The final days of my internship in the Virginian Appalachians have left me with a mix of pride, nostalgia, and excitement for what's to come. The pride comes from the work I've done and the knowledge and experience I've gained. In the four months I've been here, I've helped ASD go from hopeless about FSC certification to almost certified*, organized a workshop series on non-timber forest products, cleared up a lot of confusion about carbon credits, and and taken fieldtrips covering everything from woodworking to horselogging. At home on Anthony's farm, I learned to split a log without hurting myself, transfer plants in the greenhouse, and even drive a tractor!
The nostalgia comes from those things as well, but mostly from the people I've met and the friends I've made. My last day on the farm is a perfect example. Anthony and I worked all day, joking around as we went with much comradery as usual. A few days earlier, Anthony had hinted that he had something called a "flameweeder," essentially a flamethrower used to burn weeds, to which I replied with something to the effect of "Man, if I had a flameweeder, I would use that thing all the time. Even when it wasn't necessary."
So today Anthony turns to me and asks if if I want to use the flameweeder (do I ever) and we spend the next hour or so burning weeds and trying to keep the flames from burning down the high tunnel and/or the fencerow.
After work, we started getting ready for the goodbye party that Anthony's wife Laurel threw for me. Chad showed up first with most of his family, and by the time we had a full house we had everyone from Hannah, an anti-coal activist and Virginia celebrity, to Steve, a land procurer with The Nature Conservancy and a really funny guy. Tom and Deni from ASD came back early froma vacation with their hilarious thirteen year old twins. I was able to explain ASD's entire wood operation from beggining to end by pointing to Chad, who cuts the trees, to Nick, who sells the hardwood flooring.
It was Kirsty, though, who made the biggest entrance. She came in once the party had gotten going with her two kids, Maxine, and a newborn lamb that would have died if it was left alone for the party. We cycled through talking to each other and cooing over the baby lamb, and it felt like a great end to my four months in Appalachia.
I'm going to miss all my mountain friends, but I'm really excited for the next leg of my journey. The plan is a quick pit stop in Williamsburg to see the fam and tie up loose ends, and then a flight to Phoenix and a bus ride to Mexico. Stay tuned as I continue the journey and keep on RESTORING THE AMERICAS.
*I stress the word "helped" here. In no way did I do this on my own, and in the end it was Nick who made the final connection.