My first morning in Rhode Island I woke up to a cold, wet drizzle that seemed to cast a gray blanket over the landscape. I ran along the Washington Secondary Trail, zipping along through naked, leafless branches surrounding the chilly shores of the Flat River Reservoir, totally alone except for the familiar ‘SQUELCH SQUELCH SQUELCH’ of my soaked footsteps along the path. By the time I finished, the sun had finally been able to penetrate through the thick layers of rainy clouds, fracturing it into fluffy floating islands that created a strange dappled pattern of shadows in every direction. By the afternoon, the sun was shining happily as Turtle and I pulled up to Field’s Point on the Providence River. I had noticed a sign for the Save the Bay Center, and decided that was as good a place as any to start with setting up something for the White Pine seedlings I had slated to plant in Rhode Island. I walked into a hushed hallway adorned with beautiful photos and painting depicting some of the animals and ecosystems around the Bay; a few whispered words from the secretary told me that everyone I would probably want to talk to was in a meeting. In the meantime I wandered down the corridors until I ended up in what looked like a classroom, with a young woman tending to something in a kiddie pool that was set up in the corner. Leaning over the lip of the pool revealed a small skate quite literally leaping up out of the water—“He’s just excited”, the women told me. “It’s time for his lunch”. The little guy reminded me very much of a kite, its diamond shaped body ending in a long, flexible tail that helped it quickly changed directions as it whipped back and forth, gobbling up the tiny particles of fish meat drifting around in the water. I watched it in a fascinated trance until I was snapped back into reality by the sound of chattering voices that signaled the end of the meeting down the hall, and I hurried back to the front entrance to catch them. After quickly explaining my project to a few of the Center employees they came to the consensus that I should go see Doug at the Roger Williams Botanical Center a little ways north; fortunately there was plenty of time left in the day, and I was soon on my way.
Turtle and I wound our way through the curving streets of Roger Williams’ Park until we arrived at a huge expanse of buildings and greenhouses that marked the Botanical Center. While I waited to meet with Doug, the City Forestry Director for Providence, RI, I wandered around the numerous towering glass greenhouses around the campus. Following the meandering stone paths I walked through flora representing everything from wet, steamy rainforests, cactus-dominated deserts and northeastern arboreal forests. I had never heard of a ‘City’ Forestry director, and was curious about what went into managing the urban greenery of neighborhood trees and parks. We began by conducting an informal interview, with Doug telling me about some of the awesome programs Providence sponsors such as the Providence Neighborhood Planting Program (PNPP), which involves residents in the planting of close to 500 trees around the city every year. It turns out that Providence has some of the most active urban greenery programs in the country!
Fortunately, Doug was able to link me up with some of the maintenance crew for a new
trail in Providence, the Woonasquatucket River Greenway and Bike Path. I met Tom down at the entrance to the trail, and we loaded up my fifty White Pine seedlings and made our way down the path. Tom pointed out some of the awesome work that was being done to revive the area, such as fish ladders installed around the edges of dams in the river, the removal of huge swaths of invasive species such as the Japanese Knotweed, and the reforesting of native plants all along the Greenway. A big, friendly, talkative guy dressed in a blinding neon orange jacket, coveralls and a camouflaged hat, Tom seemed to be full of endless entertaining stories. As we moseyed towards our destination, he narrated the entire evolution of the bike path and how much it had changed the surrounding areas. We finally arrived at a barren patch of scraggly grass that stretched along the edge of the path near the river, an area that had already been earmarked for planting in order to create a natural buffer between the path and the urban areas behind it. Before long we fell into a rhythm of digging, planting and infilling, working our way down the path while I continued to enjoy Tom’s meandering, disjointed tales that always ended up with me laughing until my sides hurt.
Before long we had completed an impressive stretch of evenly spaced small White Pines, which in a few years will provide the patrons of the Woonasquatucket River Greenway with a nice shaded stretch of native evergreens. Tom and I packed up for the day and I began prepping Turtle for the route back west through Connecticut towards Pennsylvania. I’m constantly amazed and the friendliness and kindness I encounter on the road and the willingness of people to help a total stranger, which makes saying goodbyes that much harder. I had learned a lot in Rhode Island, especially about efforts to reach residents in urban areas and get them involved with beautifying their cities with a little more greenery. It’s good to know that people like Doug and Tom are working hard to ensure that even in big cities, people don’t have to go far to experience a little bit of nature!