Moments to Remember

An AmeriCorps Story of Service

By Joannie Fieser

As I enter the final four months of my AmeriCorps term, the question of, “What’s next?” is often on my mind. As I work towards an answer to that question, I will remember moments like those described below: moments that made me feel like I was a part of something that mattered. 

(1)

Today’s particular alignment of celestial bodies (the moon, the sun, the Earth), barometric pressure, precipitation, and other factors has brought us a king tide. The rising water gently teases the tangles from the tidal marsh’s scalp of Lyngby’s sedge, saltgrass, and bulrush. Waterfowl gather, dabble, and dive, feasting on the goodies swept in from Hood Canal. I have never seen the Union River Estuary this full before.

I pause on the bridge, studying the ripple of my reflection on water. I have stood here many times, educating visitors on the role of estuaries for salmon and other creatures. Today, however, I admire and imagine all on my own. I picture threatened summer chum smolt swimming below me, feeding on macroinvertebrates and undergoing dramatic physiological changes to prepare for life at sea. Before the Union River Estuary Restoration project began in 2012, I would have seen 31 acres of artificially filled land; an expanse of swaying wheat.

Joanie plants a tree near the Tahuya River at a volunteer planting event hosted by the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group (HCSEG)’s Stewardship Crew. HCSEG works year-round to restore critical salmon habitat, and hosts events like these during the winter planting season.

(2)

I enthusiastically begin Salmon in the Classroom Presentation #3 as I usually do: “Who wants to tell me how your salmon are doing?”

I am a bit taken aback by how quickly the kids raise their hands. I call on a few of them, pleased to hear about a tank full of healthy fish. That means these kids should have a fun release field trip in the spring. But even more than the news about their tank, I am pleased that seemingly every child in this room is excited to tell me about the transformation of salmon happening just outside their classroom door.

(3)

I carefully weave through rows of tiny trees and twiggy shrubs. In recent weeks, I have had a few opportunities like this to assist HCSEG’s small and dedicated Stewardship Crew install hundreds of native plants along salmon streams. Arriving at a bare spot, I remove a Western white pine from the planting bag hanging from my shoulder. I take a moment to look across the Tahuya River. It is then that I notice how different the forest looks over there– tall, dense, well-established. I look at the ground directly to my left. Might someday that lodgepole pine we planted tower high above, branches jostling in the wind, shading the water for salmon? I glance to my right. That tall Oregon grape– might someday it be big enough to feed the waxwings? Might its roots grow to hold the soil against the forces of erosion? I know that not everything we plant will survive. But at this moment, I feel like I have contributed to something that matters.