I was asked recently why I, as the Executive Director of Greenbelt Land Trust, give to Greenbelt monthly and why Greenbelt is in my estate plans. Why donate to the non-profit for which I’ve been working for nearly a decade? In a word, passion. But there’s much more to it that makes a world of difference for our local Valley.
While walking on the Mulkey Ridge trail one sunny day this Fall when the air was cold and the golden brown and red maple and oak leaves covered the trail, I was thinking of a recent news report about the potential for life on Mars. These articles are now regular news features partly because of the explorations by NASA of the planet’s surface and partly because of our obsession with finding life on other planets. The article mentioned that the likelihood of life on the red planet got a little stronger with the hypothesis that salty waters near the surface may support some microbial life. Other news reports frequently mention the possibility of habitable exoplanets in our galaxy out of an estimate of 40 billion earth-sized planets.
While pondering the excitement of these reports, I reflected on our own planet. Last summer, we had a wonderful walk on Luckiamute Meadows with James Cassidy from Oregon State University who talked about the “World Beneath Our Feet” and the astonishing diversity and complexity of subsurface life. Apparently, when you place your feet on a square meter of soil you may be walking on 1 billion bacteria, 100 million protozoa, 5 million nematodes, 100 thousand mites, 50 thousand springtails, 10 thousand rotifers and a host of other creatures (perhaps even 100 slugs or so). Life abounds on the surface of Earth (and a little below the surface) in incalculable numbers. The latest guess is that Earth has about 8.7 million different life forms. For example, there are 950,000 species of insects and 369,000 species of known plants. There are even more than 3,500 species of mosquitos. How many species of mosquitos or insects or plants have been found on Mars or for that matter anywhere in our solar system, galaxy, or Universe aside from those on Earth?
Our planet is extraordinarily unique! Life emerged on Earth about 3.7- 4 billion years ago and evolved in so many spectacularly astonishing ways that it is hard to consciously grasp the full scope of the history or understand the outcomes. So back to the question of why I give to Greenbelt? Every square inch of the Earth is precious. Our planet is the most wonderful world in the Universe and, in my humble opinion, Oregon and the Willamette Valley are some of the most wonderful places on earth. I give for every square inch of soil teeming with life and the large majestic old oaks with roots intertwined with this subsurface life that feeds its broad gnarled trunks and muscular branches. I give to see beautiful gray squirrels sitting on the oak branches eating acorns and red-tailed hawks perched in the upper reaches of the oak canopies waiting for a mouse or vole to appear in nearby meadows. I give for all the other life that nourishes our existence, gives us beauty and pleasure, and promises a thriving future for our children.