Eight Tips to Make a Fishing Line Cleanup Event Successful.

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Hey, Im Griff. This is the accompanying blog to the the Griff’s Wild Tips video, titled Save Wildlife, Pick up Fishing Line. In each episode of Griff’s Wild Tips, I will show you something that you can do to help wildlife and their habitats (aka homes). In this episode, I explain the dangers posed to wildlife by littered fishing line and show you what you can do about it. It’s simple. Whenever you see discarded fishing line pick it up, cut it up, and pack it out. But one person cannot do it all alone, that’s why I encourage you to organize a fishing line cleanup event. It could be a with your family, a group of friends, or you could go big and organize a volunteer event and invite people from your community.

Several years ago, my California Conservation Corps (CCC) crew and I found a western grebe entangled in fishing line on the shore of Lake Mendocino. The line had already dug deeply into the bird’s flesh and caused life-threatening damage. We had to help it. The closest wildlife rehabilitation center was almost two-hours drive away, so we called a few local vets until we found one who would take it. Since then, I take CCC members to the same spot where we found the bird and we pick up discarded fishing line.

In this Griff’s Wild Tips episode, I’m going give you some 8 pointers to help you successfully implement a fishing line cleanup effort with a small group of friends, or a large group of volunteers.

Remember that if you organize any cleanup event, try to make it fun as possible. The more fun, the more likely that people will return to do it again. There are a lot of ways to make a fishing line cleanup fun. Before, after, or during the cleanup you can take a swim break, dance break, or fishing break. You can use your iNaturalist ap to document what organisms you discover in the area. You can have a rock skipping contest. You can play a game of ninja pose, or you can even teach everyone how to do the nature-celebrating BioBlitz Dance!

Just get out there and do it! Discarded fishing line kills and we need to pick it up! And the more we pick up, the less suffering wildlife will have to endure. Here’s some other things you should consider while conducting a fishing line cleanup event with a group of people.

  1. First off have a safety meeting. Below are some safety considerations and links to more information. Keep in mind that each site and group will have its own safety challenges, considerations, and strategies.
  • Identify anyone who cannot swim and assign them to a territory not directly near deep water.
  • Take ten minutes or so to teach the reach, wade, throw, row method of saving a drowning victim.
  • Remind folks to wear leather gloves due to rusty hooks. Recommend that they also have an updated tetanus shot before participating.
  • Bring at least one throw rope and demonstrate its proper use.

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  • Make sure everyone practices the buddy system and stays in their team’s designated territory.
  • Identify the nearest hospital to the group. And take note of whether or not you have reception in the case that you have to call 911.
  • If you are at a public park, you may want to let the managing agency know what you’re doing. They may be able to provide trash bags and safety support.
  • Consider inviting a life guard to your event if necessary.
  1. Depending on your group, the cleanup may be more fun if you made it competitive by splitting up the volunteers into teams. This will also have the added benefit of motivating folks to stay on task and be more productive.
  2.  Before the teams start, share some grim pictures of wildlife entanglements. Remind them of how important this task is. Thank them for being compassionate enough to help. April Washington 2 (2)
  3. Identify each team’s territory, let them know the allotted time for the cleanup and say, “Go!”
  4. Get permission to photograph and video a few participants picking up the line, interview some of the volunteers, and post the pics and videos to social media with the hashtag #GriffsWildTips and #PickUpFishingLine
  5. At the end of the event, gather up the teams and thank them for their participation and remind them that what they did prevented a lot of suffering.
  6. Have them pile their line in front of their group and appoint a judge to decide who gathered the most.
  7. While they are waiting to hear who the winning team is, let them know where the closest wildlife care center in case they ever find an entangled or hooked animal. Remind them that the care centers rely on volunteers and donations, so anything they can contribute to their local wildlife care center would be greatly appreciated. For an online directory of wildlife care centers, click here.

If you pick up fishing line on your own, with friends, your family, or a group of volunteers, please take photos, upload them to social media and tag me by using the hashtag #GriffsWildTips

Subscribe to my channel to see more Griff’s Wild Tips and the occasional dance video. And please share Griff’s Wild Tips videos often. Did you see the last one titled, How to Make Seed Bombs? It’s going to take a lot more of us who care about our finned, furred, feathered, and scaled neighbors to take actions (big and small) to save their habitat (homes).

Katelyn Rose Garcia

 

I Get By With A Little Help from My Facebook Friends.

This week I wrote a post on Facebook asking you for some good news. At the time that I asked for your good news, I was suffering from what some folks call, “ecological depression.” I define it as the state of hopelessness that I feel when I witness wildlife and their habitats losing ground against humans’ continuously spreading impacts.

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In my late teens and twenties, I felt this despair often enough that it radicalized me for a while. But thanks to some good mentors, I learned that those tactics that arose out of despair/anger weren’t as helpful as I wanted them to be. So, I switched it up. I followed in the steps of people who were using empathy, compassion, and peaceful community action to help wildlife and their habitats (environmental educators, wildlife rehabilitators, ecological restorationists, and natural resource interpreters).  That is how I became a practicing Solutionary.

Still… once in awhile I get sucked into the hopelessness and despair and anger. That’s when I need to identify things to be grateful for. I was having a problem going into that mode this week, so I asked y’all for help. You came through in a big way. Thank you! There were way more comments than I expected and all of them were celebrations of good news! It only took reading a few comments to notice that I was starting to feel better. And each one after brought me further out of the rut. They also helped to demystify some of you who I only know from social media, but now I see you beyond the profile pics. Being grateful with you made me feel like we were somehow connected. Thanks to all of you who participated.  And it’s not too late to add your celebrations/good news! See my post from March 28th or put them in the comment section under this blog entry.

Today (thanks you you), I feel like a Solutionary again. I’m making two Griff’s Wild Tips videos where I will explain how you can help wildlife from your home, work, and/or local area. One video will be about preventing bird strikes and the other will be about how to organize a fishing line clean up.  Both are coming to my YouTube Channel and blog soon (links to both in first comment box).

 

Griff’s Wild Tips: How to Make Seed Bombs (AKA Seed Balls).

Seed bombsMaking native plant seed bombs (AKA seed balls) is a great way to engage friends and family into helping you save the world! Well… you will at least save some pollinators and maybe some of the plants and predators that depend on them. Native plants evolved with the other players in their local eco-game, which means that some insects (like moths and butterflies) have evolved  to resist some of the natives’ toxins. Those plants that they have evolved an “immunity” to become the plants that they lay their eggs on. It’s the plants their larvae (caterpillars) feed on. (Think monarch and milkweed).  Many moths and butterflies can only lay their eggs on one or a handful of related plants that they evolved with. Once those plants are gone, so are the butterflies. And since songbirds feed insects (especially caterpillars) to their young, less native plants also means less songbirds. So let’s plant the plants that are native to our regions!!! Seed bombs are a fun way to do that.

I recently made a bunch of seed bombs with some young adults in the California Conservation Corps, and was stoked to see them enjoying themselves. I think they liked putting the seed balls out as much as making them. Making native plant seed bombs and distributing them outdoors opened the gates for many different conservation conversations among them: like why native plants are far better for local wildlife than non-native wildlife, and where are the best sites to place our “bombs” to ensure the seeds would have the right amounts of sun and shade, water availability, etc, in order to sprout.

Seed bombs are balls made of equal parts clay and soil that encase seeds. They solve some of the challenges that casting native wildflower seeds frequently have. When you cast seeds on the ground, they often get baked by the sun, blown away by the wind, washed away by heavy rains, or eaten up by birds and/or rodents.  Seed bombs protect seeds from those challenges.

On YouTube you can find several different seed bomb recipes which may include professed insect, fungal, and/or animal repellants like cayenne pepper and cinnamon. I’m not sure if those spices actually help protect the seeds, but if you have had good experiences with different seed bomb recipes and secret ingredients, please let me know in the comment section.

Also, if you have a better name than “seed balls” or “seed bombs,”  let me know. Both sound funny to me, but it’s not a big deal.

Now check out my first video in the series “Griff’s Wild Tips” titled, How to Make Seed Bombs/Balls.

To find out which native plants grow in your area, check out the native plant society in your state. For example, in my state we have the California Native Plant Society.

Here is a succinct article from the Audubon Society about how and why to make seed balls, titled Making Seed Balls to Help Birds.

Here is another interesting articles about Seed Bombs.

For more information on why you should plant native plants, check out this book by Dr. Tallamy titled, Bringing Nature Home. I highly recommend it for everyone, but especially for those of you who advocate for wildlife/human coexistence, native plant gardening and restoration, pollinators, and wildlife corridors.

Rest in Peace, Dear Lion

 

Many wildlife species have been traveling on the same routes for thousands of years–as is determined by the shape of the land and the distance between food, water, and shelter sources. They did not evolve for hollow rocks that whiz across the land at 65 mph and come equipped with eyes that glow so bright at night that you can’t look away. This is why you see so many of them dead along our highways. Our roads dissect and fragment their routes, their food and water sources, their homeland. Our cars kill them–and sometimes we are injured or die as a result of the collision, as well. As our population continues to grow at an unbelievable pace, more of their habitat (homeland) is cut up into smaller and smaller chunks. We sprawl, they diminish. It doesn’t have to go like this. As the most intelligent animal that the Earth has known–and the apparent manager of all other Earthly beings-we can give them more dignity and compassion by building wildlife overpasses and underpasses, protecting and restoring their habitat, inviting some of them to coexist with us in our towns, yards, parks, and just by being curious about their lives, their roles in nature, and their individual “personalities.” (Yes, tell me your pet does not have its own personality, wild animals may as well. If “personalities” is too much for you, substitute it with “way of being.”) If observed carefully, you may notice that individual animals have characteristics that make them a little different than their litter mates, flock, etc. They are not organic bags of blood, fur, feather, and claws without conscious. Watch them, and let me know if you notice something. You can start helping wildlife right now by going outside and watching them (we care more about what we understand), look for their signs (tracks, poop, nests, feeding habits), by planting plants that are native to your region, and by joining groups like the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). NWF is working to help us coexist with wildlife. If you’re in California, check out National Wildlife Federation California RIP P23 (Puma 23) Check out full article about P23’s death here: 

 

Assume a Best Intent

 

Mistakes truly are teachers that should be learned from. And life brings them to us daily–always will. I recently heard a quote that was meaningful to me, “Life isn’t here to make you happy, it’s here to make you more conscious.” (Conscious meaning aware). One of the best ways for me to stop an ineffective behavior, learn a lesson, and adopt a new tactic is to get a “taste of my own medicine.” For example: sometimes I am too suspicious of people’s motives. I assume that their intent is selfish and somehow against me.
Recently someone flipped the script and did this to me in a too-frustrated way (seemed to assume that I had wasted their time purposefully and came at me sideways). I was pretty disappointed–more so than was necessary considering that I’ve done the same thing to others many times. OK… keepin’ it real: I was hella pissed and took it straight to the ego AKA butt-hurt with that “how-dare-they!” feeling. But eventually I accepted that it was a healthy experience. It made me realize how often I’ve made this same mistake, and how discouraging it must have been for the other person to realize that my initial reaction to them was to suspect that they were trying to screw me over. When I realize that I have done this, I always do damage control. I’ve read that this misjudgment is natural to humans and have taken my friend Raquel’s advice to try to practice “assuming a positive intent instead of a negative one,” especially with family, friends, and coworkers. I think that’s a good practice to do before we verbalize our suspicions, or react angrily when we realize someone misread us, is to use this THINK graph. Don’t get me wrong, I know that sometimes people are trying to “play me,” but the THINK graph would still help in my response to those people, as well. All in all, I’ve remembered once again to Be Kind. And I’m feeling grateful that I’m still learning.

Corps Programs: Good for Nature, Good for YOUth!

how-to-join-a-corps-program2Corps Programs: Good for Nature, Good for YOUth  by John Griffith

There are a lot of reasons to love the 130+ corps programs in the United States. Who doesn’t love the idea of programs that hire youth to build trails on public lands, restore wildlife habitat, and respond to a community’s natural disasters (like wildfires and floods) while helping them get a high school diploma if they need it, and then offering them thousands of dollars in college scholarships after one year of service? What a great investment in our society! It’s a way better alternative than those same young folks just hanging out at mom’s house or on the streets without any employment prospects. The idea of masses of unemployed and bored American youth doesn’t sound good to anybody. It makes us anxiously recall that ominous phrase, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” There’s already plenty of bad press about idle-handed youth these days, but I know a whole bunch of young adults who are engaged in trying to improve their communities and the environment. They are corps members.

Let’s start by becoming aware of why corps programs are so important for our modern American economy. We’ve all heard that jobs are hard to come by these days, and that colleges keep getting more expensive, right? Those employers that are still hiring get to be really choosey because they have tons of applicants for each open position: even the low-paying ones. Job competition is fierce! The big picture gets even grimmer for the young job seeker when you throw in facts about diminishing natural resources, jobs outsourced overseas, and elected officials who seem like they strongly favor whoever can finance their re-election campaigns over those who can barely finance themselves and voted for help. It’s no wonder that studies show that young adults who thought they were about to embark on the American dream are instead finding themselves in a discouraged “dream-less” sleep on their parents’ couch.

Luckily, corps programs give just about any youth a chance to become engaged to help solve some of our environmental problems and build stronger, more-sustainable communities. Corps programs prepare youth to enter the workforce by teaching employable soft skills like a strong work ethic, a good at-work (professional) attitude, and a sense of team. Throw in some hard skills like installing solar panels, weatherizing houses, eco-restoration, emergency response training, and basic carpentry and, voila! there’s an employable youth. What’s really cool is that most people who are 18 to 25 years-old are eligible to join, even without any previous work experience, a high school diploma, or a place to live.

Let’s talk more about what it doesn’t take to join. If you (or the youth you have in mind) don’t have a high school diploma, no worries. Corps programs know how important education is to your future, so if you don’t already have a diploma, they provide the classes and require you to get one. And if you’re homeless, or fearing that your mom—who is hinting relentlessly about you finding someplace else to live—is about to reclaim her couch, then you’ll be relieved to know that some corps programs have residential facilities that are similar to college dorms or military barracks where you can stay while you’re a corps member.

Corps programs are definitely more than just workforce development programs that provide youth with tools to become more educated and employable. Participants experience significant personal growth in a short amount of time, and it’s not entirely due to things like the challenges laid out in the CCC’s motto: “Hard Work, Low Pay, and Miserable Conditions.” Corps programs offer the environment and opportunities that ignite transformational experiences. I like this definition from the Transperia group: A Transformational Experience takes us beyond the average, the mundane or the “usual” and creates an impact that somehow affects us.

There are many ways to have a transformational experience in a corps program. A lot of times it happens simply by spending time in nature. The CCC, for example, often takes corps members on eight-day “spikes” into the wilderness to build or repair trails. Since the trail (or similar project) is so remote, corps members (and their supervisor) camp for eight days a.k.a. “spike’ near the worksite. For a lot of newly recruited urban and suburban corps members, this is their first experience at sleeping in a tent, building a campfire, cooking and cleaning with a group, and discovering and exploring the vast “wild” of our national forests.

Watch the below video to get a step-by-step tutorial on how to find a corps program near you.

Sometimes it’s the interactions with the community that bring on transformational experiences. There are frequent opportunities for corps members to volunteer in their local communities. Sometimes volunteering at a homeless shelter, animal shelter, food bank, or old folks homes make youth aware of the power they have to exercise compassion and relieve unnecessary suffering in others. These experiences reveal to corps members that they have a responsibility to their community, and that inner-strength and healthy relationships can result from that service. They discover that it feels good to empower others.

Working on an ethnically/racially/culturally diverse crew certainly leads to transformational experiences. It helps corps members move beyond any conditioned prejudices to see that a creative exchange among people with various backgrounds enhances all who participate, particularly when that practice is approached with honor and respect. Members of corps programs make friends with crew members who are from the other side of the tracks and build bridges across those tracks that span lifetimes. This experience helps to dissolve the illusion of “otherness.”

There is much more that could be said about corps programs. Former corps members say it best. If you have been a member of a corps program, please share a brief testimonial of your experience below: especially mention how the experience transformed you. To learn more about the California Conservation Corps click here. To learn more about AmeriCorps, to click here. To find a corps program near you click here: Check out the Corps Network by clicking here. And please subscribe to my YouTube channel here—-> AWESOME!

Crazy Ivy-Pulling, Hippie Girl

Author’s note:  Welcome to what may be the first chapter of a novel or one of a few short fiction pieces. This is not a story for kids. (If you’re looking for a kids book, check out my novel Totem Magic: Going MAD on Amazon.) This tale is intended for teens and adults. I won’t say much more about it now, except that it hasn’t been edited and is still in the conceptualizing phase. I’ve just had some characters in my imagination who needed a home, so I wrote one for them. This is the edu-taining story of Dara Dance, a zealous conservationist, and a sarcastic bystander named Cody Seymour.  I appreciate feedback, so feel free to give it. Each chapter will be accompanied by a relevant (maybe distantly but still relevant) video. The second chapter will be up soon. Thanks!

 

Deep in the usually quiet redwood groves of the Arcata Community Forest, I heard strained grunts and angry cries coming from further up the trail. As I approached the source, I spotted a small woman wearing camouflaged pants and a faded-black sweater with the washed-out word “Humboldt” across the front. She clung to a rope that was hanging down from a very large redwood tree, swinging wildly with her head thrown back.  As I drew closer, I realized that it was not a rope at all, it was a thick English Ivy vine that was wrapped around and stretched up into the fog-scrapping branches of the towering tree. The woman howled the moment our eyes met, though some might say it was more of a tortured open-mouthed moan than a howl. I figured she was around my age, but maybe even up into her early thirties. It was hard to tell with that leg-stuck-in-a-trap expression on her face. Through clenched teeth she growled, “Don’t just stand there! Help me pull this down!”

Wondering if I should just keep walking, or maybe even run, I tilted my head to get a measure of the tree’s height. Was I bored and adventurous enough to participate in some good ole fashioned crazy project with one of insanity’s adherents? It would make a good tale at the cider bar, the day’s ultimate destination, where friends would be exaggerating their week’s experiences in an unadmitted attempt to story-top everyone else. This bit of good Samaritan buy-in definitely won’t need any truth-stretching. I could see me finishing my story, right before taking a sip, by saying, Yep, no need to make this shit up, I really did try to pull down a redwood tree with an insane woman this morning. She seemed to read my mind.

“Not the tree!” she shouted way too loudly while shaking her head disapprovingly and thrusting the vine toward me.  “The ivy! It’s an invasive species. English Ivy sucks!” She arched her eyebrows and bounced her shoulders at me in a way that demonstrated that she believed that motivation would suffice, and that I was already on-board. “Now get over here, and help me pull it out of the tree!” She stepped back, slid her hand down the vine, and head motioned for me to take my position in front of her on the length that she’d just been holding. It was more of a command than an invitation. I nodded in agreement, and reluctantly took my place on the vine. I wasn’t sure why I was doing this. She wasn’t the same brand of crazy that I’d originally thought. And this could be a trap. But even if her transient buddies weren’t really about to come out from behind giant redwood trees and jump me while I held a vine like an idiot, my participation wasn’t even necessary. She had already dug the ivy up. A hole near the trunk of the tree and the shovel stuck in the ground next to it was evidence. The plant would soon wilt and die. I reached higher up on the vine, readying for a pull and decided not to quell her passion by telling her this was a waste of energy and time. And I didn’t want to piss her off either. “OK, good timing,” she said, shuffling her feet around for purchase in thick duff. “I was waiting for your help.”

I wondered if she meant “my help” or help in general.

“I’m Cody,” I offered over my shoulder, instantly regretting telling her my real name.

“Dara Dance,” she said as if forced. “You ready to help me or not?”

I almost chuckled out loud. Apparently, fake names came quicker to her than me. And wasn’t it obvious that I’m ready to help? I’m holding the damn vine, aren’t I? But I didn’t say that. “What exactly am I helping?”

She sighed impatiently and spoke in a fast monotone as if she’d explained this a million times. “Once English Ivy climbs to the top of a tall tree, it gets above the canopy where there’s enough light to make berries.” As she lifted her arm to point high in the tree, her dirty sleeve brushed roughly across the side of my face. She continued without acknowledging it. “Birds eat them and spread the seeds every time they drop a bb-sized load from their feathered fannies.” She dropped her arm to tug on the vine we were holding.  “This one gots berries in it. I want to pull it down before the birds eat ‘em.”

“Got it,” I said, stopping myself a mere milla-second before mocking her by saying, “Gots it.” How had this crazy woman recruited me so easily? Did I really allow my participation just because I wanted to make fun of her? Checking my watch, I wondered how long this whatever-it-is might last. I hoped some scabies hadn’t rubbed off her sleeve and onto my face.

“At the count of three,” she said loudly as if there were many more than just the two of us. “One, two, and a big three!”

We pulled to no avail. “Keep pulling,” she yelled sensing my diminishing enthusiasm. Our feet slipped, and I fell back into her. She shoved me forward. “Switch places,” she commanded as she moved in front of me, pushed her sleeves up to her elbows, and motioned with her head for me to back up. I complied.

As Dara gripped the vine in front of me, I noticed that her sinewy light-brown arms ended in red-stained hands. It was not blood that stained them. The red was almost orange-ish and evenly distributed. It almost looked like it had been done ceremonially. Like some kind of crazy-lady ritual preparation for invasive species removal–hands dyed with metaphorical blood. We pulled and grunted more, but the tug-of-war was lost. The ivy won.

She let go of the vine and screamed, “Fuck!” so loud that I quickly scanned the trail for families and readied my apologies. There were none. By the time I turned back to her, she’d moved away and was rummaging through a large camouflaged backpack that I had not previously noticed. There were English Ivy vines spilling out of the top of it. Again I surveyed the surroundings. That backpack looked too big for her. She was maybe five feet, six inches tall, and though she was obviously fit, I figured that she could fit into that backpack twice. Dara had to have a much bigger partner somewhere. I hoped that person wasn’t as weird and demanding as she was.

“Now!” she yelled as she pulled a machete from the backpack. She raised it over her head and came at me.

I had often fantasized about how I would disarm and attacker and pin them to the ground while still being able to use my phone to call the police, but Dara had already swung the machete by the time I realized that I was not the target. With a loud thwack, she struck the tree and the vine dangling from it. A few feet of the plant hit the ground. The berries remained in the heights of the tree, where they waited their prophesized fate of beaks and feathered asses to whisk them off and deposit them to prosper in some unconquered forest. But they weren’t my concern. I had been less than a foot from tip of her swinging blade. She could have killed me!

“I am so sorry!” Dara dropped the machete to hug the tree. “I didn’t mean to cut you,” she whispered into the bark. Glancing at me and then back to the tree, she added, “I lost control again.”

My attention was drawn back to her red hands. I took a second to look at the rest of her more carefully, as well. Her hair was dark, almost black. I wondered if she were Native, Latina, Portuguese, or Middle Eastern. I was curious, but I’d never make the social faux pas of asking someone’s ethnicity as nonchalantly as inquiring about the weather, especially not a crazy woman.

Dara could have been a mix of anything. My deep-down guess was that she was a mix of thunderstorm and clear starry night. She was at once unique and beautiful and in a crazy and distant way. Her boots were the big black kind that wildland fire fighters wear. Her pants were tucked into them. I could see a hint of a tattoo betraying itself on the side of her neck, yet kept secret by the hood of her sweatshirt. I could barely make out a letter “J.” Probably the beginning of a lover’s name—a man or woman who matched her madness.

Dara was panting when she pulled her face away from the tree trunk and aimed hurt eyes at me.

“Do not ever buy English Ivy! I still can’t believe nurseries are allowed to sell them!”

“I won’t,” I promised.

She moved away from the tree like a drunk fairy in glides and wobbles and began to scan the ground in quick jolty head movements as if she were frantically looking for a dropped key. She’d forgotten about me.

“So… I guess that’s it then,” I said, suddenly confused what to do with my hands and shoved them into my pockets. “I guess I’ll be-”

I didn’t bother finishing my sentence. Dara wasn’t listening. She bent over and plucked a small seedling from the forest floor and declared, “Ivy sprouts!” in a tone like she’d just solved a long-debated mystery. She dropped to all fours and crawled around pulling tiny two-leaved seedlings that emerged from the leaf litter and dotted the forest floor like green chicken pox. Her face was too close to the ground. She was farsighted or locating the seedlings by smell. They were everywhere, but I hadn’t seen a single one before she’d made them all visible with the first plucking. After less than an awkward minute of watching her pinch them off and repeat “and another” each time she tossed one away, I started toward the trail.

“I hope you learned something,” she called out. I faced her to pass on a smile, but she was still scanning, crawling, and plucking. Her name wasn’t really Dara Dance, I told myself, and she probably didn‘t remember my name, but whatever. I wouldn’t try to engage her in further conversation. She looked up again as if she were going to command me to help her, and I knew that this time, I would not.

“English Ivy has no competitors or predators on this continent,” she said in the most sane-sounding voice I’d heard her use, but that normalcy ended as quickly as it had begun. “There is nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing that can stop it. Nothing eats it. Nothing beats it. Nothing cheats it. Nothing defeats it.” She stood up so fast that I flinched. Then she walked up and locked eyes on me. “Nothing but us!” Her tone was so dramatic that I almost laughed. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling as she continued in a whisper. As she spoke her fingers moved spidery through the air as if she was connecting her words with a web. “It has very little wildlife value and buries the native plants under its leafy tentacles—even young redwood trees are smothered to death this way. The plants that the ivy grows over and sun suffocate have evolved with and have relationships with the native insects.”

“Insects?” I asked in an attempt to follow her or frustrate her, I wasn’t sure which. I felt at once curious and antagonistic.

She instantly dropped her hands. I guessed she’d assumed I was being the latter. Her dark eyes spontaneously combusted with small flames of hate. Hate for me, it appeared. She shook her red fist at me and took a step closer. I put up my hands in twin stopping motions, she was totally in my personal space bubble. I took a step back until I was up against a tree. She took another two steps toward me. I wanted to tell her to back up without offending her. She was unpredictable and owned a machete. I wondered how on Earth I could possibly communicate rationally with an emotional mess: Excuse me, anti-ivy hippy girl, but can you like back up or something, please? You’re like… totally stepping on my aura and shit. But it wasn’t my aura that she was stepping on. Or was it? I don’t even believe in auras, but with her this close to me I couldn’t speak. Her bubble ate mine. I was now part of her reality-starved sphere. I couldn’t move, but I could wonder what would happen if I bent my knees enough so that our mouths aligned at kissing level. The visualized answer made me shudder: she would bite my lips off. I could smell her. She smelled like the forest. No, the forest smelled like her. She was still talking.  “If the insects have no native plants to eat then momma and daddy bird will have nothing to feed their nestlings! Invasive species like English Ivy cause a severe reduction in biodiversity.”

“Right,” I said calmly, and searched my mind carefully for the words and courage to politely excuse myself. Courage?! Was I afraid of her?

“Right?!” she shouted while she finally backed out of my face. She shook her head in disapproval. “Right?!” she repeated more quietly with her hands out as if she were pleading. “Are you serious? That’s all you can say? I told you a way how we can save biodiversity, and all you have for me is a ‘right’?”

It was all I could say. I wondered if she were about to blame me for all the English Ivy in the forest. My internal jury’s decision was unanimous: this girl was extra crazy. I found the machete in my peripheral vision. If she moved toward it, I would get to it before she did. If I failed in that, I would run for my life.

Now she waving a red finger at me and hissed. “Even seed-and berry-eating birds feed their young insects! But those insects don’t eat just any plant. They eat the plants that they have evolved with. They’ve evolved special enzymes to breakdown the native plants’ metabolites.” She nodded at me and the tensed wrinkle between her eyebrows melted away.  Apparently, she believed that I was finally receptive to her rant and was satisfied with that. “But they can’t eat this,” she said as she picked up the vine piece she’d cut off and waved it around.  “They can’t eat this,” she repeated.  “They didn’t evolve with it. They can’t digest it. It might as well be plastic.” For a minute it looked like she didn’t hate me anymore. Her eyes were questioning me.

“I understand,” I said testily.

The disapproving head shake returned. “No, you don’t. You probably have English Ivy in your yard!”

I did. I would never tell her.

“Listen!” she shouted suddenly more invigorated. She clapped on each word and spoke in a march: “Native insects eat native plants and native birds feed native insects to their native young! Got it?”

I nodded.

“No, you don’t.”

I noticed her eyes move over to the machete at then back at me. Was this the moment? I mustered up a disarming smile. “Well, I should be on my-”

“I don’t have time for chit chat,” she interrupted and mimicked a mouth talking with her one of her red hands before turning that hand puppet into a dismissive wave.

I’d walked maybe ten steps when in a sing song voice, she said, “Goodbye now.” I turned for a final wave to see her standing with the machete held up. “Goodbye now,” she repeated and waved the machete a little. “Maybe I’ll see you soon,” she added with an exaggerated wink.

As soon as the trail curved, and I knew she’d lost sight of me, I ran. I ran for what seemed to be a mile, but deep inside I knew I hadn’t escaped her. And on both sides of the trail grew more ivy. I hadn’t even escaped that. I snatched an ivy vine and ripped it off a stump. I walked a few steps and pulled another. Then another. I left an armload of ivy next to the trashcan at the trailhead.

Later that day, when I pulled my wallet from my back pants pocket to pay for a pint of my favorite dry English cider, the man in line behind me said, “Oh, looks like you dropped something.” I turned to see him pick a rolled piece of paper from the floor and hand it to me.

“Thanks,” I mumbled as I unfolded it I discovered what appeared to be a crudely made flier. Above the image of English Ivy were the words, “No Ivy League.” The corners of the flier were smudged with red. In my head I thanked Dara for not stealing my wallet. On the back of it I read plans for an English ivy bash where volunteers were being asked to meet at Trinidad State Park on September 14th at 10 A.M. to pull the invasive vine. It was two weeks away and ten miles from my house. At the bottom of the announcement was the name of the No Ivy League’s Ivy Bash coordinator: “Dara Dance.”

So it wasn’t a fake name per se, probably a moniker that extremists like her sometimes used. I folded the brochure and put it back into my pocket, left a tip for the bar tender, and held my glass up in a toast to the direction of Trinidad. “See you in two weeks, Dara.”