Each December, Yale Temperate Forestry (YTF; Yale’s student chapter of the Society of American Foresters) holds a retreat at Yale-Myers Forest (YMF) to harvest from the Christmas tree farm and make wreaths to sell outside of Marsh Hall. Like most things in 2020, this highly anticipated fundraising and community-building event looked different this year.
It was not possible to hold the traditional annual harvest and sale due to COVID-19 concerns and safety protocols. Yet, like most challenges posed this year, students and staff associated with The Forest School at the Yale School of the Environment adapted. With inspiration from YMF’s caretaker Steve Prinn and Forest Manager Jess Lloyd, tree farm co-managers Matt Valido ’21 M.F. and Jon Johnson ’21 M.F. and YTF members organized DIY wreath making kits to donate to YSE students who will remain in New Haven over an extended holiday break. Prinn, who recently trimmed back mountain laurel during trail maintenance, brought those clippings back to camp. Lloyd and four YTF students then gathered the necessary supplies, additional mountain laurel and spruce tree clippings from the tree farm, and set up a socially distant kit assembly in the outdoor classroom at camp. Each kit contained mountain laurel and spruce, a spool of floral wire, a wire frame, and an instructional tag to be brought back to Marsh for a socially distant distribution to students.
Johnson described YTF’s approach this year as innovative. “We haven’t done it like this before. We’re lucky to have the event as a positive social experience. The emphasis is usually the harvest but this year it’s on the giving of wreaths – even if it’s not the same and we can’t be together.” Kristen Jovanelly, ’21 M.F. and YTF treasurer, was a lead organizer. Jovanelly expressed the DIY kits were “such a good idea because so many people are in New Haven during a really different holiday season, and we don’t have the unity that would usually be built by now in the school year.” She described it as a two-fold process – “a desire to bring folks up to the forest and to bring cheer to New Haven.”
For first year M.F. students Genevieve Tarino and Walker Cammack, this experience at camp was a welcome get-away from their computer screens. Cammack stated it is “really important to do something for our community in a weird year.”
Not unlike our desire and ability to navigate new protocols while still building community, we as Foresters often feel challenged by mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) when pushing through the understory on our way to a specific stand or plot. This native shrub, which produces Connecticut’s beautiful state flower, therefore, served as the perfect foundation for the wreaths. When Jovanelly researched wreaths, she realized they hold deep symbolism – like perseverance – for so many cultures throughout the world and bring life to cold, dark winters. The mountain laurel’s hearty evergreen leaves, paired with trimmings from overgrown spruce from the tree farm, and students’ own additions will surely lend to beautiful wreaths across town this winter.