Mary Ellen Stevenson: A Passion for Trees

14 Jun 2021

This month, we’re delighted to showcase Mary Ellen Stevenson, who is both a volunteer Property Guardian and a monthly donor!

Mary Ellen is passionate about trees. “I have a deep personal love of trees and forests. Many of the trees in the neighbourhood outside New York City where I grew up were at least 100 years old. There were big canopies, lots of shade, places to climb, and all of the other wonderful stuff that goes with that. I just think forests are beautiful, and comforting!”

Mary Ellen moved to Toronto in 1967. “I was more or less downtown there. When we had free time, we’d usually be tempted to go for a mall crawl because there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. There were parks, but they were crowded and it didn’t feel like getting away.” As a retired mental health professional, she sees how more recent advances in “nature therapy” are being used successfully to help treat things like depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety. “If that had been something that was available when I began my psychotherapy training then I would have been right on it.”

Fortunately, moving to Nova Scotia in 2016 gave Mary Ellen much more direct access to nature. “We have miles of trails just outside my house in Oxford. I can take off and go into a patch of woods that will take me an hour to get through and I just feel so much happier afterwards. My shopaholic tendencies have decreased considerably, because I have places to go and things to do that I like better!” She’s also delighted to have her own patch of what she calls “recovering forest.” “It’s basically 20 acres of alderbush,” she laughs, “but we do have some poplar, some spruce, and we’re starting to get some maple, which I’m very pleased about.”

A view of the forest where Mary Ellen volunteers as a Property Guardian.

As a Property Guardian for Nature Trust protected land in Wentworth, Mary Ellen gets to help care for the old forest she loves. “I was delighted when I applied to be a Property Guardian and they gave me that spot. It’s wonderful. I know I’m looking for stuff and helping take care of it, but for me that’s recreation. It’s what I love doing. It’s not a chore at all.”

She also knows that forests offer much more than comfort: they are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems. “Scientists have said that one of the best things that we can do to deal with climate change is to stop cutting down forests and plant more trees,” she says. “The Nature Trust is doing a wonderful job of preserving natural environments and sensitive ecosystems and endangered species all over Nova Scotia, and it’s some of the most important climate change action being done in this province.”

She first donated to the Nature Trust in 2018 when she saw the Lasting Landscapes campaign’s matching funds advertised in a local newspaper. “Matching campaigns are really appealing. I’m a pensioner so I don’t have a lot of money, but I can crowbar a hundred bucks out of my budget and you end up with five hundred dollars!”

She also decided to become a monthly donor, to help support a steady income for the Nature Trust’s ongoing work. “The best thing that any of us can do, if we are able to, is to give some kind of monthly donation, no matter how little it is.” Mary Ellen sees this contribution as her form of activism. “I’m in my seventies now, so I’m getting to the age where a lot of physical activity is not as possible as it was fifty years ago. Now the way I can best contribute is to support the activities that others are doing, and help vitalize the community that I live in.”

Mary Ellen is still very much involved with other community actions, including being part of a recently formed Climate Hub in Cumberland County. The hub’s first objective is, fittingly, to plant 400 trees by the end of June.

“I believe that the Nature Trust’s work is the most important work of the century. Whatever anybody can do to support that work, they should do it. Volunteer, donate, do whatever you can. The Nature Trust is doing its utmost, and succeeding to an impressive extent, to preserve the natural environment, and that’s something we all need.”

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