Tag Archives: gardening

Dad and I sitting in the treestand.

From the desk of a novice sportswoman

This is the story of my first white-tailed deer hunt. 

“Take the shot,” he whispered. “Take it!”

I shook, blood rushing through every vein in my body.

Through the scope I spied a deer in a clearing about 75 yards from where my dad and I sat in a treestand.

I put my finger on the trigger. Questions flooded my mind. Would I make a good shot? …Did I even want to shoot a deer? …Why did I even climb up here to do this?

In that instant, I swiftly moved through the lifelong steps that brought me to this moment—this moment where for the first time I aimed to take the life of an animal. I saw myself as a child sitting by the wood stove in my grandpa’s kitchen on mornings when he and my dad would head out before light to hunt in the Virginia woods. I always stayed back with my grandma, playing in the yard alongside her guineas, chickens and pigs.

I saw my younger self, who noticed that my mom would rather stay in a hotel over a tent any day, and eat salmon over venison any meal. I played with Barbie and American girl dolls, and soon shifted focus to makeup and boys. Being a sportsman was clearly a guy thing.

Mom and me.

Mom and I sporting our faux-fur hooded vests. I drag her outside every time she visits these days.

I saw myself as a college student studying journalism and English, with a growing curiosity for what hunting was all about. At home during fall school breaks, I’d follow my dad into the woods wearing my younger brother’s old camouflage. No gun, just ears and eyes alert to any movement in the trees. I’d carefully place one foot in front of the other, avoiding dry leaves and sticks that could call attention to my presence. We followed deer trails to a treestand that could fit two. We’d climb up, sit side by side, and blend into the woods, the songbirds and owls in the trees and the wood ducks in the swamp soon returning to their normal business.

Dad and I sitting in the treestand.

Just hanging out 15 feet up in the tree. Sorry for cutting half your face off, Dad.

There’s something about being a part of the woods, moving so little that you become like a branch of that oak tree swaying with the breeze. Coyotes and red foxes cross underneath, and turkeys peck at the ground across from you. Large fox squirrels of black and silver chase one another from bound of pinestraw to bound of pinestraw.

I saw a young professional whose recent camouflaged adventures infatuated me with the idea of being an outdoors woman, of living a little closer to the land. I graduated from college in North Carolina and moved to Massachusetts, enrolling in a hunters’ education course where I would find myself one of few women in the room. I soaked up the history of hunting in North America and learned more about being a safe and ethical hunter. A rifle revealed itself in a pile of Christmas gifts that year. Trips to the shooting range helped me feel certain of the shots I might take one day.

But pulling the trigger to take an animal’s life… It didn’t quite sit right. I’m the kind of person who lets the spiders live in the corners of my home.

I saw a novice gardener who’d decided to live closer to the land with baby steps. My first garden brought me plenty of sunburns; my tomatoes got the blight and my peas dried up. I learned a lot—and I was hooked. Our gardens in years since have flourished and produced food that we eat year-round, and our chickens fill our egg cartons daily.


You can’t bring home day-old chicks without snapping at least a photo or two. Here I’m holding one of our chickens on the day I picked up my order of chicks from the local farmer’s supply. You can see some of our vegetable starts behind me in the greenhouse.

How did I get from gardening to being in that treestand that day? Encouragement from the hunters in my life—from my dad, my partner and brother. But that alone wasn’t going to do it. I wanted to prove that I, a woman, could not only grow my own veggies but could also help provide my own meat, or at least appreciate the reality of what it means to eat meat.

I saw myself in that treestand—saw the deer through my scope.

I held that gun tight, took a deep breath and exhaled.

I pulled the trigger.

A loud crack filled the woods. The deer swiftly disappeared into the trees.

I’d shot at an animal.

We climbed down to check. Questions again swirled through my mind. Did I do the right thing? Was it worth it?

Blood marked the spot and led out of the clearing. Just a few trees in, the deer lay in the brush.

As I walked toward it, I felt my heart torn between gratitude for what the deer would provide and still shame for taking its life myself.

I knelt beside it and held that conflict close as I whispered to the deer: thank you.

Learning, Planting, and Preserving Homelands with the Mashpee Wampanoag

The Mashpee Wampanoag (Wopanaak) Tribe, the People of The First Light, have lived in the Eastern Massachusetts area for thousands of years. The Mashpee, are one of the sixty-nine Tribes that existed of the Wampanoag Nation, which extended from present-day Provincetown, Massachusetts to Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Today, the Mashpee reside in their traditional village of Mashpee off the southwestern coast of Cape Cod. Nearby, the Waquoit bay area, home of salt marshes, cranberry bogs, Atlantic white cedar swamps, freshwater marshes, rivers, and vernal pools, are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge.


Not only are the Mashpee NWR and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in close proximity to each other, but they also collaborated for a conservation sharing experience: traditional ecological knowledge from the Mashpee Wampanoag and conservation methods from the Service. In fact, on August 1st, 2017, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Mashpee, Massachusetts hosted their sixth annual Preserving Our Homelands (POH) Summer Science Camp. This year, the Service participated extensively on a sunny, Tuesday, “FWS Day”.

Tom Eagle, the Deputy Wildlife Manager, and Jared Green, the Wildlife Refuge Specialist from Eastern Mass. NWR Complex visited the Tribe and demonstrated radio telemetry tracking. Students engaged during the process by using equipment to track a tagged, symbolic New England cottontail and Northern long-eared bat, while learning about native and ecologically important species in the region. In fact, both animals are species of concern due to habitat loss for cottontails and white nose syndrome in bats. Tom Eagle expressed the experience by saying, “The Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge has had a great partnership with the tribe since the refuge was established in 1995. Together, the Service and partners have protected many acres for wildlife and have cooperatively managed hundreds of acres of habitat for rare species.” Eagle continued with, “However, this is the first time that the refuge has interacted with and connected with tribal youth. It was a great experience to learn along with them about their culture. I hope we continue to work together as a team on conservation issues and that some students continue in their learning and seek careers with the Service.”

The Northeast Regional Office participated at the FWS Day as well. Leah Hawthorn, the Public Affairs Assistant led a pollinator lesson about native species roles and pertinence to daily life. Students were able to make chapstick using pollinated ingredients and create bee bundle habitats with Japanese knotweed, a recycled invasive plant. Chloe Doe, a SCA/Americorp Intern for the Regional Office also designed a jeopardy board and engaged students in answering fun factoids about pollinators. The prize for correct answers were chocolates pollinated by the peculiar, chocolate midge!

As Americorp Jr. Native American Liaison for Northeast and Regional Tribes with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I presented how my Oglala Lakota culture has influenced my pathway to the Liaison position. I explained how my internships with several environmental federal agencies all maintained a similar mission of preserving the environment for future generations. Lakota traditions similarly believe in thinking seven generations ahead in order to ensure the spiritual, physical, and emotional health and stability for the future of our Tribe. These expressed similarities presented the commonalities between the mission of the Service and my cultural traditions. I then segued into career options for the Mashpee Wampanoag youth and received several questions about the Youth Conservation Corp and how they might become involved.

That day at Mashpee, Wampanoag youth were already involved in conservation of their ancestral homelands. In fact, students were encouraged to design their own aesthetically-pleasing and meaningful garden to benefit pollinating insects. Ted Kendziora, wildlife biologist from the New England Field Office led this native species garden planting activity with Mary Kay Fox, the President of Friends of Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge. In all, 185 native plants were put into Mashpee Wampanoag ground for pollinators, including 21 different plant species, 6 of which were host plants for 8 different species of butterflies. Serviceberry, yellow false indigo, New Jersey tea, perennial lupine, New England aster, and butterfly weed were planted specifically for pollinators. Culturally relevant plants to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are chokecherry and American hazelnut.

A Mashpee Wampanoag community member reminded students that decades from now when the students are elders, they can look back upon this garden and be reminded of their contributions to their community. Casey C. Thornbrugh PhD, Director Of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Natural Resources Department and Chuckie Green, Assistant Natural Resources Director also contributed to sharing the traditional ecological knowledge of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and how Mashpee youth can continue to be involved in preserving their ancestral homelands.

The Preserving our Homelands experience was not only a partnership and collaboration between the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Service, but a positive learning experience for all who were involved.. It was rewarding to share our knowledge of radio telemetry, pollination, and career pathways, but it was a much greater gift to be welcomed by the Mashpee Wampanoag community. A sincere thank you to the Tribal students who made our day inspiring, exciting, and memorable. The students shared with us their enthusiasm for their home and we are so honored to have been invited by Casey Thornbrugh and Chuckie Green.

In my language, I thank the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe for the Preserving Our Homeland experience. Pilamaya. Wopila.

You wouldn’t have these, without the bees (and other pollinators)!

Pollinators are insects or animals that move pollen from one flower to another…but did you know that 1 out of every 3 bites we consume comes from food that has been grown with the helping hand of a pollinator? That about 75% of our agricultural crops depend on pollinators such as bees, bats, wasps, flies, moths, hummingbirds, and butterflies? That without pollinators, we would lose many of our favorite foods?

Credit: Whole Foods Market

As a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,  I had the opportunity of putting together a pollinator exhibit booth at the local Whole Foods in Hadley, MA during Earth Day on April 22nd. I couldn’t have done it without the help and guidance of many others, and it was a success! On a cold, cloudy Saturday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Visitor Services Coordinator, Chelsi Burns, and I spoke to about 75 visitors, many of whom came into the Whole Foods classroom where we had numerous activities set up from 11-2pm.


The goal of this project was to engage children and adults alike in a hands-on activity that will get them thinking about pollinators, make them aware of the importance of pollinators, and show what they themselves can do to help some pollinator species of concern. Reading is an important tool across all ages, and on one side of the giveaway bookmark, there is an intricate black and white (pollinator related) design, and the other side has facts about pollinators , and what you can do to help. I received three very diverse art submissions on top of having one that I drew, and I left some bookmarks blank for the little artists out there who wanted to do their own designs. One of the submissions was even from local art student, Amy Hambrecht, who currently attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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From left to right: chosen pollinator art submissions from Thi Tran, Amy Hambrecht, Chloe Doe, and Greg Corbin. Thanks to all who contributed!

I also had an interactive PowerPoint with questions and facts about pollinators. Monarch butterflies, a pollinator, lay their eggs on milkweed, but much of milkweed has been lost due to pesticides and herbicides. Monarch caterpillars are specialists, which means they solely rely on one food source, milkweed. There were milkweed and dwarf sunflower seed packets, as well as very detailed instructions on how to plant milkweed. Milkweed plants undergo a process called vernalization/stratification, which means they sprout faster after they have cooled.

At the Whole Foods event on Earth Day, there were bumble bee posters, bumble bee “Save the Pollinators” stickers, and garden books to peruse through. There were numerous families with kids, a large college group, and a couple of older individuals who came in to enjoy the coloring fun and ask some questions. We had a very diverse audience and a wide range of ages of individuals who were really inquisitive about what they could do to help. Seemed like there was something for everyone!

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A discovery of finding out that the carrots growing in his yard were in fact pollinated by bees! Credit: Tash Lynch


Kids coloring in their bookmarks, one of which was doing her own pollinator design of a flowering tree. Credit: Tash Lynch

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Justin Sokun checking out the selection of bookmarks. His friends and he were intrigued to come in after they were given “Save the Pollinators” bumble bee stickers. You can never be too old for stickers, right? 🙂 Credit: Chloe Doe

Pollinators annually contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. food economy supply, and without them, we wouldn’t have so many of delicious foods we eat today. Apples? Nope.. Carrots, blueberries, avocados, chocolate, wine, coffee? No way! Thanks to our pollinator friends, we have all of these foods available to us, so a huge shout out to them. The Rusty patched bumble bee population has declined 87% and Monarch Butterflies by 90% from 1990.  Their population numbers have drastically declined due to pesticides and loss of habitat/food sources, so it is time for us to take action and show our appreciation by helping them out! Listed below are a few ways how:

1.) Bee a proactive gardener and plant native plants native to YOUR area. Include a diversity of plants that also bloom during different seasons, so that pollinators have an abudance of food sources. If you are unsure about a specific plant, you can always reference http://www.plants.usda.gov.

2.) Avoid or reduce your use of pesticides.

3.) If you do not have the yard space, you can always create a window box. 

4.) Reduce the number of Invasive species.

5.) Get involved in your community, spread all the buzz about pollinators with friends!