Conservation Vs. Preservation: Mt Sugarloaf Redux
The termination of 2 short weeks will mark the completion of the SCA program that I have been a part of with 22 companions for the last 10 months. The event will be experienced as a polyphonous mix of nostalgia, excitement, giggles, toasts, roasts, and maybe even a few tears.
For now, though, I have 3 days left of my final 10 day hitch to consider a query posed to us throughout the last 5 months of Trail Season: “Preservation vs. Conservation, what’s up?”
That’s the only way I can think to put it. Not a very elegant one, but again and again our managers have encouraged us to make the issue a discussion at the small camps of our project sites. In 5 months, I haven’t done it once (sorry MP); may this post serve as my ablution.
Back at Mt. Sugarloaf in Deerfield, Massachusetts, 6 of us are doing work. We have been installing dimensional lumber steps into the sections of trail described in my first post here.
Our work has been met with heartfelt ambivalence by the hikers that we’ve encountered at the site. About 100 feet up the mountain, our new trail intersects the old one. Here, at the crossroads, the dichotomous reception of our work is palpable on the faces going by.
We built a retaining wall at this local: a fresh, flat layer of red dirt that glides angularly into the new trail, contrasting sharply with the worn roots and steep incline of the old. Many a 10 AM jogger has paused at the wall, their slavering Labrador Retriever smiling jocularly behind them.
Some grit their jaws and leap forcefully up the old path. For these people, the conservation of the Mt. Sugarloaf slope comes at the coast of the preservation of their accustomed experience.
Others jog in place for a moment blinking at the new surface, then grin and wave at us, as we part a way through the tangle of lumber, generator, cords, and tools in order to let them through. They run past with some parting exclamation like “nice job!” “looks great!” or (my personal favorite) “hope you’re getting paid for this!”. These people embrace the preservation of the Mt. Sugarloaf slope as an act of conservation that also happened to aid them along in their morning trek.
The preservation of the Mt. Sugarloaf slope is an act of conservation that necessarily entails the negation of the preservation of the old Mt. Sugarloaf experience? In other words, in this case, preservation is conservation at the cost of preservation?
There’s something not right here. Not enough words. Or, at least, too few explicit ones.
Let us consider more passersby’s in the hopes of exemplification:
The family of four with two young children: took the new trail. The cropped haired man in athletic shorts and wrap around polarized Oakley’s: took the old trail. The burly 6’5” guy wearing a faded bouncer’s STAFF shirt with the logo of a nearby dive bar on the chest… took the new trail. An elderly couple with frizzy white hair and neatly pressed pastel chinos—took the old trail?!
According to my dashboard dictionary, “conservation” is a “careful preservation and protection of something.” “Preservation,” is “the action of preserving something.” After some lexical arithmetic on the two, I suppose one may deduce that “conservation” is “a more mindful preservation.”
Yet, I somehow doubt that my managers would be fully sated by such a logical adjudication, and I can’t say that I’m satisfied either.
Thinking back on the last 10 months, I can draw four firm conclusions: it’s been fun, and it’s been tough; I’m proud of the work I did, and I can’t wait for a week at home sprawled across a porch couch in the shade.
My first day back at Mt. Sugarloaf was a much clearer day than the first day of my last hitch. I could see well past the towers of Amherst, clear to the defined features of the outlying mountains some miles beyond them. The weather has held all week.
The calluses on my hands, the sun dried fatigue of a summer spent digging around outside, reminds me of something. It reminds me of being a kid having fun. Its something I think we can all look back on: that golden age when—despite any manner of adversity, inauspicious condition, or anything anyone older may have seen or told—the world was still a garden teeming with any and all fruit for the taking.
That’s what conservation work means to me: the preservation of that feeling, and the active will to keep that portal open for the many generations to come.