Webster Woods: 7 a.m. The sun had yet to drive away the haziness in the air, and within this haziness, nature lies asleep. But humanity as always had made its claim in the forest. Despite frequent “no littering” signs nailed onto trees, I still saw used tissue trashed beside a power line. I trekked along the gravel trail covered by a golden carpet of foliage and the only signs of the lively harvest season I saw were the light chirping of cicadas, a mere reminiscence of their heyday in summer, and two squirrels chasing each other from the log of a dead birch tree to the row of cracked rocks. If I hadn’t attended the Harvest Festival organized by EcoPledge every year, I wouldn’t have known that beneath the cracks of the rocks was another layer of life, the spotted salamanders in hibernation. I wouldn’t have known their imminent destruction.
“We are trying to save the salamanders through a petition.” This is the first thing Stevie Walker, an EcoPledge representative told me at the Harvest Fest. Amongst the colorfulness of the festival, her hand-drawn picture of a spotted salamander immediately caught my attention. “BC is considering to build a salt reserve in the woods. It’s really going to damage their natural habitat.” She pointed at the image of Webster Woods on Google Maps. I saw the modicum of green on the map labeled “Webster Reserve,” the salamanders’ last habitat in Boston, besieged to the west by Newton Center and to the east by Boston College. If these woods disappear, the salamanders will have nowhere to go. Construction projects or a salt reserve will likely have the most disastrous effect on salamanders, since it is widely believed that “salt can inhibit growth and prolong the larval period, thus increasing the risk of desiccation to the late maturing species [of amphibians]” (Collins and Russel 320-324). Spotted salamanders, spending 2-4 months as larvae in pools, will be decimated if the reserve was built.
“So…” As an imaginary salamander crawled across my mind, Stevie cautiously interrupted my thoughts, looking at me hopefully. “Of course.” I took the pen she offered and signed on the first line of the petition sheet. “Thanks,” she smiled, “every signature helps.”
Later that day, when the festival was almost over, I met Stevie again and decided to inquire about her motivation for this wishful project. A little shocked, Stevie expressed that the reasons for saving lives have always been obvious to her: “Knowing that they are there, I thought I might do something to help them. And I’m sure they’re crucial ecologically.” After a brief pause, she continued to argue her case: “But even if they don’t play an important ecological role, we can’t just let them die.”
“This is our fruit.” Stevie then pulled out a stack of petition sheets so thick that she had to bind them with a clip, “We will send it to BC’s administrative level and ask them to reconsider their plan and to build the reserve elsewhere.” Having signed on the very first page, I was astonished by how quickly the pages were filled up over the hours. “This is more than I expected.” Stevie, still savoring her recent achievements, continued buoyantly, “I was excited enough when I was allowed to set up my own table to fulfill my own dream!” I carefully examined the signatures written in different sizes, different styles, different colors of pens. Some of them were written casually, as the tips of pens merely skipped over the papers, leaving light remarks, but most of them show signs of sincerity and genuine care for the salamanders. Going through the pages, I viewed them less as signatures and more asseeds of a fruit which Stevie had reaped. Every signee, every holder of the seeds, possessing resonance for Stevie’s dream, would not hesitate to advocate for the same cause and bear his own fruit. For Stevie, this is her harvest.
The breeze of New England’s fall could not faze the passion of these young environmentalists, and Stevie’s salamanders stand wasn’t the only bright spot amidst the festivity. Under the makeshift sign labeled “Charity Water,” Christopher Russo, the president of EcoPledge, greeted me with a generous grin. From a yellow can, Christopher poured out some opaque brown liquid which I thought was black tea into a used bottle. “This,” he shook the bottle in his hand, “is the polluted water refugees in Africa have to drink.” And I realized that the water was full of mud. “The germs in water like this kill more people than war does.” Christopher continued, but his face turned more solemn than before. “We ask everyone to donate five dollars so that they can afford cleaner water.”
Then I began to wonder: “How will he, with all the donations, make sure those refugees actually receive the water?” It seemed to me that he would unlikely be arriving in the middle of a war zone, handing water to refugees, that as soon as the money gets out of his hands, he would have no control over how it is being used, and that his dream of “Charity Water” was just a dream.
Nevertheless, I reached for my purse but could only take out a one-dollar bill. “It’s all right.” When I was still hesitating, Christopher reassured me. He pulled out a light donation jar with only a trinket of money: “This is hardly enough to afford any water, huh? It’s not money we’re ultimately trying to raise; it’s awareness.” Christopher shook the jar slightly. I heard the blunt jingle of plastic jar colliding with metal coins and realized that I had only been seeing the surface, below which was a large number of nickels and dimes, donated not only as financial support but as a symbol of their conscience and token for their awareness. Before Christopher spoke again, I understood the collective potential of these coins and why in “Charity Water,” the word “charity” comes before “water.” “Thank you.” He smiled again as I put a dollar bill into the jar. From his smile, I saw his burning compassion and strong will for equality. He spread them to every passerby with the help of Harvest Fest and collected everyone’s awareness and agreement in the form of these coins. For Christopher, this is his harvest.
The small event took me over an hour to experience. With EcoPledge’s never-ending supply of creativity, every nook of this festival was filled with a surprise. Covering her stand with branches, a girl organized a scavenger hunt for different trees around the campus, and taught the participants about endangered species of trees; displaying plates of chocolates on his table, a boy gathered a crowd of gourmets and gave them a lecture on fairly-traded cocoa; standing in front of three trash cans, I played a minigame by putting trash into the right can, won a sticker, and learned a valuable lesson about garbage classification. The infinite possibility of EcoPledge nurtured every member’s passions, allowing them to burgeon into reality and grow across the campus. For the community of EcoPledge, this – I glanced at the festival before finally leaving – is the harvest.
Collins, Sara, and Ronald W. Russel. “Toxicity of road salt to Nova Scotia amphibians.” Environmental Pollution, Jan. 2009, pp. 320-324.