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Hold the land dear


Where do we even start with 2020?

As I began writing this letter, the sky was filled with smoke from massive wildfires throughout Oregon and beyond. Thousands of acres were burning, lives had been lost, and thousands of families were displaced from their homes—losing everything, yet afraid to stay with family or friends due to COVID-19. Through the acrid smoke, my kid was trying to log in to middle school from his bedroom. On the news, systemic racism has been on full display, here and elsewhere—tragic for the victims, and painful for all those who have quit looking the other way. My heart ached.

Now we are on the other side of an election with the greatest voter turnout in history, yet the country is riven by partisanship. We are being tested and tried at every level right now: global, state, even in our own homes. We face unprecedented challenges.

What does any of this have to do with North Coast Land Conservancy? Nothing, and everything.

We keep learning and challenging ourselves to be better. Elections come and go, the balance of power shifts, but our essential work remains steady because of our mission:

Helping to conserve Oregon’s coastal lands, forever. It’s as simple as that.

Sometimes we pull weeds on our lands. Sometimes we reshape a wetland or thin a forest. Yet frequently our goal is to do nothing but hold the land. Hold the land dear, protect it. The land and the animals and plants that inhabit these lands have their own wisdom, and we’ve learned to trust that. In the wise words of our first director, Neal Maine, “Our job is really to listen to the land, and let it tell us what to do.”

Even—or especially—in the face of climate change, we remain laser-focused on that mission, and on its simplicity. We know conditions will change—are changing, in our time. Our role is to set aside not all land but important pieces of land: to hold onto it, and to connect those lands to other conserved lands. And with that simple act of holding onto land, the trees and grasses and birds and dragonflies and everything else that lives on the land has room to move, to adapt, to adjust to a changing world, according to its own needs.

And as it turns out, holding onto the land helps us hold on to each other.

When our feet are on the ground, we are together, rooted to this earth. When I find myself adrift in uncertainty, in chaos, I remind myself to stay rooted. We must remember to bring in the light when we can.

A dear friend and mentor, Jayne Cronlund, recently led me through a powerful guided meditatation that I want to try to share with you here. I was at a particularly low point; as I told Jayne, at times I felt like I was drowning. “It’s as if I’m moving slow-motion through water,” I said. “I don’t know how to make it shift.”

Find a tree, Jayne said. In your yard if you can see one, or in your mind’s eye if there is one that you know really well. Sit in a comfortable chair with your bare feet touching the floor. Press your feet onto the ground, press your seat into the chair, and lift your head—your crown—toward the sky. Close your eyes.

Picture the crown of that tree, how it gathers light, how it bends with the wind. Do you see all the branches, the bark, the needles, the leaves? Anchor to that tree. Is she swaying in the wind? Is she absorbing dew? Now picture the foot of your tree. Imagine her roots travelling deep into the soil. Do they spread wide? Do they dive deep? Imagine the rich nutrients that those roots are drawing from the soil.

The tree gathers light through her crown, Jayne reminded me, converting it to the energy she needs to sustain life. With her branches she reaches and gathers as much light as she can. The tree anchors herself to the earth by diving into the dark, cool soil, pulling from its depths all the good that she can find. Through her roots, she also communicates with her neighbor trees, exchanging news and nutrients, looking out for one another.

I urge you, as Jayne urged me, to anchor to a tree, your tree.

Learn from her. Practice bringing in all the light that you can through your mind, your eyes, your smile, your heart. Whether in the depths of dark soil or in the glorious light of the sun, we have each other, and can find the nutrients we need from both the dark and the light.

Some say the winter ahead may be especially long and dark. But looking to 2021, we at NCLC can also see light and promise. A year from now, with the community’s continued support, we expect to be owners of a Rainforest Reserve: a truly extraordinary place, conserved for all time. It’s our biggest-ever project and will be our largest property by far. And it’s not all we’re working on. We continue to pursue conservation opportunities and to steward the land already under our care, year-round.

Your gifts are what make our day-to-day work possible. They’re what allow us to hire and keep staff who are leaders in their fields, and who help make extraordinary things happen.

Your year-end gift today will help support conservation all year, no matter what 2021 brings.

The tree I personally anchor to is a western redcedar in my front yard in Nehalem. Her roots are at the bottom of the hill, and our house is at the top of the hill, so I can see her crown from my back deck. I admit I do not do my tree meditation daily. But still, ever since that guided meditation with Jayne, I feel uplifted every time my eyes land on “my” tree. I see her crown, and a voice inside reminds me, “Take in the light, Katie; even on a dark day, there is so much light out there.” I know her roots will help me get through the coming season. As I anchor to the ground, I hold the land, the land holds me, and I feel kinship with all beings.

Western redcedars do not grow from a bud, as most conifers do: they grow continuously year-round, adapting to light and temperature changes throughout the year. The redcedar slows its growth in the dark and cold winter months, and it reaches for growth on the warmer, lighter days. This makes it a very resilient tree species, large and long-lived, and one well positioned to adapt to a changing climate.

Conserving open land is a direct action you can take to help our state and our world successfully adjust and thrive as temperatures, rainfall, fog, and even sunlight change.

Holding land helps all species thrive. Your year-end gifts to NCLC are helping us hold land.

“Helping”: it’s the first word in our mission, and maybe the most important. It was the topic of much discussion as we framed our mission years ago. We on the staff and board of NCLC know we can’t do this work alone. We need the support of all those who care about Oregon coastal conservation.

Your participation, and your generous contributions, are essential to fulfillment of that mission. Thank you for helping NCLC thrive



Katie Voelke, Executive Director
North Coast Land Conservancy


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