This semester, I started running on the Charles River Esplanade. You could call me a trend-follower, but I finally realized that there’s nothing better than escaping the ambiance of the city and allowing yourself to clear your mind.
After each run, I’d lie down in the grass and often found myself being lulled to sleep by the gentle waves — watching the wind blowing across the river, carrying big city dreams and tiny seedlings to the river mouth. As I dozed off, I’d watch the long, wispy tendrils of the pleasant riverside plants sway back and forth basking in the sunlight. I felt as if I belonged there, but I soon learned that those seemingly harmonious riverside plants weren’t harmonious at all.
The Esplanade is postcard material, Instagram-worthy and the perfect way to start or end the day. The Esplanade is the go-to place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, but one must wonder how its beauty is maintained.
I stumbled upon the Esplanade Association’s ‘Drop-In Saturday’ program when I was aimlessly surfing the web. This is a program where volunteers show up at the Dartmouth Street Comfort Station on Saturday mornings with full-hearted passion for the environment. People participate in activities such as improving the aesthetics of the Esplanade as well as removing invasive species.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning, the first Saturday of the school year to be exact. Three people from my building agreed to come along, so we embarked on a mission to see what the Esplanade had in store for us. Ready to make a difference, we walked one-and-a-half miles to the meeting location. The only people there were four enthusiastic individuals sporting Notre Dame attire. After conversing, we all realized that we were all here for the same program, but there was no authority figure in sight.
Thirty minutes later, the flustered and surprised Esplanade Association coordinators showed up. I understood why they were flustered, butsurprised? Were we not as rugged as the usual volunteers? Did we smell? This program happens every Saturday. Surely they must recognize that we are here to volunteer.
This is when we learned that volunteers at the Drop-In Saturday program are extremely rare, but they were overjoyed with the turn out.
We were shown an array of rakes and loppers, which we were instructed to choose between. 30 minutes ago, we were mere strangers, and they already trust us to chop away at Boston’s finest walkway? I mean, I wouldn’t randomly give iron rakes to a goofy looking group of college students, but that’s just me.
Now for the duties. We were instructed to cut down Desert False Indigo and other specific weeds. We all looked at a cluster of plants on the coastline quite confused, “So which ones do we cut?”
“All of them,” the coordinator replied.
Right. So almost every single plant along the coastline of the Esplanade is an invasive species. I’ve been Instragramming these wanna-be-native plants this entire time? You’ve got to be kidding me.
My three housemates were in charge of lopping the False Indigo and my duty consisted of raking the invasive species into a pile. The work was exhausting and I felt myself gravitating towards the cool waters of the Charles River. I resisted the urge due to the fear of growing an extra limb.
I finally asked the four members of the other group why they were at the Esplanade volunteering. They were part of the Notre Dame alumni association in Boston and did monthly activities, which included volunteering and watching Notre Dame games. They were a close-knit group that loved to talk about their university. Did I mention they all went to Notre Dame? While I raked, I learned all about their current jobs, undergraduate experiences and everything I ever wanted to know about their sports teams.
“You know,” I said, “I bet on Notre Dame during the college bowl games every single year and they always let me down. For some reason, I keep picking them in hopes that they’ll pull through.”
“Never give up on the Fighting Irish!” one of them proclaimed.
That’s when it hit me. There’s only so much that the Esplanade Association can do. They rely on volunteers like us to fight back the invasive species and maintain the beauty of the Esplanade.
I’m not saying that I’m an esteemed environmentalist because I helped clear a 30-foot section of invasive species from the Esplanade, but it gave me a different perspective of what it takes to conserve an area. If you want to save the environment, then save it. Sitting around thinking about pretty trees isn’t going to make more grow. You have to plant the seeds!
Even if it was small, it was great to know that I did something to improve the area that I run by every weekend. I found it odd that there weren’t more college students taking part. I didn’t learn much about the Desert False Indigo other than the fact that it needs to be chopped down, but if you asked me about Notre Dame’s football record for the previous season, I’m your girl.
Jennifer Ruth is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying environmental analysis and policy. She can be reached at email@example.com.