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Father’s Day and Our Green Marine

Lessons from my father.


My Dad passed away seven years ago this week, so it makes Father’s Day and remembering him that much more special to me and my family. He was a wonderful father, husband, grandfather and a proud U.S. Marine. He was also a great lover of the outdoors. And as a landscape architect, site planner and horticulturalist, he was ahead of his time in conservation thinking.

My father reveled in the outdoors. Nature was his joy, escape, and a way to recharge and reconnect. Whether it be gardening, hiking in the nearby Blue Hills, taking local walks, at his drafting table creating landscape designs, helping his neighbors pick out plants or just being in the backyard taking it all in — my Dad loved being outside.

He grew up in the City of Attleboro, Massachusetts — once known as “the Jewelry Capital of the World.” The family’s three bedroom apartment was a tight squeeze for their family of 8. The three family — or “three-decker” – was wedged in between other three, four, and six-decker homes in a densely packed inner-city neighborhood. I can understand how the outdoors was my Dad’s refuge, but also how it presented him with a pathway to a fulfilling life.

My father and his sisters and brothers had the love and support from their hard working parents — my grandfather was a janitor and my grandmother was a maid. They hoped for a better future for all of their children. In addition to a fostering a great work ethic and appreciation for a good education, they also instilled a love of nature, gardening and a depression era conservation ethic .

After a his service in the Marine Corps he attended Rhode Island School of Design on the GI Bill. He studied landscape architecture. Years later he would go on to get horticultural certification at University of Massachusetts at Amherst and his computer aided design certification at Boston’s Wentworth Institute. He came a long way from a kid growing up without any money in an inner city neighborhood to serving as Massachusetts’ longest serving Registered Landscape Architect and Site Planner.

He passed along his love of the outdoors to my sisters and me. There are many lessons we learned from my father — our Green Marine — but here are a few simple ones as I think about him on this father’s day and his love of the outdoors:

  1. Get outdoors every day, regardless of the weather. No matter if it was driving rain or a snow storm, he would get outside. Being prepared for any weather was a key lesson from him — have the right gear for whatever weather comes your way.
  2. Have gratitude for the natural world and a mindfulness of the bounty of what is around us. Even when he was too sick to take a walk, he would stand outside and bask in the outdoors. Neighbors would drive by and see him in the yard and toot their horns. He wouldn’t need to open his eyes, just hold up a hand, smile and wave. He understood how blessed we all are to have this wonderful earth around us and gave thanks for it every day.
  3. Doing yard work is fulfilling . We spent hours doing yard work. One day I visited my parents and my Dad had transplanted three massive evergreen shrubs — each about 6 feet in diameter. They must have taken him a day to dig up. He said it was “no problem” and that he put each one on his Marine Corps duffel bag to drag them to a new location in the yard. He especially loved tending his vegetable garden and couldn’t have been more proud of the bounty of food he had grown.
  4. Recycle or reuse everything — throwing something away should be the last option. This included using what you have “on site” to support your landscape design goals. He adopted a “circular economy” to minimize material use in his way of thinking about construction and design. He would incorporate existing elements — from designing around the earth’s undulations to create onsite wetlands; constructing grassy hills/berms onsite over existing rock outcroppings; to using relocating and replanting onsite drought resistant plant materials to cut down on water use. Reuse was essential in conservation management.
  5. Steward and learn about the natural environment. He did everything he could to protect trees, beautify the landscape, and think about how he could change something to affect a positive impact in nature. We worked the hardest to plant and save trees. This included his work to save Dutch Elm trees during the outbreak of the Dutch Elm disease. I remember him sending away (pre-internet) for books and learning materials to study-up on the Dutch Elm and do what he could to prevent trees from dying. Whether walking around a yard, analyzing a construction site or designing a park, my Dad would point out plants and tell me their Latin names. In his late 70’s he was still learning and taking classes. He was a great teacher, voracious reader, always curious and driven to learn more about the natural world.

As we celebrate Father’s Day with my family, I have no fonder memories than of being outdoors with my Dad. He shared his passion for being active in the outdoors and welcoming each day with gratitude. As my daughter reaches up in wonder to touch a tree leaf or spy a bird flying over head, I remember our Green Marine.

Originally published at medium.com

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