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Look up. Look down. Look around.

An expansive field.

By RJ Ruotolo, Ozark Field Crew Member/ AmeriCorps Member

A person in Corps gear looking up a tree.
Josh looking up, admiring a tall Sycamore tree.

Look up, look down, look around. They told us this during training for the Conservation Corps. While out in the field, staff and crew leaders reminded us incoming members to be aware of our natural surroundings.

Look up. Make sure there aren’t any overhead hazards, like a loose branch caught in a tree. See the tree stretching up towards the sky. Listen to those birds calling from that tree—maybe if you’re lucky your fellow crew member can identify them as a Prairie Warbler, Oven Bird, or a Pileated Woodpecker. Is it a pine tree? If you’re in the Ozarks, you’d know that the native Shortleaf Pine trees were heavily clearcut in the 60s, but they’re recovering. Those birds and the Pine Elfin butterflies are thankful. Allow the beauty of harmony to consume you. In our human-centered universe, we aren’t the largest creatures in it. But we do have the power to clear cut.

A person in Corps gear using a saw.
Luke looking down while sawing invasive Honeysuckle.

Look down. Be aware of your foot placement—there could be a tripping hazard. While you look, see the leaves poking out of the soil, ready for the coming summer. Look at the small spider jumping from leaf to leaf. Remember when you were young, and you were terrified of spiders? The many nights plagued with nightmares about spiders a hundred times larger than normal? Perhaps it’s their alienness from homosapiens that’s unsettling: their eight legs, many eyes, segmented bodies. The more you venture outside, the smaller, more familiar the spiders become. Those spiders are the food of frogs, snakes, lizards, birds, and they’re dwarfed by the leaves they crawl on. They’re a small piece of the food chain, the circle of life. Hold one in your hand, if you can.

Look around. All around you are beings larger and smaller than you, yet we have the power and facilities to manipulate them all. A human can be whatever it wants to be, but trees and spiders cannot be more or less than what they are. We wouldn’t be here if not for them. Take a moment to thank the trees for being the homes of all kinds of creatures, and to the spiders who fuel our food.

Then look up, look down, and look around. It’s beautiful out here.

An expansive field.
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Ross County, Ohio.