Greetings! My name is Matt, and I am pleased to introduce myself to the urban forestry community! Having grown up in Delmar, New York, my parents frequently took my brother and me to Five Rivers Environmental Education Center and Thacher State Park to spend time outdoors. I grew to accept the accessibility of these joyful outdoor experiences as universal, something everyone was and should be close with. I have always craved the quiet atmosphere a forest can offer, along with the bustling, welcoming community I feel around me in the woods.
After high school I ended up at SUNY Geneseo studying English and Environmental Studies, firmly situating the importance of ecological themes in my life. Then, a study-abroad experience in India fractured my perspectives and fundamentally changed my approach to learning. Having lived among unfamiliar ecological and cultural circumstances, I was forced to admit my inability to compartmentalize and define all the phenomena around me. I had no choice but to accept and celebrate the inexplicable complexities of the world, which has become a fulfilling, albeit young, component of my relationship with human and nonhuman ecosystems.
I now understand that not everyone has had the opportunity to grow up alongside a healthy community of other species like I did, which, from a certain point of view, is devastating. One of my primary goals is to invite social and emotional motives into ecological work. There is a sense of compassion, empathy, and interconnectedness that one learns from spending time with our fellow earthlings, especially in forests, which is sometimes underutilized in our highly political and scientific field. Accessing this (and not shying away from the neighboring feelings of grief and loss) is, in my opinion, imperative to our response to ecological crisis in the coming decades, in order for our movement to work on behalf of everyone.
I know that I have some sort of people-related role to play in my work, but I haven’t felt drawn to specialize in any particular area yet. As such I’ve had an eclectic history of jobs, including at schools, summer camps, social service organizations, and retail. The one throughline in all my work is education. I consider myself an educator at my core, in that I want to perpetuate an environment of supportive learning and personal development.
Here at DEC as the Environmental Education Assistant, I am excited to be working with folks all around the state who are planning for the future. Urban forestry is such an encouraging community because we are imagining what our lives and our successors’ lives can be like decades from now and trying to make sure we sustain our urban forests for the coming generations. Through coordinating the Tree City, Tree Campus Higher Ed, and Tree Line programs, I get a close look at how differing communities approach the care of their urban forests. It’s also a joy to connect with teachers around the state who help us implement our 4th and 5th grade poster contest! Fostering ecological knowledge and compassion in youth is so important, fun, and fulfilling.
Perhaps it’s clear by now that community and relationships are very important to me, and this guides my hobbies and my personal life as much as it does my work! I am most myself when I am being a silly, nerdy goofball with my friends.
I love cooking and trying other peoples’ food they have prepared; gathering loved ones over a caringly crafted meal is a true pleasure. Food is also a great way to get to know someone, and imagining the cultural and ecological history behind a recipe is so exciting to me!
In the past few years, my friends have shared with me their affinity for board games, and now I have become a proud board game nerd myself! A couple of my favorites right now are Onitama and Backgammon.
I also have a huge appreciation for music, and I’m learning to become a musician of sorts when I feel motivated. It is so exhilarating and inspiring to see people make music together. Music recommendations are always appreciated! I’ve been into jazz and R&B lately, but I appreciate all genres.
I spend a lot of my personal time listening to my favorite podcasts and experimenting with my sewing machine. I’m currently customizing an old DEC windbreaker! I also like to read sci-fi and nonfiction books, and I play ultimate frisbee during the warmer months.
Thanks for taking the time to read, I look forward to meeting more of the New York urban forestry community and learning from you all! 🌳