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30 Stories for 30 Years: The Surprise and Marvel You Can Find in Nature’s Beauty

Sammy Pickering joined ORLT as a Land Steward in 2022 to help monitor properties around Georgia. Land that is protected by a conservation easement must be monitored on an annual basis, and with over 43,000 acres held in easement by ORLT, staff spend an abundance of time in the field. In his position, Sammy spends much of his days walking the land and closely observing it, as he describes in his story below. Once Sammy monitors a property, he meticulously records any findings, and if needed, will help a landowner with stewardship of the property.

Starry campion by Laura Morris

"My passion for land conservation is tied to the surprise and marvel you can find in nature’s beauty— in its ever-changing cycles. You just never know what you might notice, or hadn’t noticed before, in the panoply of nature’s spectacle, even on a piece of land you’re very familiar with. Will you see the thin, near-translucent inflorescence of the crane fly orchid? Or the white frilled petals on the starry campion? The big, the small? Which critters will you see this time of year? Will they be in the streams, on the forest floor, in branches or drifting overhead in the sky? Which sounds from birds and insects may present themselves in your field of consciousness this time? There is just so much, it almost seems like it could overwhelm you. But instead, you’re satisfied."

Crane fly orchid by Jospeh Marcus

"While monitoring a conservation easement along the Middle Oconee River, I yet again saw something I’d never seen before. It was around noon and while I walked through the forest, looking up at oaks, tulip poplars and a few black walnuts, something’s subtle movements caught my eye on the forest floor. Not sure if it was an animal or maybe just the branches swaying over a backdrop of leaf litter, I decided to get on my stomach and crawl toward it as slowly as I could. As I got within twenty feet from a curious brown object, I saw clearly what it was— a beaver! I’ve seen plenty of beaver before, usually at dusk, slapping their tails on the water’s surface if I got too close in my canoe— but never like this. It appeared as if its lodge was flooded so it was resting quietly on the very top of it. Its eyes were closed and I could see it steadily breathe. I could closely see its well-built webbed-feet and toes; its thick, wide tail. As I laid on my stomach watching it, peering through river cane, the beaver opened its heavy eyes and looked around before slinking into the water. Not long after, it reemerged, shook the water off its fur much like a wet dog would, then sat and faced the same direction just before closing its eyes and slightly lowering its small ears. I found it all so incredible and endearing to see the way it moved; the way it looked, up so close."

"So as not to startle the very sleepy beaver and to get back to work, I left it alone by crawling back and away the way I'd come on my stomach before standing up. My pants and shirt were soaked through with mud but I had a huge smile on my face and a deep satisfaction to have seen further in the nature of a familiar creature. I was reminded once again, in the way that only nature can do, why the work ORLT does is so important."

Sammy sneaking up on an unsuspecting beaver...

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