Grey to Green: Returning to Rural Life

by Sherrie Kelly

By Margaret MacDonald and Lanika Sanders

Our time spent in Boston necessarily brought to light observations of nature represented in an urban setting. Through a tour of The Fens Back Bay Park, morning jaunts across Boston Commons, and a whale watch, the dichotomy between city and rural living became distinctly clear. The green spaces that exist in Boston contain fascinating diversity - a Dawn Redwood, Weeping Willows, the intricate and carefully tended Victory Gardens. Buds drift onto walkways, flutter into the Charles River, onto passersby -- as if shaking a crown of unending glamour; peaceful in their glory. Geese, pigeons, seagulls, even a blue heron rear their heads. Though these places are surely natural, quaint and idyllic, though they must certainly act as havens from the persistent motion of city life, they aren’t our nature.

Last Thursday evening, toward the end of our second week, we participated in a networking event hosted and attended by St. Lawrence alumni. Set on the 20th floor, we were fancied and sociable, made decent with attractive attire. Close-up views of Quincy Market, Faneuil Hall, and Boston Harbor added strangeness to the relative confines of presentations and well-mannered interactions. Each of us had composed a speech related to our particular interests beneath the umbrella of sustainability. Policy, transportation, social justice, and private business, among others, were touched upon. Dispersed from our bubble of familiar faces, we conversed with alumni, spreading our message outwards to reap returns of curiosity, support, and ideas. The exhilaration of speaking with a new group of people was tempered by the oddity of place: framed by water, far away from the liveliness below, our words, though passionate, felt too theoretical.

The whale-watch produced similar emotions. By definition, the affair is colored by the narrations of guides, shrieks, and clicking cameras. While the whales wield tails of impressive spans, their glimpsing is prescribed – lacking the spontaneity and joyfulness of a chance sighting. As people dashed excitedly across the boat, others swayed within it, slightly sick – grey like the color of the sea. The whales too, by no fault of their own, remain representative of nature within an urban context, dominated by both the trappings of societal ills and goodwill.

With our two-week stay behind us, it came time to cram our belongings into bulging backpacks, toss them into the van, and stuff ourselves into the seats behind them. Some of us had found invigoration within the city buzz, but others had become exhausted by the commotion and were more than ready to depart. Regardless of where each of us fell on the spectrum, the crisp countryside air gusting through the window contented everyone on the journey home.

As we gradually distanced ourselves from concrete walls and chronically rushed vehicles, the city’s grey persona was replaced by the freshness of a North Country growth spurt. In just a couple weeks, the soil had exploded with shoots of grass and overgrown shrubbery, with flowery vines and plenty of leaves. We eagerly soaked up this green glow through glued eyes, captivated by the sights Boston had been lacking.

Closer to Canton, we were greeted by the familiar nauseating feel of potholes under our wheels, finally catching sight of a certain landmark that let us know exactly where we were. In large peeling letters on a worn blue barn were the words, “Life is a precious gift.” We had all seen this building before, passing it on our various runs, bike rides, and field trips. Everyone had his or her own ideas about why it had been painted and what it exactly meant, but the onset of spring seemed to revitalize its message. The spontaneity of life, which is so rare in Boston, is incredibly plentiful on a rural roadside in Canton. Thus, we often disregard how treasurable it truly is. The time spent in Boston heightened our awareness of nature’s exquisite value, proving what a privilege it is to live amidst green life.

The entire day after our return was spent basking in the North Country's green glory. We gathered the work gloves, brought down our field boots, and reported to Ben—our boss for the day. Over the next six hours, songbirds serenaded us as we took to the soil under a sparklingly blue sky. Ben had a number of different projects in need of completion: weeding, planting peas, rolling logs, and carrying timber. We were happy to complete the projects—any excuse to spend the day outside was fine with us.

pic 1 - Our tour guide discusses the rose garden in Fens Park, as we take notes
pic 2 -  Gulls convene during a whale siting
pic 3 - Weeding strawberry plants last week
pic 4 - Jamie wanders the back field at the Sustainability Semester site – beautiful dandelions abound!