Celebrate Women's History Month with Columbia Land Trust Natural Area Manager Lindsay Cornelius.
My childhood was entwined with nature. My mom took me camping and hiking, and showed her love for nature in her professional life as a pioneer of outdoor play spaces for children in daycare. I played and worked alongside my dad on his 40-acre farm in Ridgefield, Washington. My dad led the transformation of the Montlake Dump in Seattle, Washington to the Union Bay Natural Area as a student at the University of Washington, and helped to found Columbia Land Trust in the 1990’s where I occasionally volunteered. My parents involved me often in their professional lives.
When I became a mother, I wanted to be with my children. I understood the foundation of a person’s life is laid in early childhood, and I wanted to steward and witness that myself. But my job combined all my favorite things in the world — being in nature, learning through observation of a particular place with unique plants and wildlife, solving complex problems, hearing and telling compelling stories, and working hard in challenging circumstances. My job was amusing, challenging, novel, and I worked for an organization that valued my contributions. I didn’t want to let that go, even for a short time. And I supposed I’d been indulged enough in my life to have the audacity to ask: Can I do both?
The Land Trust, willing to experiment, let me try. Each of my three sons were born during different phases of a restoration project I managed for the Land Trust, removing eight miles of paved road from the floodplain of the Klickitat River. I learned a great deal over the course of that decade, in my role as a mother and professionally at the Land Trust. Like many women I know, I was taught that I could do anything I wanted, but I was still steeped in cultural learning about the abilities and interests of women. I was the project manager on a major construction job and during that 10 year period, I was usually the only woman present. With an infant strapped to my chest I felt I had to work hard to establish credibility, and I had to force myself to assert authority when I would have felt more comfortable yielding it. While parenting on the job wasn’t always easy — there were ill-timed diaper blowouts and I occasionally found myself nursing in bizarre circumstances — I found the people I worked with embraced me as a mother, and as a professional.
I honed my skills as a multi-tasker and logistics planner, and I often worked late into the night to make up for inefficiencies during the day. I wasn’t always the best parent, or the best worker. But seeing land through my kids’ eyes, slowing down to pull apart the scales of a pinecone or turn over rocks reconnected me in important ways to the place I live and the work I do. Curiosity is the most important tool a person needs to form a bond with nature. Young children are masters of that tool — it is their job to wield it. In nature, children can wander and wonder freely, they can test their limits, understand cause and effect, and learn about the mysteries and miracles of life. Turns out, that is true for a natural area manager in nature too.
Lindsay Cornelius, Natural Area Manager
Lindsay Cornelius shares the story of how the waters of the Columbia River Region intertwine with her life’s work, and how the landscape serves as a conduit for passing a love of the outdoors from one generation to the next.
Videography & editing by Brady Holden, aerial cinematography by Ross Steffey.