Over the coming weeks we’d like to share some memories of current and former Sempervirens staff. Second in this series is by Jessica “Jupiter” Parsons, who was Program Director at Sempervirens from 2000-2002. Here’s her story…
Reflecting on Sempervirens
I can’t believe it’s been 17 years since Don called me to ask if I would help ENH start up a new program site. I was in a Somerville, MA apartment dreaming of returning to California (the Santa Cruz mountains still felt like home despite being thousands of miles away), and here was my chance to do it AND to follow my dream of becoming a Program Director. Really, for me, Sempervirens Outdoor School was a gift—a return to the redwoods and an opportunity to start fresh–building awesome outdoor learning experiences for kids with some of my favorite people on earth.
With the Loma Mar site full with a waitlist, the goal of Sempervirens was to open the magic of ENH to schools and communities that we had not yet reached, specifically in the less-resourced farming communities of the Salinas Valley. A significant grant from the now-defunct Sierra Club Youth in Wilderness program allowed us to start a strong scholarship fund and focus our outreach on the schools that faced the most financial barriers to participating in Outdoor School. We used the grant to leverage support and assurance that this “start-up” would be a successful venture. I’m so proud and impressed that, 17 years later, it’s still thriving!
Beginning the work
When we arrived arrived on site in September 2000 to begin our work. The wild pigs had torn apart every inch of grass in the field and the staff units needed tons of work—I remember rusty water and propane leaks and nasty carpets too. With the goal to open in March 2001, we had 6 months to get the site up and running for school groups. Our project list was huge: Eradicate the wild pigs (!), fundraise, rent a backhoe to dig the garden, ready the cabins and units for earthquakes and storms, conduct bilingual school visits, decide on a name, a logo, a naturalist staff, a beach day bus plan, a schedule, a weekly menu, learn the trails, have some parties, so much more…
For all the work there was to do, the reward was in the hilltop site itself. Our successes and our challenges were paired with coyote songs, redwood fog, dips in the pool, newts in the creek, and a place to find sunshine when the valley was dark and cold. We slept under meteor showers, hiked past Big Basin waterfalls to find the ocean. Maybe the peacocks weren’t the quietest neighbors, and when September 11th happened the following fall, I could not have felt further away from my east coast family and friends. But once we were up and running, and we brought on more amazing and talented staff — Moonbunny, Alicia, Melanie, Saralyse, Todd, Burl, Ulli, many others, and special guest naturalists too, our little program grew and thrived. Looking back, we had a little slice of paradise. It was a place to learn and grow and love, and I’m so grateful for my time there and the memories we share.
For the future Sempervirens students, teachers and staff, I have so much hope. I know their experiences outdoors live on in them, change them to be better humans, and the memories will be just as rich, the night hikes just as magical, the redwoods just as full of wonder and the friendships just as strong, no matter where the program goes. That’s the beauty of and the power of ENH.