Family woods work during the pandemic

youth planting tree

I’m a regular contributor to WOWnet, a professional forester, a mom of two boys, but not a woodland owner. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic my family adopted a local, neglected woodlot and got to pretend it was ours by working hard, creating a socially distanced community and making the world--we hope--a little better. This is my story.

We all experienced the rapid shutdown of the world-as-we-knew-it last March. My office was closed, my husband was grounded, my brother moved in with us from Europe, and my boys were sent home for school. My boys were 11 and 13. Travel soccer was cancelled, men’s tennis was canceled, the gyms closed. Like almost everyone else, we were stuck at home adjusting. Exercise and activity have always been very important to our physical, mental and social well being. As a mom, I needed something that would force my family out of the house daily to burn calories and move bodies.

Almost immediately, we started walking up the north side of the Plummer House, now a city park and important historical landmark in Rochester, MN and the former home of Dr. Plummer, one of the founding doctors of the Mayo Clinic. The Plummers owned some land along with their house. The English Tudor style house and maintained gardens are lovely. It’s common to have weddings and graduations parties at the house along with the grounds offering a delightful background for senior and wedding pictures. But the heavily wooded slopes on either side of the house have long been neglected. We walked, each day, up the north slope to the house and we sat for 5 minutes to “forest bathe” under the eastern hemlock and white pines before walking back down and starting our day. For us this created routine, got us outside and moving, and offered 5 minutes of peace and quiet. (For all you moms and wives out there: There was resistance. And on days like this week with wind chills of -20, the resistance continues, but we persevere. We’ve walked up that hill and “forest bathed” almost every work/school day since the pandemic started.)

That walk grounds me, and although they’ll never admit it, I think my family has grown fond of it too. It also enabled us to really observe the woods and nature. First we noticed garlic mustard, then Dame’s rocket, then Norway maple on the north side. I’d long cringed at the buckthorn and honeysuckle dominating the understory on the south side but never had the time, energy, or will to tackle it. Working to remove those invasive species became a key source of physical activity for me and my boys. We even drafted a few volunteers. We spent many, many hours sweating and occasionally bleeding and crying, on the south hill this summer. We cut lots of buckthorn and honeysuckle, we discovered way too many Japanese tree lilacs and the first escaped border privet in the state. We learned to ID native wildlife flowers and looked for interesting wildlife. One safety-conscious son didn’t think soccer was appropriate because of COVID, so I paid him to help while his brother played fall high school soccer. I’m not positive everyone will remember the summer of 2020 as happy, but I do know my boys will remember working hard in the woods. 

This work isn’t done, but I’m very, very grateful we started (we plan to continue once things start leafing out). I created this story map about our story. I hope you enjoy it: