Featured Volunteer: Liz Aicher

Liz Aicher, this month’s featured volunteer, has a green thumb and helps to bring beauty to the exhibit gardens. We hope you enjoy learning more about her!

“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. ” May Sarton 

PEEC: Tell us about yourself.

L.A.: I grew up on Grass Lake, one of 15 in the Chain O’ Lakes on the Wisconsin border in northeastern Illinois. There I learned to fish, shoot a rifle and trap ‘possums to watch them play dead. I worked through high school and college in the Fred Harvey restaurants Mr. Harvey built on the toll roads in Illinois and at Union Station in Chicago. I learned many tasks; waitressing, acting as a hostess, cooking, managing the snack bar and eventually working as a night shift manager. (For those of you who don’t know who Fred Harvey was, he built and managed many restaurants and hotels, most in the Southwest. La Fonda in Santa Fe was a Harvey hotel.) Upon moving to Fox Valley in the 80s, I re-discovered natural areas. I volunteered as a steward of two forest preserves through the Volunteer Stewardship Network of The Nature Conservancy, monitored rare plants, helped restore the Whited Fringed Prairie Orchid, and studied restoration at The Morton Arboretum. For several years I was the land protection specialist for Fox Valley Land Foundation. I wrote management plans for landowners and conservation easements. I worked in various office positions, including a stint at Fermilab, before getting jobs monitoring vegetation and planning open space native plantings for a developer/contractor. I also worked as a ranger for the Kane County Forest Preserve District in Illinois

PEEC: Where are you from and how did you end up in Los Alamos?

L.A.: Kevin and I lived in the Fox Valley area, 50 miles west of Chicago, Illinois. We came to Los Alamos on vacation, a change from our annual Boundary Waters trip. I fell in love with the landscape and Kevin fell in love with the idea he wouldn’t have to shovel snow seven months out of the year (we had contemplated retiring in Grand Marais, MN).

Kevin and I found each other later in life. We worked together at a company that refurbished mainframe computers. I eventually became his boss and got to know what a great guy he is. I chased him mercilessly – he didn’t have a chance! We currently have two dogs; Bones and Totavi, and two cats; Calvin and Hobbes. They are the only kids we have.

PEEC: How did you get involved with PEEC?

L.A.: In 2010, the first friend I made in Los Alamos was Dorothy Hoard. She wasted no time getting me to work in the herbarium at the nature center, updating plant records. More recently, Natali Steinberg talked me into helping with weeding. I have since become a member of PEEC’s Landscape Committee and volunteer with them regularly. I often spend my time weeding or planting native grasses and forbs.

PEEC: What do you enjoy most about gardening?

L.A.: I love the smell of soil and consider having soil under my nails a badge of honor. I am grateful to know that soil holds a myriad of organisms and minerals which provide nutrients to help our plants grow and flourish. This, in turn, makes me grateful to be on the receiving end of the benefits, whether that means admiring a pretty flower or eating a tasty watermelon.

PEEC: What other volunteer work do you enjoy?

L.A.: I worked with Dorothy Hoard on a project finding the largest trees of each species within Los Alamos County. I spent my first full winter here helping Craig Martin monitor and consolidate burn piles in the canyons. I’ve helped with trail maintenance and was a member of the Open Space Advisory Subcommittee for a few years. I have worked on several projects in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Currently, I am the volunteer team leader searching for the largest trees of each species there.

PEEC: Why do you think it’s important to volunteer?

L.A.: Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back to your community. It forms an opportunity for connection with your community and the people within.

PEEC: What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

L.A.: Even the smallest job makes me feel like I am contributing in a positive way to our world.

PEEC: Best outdoor experience in Los Alamos?

L.A.: The fact that I can walk five minutes from home, drop into a canyon, and go anywhere is just a marvel to me. The ease of access to hiking never gets old!

PEEC: What do you enjoy most about living in Los Alamos?

L.A.: The vistas are incredible. Knowing the history of the Earth and how these vistas were (and continue to be) formed is amazing. The cultural histories of our Native American and Hispanic friends add to the diversity of this area in an absolutely delicious manner. I’m so glad we moved here!

PEEC: Best memory working with PEEC?

L.A.: I think my best day was as a PEEC representative on a geology tour with Fraser and Cathy Goff. I met some wonderful people and learned so much about the Valles Caldera.

PEEC: In your opinion, what is the most important work PEEC does?

L.A.: PEEC provides a window into our natural world and answers questions in a fun and inspiring way. Their exhibits, outings for kids and adults, and other nature-based programs help teach people how an ecosystem works and why it is important.

PEEC: What outdoor hobbies do you enjoy?

L.A.: I enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, rockhounding, as well as pulling weeds for PEEC and in my own yard.

PEEC: Do you have any advice for people interested in volunteering?

L.A.: Do it! You will be filling a need for whatever organization you choose to volunteer with and you may find volunteering can fill a need within YOU.

PEEC: What is on your wish list for PEEC for the next 10 years?

L.A.: I hope collaboration with the Open Space program here in Los Alamos can be established. I think kids and adults would form more appreciation for the diversity and beauty of where they live if they helped clear brush from trails or collected and dispersed native plant seeds in sparsely vegetated areas. I’d also like to see more programs in coordination with the local YMCA, SFNF, Bandelier National Monument, and the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

PEEC: If you could be a local animal, which would you pick and why?

L.A.: I would like to be a gray fox. I would not be unfairly vilified like the coyote seems to be, and humans would rarely see me. As I love to do in my present human form, I would spend my days in the woodlands and amongst pretty rocks. I would also be sure to get my fill of climbing cottonwood and oak trees! I could eat mice and other rodents for protein and get my fruit fix from sumac and juniper berries. It would be a good life.

-If you are interested in learning more about our volunteer program, please email Christa Tyson at visitorservices@peecnature.org.

Article by Christa Tyson, PEEC Visitor Services Manager