Leaving Green Footprints: Mississippi and Louisiana

The shape of the Gulf coastline between Florida and Texas looks like somebody threw a wad of overcooked spaghetti noodles against a cold refrigerator door, and kept the ones that stuck. The twisting, convoluted transition from land to sea creates innumerable bays, inlets and swamps that give the area a very unique ecology. I spent the morning running across a massive bridge spanning the Bay St. Louis; for whatever reason, I’ve always really enjoyed running over bridges, suspended by a relatively thin slab of metal and concrete above the frothing ocean waves. My first stop was near a science center in western Mississippi, where I had organized to plant fifty Longleaf Pines. The sun beat down in the sticky, humid coastal forest, sweat pouring off my head as I plugged holes for the pine seedlings; a far cry from the cold, snowy weather indicative of late-winter-early-spring in many other areas of the country. I loved it. Although it was an awesome experience, my December up in the Dakotas and Minnesota had been enough winter to last me at least the next few years.

Following highway 10, Turtle and I sputtered into one of the most iconic cities in the US, one I had been bidden to visit with nearly everyone I’ve encountered on my trip thus far: New Orleans. Rich with history, the Big Easy also represents the fragility of our mighty technological prowess against the primal forces of nature. The city for the most part has bounced back from the devastation from hurricane Katrina back in 2005, but there are many surrounding areas that may never see a full recovery. Unfortunately, given that the entire area is only about a foot above sea level, the next few decades and centuries will likely see it consumed by the rising ocean levels. That morning I met with Mrs. Sullivan’s Environmental Science classes at the Lusher School, where we planted citrus trees as well as a number of vegetables including peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, okra and cucumbers. The students even had scheduled a field trip out to the coast to plant Spartina dune grasses to reintroduce native species and hopefully strengthen the dunes that are quickly eroding under the pressure of development. Great job to Mrs. Sullivan and her students for being so environmentally active!20170323_100455

Of course, I had to check out the obligatory local attractions, so I spent an afternoon ambling around the French Quarter and roasting the inside of my mouth on some delicious Cajun crawfish. On some of my runs I zipped around through Audubon Park, the massive City Park, and zig-zagged through narrow streets lined with endless plots of above-ground mausoleums. It was a cool experience, but the city had a gritty, hurried feel to it that some people love, but I have never been able to quite get used to. I was a little relieved to be back among southern forests when I rolled out a couple days later on my way west.


As the weather gets warmer with the onset of spring, this week’s Green Footprints challenge is to start a garden in your yard! Whether you’re a green-thumbed pro or have never dug a hole in your life, anyone can set aside a small plot in their yard or balcony and start growing some of their own fruits and vegetables. Some of the easiest ones to start with include lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers, many of which can be grown from kitchen scraps! Cut off the base of a head of lettuce and plant it along with a few leaves; cut and plant the base of a bunch of celery; save potatoes that have begun growing eyes, cut away the portion with the eyes and plant it in the soil. Just make sure to plant your crops in good soil and to regularly water them, and in no time you’ll be growing your own salads!

Leaving Green Footprints: Florida

Leafless oak trees and rolling hills gave way to flat, sandy pine forests as I headed south, eventually transitioning into palm trees until the road dead-ended into the endless blue expanse of the Gulf Coast. Florida! Panama City Beach! Of all the states I’d experienced so far, this one just has a certain feel to it. Perhaps it was a kind of imprinted familiarity; I was born not too far from Daytona Beach, although we had moved when I was very young. I stepped out into the warm coastal sunshine, inhaled a big breath of salty air, and couldn’t help the huge grin spreading across my face. This is the way to spend a winter.


Although I had practically grown up on the beach, splashing out among the waves almost before I could walk, the panhandle- Gulf Coast beaches were quite different from the Atlantic coasts I was used to. Due in part to quartz crystals eroded into microscopic bits that were flushed from the Appalachian mountains by rivers and creeks into the Gulf during the last Ice Age, the sand is so white and fine it’s like treading through flour. It even makes a satisfying squeaking sound as it sifts around under your feet. The ocean laps gently up on the brilliant white sand with waves reaching only a few inches if there’s no wind; a far cry from the roaring waves on the east coast I used to gleefully dive into to bodysurf as a young kid. Looking out at the brilliant blue water and swaying palm trees, I may as well have been on some Caribbean island.

Over the next few days I picked my way slowly down the Gulf coast, exploring every little isolated beach I could safely access without tromping through miles of forest or getting Turtle stuck in the sand. Whether it was the warm sunny weather, the extra Vitamin D, or just being near the ocean (a couple different studies have shown that being near water actually reduces physiological stress), I was so happy I almost couldn’t contain myself. I was in the tropics, had gigs speaking and planting trees with schools for the next four states on my list, and was running healthily again; after the rough Fall and Winter, I was glad that Green Footprints was finally gaining some traction.

(As I’m writing this, a common rhetorical technique comes to mind; building up a happy, positive picture in order to contrast some dark, unfortunate event that happens next. I’m happy to say that’s not what I’m doing, so if you’re sick of the unicorns and rainbows so far, buckle up 😊 )

I made my way down to Everglade City to meet up with an old friend and spent the next few nights in one of the coolest spots I’ve had the privilege to experience. Cody was working at the NC Outward Bound School’s Everglades base camp, which is located on Sunset Island, and is only accessible via a short canoe trip over from the mainland. Essentially a little clearing cut into the vast mangrove forests that have grown over enormous shell mounds left by ancient Native American tribes, the camp has a few cabins for the crew leaders, a common area, a dock, and enough outdoor gear to outfit a small army. Rather than feeling like an outsider, everyone at the Outward Bound base camp went out of their way to make me feel welcomed (and even gave me my own room!), and in no time I was helping with the general operations around the camp. The tiny island couldn’t have been more picturesque; every evening was marked by an unimpeded view of the sunset as it plummeted out of sight on the western horizon, everything painted by golden rays of light spilling through the slotted palm leaves. Each morning Cody and I would paddle over to the mainland and run through the seemingly endless forests and grassy prairies, oranges and grapefruits hanging from the canopy as we made our way through the tropical landscape. After an especially long run while icing our legs in the cool waters of an old abandoned rock quarry, we were greeted by a juvenile alligator that was curious enough to sidle over until he was only a few feet away, its tiny beady eyes peering just above the waterline. Only about two feet long, it just sat there, pondering these two strange featherless, flightless storks. It was pretty amazing to watch its ruthlessly efficient movement as it slithered through the water without leaving a single ripple in its wake; it’s no wonder they have been around essentially unchanged for nearly 200 million years. Probably best for both parties, it didn’t come any closer.


It was hard to say goodbye to the awesome group working on Sunset Island; huge thanks to the NC Outward Bound School for their hospitality! Continuing my way south, Turtle and I motored across the lower tip of the giant Florida peninsula and down the iconic Highway 1 through the Florida Keys. It’s a pretty interesting route, much different than anything I’ve ever traveled. Every few miles provide the opportunity to stop off at a state park with beautiful beaches and coral reefs, and each bridge crossing brings you to an entirely independent spit of land. Running parallel to the highway to the west lies the ruins of the old Florida Overseas Railroad, now broken through in many places and overgrown with trees and shrubs like something from a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Each Key had its own unique atmosphere: Key Largo a bustling, touristy city; Marathon Key a more laid-back, local-heavy beachfront; Key West a wild, booze-infused party. I met up with Daegel, a friendly local who lived right on one of the main drags down from Mallory Square, where the Sunset Serenade takes place every evening. It was cool to get a local’s perspective on the area, and even cooler when he helped me score a safe parking spot right off Greene Street. On my way out I woke up well before sunrise, heading groggily over to the Southernmost Point Buoy to beat the crowds for a photo of Turtle only 90 miles away from Cuba.

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Making my way back to the mainland and up to Boynton Beach, I met with Mrs. Hess at the SouthTech Academy. The students were very engaged and inquisitive, firing off questions left and right after I did my presentation about Green Footprints, and were excited to get involved. We planted fifty Florida Slash Pines on the school grounds, the bushy seedling poking their bright green needles up from the sandy soil as some of the students diligently sprayed each tiny plot to moisten their roots and get them started in their new permanent homes.

My next stop was Cocoa Beach, a spot that, for me, that is brimming with nostalgia more than almost anywhere else in the world. I grew up as a kid visiting my grandparents in their condo, framed by the Atlantic to the east and the Banana River to the west, spending the days splashing around at the beach and the evenings watching the night lit up by the brilliant streaks of space shuttles launching from Cape Canaveral. On a whim I stopped in a local surf shop and rented a surfboard, something I had always wanted to learn to do. A few hours later I flopped down on the sand, gasping for breath but grinning from the effort. Surfing is hard! I spent most of the time getting pounded and flipped around as I tried to paddle out past the break, only once successfully popping up for a few brief moments of salty, frothy ecstasy as I rode the wave to shore (and promptly ate a facefull of sand). I have to say, Turtle looks pretty good with a surfboard fin protruding from the roof rack; kind of like a dorsal fin on a boxy metal shark.

Before leaving the sunny, tropical paradise, I had one more stop: a Volkswagen festival in Lakeland, Florida. I rolled into the event lot and was greeted by rows upon rows of Buses and Beetles as far as they eye could see. The whole spectrum of conditions were on display: rusted, barely-road-worthy Beetles to gleaming, immaculate Split-Window Buses proudly displaying the iconic VW emblem on the front nose. I ambled through a field full of enough miscellaneous parts and pieces that a full vehicle could have been built from scratch right there on the lawn. The community of people I’ve encountered directly as a result of owning this old, finicky, lovable bus have by and large been warm, welcoming and friendlier than I could have ever expected.

As your sustainability challenge for this week, I task you with picking something on your mental list of to-do’s that involves replacing or upgrading something in your home or office, and to instead fix it or make one of your own. Maybe you ‘need’ a new piece of furniture, or your jacket has a few holes in it, or you’d really like a new car so you can have those cool new Bluetooth enabled speakers. Rather than going and buying a new table, jacket or car, instead go to a thrift store or get some wood to make a table; learn to sew, get some fabric from an older piece of clothing and repair your jacket; and rig up your own stereo setup in your car. Send in your photos! We’d love to hear from you. And this week instead of going ‘Green’, you can join me in going Tar Heel baby blue to celebrate our NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP! Go Heels!

Leaving Green Footprints– Alabama

The few days of respite from the winter weather had worn off despite having travelled even further south as I woke up to a chilly, dew-soaked morning in Vestavia Hills, AL. Although not quite in the Appalachians, Vestavia Hills is quite aptly named; I was constantly down-shifting as Turtle struggled slowly up the steep inclines of the neighborhood hills while I made my way over to Hoover High School. I had spent the morning running around Red Mountain Park, navigating forested trails that crisscrossed through the remains of abandoned mines and crumbling stone structures. I was rewarded after one especially long climb by a soaring overlook off of a ringed platform built around an ancient Oak tree, accessible only by a narrow, planked rope bridge like the treetop Ewok villages from Star Wars.

To my surprise, I found that Red Mountain Park is not a funded state or national park, but rather a project born out of a committee called the Red Mountain Greenway and Recreational Area Commission to preserve the natural environment and history surrounding the area. As a nonprofit, it is fully funded by donations and revenue generated by some of the various activities available around the park such as bike rentals and a ropes courses. It was encouraging to see such a project spring up solely from the volition of a group of concerned local citizens, and is an excellent case study on how to create and maintain an entirely self-sufficient park. From now on, this area will not be threatened by the expansion of the numerous businesses and warehouses nearby, and will continue to provide people with a natural escape in the middle of this urban area. With the current threats to our government park systems and natural resources, Red Mountain Park may serve as an important model on how to preserve some of our cherished natural environments around the country.

Later that morning I puttered up the bus loop of Hoover High School, Turtle dwarfed by soaring columns framing the entrance like an ancient GrIMG_0361eek coliseum.  I hoisted the container of Red Oak seedlings nestled in about 30 pounds of soil and struggled my way up endless flights of stairs, wandering down the hallways and trying unsuccessfully to look like I knew where I was going while I struggled to remember the directions given to me by the front desk. I finally arrived at the correct room and was greeted by a bubbly and enthusiastic Mrs. Ort, who flew past me out of the room as I struggled to keep up with both her quick pace and instructions. We had a busy day ahead! I made a list of mental notes as she energetically sketched the outline of the programs: four classes, two planting
locations, a morning news crew, data that would be used for a future lab for her students. I did my best to match her quick tempo throughout the day as we zipped between classrooms, school grounds and tool sheds with various groups of environmental science students, most of which were engaged and excited to help (which had nothing to do with IMG_0365my program getting them out of their quiz for that day, I’m sure). By the end of the day we had successfully planted the Red Oaks around the school campus, interviewed with a local news crew, and spoken to hundreds of students about some of the changes they can make to live a little more sustainably. At the suggestion of Mrs. Ort, I provided the students with the current data map for Green Footprints which includes the locations, amounts and species of the project to date, which they will utilize in an assignment to calculate the estimated carbon offset of the project. You can find this map on the website under ‘Our Progress’ in the ‘Green Footprints Project’ tab. Huge thanks to Mrs. Ort and all the Hoover High School students who participated; it was a blast! Check out the news coverage of the program here!



This week, I challenge you to check out a local park or conservation area that you haven’t visited before, and to get out and experience it! Go for a run, hike or bike ride and unplug from the craziness of everyday life. It’s important that we all foster an appreciation for our natural areas, whether we live in the heart of a bustling city of a rural cabin miles away from the nearest road. We’d love to hear from you; comment below on your favorite parks and how you make the most of them!

Leaving Green Footprints– South Carolina and Georgia

The weather turned decidedly warmer as I drove south towards Greenville, SC. Once a small little backwater town, Greenville has seen a revival in the last couple of decades, with parks and trails popping up all over the place along with the growth of the downtown. I hopped on the Swamp Rabbit Greenway for a run the first morning which took me from the wooded backcountry to the heart of the revamped downtown, complete with narrow footbridge soaring over a pretty impressive waterfall on the Reedy River. I was unexpectedly rewarded afterwards when I noticed that a tree leaning crookedly over the van was a pecan tree, many of its tough pods laying all around. After a little work, I soon had a big bowl of fresh pecans for breakfast!


While gardening is one of the best and healthiest ways to cut down on your consumption of imported and pesticide-treated fruits, vegetables and other crops, another great practice is finding food that grows naturally in your area. Many places around the US have their own unique suite of naturally growing foods that are in such abundance when they are in season they can’t even all be picked! For example, a few years back while I was living in Seattle, WA and doing research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, I passed an enormous swath of blackberry bushes growing on the side of a highway barrier wall every day on my way to work. From late June to early August I brought containers and picked as many as I could to and from work, sometimes getting as many as four or five pounds of blackberries in a single day; the same thing went for cherry trees, which were also abundant all around the city and suburbs. Florida boasts wild oranges and grapefruits for most of the year; Georgia and South Carolina have walnut and pecan trees. If you’re interested in seeing what might be around your area, I encourage you to check out fallingfruit.org, which can help you locate wild-growing and public fruits and vegetables to get you started with some urban foraging!

Later that afternoon I met two of my good friends from college, Bennet and Hannah, over at the Frazee center where they taught. The first-grade class was much younger than any group I had worked with, but what they lacked in attention they more than made up for in energy and enthusiasm! After teaching them a little bit about trees and the role they play in the environment (as much as seven- and eight-year-olds can appreciate, at least), we went out to plant some White Oaks around their campus. They promised to take very good care of them, and even took to naming a few of the seedlings with more recognizable scraggly branches. As a reward for their patience with a new visitor and a change in their schedule, a wild but friendly game of dodgeball broke out, the little guys dashing around and squealing in delight as the air became thick with flying rubber.

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My next stop was in Woodstock, GA where I met a friend that helped me locate some good spots for fifty White Oak seedlings north of Atlanta. This area was also ripe with trails and parks, as I made my way along the Chattahoochee river on the Roswell Riverwalk Trail for a run. Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of time to check out Georgia as much as I would have liked, as I was headed farther southwest to Birmingham to meet with the environmental science students at Hoover High School.

This week for your Green Footprint, try your hand at urban foraging and see what edible goodies are growing near you! Check out fallingfruit.org to get started!

Leaving Green Footprints– PA, WV, KY, NC

Turtle and I made our way back through Connecticut after a successful project on the Woonasquatucket Greenway in Rhode Island, cruising west along the coast while passing small harbor towns I was now at least a little more acquainted with. I was headed to Lancaster, PA to meet up with Brian, who had heard about the project and helped link me up with the Sustainability Planner for the city. I spent the morning running along the Ironton Rail Trail, framed on either side by the Lehigh River and the ruins of old train car parts and dilapidated, crumbling barns and warehouses. Rail trails, the process of taking old, defunct railroads and converting them to multi-use greenway trails, is a growing trend around the country and one of my favorites when searching for new places to run. If you look around your area, odds are there is a rail trail not too far from where you live—check it out if you’re looking for new places to explore!

Turns out Brian was a huge VW guru and was even interested in buying the van! But despite its temperamental nature and tendency to act up at the most inconvenient times, Turtle has become as much a part of this project as I am, and for better or worse, I’m sticking with it. Although there were no developing greenways or friendly maintenance crew members to help we located a good spot for the fifty White Pine seedlings, and I set to work with my shovel and spade. The day was dark and overcast, with a layer of thick mist blanketing the pine forest and cutting visibility down to only a few feet. With the bare, towering trunks, soft layer of moss and pine straw underfoot and hooting owls far off in the distance, it was a scene straight out of a scary movie; I was just waiting to turn a corner and come face-to-face with a growling werewolf or Ent-like monster. Fortunately I made it out of the woods without any dismemberment and was soon on my way south.

The next two stops were West Virginia and Kentucky, both of which passed without much excitement or mishap. Right on the fringes of the Appalachia mountains, West Virginia was still shrouded in the persistent soupy fog that seemed to have been following me for days—and did an excellent job of concealing some of the gut-busting hills I encountered while running through the eerie mountainous landscape. After planting fifty Red Oak seedlings and moving south to Kentucky, the fog had condensed enough to turn into a torrential, chilly rain. The landscape hadn’t changed much as I suited up in rain gear and slogged through flooded mountain roads on what ended up actually being a pretty enjoyable run. Sometimes it’s liberating to throw away all thoughts of pace, form and time and just splash through the pouring rain, not unlike small toddlers you see happily stomping in puddles and grinning from ear to ear. The rain made for soft and pliable soil and easy planting for the fifty White Dogwood seedlings, and before long I was continuing south.


Although I had just visited my family during the holidays I hadn’t yet picked up the trees I had just traveled around the mid-northeast to plant, so I swung back through Apex, NC. I had run literally thousands of miles around the sidewalks and trails of the town and surrounding areas throughout my high school years and before, but this felt a little different. It was really fulfilling to be able to meet up with family and old friends and leave them with something that would grow and flower for years to come; even more fitting, the Dogwoods I planted are actually the state tree of North Carolina! I can remember vividly when I was growing up the brilliant pink and white blossoms that marked the beginning of spring and the onset of warm, sunny weather. Someday a few years from now, there will be fifty more of those beautiful flowering trees ready to put on a show each springtime.

To continue the theme of meeting up with old friends, I’ll be heading next to Greenville, South Carolina to present to the students of a couple of my fellow UNC alumni! This week, I challenge everyone reading this to scrounge up all of your reusable fabric bags to supplant any plastic bags you might have used on your weekly shopping trip to the grocery store. In addition, try to opt for only foods that are not packaged—after all, ‘Reduce’ is the most important component of the reduce-reuse-recycle motto!


Leaving Green Footprints: Rhode Island

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 20170118_162543meeting. 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

A Fish ladder on the side of a dam on the Woonasquatucket

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!


Leaving Green Footprints: New Jersey and Connecticut

The view out the big bay window changed considerably as I headed north into New Jersey. Rather than backwater agricultural fields, boggy tracts of forest land and the occasional sleepy town, the horizon was ablaze with thousands of sulfurous yellow pinpricks, tiny beams of light against a dark concrete backdrop creating a sort of strange horizontal man-made night sky. It was quite a sight to behold, the glimmering skyline of one of the world’s most iconic big cities drowning out any starlight that might have been present. Manhattan is what everyone all over the world thinks of when they hear ‘America’, the Statue of Liberty standing a solemn watch over the harbor. The sprawling island city has been around so long it’s hard to imagine what the original landscape was like before being paved over with bustling streets and skyscrapers; likely very similar to the swampy forests I had explored in Maryland and Delaware. I’ve visited the Big Apple before, however, and had no desire to try and navigate Turtle’s less-than-maneuverable bulk through the narrow streets of the city, so I kept on puttering north.

20170118_144318Later that evening as I was walking back across the parking lot after stopping at a grocery store, I noticed a strange round object peaking from underneath one of the windshield wipers. On closer inspection it turned out to be a red and black sticker, a gear emblazed with the unmistakable shape of a VW beetle, the emblem of the Central Jersey Volkswagen Society. Perplexed, I turned the sticker over to find a note scrawled on the waxy paper backing: ‘Cool bus! Check out our club’, singed ‘Casey’, with a phone number. Smiling, I dialed up the number to let him know I’d received his note; less than an hour later I was sitting with Casey and his family in northern New Jersey, petting their wiry English Pointer.

20170208_181312We stayed up into the night swapping stories about traveling and the different places each had visited, comparing notes on how to keep our old VWs running happily, and telling them a little about Green Footprints and the goals for the project. The next morning, following the meticulously detailed directions I had received (“take a right, go a little ways, then I think a left, and just go down that way for a bit…”) I ran through Jockey Hollow, the site of one of George Washington’s winter camps during the Revolutionary War. It was pretty eerie seeing the remnants of the ancient encampment, knowing that the country was literally started by these people fighting to stay warm through a brutally cold and snowy winter nearly 250 years of years ago. I thanked Casey and his family for their generous20170117_085903 hospitality, but had to pack up and head a little farther north with a bundle of fifty Red Oak seedlings. Meeting new people like Casey has been one of the greatest parts of the Green Footprints project. Without the unabashed kindness in the simple act of leaving a note, I never would have met them or have been able to further share Green Footprint’s mission of sustainability. If you’re reading this Casey or Denise, thank you so much! (And thanks a ton for the donated space heater! The van was nice and toasty, a welcomed change from the drafty frozen interior I’d become used to). You guys rock.

After some help from Casey  to find a suitable spot for fifty Red Oak trees in New Jersey, I followed the highway across the boarder and into Connecticut, passing endless quaint little harbor communities that announced themselves with gently bobbing forests of stark white masts, sails furled and tucked away for the winter. I stopped a few times to explore the tiny towns, many of which had been there for over two hundred years. At one in particular I decided to take a stroll on the beach, parking Turtle in the sand just off the narrow shoreline. A cold wind whipped across the water, flinging flecks of foam and sand in every direction. It wasn’t long before I headed back to the bus, but when I went to pull away, the accelerator responded with a loud VROOM! and didn’t budge an inch. Hmm. Thinking I must have left the parking break engaged, I reached down for the oddly-shaped twist-handle, but it was nestled happily in its spot against the dashboard. I tried one more tentative tap, and although the engine responded, I still wasn’t going anywhere; but I did happen to notice sand flying up into the air in the rearview mirror. I hopped out and around to find that I had been creating a nice trench for the back wheel like a dog digging furiously to bury a bone. Sighing, I went around to get my shovel when I heard a voice call out from a porch adjacent to the sandy road:

“You’re not stuck, are you? I’ve got to get to work later and I can’t get out with you stuck there.”

I looked over to find a tall, strong-looking women squinting in the diffused brightness that always seems to accompany an overcast day. “Nope, all good!” I shouted back, not wanting to concern her (and hoping desperately that I was correct).

“That’s a cool old van. What year is it?”

I can’t count how many conversations have started with that question. But I happily obliged, going over and telling her about Green Footprints and some of Turtle and I’s misadventures. Her expression quickly shifted from annoyance to genuine interest, and we ended up sitting on her porch for the better part of an hour as I listened to some of the work she had done around the state and picked her brain for how I could best experience it. When I mentioned I had fifty White Pine seedlings to plant, her eyes lit up and she dashed inside, emerging with a pen and paper as she scrawled a rudimentary map. Turns out she knew the perfect place, and after some digging Turtle and I were headed north into the familiar temperate forests I had come so accustomed to at the beginning of the project. A few hours later, fifty White Pine seedlings were newly nestled into the Connecticut soil.


The next morning I ran through Rocky Neck State Park, winding through the pine straw covered trails down to a rocky castle-like building that jutted out over the beach below. Looking out over one of the parapets, I wondered if some of the hazy outcroppings in the distance belonged to Rhode Island. I guess I’d find out, as I was headed there next!