Cross-Pollinating in Northern Arizona

Posted on August 9, 2015 by Borderlands Restoration in Life in the Borderlands
I spent many field days at the El Coronado Ranch in the Chiricahuas. Working on a landscape where water was brought back to life by passionate people, produced memories and many dreams of a sustainable future.

Inspirational field days at the El Coronado Ranch in the Chiricahuas. Working on a landscape where water was brought back to life (seen here by the green strip contrasting golden hills) by passionate people, produced memories and many dreams of a sustainable future.

By: Molly McCormick

Encouraging students to take a deeper look proved to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

Encouraging students to take a deeper look proved to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.

In a couple weeks, I’ll start graduate school at NAU in Flagstaff, AZ. This means a good-bye of sorts with Borderlands Restoration, where I came to learn a little more about restoration, and found myself re-defining it. My title at BR shifted around, I’ve been a native plant farmer, restoration storyteller, field crew lead, restoration horticulturist, outreach specialist, and plant ecologist; job descriptions became increasingly defined as the organization defined itself. In reality, I planted over 3000 pollinator plants, led field crews in monitoring plants in the grasslands and at 4 restoration sites, led hundreds of people in hands-on workshops from plant identification to restoration, developed the BR social media presence, led early propagation efforts, started seed-increaser plots for native grass, helped create a database to track propagation activities, and became inspired by so many amazing people doing great work.

At the beginning, I was just one of a few people that made things happen.  I was there to help build an organization out of a dream and a mission to live more consciously in a place. I celebrate my journey, the incredible people I’ve worked with along the way, and the power of an organization full of passionate people, not afraid to reimagine the integration of life in a desert intersected by myriad boundaries.

My job with Borderlands Restoration began after a Permaculture Design course in Tucson in February 2013. I was looking for seasonal work to fill gaps between restoration jobs at Grand Canyon National Park.

My first event with BR was a hedgerow planting at the Native Seed/SEARCH farm. I was immediately entranced with BR’s progressive thinking, the intersection of agriculture and ecology, a system-approach to collaborative restoration, that included human relationship with place. I wrote in an early email to BR’s founder, Ron Pulliam:

“Besides these collaborations, what attracts me to Borderlands is the opportunity to work within watersheds: outside of public lands and across political borders. I look to BR to broaden my understanding of this field: how to bring people on board, how to obtain funding, how to efficiently direct efforts to be impact-full, and to find the techniques being employed throughout the entire process.”

Leading the restoration of native plant communities in support of pollinators. This remains the focus of my current work.

Leading the restoration of native plant communities in support of pollinators. Plant and pollinator ecology remains the focus of my work.

Scientific monitoring is a great way to learn scientific names, and get deep into observing nature.

Scientific monitoring is a great way to learn scientific names, and get deep into observing nature. At BR, I monitored flowering plants, the vegetation of grasslands, and the flow of ephemeral streams.

I was planning on staying in Patagonia for six months before returning to working for Grand Canyon National Park, a job I had aimed at getting for many years. The decision to not return to Grand Canyon at the end of the season was emotional for me, but ended up being life altering, as BR gave me the opportunity to explore and even drive various branches of conservation work. As my work with BR continued, my I realized my roots had hit ground water; I had discovered my life passion.

So, yes, I’ve found my niche, and now it is time to nurture, cross-pollinate, grow, develop. I’m returning to my home in Northern Arizona to sink my roots deeper into the world of ecology in the landscape that speaks to me the loudest. When imagining my future, I can’t help but envision a continuation of the theories and strategies I was exposed to while at BR. I have a deeper understanding of what it takes for people to reinhabit a place: to observe and share in an effort to understand its rhythms, to be stewards of an ecological community, and to do this on a large scale. The best part is that in the past 2.5 years this vision has moved beyond theory for me, I am now equipped with various tools and many friends to help me realize the exciting potential of a restoration economy.

Molly received a full scholarship to Northern Arizona University’s Environmental Science & Policy Master’s program, where she’ll be working in the Lab of Landscape Ecology & Conservation Biology, and teaching undergraduate students environmental science. When not working on her permaculture project and native plant propagation facility, she hopes to continue stewardship and scientific inquiry across her favorite state: on the Colorado Plateau, Verde Valley and even in the Borderlands region.

Molly McCormick Potting Plants.

Days spent at Deep Dirt Farm Institute were not only therapeutic, but taught me many useful life skills that I continue to use today on my own Rock Ranch Permaculture Farm.

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    The mission of Borderlands Restoration is to reconnect wildlife, land, and people in the Arizona/Sonora Borderland region by involving people in restoring the ecosystem on which we depend.

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