Landscapes of Gratitude

Although I still have many months left in my tenure as an Impact Fellow with the Carolina Thread Trail and Catawba Lands Conservancy, I’m already starting to feel the slight tug of nostalgia for my time here. It’s that same feeling I got in my final semester at Davidson; the one where there’s still so much work ahead but you can’t help wanting time to slow down just a little bit.

But that wasn’t necessarily how I thought I would feel about wrapping up my time here. To be honest, when I began my fellowship I wasn’t sure quite how I felt about sticking around the Charlotte area after graduation. I had always imagined jetting off to lead backpacking trips in New Zealand or teach in South America after leaving Davidson and instead I was moving 30 miles down I-77 to help protect the same landscapes I had lived in my whole life – the Southern Piedmont. Don’t get me wrong, I love the rolling hills and sprawling farms of the central Carolinas, but in my dreams of post-grad life I had always imagined myself a little farther from home.

This was a serious miscalculation of the experience on my part. When I’m at work, walking through a sunny patch of woods or making my way up a headwater stream to monitor a conserved property, I am in awe that I’m lucky enough to have a job that puts me in contact with so much beauty. Sure, there are days when it’s 30 degrees and raining and outside is not first on my list of places I’d like to be. There are also days when I find tire dumps and piles of trash out in the woods and natural beauty doesn’t exactly come to mind. But almost every day I find at least one moment when I feel profoundly grateful to be exactly where I am. Sometimes it’s something as simple as making it through a briar patch and walking into a beautiful clear patch of pine trees in a section of woods otherwise choked with invasive plants. Sometimes it’s leading a bike ride or a hike and seeing families taking the time to be together and enjoy the fresh air. And perhaps best of all are the times when those moments of gratitude come when the people I work with manage to make even the most mundane tasks enjoyable – when I’m writing our e-newsletter or responding to questions from volunteers on social media and one of my co-workers makes me laugh so hard I think I’ll cry. These are the moments for which I already feel nostalgia and these are the people, the ones who make me laugh until I cry, that I know I will deeply miss when it comes time for me to leave in August.

I don’t yet know where I’m headed when my fellowship ends, but I know that wherever I go I want to find a job that makes me feel grateful to be there. The best career advice I got while I was at Davidson was this: find something you enjoy enough that you’d be willing to do it for free, and then figure out how to get paid for it. I’ve learned a lot while at the Conservancy from trail building to beer canning, but I think the most important lesson I’ve gained is just how true that advice is. My fellowship has strengthened my ambitions to pursue a graduate degree in geography and my dedication to outdoor and environmental education but more than anything I’ve learned what it feels like to be passionate about my employer’s mission and engaged in the work I do. And now that I know what that feels like, I don’t want to settle for less.