A Canadian Ecologist at CECAS – by Chris Drake

The winds of fate blow in strange ways, and it’s hard to know why we end up where we do. My journey to CECAS  began perhaps two years ago, when I started planning a sabbatical, a time away from work and home to concentrate  on developing as a professional and individual. I am an ecologist from Salt Spring Island on the west coast of Canada, with my own small environmental stewardship business called Coast Alive Stewardship Services (www.coastaliveservices.ca). I work mainly with non-profit organizations called conservancies whose mandate is to acquire and protect land. Much of my time is spent controlling invasive plants, planting native species, and enhancing wildlife habitat. It is fantastic work, in beautiful areas doing something that is important and invigorating.

But it is also physically demanding work, and as I enter my fifth decade on this Earth I feel that the next stage of my career needs to be more mental than physical. So I decided to write a handbook on what I do, a small, succinct and practical guide on stewardship for local property owners that want to preserve and  restore their land. I couldn’t find a way to do this at home – with a busy business, a home and garden in need of care,  and all the distractions of family and friends, finding the time to focus seemed an impossibility.

A bench made by the Woodlands group.

Hence the idea of a  sabbatical. My idea was to find a location where I could do some meaningful volunteering and interact with other biologists and climate activists, while also having time to write in peace. Through the organization WorkAway I started exploring options in the UK and Ireland, though Ireland was my first choice as I a partially Irish through my Granny who was born in the Thurles area and a great grandfather from around Cork.

After a Zoom interview with Trish Lavelle it became clear that CECAS could be the perfect place. I arrived a week ago, walked up the road from Leap with my backpack and guitar, and the ocean and forest and  building was like a vision coming to life.

Since being here I have met and worked with some fantastic folks, and I greatly look forward to two months of volunteering and writing. This place has incredible potential and I believe I can have a significant impact, working on the restoration of the forest, mapping and digitizing the land types and mother trees, developing the trail system, and helping create a native plant nursery. These are all things I do in my professional life back home, but somehow doing the same activities as a volunteer in a far-away land is different and exciting.

A bench made by the Woodlands group.

It’s not easy being away from my lovely girlfriend and fantastic 15- year old daughter – they are both making a real sacrifice to allow me this experience. At the end of July we will be meeting in the Netherlands for a month-long adventure, visiting family (my girlfriend is Dutch) and exploring parts of the EU.

I miss home, though the crazy heat waves beating down on western Canada right now inspires me to work harder on mitigating the climate and biodiversity crises. Only through global  collaboration can we deal with the immense environmental problems we face. I give thanks to the winds that blew me  here.

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