Celebrate Women's History Month with Columbia Land Trust Forest Conservation Director Cherie Kearney
Reared with a team of brothers, I was raised a feminist. My mother forged an education and career while we careened through childhood. My father, a minister with flexible hours and a generally tolerant spirit, held fort not knowing for a moment that he was trail blazing.
It was the seventies and eighties. I read Sylvia Plath, Mary Daly, and Doris Lessing and breathed women. Simmering, fuming, and flaming brightly. My experiences were affected by women who captured my interest and admiration. Women like my intellectual psychology professor at her basement desk in her winter coat on a bright spring day; the star-crossed wife on the wheat farm of my college summer job; the sad mother of a boyfriend; the ubiquitous and distinct women of the village in central Africa where I taught school and unlearned.
I saw them as my kind. That’s how we see isn’t it? Our own kind.
Later, my first professional job out of graduate school was with the Oregon’s Women Political Caucus. It was the late 1980s and I was a pawn amidst great women. Janet Stevenson, the septuagenarian mayor of Hammond, Oregon and daughter of a suffragist mentored and prodded me to understand that no gathering should be allowed without political cause, at least calling to get out the vote. I trailed along learning how she was blacklisted as a communist during the McCarthy era and sat in on arguments among her Astoria Red Finn patriots.
My work in conservation is as good as my heart beat, it suits so well. Sure, I miss political activism and being amidst feisty, loud women and rowdy dialogue. But I love the messiness of nature and the human communities vying for a place in nature. I love the dissonance of voices sharing the common thread of what, in fact, they do care about.
While conservation, as we think of it in the United States and in some circles, has a history of being white and male dominated consider this: Elaine is a force of nature itself as she, a Rock Creek Band member, changes our earth for the better every day that she opens her eyes in the morning and sets out to protect First Foods; Jeana tirelessly digs in her hoe from the Congo to North Carolina making gardens and spreading the good news of soil to all she can reach; Cathy rises enthusiastically to the challenge of sharing the mystery of eagles and feathered creatures to groups of curious seekers; and Irene, my neighbor, plants her Mexican heritage into the ground caretaking her piece of our shared earth in such a way that, if we all were to follow suit, would invite community and avert climate change.
Just a few of the women in my life.
Cherie Kearney, Forest Conservation Director
As She Grows tells the story of how Cherie found middle ground between environmentalism and forestry to conserve 20,000 acres of forestland on the south shoulder of Mount St. Helens. She explains how this project conserves land for the benefit of both people and wildlife while providing a compelling model for restoration forestry.