By: Jennifer Kaiser
Our North Minneapolis crew generally begins our non-youth workdays with a “good morning!” phone call to our project hosts at the Park Board, followed by a short meeting at the day’s project site. The sites are diverse, however, and there are times (many times) when I have thought to myself, “Where could they be taking us now?” In order to shape urban high-schoolers into proactive environmentalists, we first must educate ourselves, the leaders, and practice what we preach. Consequently, the adult workdays are a collaboration between Conservation Corps and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board on restoration projects (mostly invasive species removal) throughout the city.
And, how does this relate to Easter eggs? Well, I’m referring to the secondary definition of Easter eggs – those small surprises found in the field: sometimes useful, sometimes peculiar and occasionally kitsch. A coffee coaster from a freshly cut tree, Burdock root for cooking, the “county record” Buckthorn stump, a pair of rose-colored glasses, a beer can from the 80s, etc.
Despite all of the small tokens found while working, the best Easter Egg unfolded itself sometime around the end of April. Our project hosts took us to Theodore Wirth Park, the largest regional park in Minneapolis, where we have spent many a work day as adults and as youth leaders. I assumed I knew where we were heading, until our hosts continued driving past familiar territory. We parked our caravan of white trucks on a paved path, hiked up a fairly secluded path, climbed over what can only be described as “The Hatch” from LOST and finally I stumbled upon my Easter egg — a gorgeous, refreshing prairie in the middle of the city forest, surrounded by towering Aspen and Scotch Pine. It wasn’t something I could take home, but now I had the knowledge of a “secret place” – a place also referred to as the “best picnic spot in the city” by our hosts. I took a mental picture and vowed to come back, with friends, family and even our youth. The short visit gave me this reassuring yet humbling feeling about my job – through Conservation Corps I am rediscovering the natural grandeur of my own city, a place I’ve called home for 24 years.
After a hard day’s work of brush hauling and pulling nearby tree fencing, we brought our youth crew to the secret prairie during our lunch break one Saturday afternoon. Under the shade of an enormous Scotch Pine, we shared food, played charades, identified trees and reflected on our work. With only one week left until the Youth Outdoors program pauses for summer, I look back on our day at the prairie with nostalgia as one of the highlights of the semester. Nevertheless, the summer means working full-time with the Park Board, and I can’t help but anticipate the next surprises.