Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Mission, and an Old Friend

Friends, country men, for me today was a day that all EPA workers can appreciate. A day long anticipated, and all together too brief. A day that will, probably, live in infamy. Field Day. The day that comes once in a blue moon. The day that sets us all free from our indoor cages, to frolic and play in the great outdoors. (For AmeriCorps the term is "Service Day")

I awoke, this auspicious day, at 6 am.  This was unnecessary since we didn't have to be at work until 8:30 (as opposed to our usual 7:00). But I couldn't fall back asleep, because I was too excited. Kinda like Christmas.  So I got up finally, and waited as long as I could before I geared up. That's right folks, GEAR. Hiking boots, quick dry pants and under armor (it's cold, ok?) and my NPS (National Park Service) issue shirt. I would have worn the AmeriCorps one, but the powers-that-be gave me an extra large for some reason. 

The day was glorious and brief. We walked and picked up trash. I was euphoric. I was, in essence, a pig in poop.  There was a brief altercation with a sticker bush (which I did not win) but on the whole my spirits were high. It was in this pleasant mood that I had my encounter. I was carefully rooting out some plastic from the road bank when I happened to glance skyward. There, silhouetted against the brilliance of the autumn sky was, I kid you not, a small green leafy hand. A mitten, to be precise. Hello little tree I thought, as dismissed it. 

I continued to root, and when I looked up again, there was the little leafy hand once more, this time waving frantically in the breeze. Pay attention! It said. Well, when leaves tell me to pay attention I certainly can't ignore them. So I stood up and took a closer look. And, of course, that was when it clicked. Little mitten leaves, Sassafras. My absolute favorite tree in the world. 

This wouldn't be so remarkable (I saw at least twenty Sassafras trees a day in MD, although I never failed to stop and say hello) except that this is the first Sassafras I have seen in MO. Even more remarkable, they are the first of the trees to lose their leaves in the fall. By now, most would have turned. But this one was still green. In fact, when I broke off a leaf it still had enough sap (very rare in fall) to give off a faint echo of its springtime citrus smell. A smell that I had, regretfully but reasonably, given up all hope of smelling until next year.

So far that remains the only Sassafras I have seen. But if there is one there must be more. I was very happy. Although the other AmeriCorps members may have thought it a bit odd that I walked around for like an hour smelling leaves. But I was wearing NPS gear...the hippie vibe should have been clear from the start. 

Oh, and we also filled two pickup trucks with trash. Go us! It was all team Sassafras too. We owned.

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