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How a little patch of pasture became sacred ground on Earth Day

By Muriel Duncan

When Millie came over the rise, she could see the volunteers on their knees in little clumps here and there through the old pasture. A couple of children were climbing in a wild apple tree. She had a fleeting pang about liability insurance, but only fleeting.

She was carrying a bag of organic mulch and a pail of water. The sky was clear, the dogs had their heads down groundhog holes and Millie's Earth Day project seemed to be going well.

She'd been attending St. Angus-by-the-Video-Mart long enough to know her ideas worked better with a spontaneous message on the bulletin board than a carefully worded recommendation to the church Council. After all, this was just an outing to plant trees -- nothing like the inter-church garden competition that got so out of hand last year.

This time, Millie persuaded a city friend gone rural to allow her crew to plant pine seedlings on four acres of unused pasture land that was heading back to nature. Trees would be better for the wild creatures and the environment.

She'd found eight adult volunteers with kids and dogs and yes, SUVs, who would carry the shovels and seedlings, the bags of mulch, hats, sun protection and water bottles.

As it turned out, environmental enthusiasts are hard- working but individual thinkers. They had their own plans for the day and for the pasture. Five of the kids headed straight for the bush that ran behind the field, two mothers sprinting after them; home- schoolers squeezing in a field trip, they proceeded to wade in the swampy parts and collect pond goop and plastic bags of wild animal droppings.

The others, thank heavens, started digging small holes for the seedlings. Considerable discussion followed about what size hole was really needed and what the desirable depth and width of the mulch might be. As Eugene told Bob, "You may have worked as a tree planter, but I was a landscaper in my summers at college." That's when the volunteers broke up into teams in separate parts of the field. Millie realized too late she might have missed a prayer opportunity.

While she was reading to one team from her government instruction print-out, Millie was interrupted by the Tinsdale twins who'd come to the farm unescorted. They'd figured out they could get more trees in the ground faster if they cut off the roots. Luckily, they told on each other before much damage was done.

But at the end of the day, what she found at the back of the pasture meant more to Millie, in a strange way, than the 346 seedlings lined up in orderly rows. In the far corner, the Amos family had widened their rows into a big circle -- a sacred place, they told her.

As her projects often turned out, this Earth Day was not exactly what she had imagined but certainly not what she had feared, either. As the weather warms up, Millie will go back to her friend's pasture to water and weed and stand in the grove that will be.

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