e bond is an artist, graphic designer and dear friend. When she showed me pictures from her vacation to Scotland, I was ecstatic. There before my eyes were countless photogenic Tsugas - the tiny Hemlock sapling that Laduree raises in Future Weather. But what was e doing with Tsuga? Read her story below...
In early May of this year, I traveled to meet my friend Sherry for an adventure in the Highlands of Scotland. She was headed there to work for Trees for Life, a non-profit we had raised money for in Philadelphia through our arts group, so I thought I would tag along for a volunteer holiday.
After much traveling on both our ends, she coming from Vietnam, me from Philadelphia, we ended up right outside of Inverness, Scotland, in a small area called Invermoriston. This upper region of Scotland contains small remnants of what is known as the Caledonian Forest. This forest was formed after the last ice age and once covered over 1.5 million hectares of Scottish Highlands. These ancient forests, now fragmented, are home to a wide variety of wildlife, much of which is not found anywhere else in the British Isles, all of which is in danger because only 1% of these forests remain. Trees for Life is dedicated to the regeneration and restoration of these forests, and this is where we would spend the next 7 days.
A typical “work week” with Trees For Life can consist of various jobs ranging from collecting seeds and berries to putting up fences to protect seedlings from animals. Our amazing group of 7 volunteers and 2 leaders would be planting Scots Pine seedlings in an area of the forest that was not able to regenerate on its own due to overgrazing by large populations of deer. For 7 days, these 9 so-called “strangers” lived, ate, and worked together outside planting trees.
Now planting trees in the Highlands isn’t as simple as it may seem, or at least not in the beginning. Each morning we would each pack 90 seedlings into our bright yellow planting bags, pick up our equipment and head out into the vast tree graveyard that we were trying to re-generate by hand. We would trek out to the planting site over wet, uneven terrain in search of good, viable earth for the seedlings to be planted. We learned in our training that in order for Scots Pines to have a fighting chance, they need to be planted in soil that is primarily dry, which always means looking for higher ground.
We spent our mornings planting under clear blue skies, and when it was time for tea breaks, we would lay under centuries old pines that shaded us from the heat while we talked and drew and lounged. In the beginning of the week, I thought I would never be good at planting because I spent so much time trying to find a good spot for each seedling and talking to them, ushering them on their way.
If I must be honest, I think Sherry and I took more photographs, drew more diagrams, and sang more made-up planting songs than we actually planted. But our leaders were kind and assured us that we were doing fine. And believe it or not, each day we were getting better despite our slow pace. By the end of the week, the 9 of us had planted 3,540 trees, and even us “slow” members had gotten pretty adept at planting. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe we accomplished so much in such a short time.
When you volunteer for Trees for Life you become immersed in the nature of your surroundings and you are constantly learning more about the land as you work it. I felt especially lucky, because not only were our group leaders smart and generous with their knowledge, but each member of the group brought their own expertise to the collective experience. It made the planting so much more enjoyable, because our days were filled with impromptu nature walks, bird watching, and wildlife lessons initiated by our own group members!
Since I’ve gotten home, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of my group or my time in Scotland. I think of open spaces filled with heather, aspen, birch and pine, and I remember air so clean that lichen grows on anything that will stand still. I think of how old the trees were that shaded me and that they are still standing after hundreds, maybe thousands of years. I also think of what we left behind, which was 3,540 chances at making another forest for someone else to sit under one day. Which is a nice thing to leave behind.
These images were a group effort, as was everything on this trip, so thank you kindly to Rob, Sherry, Danielle, and crew for the beautiful photos they've shared. You can also check out my dear friend Sherry’s account of this same adventure here. Lastly please, please support Trees for Life. They are doing incredible work and they just rock!
e bond is an artist living + working in philadelphia. her days are spent as catalog designer for anthropologie, while her nights are spent drawing, making handmade books & dreaming up new ways to see the world.