A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Forest Project Summer Collaborative 2011

Every year since the inception in 1980 of Wave Hill’s Forest Project Summer Collaborative, one of the nation’s longest running youth development internships focusing on urban ecology, Bronx-area high school students have participated in urban woodland restoration projects while learning the basic principles of environmental science and stewardship. For many interns this is a first job, and may be the first time they have worked outdoors. In this first entry of the 2011 summer program, high school intern bloggers Emanuel and Jared, 10th graders, Lidia, an 11th grader, and John, a senior, offer candid feedback from the field.

July 22, 2011―Hey, Wave Hill readers! This is Emanuel, Lidia, Jared and John here, with Emanuel humbly narrating this entry! We’re all brand new interns at Wave Hill’s awesome 2011 Forest Project Summer Collaborative. We are a secretly organized group of bloggers, handpicked from two of the best crews Forest Project has ever seen. For the last three weeks we have been working in the Woodlands at Wave Hill. Our first three weeks have consisted of weeding invasive species, specifically mugwort, garlic mustard, and porcelain berry (Lidia’s worst enemy). To the untrained eye, this task may seem exceedingly easy, but to us masters of the forest, it can be daunting and exhausting at times. The mixture of heat, sweat and dirt is challenging but rewarding. We decided to widen our scope and question whether the other interns felt that this activity brought them closer to nature and to each other or farther away from it, creating a fear of the wild. Our covert team of operatives snuck through our meeting space, gathering information on how our buddies felt. (Seriously, we’re not actually covert, as you’ll see!)

In 98 degree weather, with a blistering sun beating down on our necks and sweat-soaked shirts sticking to our bodies, Lidia and I stumbled down the stairs towards the outdoor area of our home base. Someone had leaked private information that Cynthia’s crew was lurking around there and we immediately took advantage of the news. Once the heavy door slammed behind us, their heads all turned, looks of surprise on their faces.

“You tryin’ to spy on us?” Cynthia joked. Lidia and I shook our heads and shrugged it off as the rest of her crew laughed. (Little did they know that we actually were spying…)

I began the questioning. “So… it has been in the high nineties all week long, you have been weeding nonstop and you have not been paid yet. Doesn’t this make you feel a little distant from nature, and even angered about what you are trying to protect?” Lidia and I, both expecting agreement, were shocked by what we then heard.

Imani told us that for her it was all about the crew. “I LOVE my crew,” she exclaimed, to which everyone around her began nodding in agreement. “I mean, if it was just me out there pulling weeds, yeah of course it would be awful.” Jolifer quickly voiced her agreement.

“We are always singing and dancing, and just having a good time.”

“Doesn’t the heat get to you?” I asked the crew.

“Yeah, it can get hot,” Annarose chimed it.

“I used to hate being outside, but now I really like the outdoors. I am happy just sitting in grass or dirt, and I never would have thought that before,” Jolifer added.

Meanwhile, John and Jared were looking for the other crews. They marched up to Greg’s crew, who were deep in conversation about their skit for the end-of-week Awards Ceremony. The crew saw them and abruptly the conversation ended.

“Are you guys spying on us?” Greg taunted. (We are protective of our skits.)

“We are here to ask some questions about work,” explained Jared.

Giovanni welcomed them. “Sure! Fire away.”

John began to ask question after question, most of them revolving around how everyone felt about weeding and the hard work.

The Q&A ended with the question of all questions. Before heading back to his crew table, Jared asked, “How do you feel about the pay?”

The answers were resoundingly similar. “It’s money. Any kind of money is good.”

For many of us, this is our first job. We are receiving our first paychecks and dealing with our first responsibilities. We are ready to perform the tasks outlined by our leaders without complaints. Many of us leave Wave Hill every day ready to jump in the shower and take a nap. Little do we realize that every hour we spend in the field has an impact on our attitude toward nature and how we affect our communities.

Lidia and I, like our peers, are anxious to receive our first checks this Friday. Other than the money, though, one of the benefits of the work I do every day is creating relationships within my crew. We have a number of inside jokes. Since none of my friends from school have been around this summer, I look for company and laughs with the highly entertaining people in my crew. Lidia feels the same. She says that she agrees with Imani the most, because although all Lidia wants to do during lunch is sleep, she’s ready to go back to work when she sits down at her crew table, and is immediately smiling. The guest speakers that have visited Forest Project have created an explosion of questions for Lidia and she wants to know more every day. Not only about nature and which tree is what, but how her actions now and in the future, can help realize the dreams of people like urban arborist Bill Logan and conservation ecologist Eric Sanderson, two heroes who have already been guest speakers at our program this summer.

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