Taylor Barnhill is executive director of SouthWings, a conservation nonprofit based in Asheville, N.C., providing volunteer pilots and aerial education to enhance conservation efforts toward clean air and water, healthy forests and sustainable communities across the Southeast.
Small measures of hope. Those of us who work in conservation have become, by necessity, practiced at grabbing small measures of hope wherever we find them. Our morning e mail arrives with a sigh, another long train of challenges to the wholeness of the earth and community. Finding hope in these times has become a kind of scavenger hunt for us, and something we talk about a lot.
For myself, I invite my dog Daisy to join me along my creek in Madison County, taking in the rich plant and animal life that has made it home for thousands of years. On one recent Sunday morning, my eye was caught by a plastic soda bottle with no label, left by high water in the low fork of a young alder. I squinted and noticed there was something odd about it – something inside. I freed the bottle… a note was rolled up inside.
The message. Awestruck, I opened the bottle, gently shook the note out and read the large penciled letters:
HI I am Tanya
I would send you more money
but this is all I got love Tanya
There was a dime, a nickel and a penny inside.
Had I discovered Moses floating in a rush basket, I would not have been more exhilarated, yet felt I had intruded into some mystical event. I started to toss the bottle back into the stream, to honor its faith, but worried that it would likely become part of a nameless flotsam.
Connected by rivers. As Daisy and I sat on the bank, my mind was working to understand what Tanya had in mind. A dim recollection came forward, when I had led the kids’ stream clean-up for the local Rotary Club. Before attacking the litter, we talked about our resident creeks, where the water comes from, and where it goes. I had visited New Orleans shortly before, and as the kids traced their creeks west to the Mississippi River, I recalled for them the muddy water passing New Orleans, realizing that some of that same mud once flowed down Little Ivy Creek past our very homes.
A month later, hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. And while I could not remember the names of all the kids present at the cleanup day, I suddenly realized that Tanya was one of them. She had imagined the never-ending stream, and after Katrina, she chose our creek to float a donation to the needy kids of New Orleans!
Small actions, lasting impacts. I often think that our conservation success depends on winning the big victory, but the kids always set me straight.
The protection of this precious mountain home of ours comes in small glimmers of imagination and daring, and a willingness to dream that our individual actions will make a difference.
That was in fact, how all the greatest victories that we enjoy today came about, from setting aside the national forest lands a hundred years ago to saving the bald eagle from extinction. Who would have imagined that protected land in Arkansas would reveal an ivory-billed woodpecker? It is all accomplished in small steps by individuals with imagination.
Now, I’m going to go find Tanya so she can finish her mission.
SouthWings needs volunteer pilots who love to fly and serve their community, to provide aerial education to enhance conservation efforts across the Southeast, to assure clear air, healthy forests, clean waters and sustainable communities. SouthWings is a 501c3 public benefit aviation organization whose pilots donate their time to provide aerial monitoring flights to conservation organizations throughout the Southeast. These flights often include elected officials, scientists, the media and other dedicated conservationists. Since our inception in 1996, we have flown more than 450 organizations, and had great success with such media as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Audubon magazine, Vanity FairNational Geographic, in addition to many local news media. Volunteer pilots are able to enjoy tax-deductions for certain flight costs. If this is of interest to you, we hope you'll give us a call, and please let your pilot friends know about SouthWings. Thank you, Taylor Barnhill, Execuitve Director. 1-800-640-1131, www.southwings.org.