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.

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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!

Leaving Green Footprints–Virginia, Maryland and Delware

Crossing the border into Virginia, the sun shimmering over the glassy surface of the Roanoke River, I was in pretty high spirits. For the first time in a while, both Turtle and myself were firing on all cylinders, Turtle fully re-wired and a brand-new alternator and my legs finally feeling better after endless months of struggling with a torn adductor muscle. I knew I had a couple of weeks to get the rest of the mid- and north-eastern states planted to allow my trees to settle in before the really cold winter months swept through, and was happily up to the challenge.

I started in the Occoneechee forest, looping my way around ponds and glades on the endless miles of trails covered with a thick carpet of oak leaves and pine needles. After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it was nice to be able to escape from everything; in ten minutes of running, you can be out in (what feels like, at least) the middle of the woods, your only companion the rhythmic crunching of the leaves underfoot and the energetic chirping of birds conversing high above in the leafless canopy. After arriving back to the van I headed out in the other direction, shovel in one hand and a hefty soil-filled bucket of fifty Red Oak trees in the other. Biting into the soft earth, each scoop came up a mixture of dirt, clay, and the occasional segment of a very unfortunate earthworm. I pondered about the amazingly small kick-start these living creatures needed, which could be accomplished in under a minute with a few generous scoops of my shovel. Humans (and many other mammals) spend years, even decades, growing, learning, and establishing our identities under the care of our parents or guardians; all these trees needed is about 40 centimeters of soil dug from the ground and their roots inserted and covered with the loose, churned dirt. Ten, twenty, fifty years from now, all because of that simple act, a massive, towering wooden giant will add its sprawling branches to the canopy of the forest. (With any luck, fifty of them in the Occoneechee forest, at least!)

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Wending my way north, the landscape became decidedly more boggy and coastal as I crossed into Maryland. The crunch of dried leaves underfoot was replaced by a wet squishing sound as I strode into a forest in central Maryland, misty rain still lingering after a couple of days of chilly, damp weather. I didn’t mind, however, as the soggy earth made it much easier to scoop holes for fifty small Dogwood trees, and ensured there would be plenty of water for their first few days in the ground. As I continued north the clouds opened up with a blast of sunlight just as Turtle crested the midway point of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the water glittering on the tops of small waves whipped up by the wind coming in west from the Atlantic. Delaware offered a similar climate and the wet, dewy forests that seemed to permeate the Chesapeake watershed. I was amazed at the endless crisscrossing rivers and streams that stretched their tendrils across the landscape, turning the map into a spider’s web of blue veins carrying water from far inland towards the Atlantic. In fact, the Chesapeake watershed encompasses six states and contains over 100,000 rivers and streams, ranking as the third largest estuary in the world. With so many rivers, streams and tributaries feeding in from the far reaches of the watershed, agricultural and urban runoff has collected in the bay and become concentrated to concerningly high levels of certain chemicals and nutrients. Efforts such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, among other programs, have been launched to help restore the bay by helping farmers and communities to better regulate the substances that eventually find their way into the waters of the estuary. The health of the bay has seen substantial improvement since the 1970’s when efforts began to address the ongoing water quality issues, and it is important that these efforts continue. Trees and other plants throughout the extensive wetland system act as a natural filter for pollutants and toxins, cleaning the drinking water for the more than 17 million people that live in the watershed. Hopefully the newly planted Red Oaks and White Dogwoods will be up to the task!

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This week, I challenge everyone to make one small change to reduce your water consumption. When washing your dishes, plug the sink and fill the bottom with a small amount of water instead of leaving the tap running; dial back your shower from 12 to 9 minutes every day; leave a small bucket out to catch the rain, and use that to water your plants or garden rather than tap water. Small actions such as these, when multiplied by the millions of people across the country, can have a profound impact on reducing our strain on our natural resources!

Leaving Green Footprints: A New Mission (Well, sort of)

Sorry for the lapse in posting! It’s been a busy January! I want to kick off the year by re-focusing on the mission statement for Green Footprints. I’ll start by thanking everyone who has donated so far—William Muench, Richard Holtham, KP McClanahan, Scott Byington, Connor Hughes, Sandra Reed, Mike O’Brien, Wendy Allred, Jessica Parker, Jacqueline Brewer, Julie Price, Rick Freeman, Jennie Bond, Sara Daehn, Leslie Roddam, Margaret Myers, and Diana Statler—you all rock! The fundraiser has been set up exclusively to cover the cost of the trees, which rather than being donated, are being purchased from organizations such as the Arbor Day Foundation and state and local nurseries in order to monetarily support efforts to re-forest our beautiful country. All other costs associated with the project I am covering myself. As it stands today, $375 towards the $2,500 goal has been raised. I encourage everyone reading this to pick three people that you think might be interested in Green Footprint’s mission and send them a personal email with a link to the project! Gofundme.com/greenfootprints . With your help, I know we can make it happen. Since the winter has set in and the weather isn’t optimal for planting trees, I’ll be using the next month or two to catch up the blog with everything Green Footprints has accomplished to date. But first, I’d like to address an interesting observation I’ve noticed as a result of current events.

With the recent actions taken by our new government administration, especially the gag order and freezes fettering the EPA, Green Footprints has taken on a role I did not anticipate when I sunk my shovel into the ground for the first time back in August. Projects such as this are becoming increasingly important in the fight to preserve our country’s and our world’s natural splendor; indeed, they are almost a rebellion against the precedents the current administration are attempting to set. The environment, in my eyes, is not something to be monetized at the expense of its health. Speaking equally as a concerned citizen, activist for the environment, and as someone who has conducted scientific research in ecology for a government agency, I can say that the only thing that will be accomplished from attempting to de-fund and ignore research because the findings are inconvenient for certain industries and agendas will only serve to increase the already heavy burden on future generations. Science is, by nature, inquiry. Inquiry is driven by curiosity, a desire to understand the world around us. Without curiosity and inquiry, our capacity to learn screeches to a halt. And when we cease to learn new things, our ability to improve—in any arena—goes with it. I spent most of my time in college training to be a scientist. Although I’m not doing research right now (but plan to at some point in the future), I still have that insatiable drive to add to my knowledge of everything I’m passionate about, and even about things I’m not super passionate about. When we refuse information, we are depriving ourselves of the ability to make the best decisions. And I’m no politician, but I’m pretty sure it’s the governments job to make the best decisions they can about everyone in this country.

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Science—and, even more simply, information—should not be a partisan issue. It is dangerously irresponsible to ignore or refuse information because you do not like what it says. Although the government can implement policies that make it harder to stay objectively informed about whatever issues you care the most about, we will not stop fighting for our passions. So if one of your passions is being threatened by some of the latest policies in our country, don’t worry. Keep fighting for what you believe in, in whatever way you can. Green Footprints started as my passion project, and has now transformed into my statement against what I see as steps in the wrong direction when it comes to national environmental policies.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on ways Green Footprints can expand its impact—feel free to comment below! I promise I’ll be less philosophical and more lighthearted later this week; stay tuned for updates about Turtle and I’s adventures in the northeast!

Leaving Green Footprints: 2016 In Review

Thankfully, despite the electrical mess and the resulting lack of a correctly a functioning alternator, Turtle and I made it to North Carolina safe and sound to visit family for the holidays. I even managed to plant the rest of the trees in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio on the way back! Big thanks to Autozone, Advanced Auto Parts and Napa for their free battery charging service. Another huge thanks to all the amazing Couchsurfing hosts that rescued me from the frozen temperatures and tool-strewn mess that my ‘bedroom’ transformed into on the route south (it’s tough when the engine is right under the bed). Matt, Laura, Aaron, KP and John—you guys rock! Couldn’t have done it without you, and excited to be able to share Green Footprint’s message with you and your hometowns.

Phew, what a year! Today I’ll be focusing on a recap of 2016 and where Green Footprints is headed next.

It’s pretty amazing to look back to where I was exactly one year ago—living in Colorado, fresh off a couple international trips and still pretty much fresh out of university. I owned two cars, rented a room in Golden, Colorado with a closet packed full of lots of my material possessions, working in a small restaurant in Boulder, and not really doing much to live up to the model of sustainability that I had worked hard to foster in college (if you’d like to know more about my background and how I got to where I am now, I encourage you to go back and read my first few blogs here). Don’t get me wrong—Colorado was (is!) awesome, and I was enjoying it—but there was this underlying feeling that I could be doing more. That January I was fortunate enough to land a new job that allowed me to work remotely, and opened the door to the possibility of a mobile, traveling lifestyle. Then on a cold, snowy day in February, I happened across a Craigslist ad for a green van over at an auto body shop down the road, and no more than 48 hours later I was the proud owner of Turtle the VW bus. And although this finicky, rickety, eccentric little camper has brought me its fair share of frustration and exasperation with its constant mechanical fussiness, it has transformed from just a vehicle into my trusty travel partner, project ‘mascot’, and true home.

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So, after a stint of traveling down through Utah and Arizona getting acquainted with the van and experiencing my first taste of the ‘road’ life, my gears started turning. I wanted to travel, but not just for the sake of traveling—I wanted to exemplify a sustainable lifestyle as much as I could to be a model for others to follow. By May I had sold my other vehicles, pared my possessions down to only the things I absolutely needed, donated the rest, and formulated the outline of an epic road trip involving lots of trees and lots of running. It took another couple of months of receiving lots of rejections from companies and organizations considering my project proposal before another fellow environmental activist, Rob Greenfield, agreed to help me get Green Footprints started. Late that August I planted my first tree in Saratoga Sprints, NY, kicking off the journey that will end with the planting of 2,500 trees and 2,500 miles running on foot in all 50 states.

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So far I’ve planted and run in twenty states: New York, Vermont, New H20160831_102717 (2)ampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. 250 Blue Spruce, 350 White Pine, 250 Red Oak and 150 White Dogwood seedlings were planted according to the ecological zone for each state. Big thanks to the Saratoga Tree Nursery and the Arbor Day Foundation for providing awesome, hearty seedlings that are now nestled in their new homes in soils across the country.

Green Footprints has caught the attention of organizations all over the world including Life Lessons Magazine, Vanlife Diaries, Gappers Around the World, and Arvores Que Encontrei. I’m also excited to announce that we’ve moved all our fundraising to one cohesive platform, so everyone can see our progress as we work towards the $2,500 to cover the cost of the trees to be planted around the country. All other costs including fuel, repairs and supplies I am covering myself, as I want to be an example of how low-impact traveling can be possible for anyone!

Next on the docket Turtle and I will be doing a big loop through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland before heading south for the rest of the winter. I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions and suggestions as Green Footprints progresses! Please feel free to post below, and of course if you haven’t yet, make sure to donate and share the project with your friends and family! Happy New Year!

Leaving Green Footprints–Minnesota and the Dakotas

After an incredibly enlightening, exciting and frozen trip to 20161204_084900Standing Rock, Turtle and I headed southeast to find some suitable spots for new White Pine seedlings in the Dakotas. At first the going was pretty rough—the sunshine was blazing for the first time in days, despite the near-zero temperatures, throwing a blinding glare off of the fields of white snow. This made it nearly impossible to see the huge spans of black ice covering the asphalt, as I was made sickeningly aware of when Turtle caught a strong crosswind and proceeded to slide forward perpendicular with the road. After what seemed like twenty minutes (but was actually less than 3 seconds) I rocked gently to a stop, straddling both empty lanes of traffic, heart hammering so hard I thought it was going to crack my sternum. The road stretched out, completely empty from horizon to horizon on this wide-open prairie; I had been incredibly lucky. I shifted into first gear and crawled out of the black-iced section, which seemed to stretch forever. I probably would have been faster to walk. Or ice skate.

20161204_130740Eventually the icy highways and snowy expanses gave way to drier, greener scenery. The temperature difference between the east and west ends of the Dakotas was mind-blowing; nearly forty degrees warmer! I dug my shovel into the soil amidst a stand of fellow adult White Pines in South Dakota, turning up wet, pliable soil full of earthworms. A far cry from the packed snow I had hiked across from the teepee to the van that morning! Similar conditions presented themselves as I passed through the southeast portion of North Dakota and made my way back towards Minnesota.

The following day as I logged on and set up to do a bit of work, I noticed Standing Rock was once again plastered all over media websites and news coverage. I was curious how I would view the stories now that I had been there myself, and couldn’t resist tuning in, if just for a second. What I saw blew me away; the easement had not been renewed for the pipeline, and drilling underneath the river had been halted for the time being. I was floored! Although I realized this was temporary—any number of things could happen (or not happen) to kick off progress of the pipeline once again—this was still a huge, unprecedented victory. The people at Standing Rock had shown that people could stand up to enormous, well-funded fossil fuel companies with nonviolent protests—and actually make a difference. The feedback I had been seeing on both Rob Greenfield’s and my own social media covered the whole spectrum, from kind and encouraging to vindictive and hateful. I had heard citation of the hundreds of other pipelines and how none of those were being paid attention to, or how it was hypocritical to consume fossil fuels to travel from all over the country to this spot to protest fossil fuels. I don’t detract from the validity of some of these criticisms, but I think that they are missing the point. The events at Standing Rock are not about being people asserting that they are perfect, blameless environmentalists, or about stirring up trouble, or about eliminating ‘all forms of nonrenewable energy effective immediately’. No. The way that I see it, Standing Rock represents two important things: one, that everyone has a right to a clean, unpolluted environment, despite the interests of big business; and two, that ordinary people can stand up to these big businesses and make their voices heard. So rather than looking at Standing Rock as a single fight against a single pipeline, look at it as a precedent-setting movement. It has shown that by actively and non-violently opposing projects that threaten the health of our planet, even when they are enormously funded, we can make a difference. Especially with the political situation in our country for the next few years, this is an important lesson we must remember and come back to.

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I made my way back to Minneapolis to rendezvous with Rob Greenfield a few days later. It turned out that by leaving a couple days early from Standing Rock, I had just missed a storm that rolled through and dumped tons of snow on the area and plunged temperatures to -25 wind chill. With Turtle struggling at temperatures in the teens and single digits, I wouldn’t have stood a chance at getting out of those conditions. Even so, the ominous little red battery light had sprung to life on my dashboard the previous night, and was still stubbornly glaring even after the car started and idled. After going through a few diagnostics, my worst fears were confirmed; the alternator was shot. I was able to get ahold of one the very next day, and spent the day in a borrowed garage extracting and replacing the spinning metal cylinder. After reassembling everything, I cranked up the van and ta-da! No light! I happily rolled away, headed for Madison, WI—but only 30 miles later, my spirits plummeted back to earth as the light dimly flickered back on. AHG!

The next two days were spent tinkering, splicing and searching for bad connections; I had confirmed that my alternator and regulator were good, but the messy wiring courtesy of the previous owner left an almost insurmountable challenge to sort through. Well, insurmountable when you had to be careful to leave everything in more or less working order if you didn’t want to strand yourself wherever you were working (big thanks to the heated parking garage under Whole Foods in Minneapolis for not kicking me out). Eventually, reality hit me: fall was beginning to expire, along with my window to plant the trees I had left so that they could establish their roots before the cold winter months. I had also planned my route to pass through North Carolina to see my family for the holidays, and I was still nearly 1500 miles away. So, I put everything back in working order and set it up to easily extract my battery, which I would need to lug out every evening to an auto parts store to charge manually, and set off heading east.

For everyone who is reading and still looking for last minute Christmas gifts—give the gift of TREES! Every $1 you donate to Green Footprints plants a tree! Go here to donate! Feel free to comment below with the state that you are donating towards—every state will get 50 trees of its own from Green Footprints! Have a Merry Christmas!

Leaving Green Footprints– Iowa and Standing Rock ND

Leaving Omaha I passed through a countless number of small farm towns, each with its own unique character. In an effort to plug in with local residents as Turtle and I traverse the county running and planting, I’ve developed a habit of getting to know people through the owners of local Anytime Fitnesses, which are located in practically every town around the US. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I’ve been a member of Anytime Fitness for a couple years now, and the gym has turned into a boon for traveling around, providing a safe place to exercise, shower and park for the night. It also turns out to be an awesome tool for engaging with people nearly everywhere I go. As each gym is locally owned, each owner or manager has a close connection with all of the local gym members, which provides a great holistic view of the area and a way to plug in with the residents. In Adel, Iowa (in which I ended up spending more time than anticipated working on never-ending van maintenance) I met Zachary, who provided me with a whole new perspective of these small, seemingly no-name towns. I have always regarded Iowa as an endless plain, flat, open, dominated by corn, and in every way– just plain boring. Zachary mentioned some of the traveling he had done, and that even after seeing all kinds of different places—beaches in Florida, some of the Appalachians in Georgia, forests in New York—he’d pick the open farmland of Iowa any day. “It’s so open, and big, I just love it. Cities, even trees—they make me claustrophobic. I like being able to see all the way to the horizon in every direction, it’s beautiful”, he said.

I was floored. Here I was, in the middle of nowhere. If you had asked me to come up with a state I was just totally unexcited about for Green Footprints, Iowa would probably be pretty high on the list. I had never thought of it that way before. On my run in the morning I looped around dirt roads rutted with the telltale signs of huge tractor tires, gazing over the empty fields not with a sigh of monotony, but with an appreciation for the wide-open view you might not be able to beat with anything short of a boat bobbing in the middle of the ocean. I headed south to plant the fifty White Dogwoods for Iowa in an already forested area, not wanting to ruin Zachary’s unimpeded view of the horizon in every direction.

As I headed north into Minnesota, the weather became quickly and steadily colder and wintery. With no heat in the van (the previous owner did me the luxury of removing the heater box when the rebuilt engine was installed. They must have lived in southern California. Or Florida.) and about as airtight as a cage of chicken wire, the actual driving was beginning to get pretty uncomfortable. Meeting up that evening with Rob Greenfield in Minneapolis, we loaded Turtle to the gills with jackets, scarves, hats and sleeping bags destined for the camps at Standing Rock, North Dakota. After a chilly run along the Mississippi River, we made a couple of quick stops at nearby Aldi’s grocery stores. Or, more specifically, their dumpsters. Two stops provided us with literally dozens of pounds of perfectly good, fresh fruits, vegetables and packaged foods, which we added to the supplies destined for North Dakota. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of good food that is trashed because of imperfections, arbitrary sell-by dates, or just to make room on the shelves.

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After an overnight stop with some of Rob’s longtime friends in Fargo, ND, we were off the next morning, with driving becoming increasingly uncomfortable as the temperatures dropped and the wind picked up. I silently cursed the previous owner for the lack of heat (among other things, but I won’t bore you with auto-mechanical whining…) pouring from the engine into the front of the van, eyeing the empty space left beneath the dashboard on the passenger side. We were only able to make it to Bismark, ND that night, but were fortunate to be taken in by Dylan, a native Bismark-ian who was warm, welcoming and accommodating even at the last minute as we rolled into town just north of Standing Rock. In addition to the cold temperatures snow now dominated the landscape, having increased the farther west we travelled.

The next morning we hopped in and drove the fifty remaining miles down to the main camp at Standing Rock. Nervous about the police we had been seeing reported on the mainstream media, we were surprised when we rounded the final bend without having seen so much as a single squad car. The camp was quite a sight; an enormous expanse of teepees, cars, RVs and small wooden sheds stretching as far as I could see, cut through by the Missouri river. There were thousands of people! I had no idea the camp had grown so much, and it was awesome to see such a gathering of people standing up (no pun intended…) for the environment and their right to clean, uncontaminated water.

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We rolled down the hill into the main camp, carefully navigating the narrow, ice-slick, makeshift roadways criss-crossing the camp. Over and over we had to back up and pick a new side path as Turtle slipped, slid and generally refused to traverse any incline on the slippery surface. Eventually we found a spot to park, and hopped out to check out the camp. After dropping the supplies we had brought at the closest donation station, Rob set off to obtain a media pass to begin sending back accurate reports of the true situation at the camps, and I set off to help the camp prepare and winterize.

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A few hours later full of wood-cutting, snow shoveling, and chopping vegetables, I had interviewed dozens of people asking about the police brutality, checkpoints, fines and arrests that had been dominating the news about Standing Rock. Of everyone I talked to, not a single person had even met anyone who had had any trouble with the police. Although it didn’t surprise me, this stark example of the skewed portrayal of the situation by the media was pretty disheartening. At best it seemed they had been exaggerating the facts; at worst, it was a ploy to deter people from coming to the camps at all. At any rate, the camp was growing rapidly as the reported deadline for eviction of the camp on December 5th loomed just a couple days away. Nearly 2,000 veterans and other supporters had arrived so far, with up to another 8,000 expected before the end of the weekend.

Rob and I stayed with a freelance reporter from Houston, Derek, in a teepee across the Missouri river in the Sacred Stone camp. Despite the frigid temperatures, the teepee heated up nicely with some careful tending to the centrally located wood stove, and it was a pretty comfy place to stay the night. The next morning with weather reports becoming worse and worse for the coming week, I decided to head out earlier than originally planned; Turtle already wasn’t doing great in the freezing, icy conditions, and with subzero temperatures and lots of snow predicted, I didn’t want to be stranded in Standing Rock with no way to work on the van. I set my sights on some much warmer and less snowy areas of North and South Dakota to plant my White Pines, and headed south.

Leaving Green Footprints– Arkansas to Nebraska

After meeting with the Centennial High School environmental science classes, I headed west towards Arkansas. It had been super great to be able to spend some time and connect with the younger generation and spread the message of sustainability, but now I was looking at a full travel schedule. Traveling west through Arkansas, I paralleled the southern edge of the Ozarks, whose plentiful forests provided lots of excellent spots for some small White Dogwood seedlings. The weather had turned a bit cooler as fall progressed towards winter and many of the leaves had lost their amazing vibrant reds, yellows and oranges, but the huge swaths of rolling hills were magnificent nevertheless.

I started my run the next morning crossing a wide bridge that spanned the Arkansas-Oklahoma border near Fort Smith, AR, looping huge arcs around fallow cornfields that stretched as far as I could see. Heading north the landscape changed very little, still providing ample areas of pliable and fertile soil, this time for fifty Red Oak seedlings. I had seen very little of civilization since passing through Memphis on the edge of Tennessee, the view out the big bay window dominated by rolling hills and leafless treetops. These hills gave was to farmlands of middle Missouri, where I had the happy opportunity to meet up with an old friend and born-and-bred Missouri native. Trevor showed me some of his favorite wild areas near the small town of Versailles, Missouri, and he and his wife Catherine generously helped plant fifty new Red Oaks.

The hours of driving every day were beginning to wear on me a little, and I decided to spend a day or two in Kansas City before heading farther north. I pulled off to plant more Red Oaks just before the expansive farmlands and intermittent stands of trees gave way to a more suburban, populated area. With the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, I met up with a friendly group of twenty-something Kansas City natives, and had a great time sharing stories and tons of amazing food with them. Later that night I was back on the road again headed north, bound for Nebraska. At this point I was beginning to exit ecological zones 7 and 6 and entering into zones 5 and 4, which are more dominated by evergreens, conifers and colder-weather trees. Instead of Red Oaks, fifty White Pines found new homes in the Nebraskan soil as I wound my way towards Omaha.

Once reaching the city I was quickly reminded of the coming holidays, with multicolored lights and trees strung all throughout the city, despite the fact that November was just now coming to a close. The end of the year holidays are always a great time to see friends and family, but it seems more and more that they come into conflict with sustainable ways of living, as advertisements and social norms bombard people with the demand to buy, consume, wrap, unwrap, and toss whatever you don’t need. Even reusing is decried, with ‘re-gifting’ being the epitome of a cheap, un-thoughtful attitude.

I challenge you to use this holiday to take steps towards more sustainable behaviors! Instead of heading to the department stores with a lengthy and inflexible list, I suggest doing some research on the companies the produce the products you are setting out to buy. How do they treat their employees? Do they hold sustainable manufacturing practices? Do they package their products in recycled material? Every consumer’s purchase choice supports something, for better or worse. Spending your money towards business that pledge environmentally responsible practices is one of the greatest power the consumer has!

The next stop after passing through Iowa will be up in Minnesota to meet with Rob Greenfield and help to provide accurate and up to date information on the situation at Standing Rock and the progress of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Make sure to check out robgreenfield.tv and Rob Greenfield’s Facebook page for current information as we make our way towards North Dakota!