Letters of Promise

Many years ago, an eastern Oregon plant monitoring crew I worked on was desperately trying to catch a lizard. In the frenzy, one of my crewmates stomped her foot down as she tried to catch it, causing the lizard to drop its tail. Being a conservation biology major still in college, I knew how energy intensive it would be for that lizard to grow its tail back, and that this loss posed a significant detriment to its life. Lizards do that only when fleeing for their lives. I was so saddened that my teammate was willing to cause this animal harm just for a fleeting closer look. In that moment, I promised myself I would never again try to catch wildlife just for the sake of catching it. More than 10 years later, I’ve kept that promise. At this point in my career, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve doubled down on it. It’s my life’s work to protect nature and help make it better every chance I can.

We make promises to friends, our families and to ourselves all the time, but how often do we make promises to that one “Giving Tree” that helped us through a hard time? How often do we promise to take care of the river we love to fish in, or the rock wall we love to climb? How often do we actually give thanks and praise to the ecosystems and critters that sustain our lives and give us joy? Perhaps this is something you do regularly. Perhaps you’ve done this once or twice. Or perhaps you’ve never thought about it that way before.

Keeping Promises

Promises are not made to be broken. In today’s world though, keeping promises can sometimes feel hard to do. There are so many things vying for our time and attention. We are often tired, stressed, or spread too thin. For so many of us, moments in nature help us clear our minds, gain perspective, and fill us with joy. The earth gives us food, clothing, and shelter. She gives us awe, inspiration, and solace. Nature gives us so much, time and time again. Our relationship with nature is deep rooted and rich, but like all (non-parasitic) relationships, this bond must be reciprocal for all to thrive.

If nature gives us so much, how can we give back to nature? We can give back to nature through active restoration, composting, or buying products from companies that cause as little harm as possible. Another way to give back is to make a promise—and to keep it.

Boulder County Parks & Open Space (BCPOS) is trying to get at just that—a promise full of heart! This “Letters of Promise” project started in 2021.We worked with the Boulder Watershed School to make homemade paper sown with locally collected native seeds using recycled paper from the administrative office at BCPOS headquarters. After the paper was made, the students joined me for a field trip to a recently completed stream restoration project. Standing by the stream, we discussed riparian ecosystems, interconnected relationships, and reciprocity. The students spent time reflecting on their relationship with nature and then wrote a “Letter of Promise” to their favorite plant, animal, trail, rock wall, creek, or to the earth as a whole, making a promise to take care of it with specific action. Then we planted these letters, sown with native seeds and love, into the earth.

This small action carries a lot of meaning by literally and figuratively sowing seeds of reciprocity and gratitude into the hearts and minds of students and into the landscape at the same time. Like feeding two birds with one worm!

There’s an emerging body of scientific research that suggests a deep connectedness to nature can increase one’s happiness, health, and well-being. Although the body of research is emerging, this concept has been in practice for millennia across the entire planet. In fact, it’s only in recent history that humans have created a significant distance between us and nature. This new type of distanced-relationship takes its toll on us humans, as well as the ecosystems that we need—not only for natural resources, but for all the intangibles this wonderful earth offers.

Rebuilding a broken relationship can be hard. It can be a long road full of twists and turns, ups and downs, detours, and back tracking. But all good relationships require work, diligence, care, and compassion. The “Letters of Promise” project is just one step on this road, and although it’s a marathon, not a sprint, it all starts with that first step.

A class making the seed paper that will be planted
A class making the seed paper that will be planted

 

Student writing in nature
A student composes a letter of promise

 

Heart made out of leaves
A letter placed in the earth surrounded by leaves laid out as a heart