunteers were already gathered in circles, drinking coffee and waiting for instructions from the group leaders. We'd come to an old neighborhood in a hilly section of Snowstorm City, the Irish section of town. On this hill, the green light on the traffic signal is on the top and not the bottom, thanks to a local tradition started by the Irish immigrants who settled here years ago.
The volunteers seemed mostly to be retired people who lived in the neighborhood, probably about the right age to be grandparents to my college students. As the students picked up shovels, pick axes, and rakes, eager to get started, an elderly man with a headful of white hair and a red fleece vest turned to me and said with a smile, "It's nice to have this infusion of young energy."
Long Island Student had brought the bag of gloves that Cheery Administrator at Little Green always sends with us on community service projects. They are apparently, all-purpose gloves. No matter what project we are doing — painting a shelter, clearing brush, taking water samples, planting trees, working at a soup kitchen — we're given this same bag of brown cloth gloves. None of us have ever quite figured out what exactly the gloves are for, but today we decided that we'd wear them for warmth.
The trees had already been delivered to spots in the neighborhood, most of them to planted in the bit of lawn between the sidewalks and the road. Soon every group was hard at work, digging holes, spreading the roots, backfilling with dirt, tapping dirt down, and staking the newly planted trees with wire. Even though it was early, the cold air had woken everyone up, and all kinds of joking accompanied the work. The students worked quickly to plant the trees they'd been assigned, finishing way ahead of schedule, and then began checking to see what other groups needed help.
I heard the lead organizer say into her cell phone, "Okay, we've got this roving band of forestry students with shovels and pickaxes. Do you need any help over there?"
The sun came out as we walked back, admiring all the new trees that were standing sturdily now, with guy wires in place to protect them from the fierce winter winds. We passed lovely old homes and several Irish pubs. At one house, two little kids who pressed their faces against the glasses and waved at us were rewarded with all kinds of silly antics from the college students.
As we climbed back onto the bus, our work done, students called goodbyes to the other volunteers. One student said, as she settled into her seat, "We'll have to come back in the spring to see if these trees flower."
Posted by jo(e)