Katherine’s internship blog

Our second cohort of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program is taking part in a conservation summer immersion program on the Colorado Plateau, and they are guest blogging here at L-C-Ideas to keep us up to speed on what they’re doing. Please check back for more!

Katherine’s  internship blog

Home. What is home? In June I left Texas to embark on a conservation program in Arizona to learn about the American southwest biodiversity. From the Pinaleno Mountains to the small town of Patagonia, I encountered fascinating and inspiring people who had me question what home meant for me. As I was transplanted from one location to another, the geographical location as an answer to home no longer resonated. So during this internship, I explored questions that had me reconnect with my understanding of home, and not so strangely, it was through plants.

To be rooted in something is to have connections and a strong foundation in it. Often times, people will see their home as the place where they are rooted. In Vietnamese culture, that would mean blood family and heritage are the roots that ground you. Strong work ethic, importance of education, and growing up as a child of immigrants in America all make up a part of who I am, where I come from. I can thank my family and culture for laying the foundation for who I am as a person. Like a plant, roots are vital for life. Water and minerals are taken in through this area, so a good foundation needs to be established for the plant to survive and thrive. In the past three weeks as I placed hundreds of plants into the ground with Sky Island Alliance, I think about the importance of that foundation that all living things need. Growth can only begin once the plant’s root system has taken place or when I have acknowledged my heritage and culture.

To grow, a plant needs sunlight, carbon dioxide, and as mentioned before, water. Throughout this summer, I have developed relationships with so many people that need time, energy, and effort much like plants do to grow and develop. There is giving and receiving involved in both beings: we provide carbon dioxide, plants give us oxygen. This is akin to the giving and receiving of love in any relationship we can form whether it be with friends, family, or lovers. Once people enter my life though, I am allowing unknowns to occur. These variables are a given in nature and in life. The monsoons specific to the southwest climate embody that variability in nature. For months, the desert is arid and hot until the monsoon rains come in sweeping sheets that pound the earth while the thunder and lightning orchestrate a dance of sound and color in the sky. Nothing in life can be more variable than the people that appear or disappear, yet it is strange how they can make such a lasting impact. The incredible people I have met at SIA, Borderlands Restoration, and Gila Watershed Partnership amongst others have inspired me to work hard for something I am truly passionate about. They have become a part of my own unique path navigating the waters of life that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

In addition to people, hardships are another variable that will shape and morph lives into the unique masterpieces they are. Times of trial and tribulation are when I experience the most growth, and I can honestly say I have grown as a person over the last three weeks. Never before had I spent hours in the blazing heat to plant countless species of vegetation, but the physical work at the mercy of the elements has made me stronger both physically and mentally. I am more resilient, and the native plant species understand this: they have adapted over millions of years to survive in this harsh environment by developing waxy, thick skins, thorns, and/or long, tuberous roots. Both the vegetation and I have been desert-forged, albeit on a different time scale.

As an SIA intern, I set out to learn about the sky island biodiversity and how to restore habitats for wildlife. Unintentionally, I also set out on a journey to find what home meant to me, and why it is important to know. I was reminded to remember my roots: I am a culmination of my family, culture, and life experiences. These do not change like how a plant once rooted cannot move. From an evolutionary timescale though, a species can evolve to a climate by adapting or migrating to higher elevations. Even though my life experiences cannot change once they occur they can, and do, change and shape me. Home can be a simple definition as the geographical location where you come from, but it is so much more than that for me. It is the culmination of my roots, growth, and evolution of self. By knowing what home is for me now, I have gained a more solid foundation and sense of self. Now, I can better serve others from local to global communities by sharing my knowledge and positivity, my own seeds of heritage and hope to plant amongst future generations.

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