Wednesday (March 14, 2012)
Today was a completely different experience, temperature wise. There was a clear blue sky and a bright sun present to boost our Vitamin D levels, the weather was beautiful! We reported to the nursery and found ourselves doing nearly the same tasks as the previous day. With less help than before, we managed to work efficiently and productively. Since it was our last day at this location, we were asked to do inventory on the plants, and the total number of cypress trees turned out to be over 5,000! We had to make additional room to house the trees and found our hands busy constructing yet another tree bed. The sun was overwhelming at around noon time, and many of us walked away with newly uneven farmer’s tans. The overall outcome of two day’s hardwork couldn’t have made us more proud. All the plants were in beds, reassuring their chances of survival, and in a year or two, the trees will be mature enough to survive all on their own. We did not depart this afternoon until every tree was in place, arriving back at the church just in time for dinner. Covered in dirt and fulfillment, we gobbled down our food and completed the night by watching USF play California in the NCAA tournament (dominating of course!). The only thing our group can conclude about the day is that it went great, and the BULLS rock, both in sports and community outreach!
Tuesday (March 13, 2012)
Tuesday morning was not the most beautiful day in the city of New Orleans. Regardless of a possible rain shower forecast, we headed out to our second destination, Common Ground’s plant nursery, known as the Wetlands Restoration Station. The nursery’s purpose is to raise and sustain a variety of plants that have a low rate of survival if left in the nature undeveloped. Cypress trees, for example, have a reputation of dying early on due to droughts; therefore, potting and maturing plants beforehand is essential. In 2011, a group of volunteers planted approximately 300 cypress tress, and in the end, only 13 survived. ONLY 13! The cypress trees we plotted originated from Florida, allowing us to connect with the day’s project even more. The pots are placed in handmade tree beds, built by volunteers, that hold certain water levels, mimicking the different plants’ natural habitats. Knowing our trees now had a stable and dependable environment left a resonating satisfaction within the group. After a long afternoon of potting cypress seeds and trees, building tree beds, and breaking a sweat, we rewarded ourselves with deliciously refreshing treats from Frogurt, a local frozen yogurt joint we’d been wanting to visit ever since our arrival. With a great group reflection, our evening ended perfectly and off to bed we went.
March 12 marked our first encounter with Louisiana’s “wilderness.” Since our trip’s focus revolves around the environment, we prepared for what lied ahead by smearing on sunscreen, putting on rain boots, and bathing in bug spray. We worked along with Common Ground Relief, a non-profit agency established in New Orleans following the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Through their solgan “solidarity not charity,” Common Ground is able to provide short and long term relief to the people and ecosystems affected by Katrina’s destruction. The organization led us to the Audubon Nature Institute and assigned us the task of hunting and removing a flourishing invasive species that manifested in the park post-Katrina. We now knew our enemy for the day: the bothersome Chinese Tallow tree. As our group treked through mud, weeds, and tall grasses, sometimes even dodging streams, capturing the beast was no easy job. Mosquitos proved to be a nuisance, and our interactions with other forest creatures were unavoidable. Eradicating the tallow was necessary because the trees literally suck the life out of everything in their reach. On-site for approximately six hours, we felt accomplished doing something so simple yet immensely important for an ecosystem. It doesn’t take much to make a change, and Monday truly demonstrated that making an impact can be achieved in many ways, both big and small.
Saturday (March 10, 2012) & Sunday (March 11, 2012)
Saturday, March 10, was departure day, and we had a long road ahead of us! It took our group of 10 people nine long hours to make the drive from Florida to New Orleans, but we occupied ourselves with car games, one of which included the infamous “Wombat Game.” We arrived that afternoon, and once dropping off our belongings at Peace Lutheran Curch, our home for the next week, we discovered a delicious Mexican restaurant to host our dinner. Sunday was action-packed, full of wandering through the various realms of the French Quarter and somersaulting in Jackson Square. We were able to see many popular attractions. Our main highlights included eating at Cafe Du Monde, visiting the St. Louis Catherdal, running into unique street performers, and walking down the legendary Bourbon Street. The French Quarter had neverending sights to admire, and after about 12 hours, our group finally called it a day. Foot massages and rest were in high demand, with our true adventures beginning the next morning.