In August 2013, before all the blog posts I made since then, I wrote my first blog post as I sat in my service learning class for the first time. These were my thoughts:

It’s hot out, Well atleast yesterday it was. My pony tail makes matters worse.,Cant keep this hair open, should I chop it off? I’m sure my dad would be happy, I myself, depressed. I wonder what happens after I graduate? How hard will it be to find a job? Will I have my hair then? I wonder if I’m going bald…heck even if I am, It’s ok, nothing lasts forever.

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Final Reflection

For the past few months, I have been volunteering at the forest preserve. We are trying to rid the reservations of invasive plants and in doing so restore the native habitat for the native plants to thrive in. I have been writing about my experience in the form of a war. A war against buckthorn plants that I imagine to be the Zombies of the plant kingdom.

I now offer my final insight into this long exhaustive war.

Many battles have been fought. Many comrades have fallen. Many have quit before their time. I have seen them all. It doesnt matter what we did before the war, because in the moment…only the strong survive. Ive met teachers from my old high school, I have met professors from some of the most prestigious universities around chicago. and I can humbly say, my fellow peers have always had my back.

I have piled up the dead zombies into mountains. I have rescued native seedlings in massive amounts so that one day they may bloom and make this world a better place, I have met amazing people, and I can trully say I have had the honor of serving under some of the most popular and sernior offcials. They have always picked me out of the crowd for tasks that require a special edge.  I have been put in charge of making piles of buckthrons, I have been given my own armory and an extra pair of hands to do what others cannot do efficiently. I have been given resposibilities and I have lived up to my name.

In the end, I take great pride in the work I have done and I have been recognized for my contributions. I brought forth an attitude that kept everyone motivated and I made the most of what I had to deal with. I could have been anywhere and could have done anything, But I am glad I volunteered at the preserve. It kept me active when it was cold, It kept me concentrated when i was frustrated, It made me realize that people (from different backgrounds) are nicer and more connected than I expected. And Im sure I can get some very interesting letter of reccomendations from this experience. I was selected for spec-ops missions where I was given my own army of high schoolers and provide them with insight into the workings of college life and I have even been invited to covert missions where it was me, the stewards, and another fellow student from school. just the 4 of us hacking it out with the buckthorns.

on a side note: My backpack has scars, my favorite cargo pants can no longer be cleaned, and my boots finally served their purpose.  But I feel a great sense of fulfillment and I hope to thrive and face all future sturggles with the same level of enthusiasm, and I will always reflect back on this physical labor. It has made me believe that people see me as someone extraordinary and they look to me to do things that they would not ask of others. I hope I always feel wanted and I hope I can deliever upon my calling. 

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Zombie ready

Zombie ready

In the woods, the Zombies are called buckthorns, We kill them, we pile them up and we burn them. I am no longer a recruit. I am now a Veteran in this war. we will win this war.

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The will to Succeed and be praised

Intro: I volunteer at the Forest preserve District of Cook County. Follow me as I share my Struggles.

A few weeks ago, after serving a tour at Harms woods, I had recieved an email from higher authorites praising me for my efforts. It was a good feeling to know that some one was thinking about me and my hard work.

Yesterday I trained for a competitive sport for 7 hours. As I walked out of the barracks and headed home, I recieved a notification of a fellow soldier asking me for my assitance and to go into battle the next morning. I dont know why, but I didnt want her to be stranded or find modes of transportation that would only make her efforts more time consuming. I could’nt say no.

I woke up today, got strapped and prepared for battle. Indeed my aim was to stay close to base and avoid front-line combat. as we headed into the woods, It appeard to be such that the Cheif commanders (steward for that days volunteering service) were the same couple that prasied my work a few weeks earlier.

As happy as they were to see me, I was delighted to be serving under their command. They pointed at two empty barrels and told me that I would be the one in charge of filling them up. ” thats it!!! only Two?? shoud have brought more.” I joked. An undaunting smirk lit across the stewards face and we headed deeper into the battle feild.

There would be no face to face combat with buck thorns today. the winds were picking up and lighting fires could result in complicated problems. Instead today, I would be rescuing hostages that go by the name of  ‘rattle snake master.’ With a stealth tactical team of two,  The veteran (lets call her checkered) and I set out. I know I said I would’nt be at the front line, but I wanted to rescue as many hostages as possible. With limited space, There were only so many rattlesnake master seeds we could pick. But my determination was to set a new record. once one barrel filled up, I jumped into it and stomped down the seeds to make rooms for more.  By the time a cease-fire was initiiated, i had quadruple stomped one barrel and it was filled to the top.

fellow soldiers teased me ” Just one full???” – but checkered knew exactly what was going on. after the cease-fire ended, We were back to the rescuing. Talking  about family and heritage we all shared our experiences of the life we lived before recruitment. It was fun and at the end of the day, my hard work was once again recognized.

so whats the point of me sharing this stroy? – its like an inter-mingled web. I do hard work, I get praised for it, it makes me feel good, and now I have this drive to not let the people around me down. Had the stewards been any other stranger, I would not have tried as hard as I did this day. But I wanted to maintain my status as a hard worker, and even though I was tired, I pushed forward did what I had to do. I feel a sense of Joy, pride, and acheivement working with these stewards again, and most definetly I will continue to strive for efficincy. My motivation is renewed. I feel like my cause is not one without a true purpose and I love it.

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the Roof is on fire….

Intro: I am a volunteer at the forest preserve district of Cook Country. More like, I am a soldier at war against terrorizing buckthorns. Follow me as I share my experience of the war.

The battle Continues:

Snooze. Snooze. Snooze. I’m not putting my cold feet on the floor. No point, no chance. ‘Ding…You have 2 new text messages.’ “Shutup!!!” I yelled at my phone. But it was too late, my brain was ticking, and there was no battery to pull out and no plug to unplug. A fellow soldier was en-route to a site infested with buckthorn zombies. Her navigation system was obsolete and radio coms were offline. I got in my car and headed over to ‘no plants land.’

I drove deep into the forest until I could no more. I hopped out, checked my surroundings for smoke or at the least, the scent of smoke and concluded I was still not close enough. I replaced my driving shoes with my steel toe boots and strapped up with all my survival gear. Ear muffs to keep my head warm, Shades to protect against the sun, my favorite Z cap, my back pack with water, extra jacket, munchies and just when I was about to put my tracking skills to the test, a fellow Loyolan soldier and another comrade appeared from the woods.

Comrade had been ordered to track me and my fellow soldier down and bring us back to ground zero. We hitch hiked for about a mile or more. The fog sizzled against the electric lines running parallel to the forest. We discussed the situation and upon arrival I saw the biggest group of volunteers thus far. Youngster from northwestern and other surrounding schools had come forth to assist the buckthorn burning prescribed that day.

3 simultaneously burning piles were on the go. Young teenage boys and girls, were ripping down trees trying to prove there masculinity/femininity to their fellow peers. No consideration for other life was given as they were there to hack and saw only.

A cute old lady, a veteran in this war, came forth and introduced herself. She provided us with whatever ammunition and armory that was left. She paired me up with my Loyolan peer and told us to attack. And so we did. In the process we jacked loppers and saws left unattended in the path of destruction and moved forward.

Cuteolady was getting tired. “The bigger the crowd, the harder it is to control them.” She exclaimed. And here I was, thinking it was a good idea to have as many volunteers as possible. Regardless we were to concentrate our effort on a particularly tricky horde of buckthorns that were in the middle of ingesting down another native tree. Making sure to decapitate only the branches of the buckthorn, we spent the entire volunteering time there, maneuvering strategically around the tree.

STOP! Q&A: “hey Z, why is a big crowd bad?”-you ask.  “Well, because majority of these people have been forced to come here, and they are here with an alternative goal. They don’t have the basic understanding of what exactly it is, that we are trying to achieve and hence take great therapeutic joy in letting out their frustration/aggression on these buckthorns. Good for them but there are consequences.” – I reply.

Q&A “why would you force people to do such a thing?”- You might ponder. “In my UNIV-290 class we spoke of alternate goals that we may have in mind while doing something kind for someone else. Im fighting in this war because I need to graduate. In other worlds, I need the credit. So do they, the only difference is; I choose to do what I do. I volunteer at the preserve because of my genuine interest in the environment. Others may not share the same enthusiasm, and hence if the volunteering crowd is big and consists of experienced personnel, then the dangers of  lighting contained fires inside a forest preserve are drastically reduced.

CONTINUE:  The site consisted of three burning piles.  All three piles were constantly bombarded with more and more buck thorn branches. Imagine a triangle, and on each end of this triangle,picture a burning a pile. Now picture a dead 100 year old tree right in the center of this triangle. Now picture the scorching heat from these piles creating a nice warm blanket around this tree…and now finally picture… a dead huge tree catching fire!  Most interestingly, this tree caught fire at the summit. So all we could do is stare up at sky and watch smoke emanate from the top of this tree. Hot little chunks of the tree, almost coal like in nature, drizzle every now and then and finally, were asked to clear the site. The trained professionals debated as to chop down the tree or wait for it to go out. The decision was theirs, and all we could do is wish them luck and go home.

I could not do anything to help these guys expect leave. But I wish I could, I wish I was a chainsaw expert, or a fire fighter, or at least have been able do something to prevent any further damage. But I could not. I can’t say what my alternate goal could have been to feel this way, but I felt responsible for this tree and I wanted to stop it. Maybe my concern for the environment does go beyond the need for simple credit in order to graduate, but I don’t think I would have known this, had I not been here/ volunteered at the forest preserve. I learn from mistakes like this one, and It helps me understand myself better than I thought.

“Keep fighting.” – Zafar Hasnain


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Chop Chop

new crowd, new faces, new insights.

Intro: I volunteer at the forest preserve district of cook county. this morning  was a cold, misty morning. Concentrated on the north branch trails of Chicago’s reservations, follow me as I fight with mother nature and myself.

They were already staring at my exhaust less car. feeling guilty about the amount of carbon monoxide I was voluntarily emitting I parked and killed the engine as fast as I could. They were already curious, or so I thought.

Youngblood looked like the rest of us, worn out clothes and a hat to protect us from the sun that wasn’t even visible. He told me to checkout a group on Facebook somethin2030. ‘Twenty thirty’ I pondered, was I being hustled into a life long commitment to the habitat?  “yeah its basically people in theirs 20s and 30s who volunteer, but we all come out together and usually afterwards we get beers and get like a barbecue going and just kick back.” ….. 🙂

there were supposedly two stewards, a husband and a wife. But only one to greet. In his forest preserve jacket (lets call him Jack) and clip board, he appeared to be one with nature. Calm yet excited. I pointed at my black sports cap, which had a aggressive crafted Z right in the front and a smaller one on the back. “ahhh perfect. I will have no problem remembering you now.”

“so is it just Z or is it short for something?” Grayhair asked. unfortunately my Aladin reference didn’t work and no laughs were given.  all I could wonder is, how long have these guys been at this? and when will they stop? what compels them to do this?

Prius and her two children pull into the lot a few minutes late.  all I could do was stare at her car “that battery powered machine always creeps up on you and yes it can get creepy. but props to her, she isn’t killing the environment like I am.”

The forest preserve jacket (JACK) commenced the meeting “okay folks, today half of us will be seed collecting, and the other half will be chopping down buck thorns.”  Saw, loppers, gloves, safety glasses, and I already have my steel toe boots. The excitement at hacking away at living things far exceeds my comprehension, but never the less It was time to attack the jungle.

As we trailed into the forest which I have been riding my bike on all summer long, Jack decided to take a shortcut and leads us in to show us something. “do you know why you shouldn’t stand under a tree during a thunderstorm?” I think he was referring to the storm that I had peacefully slept through. “c’mon guys, Its obvious…”  I wish I had a picture to show you, but a massive tree almost 5 stories tall in front us, from head to toe, had been scarred by what I could only describe as the shadow of a lighting bolt.  Jack still wasn’t done being cool, he points out the smell of something burning nearby, and just carries on calmly.

we finally see a lady, in the same forest preserve jacket as Jack. So I guess she can be Mama Jack. Mama Jack had a nice warm fire going with tree branches and huge stubs. STOP for a moment, read the previous line again. “this is insanity at its finest, am I witnessing myself volunteering at a program that seeks to preserve the natural habitat, and here were are, lighting shit on fire!??, not to mention am I seriously about to pick up these loppers and start killing living breathing things?”

half way through the day, I am now enjoying picking on a certain kind of plant that I like to call the bully plant. Hacking off his supply of water and nutrients right from root. He blooms fast and overshadows the other natives. Kind of like the struggle of native Americans against the colonial British empire. And I was the natives savior. My armor and my weapons did the talking. “Hey Z!!! we have another Loyola student over here!” I turned quickly to see my Ally in this battle. and there stood a cute innocent girl, a senior majoring in environmental science. she had taken a route that ensures nothing but long travel times and misguided directions. nonetheless, a fellow soldier.

” you should have taken the yellow line train. its much easier and faster. and don’t worry I have my car with me and It would be my pleasure to give you a ride back to the station.”  youngblood is next to us as well. He tells me, hes lisenced in bush pile burning and has done several over the past 4 months. he explains  “we get protesters every now and then. they have to be more than 30 feet away from us at all times… we’re told not to say anything to them and they just don’t understand what we’re exactly doing.”

There’s a lot going on in all of this, I went from being in the forest battling mother nature, to battling my own thoughts, to understandings the importance of regulation. there are several things you can do to help the environment and the simple characters in this blog are nothing but examples.

as a couple you can volunteer together and enjoy the outdoors.

as a parent, you can drive a Prius and cut down the carbon foot print.

as a parent, you can take your kids on an outing and have roasted marshmallows. (yes the Prius and her kids had marshmallows that we roasted during break.)

As youngsters we can all work together and afterwards have a barbecue.

As a youngster I can get my friends to come along and expand the army of volunteers.

As a human, I can go into the forest and actually inhale the one gas worth inhaling, pure oxygen.

You can take out a lot of your frustration by killing those bully plants. ( professional supervision required)

At least in the Chicago area, there is no better feeling then having the sun shine through the forest and hitting you in the face.

To end it off, I did give my Loyola peer a ride to the station. She loved my car that ironically goes against her entire field of study as an undergraduate, and nonetheless she was very happy to have met me.  I think I’m going home to start off my Sunday now. simply put, the days just getting started and I already have so much done and yes!!! this is awesome.




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Zoning out

His knee high muddy boots, those typical round spectacles, silver wavy hair. his name is goof ball, he’s the steward. the man with the autograph. Volunteering for 20 years he appears to be well affiliated with the plants, his volunteering group, and his gear. he’s the man with the plan. ” thanks for giving us your time Z”

“my  wife signed me up for this, but everyone knows I don’t know my plants, if goof ball says ‘bad’ I stomp it, if goof ball says ‘good’ I leave it alone…. its good to see young people still interested in this kind of stuff” – funny, because there’s only two of us. his name is milk duds, with sensitive teeth.

“we do it to get away from people, cuz people think we’re crazy.” says hat lady. she has no ring and is concerned about her age ” oh, so your a psychologist, hope your not trying to figure us out, aahahaha.”  I like her, she talks a lot, but she means well and we converse about our attire, “well sometimes the competitions about who’s got the trashiest clothes”  did I mention she talks a lot. Then theres her dog,  inside the giant corn fields she scrambles about ” jeepers creepers!there she is, come here you crazy dog!!” 

A man wakes up 6 in the morning, gets dressed to face the wild, and rides the Metra down to the community college campus. he was suppose to be at the preserve at 9 am,  and he hikes through the woods. he has no car and not much of a reason to do any of this , yet he walks, and at 10:30am milk duds announces ” I told you he’d show up” , “I don’t even know how he found us out here” exclaims hat lady, and there stands goof ball happy to see another helping hand.

silent surfer simply observes them all. straight from a comic book, a hat covering his long blonde straight hair, his face going red from the sun, he smiles and absorbs the random comments that come his way. I dont know what he thinks, But I do know what I think… this is rather the most random and strangest group of people i have ever met. why are they here? why did I sign up for this? will I see a snake? I look down at the brown paper bag I hold in my hand,  its filled with seeds from some native plant. Will these seeds ever grow up and protect our environment? 

I wont be able to follow the journey of these seeds, but pick any one of these seeds, for there are thousands alike in my bag. Each one has it’s own journey and its own final resting place. Each one will have obstacles and turmoils to overcome, and I simply ask the reader this; are we so different from these seeds?

“sounds alot like my UNIV-290 seminar at school! interesting.”

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