Sept. 28, 2000
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
Senior Sarah Deacon is your typical athlete in many ways. She works hard, practices everyday, is there for her teammates and she’s a vegetarian who spent her summer cataloging noxious weeds in a the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness area in Idaho. Maybe she isn’t so typical after all.
“I am an environmental studies major and that’s where I heard about the Students Conservation Association and I thought `wow, we get to play in the woods all summer’,” said Deacon. “I ended up getting a job in Idaho working with noxious weeds. I had a blast getting to hike around for the whole summer.”
Many students look forward to their summer vacation so they can relax and hang out with friends. Some take a few classes or go and spend time with their families but not Sarah. She decided to test herself and see if she was ready to turn her environmental studies major into a career.
“The area I worked in has the highest designation for protection by the government,” said Sarah. “The forest was huge. The area was the size of Connecticut. We would fly in on tiny little planes and land on a dirt landing strip. Some areas were so remote we would have to raft in to get to where we needed to be.”
Sarah spent her summer isolated from civilization working long days pulling noxious weeds and cataloging them. She didn’t have a TV, a computer, or even a shower.
“It takes a different mentality to work in the forest for days at a time,” Sarah said bluntly. “You have to be willing to smell yourself. Sometimes we were out for eight days without being able to shower. I might be crazy but it was all fun for me.”
You have to wonder how Sarah got interested in spending weeks and months in a forest pulling weeds. Was it something in her past? A traumatic experience as a child?
Sarah got interested in conservation after she started to take classes in environmental studies. With each new class, she began to gain an appreciation for how precious our national resources are and how important it is to conserve them.
“I don’t go around preaching about my beliefs but I try to do what I can do to help,” said Sarah. “I’m just trying to preserve the outdoors so we can have fun and enjoy it for years to come.”
Besides her time in Idaho, Sarah has hiked in some memorable places around America and had experiences she will never forget. She remembers when she spent one evening watching the full moon rise over the mountains as she stood on top of the pass.
“I hiked in Glacier National Park on the border of Canada and Montana and it was just phenomenal,” Sarah said. “It’s the same place where Ansel Adams took many of his pictures. The mountains and lakes were amazing and there were so many wild flowers but the mosquitoes were monstrous.
I also hiked in the rain forest in Washington. I have never seen trees that big. They were phenomenally large. The forest was so green that it literally hurt my eyes.”
Hiking and spending weeks in the wilderness does come with certain dangers. Before she entered the Glacier National Park, Sarah had to watch a video on how to protect herself from Glacier’s large Grizzly Bear population.
After sitting down with Sarah and talking to her, it doesn’t take long before you start to wonder if her time in Idaho has prepared her for a run on the TV show Survivor. It seems like she has the experience to go after the million dollars.
“Since I was living in the woods all summer I had no idea what Survivor was,” recalls Sarah. “I felt so out of touch but I think my summer prepared me for The Real World more than it did for Survivor.”
All kidding aside, Sarah is deeply committed to environmental issues and she understands the stereotypes that come along with her beliefs especially since she is also a vegetarian.
“I get all the `tree-hugger’ stuff from my friends who kid with me especially since I am also a vegetarian,” said Sarah. “People wave steaks in my face and I’m like `no-no’ but I don’t take the stereotypes too seriously.”
It’s been about nine months since Sarah last ate any meat and she is starting to realize that it is a difficult life style. After finding the right balance of vitamins to supplement her meat-less diet, Sarah next had to face the challenge of being a vegetarian while traveling constantly with soccer.
“When I first stopped eating meat, I wasted away,” recalls Sarah. “I had to start to take vitamins to get the nutrition I was missing. It’s hard to be a vegetarian especially on the road. We have to eat at a lot of places that only serve meat and it can be hard to find a vegetarian meal.”
Sarah’s vegetarianism can be traced to an environmental ethics class she took one semester. Once again, her classroom lessons carried over into her everyday life.
“I was always thinking about becoming a vegetarian but it really clicked when I took that class,” Sarah remembers. “We studied a chapter on animal rights and I read one essay that totally shattered my justification for eating meat my whole life. I always thought that it was just the natural order of things to eat animals, but when I found out how animals are bred just to feed us, it didn’t seem right.”
After graduating this spring, Sarah is planning on returning to Idaho and working before she returns to school to get her masters degree.
“I’ve been in school for four years and I’ve done the soccer thing,” Sarah said. “I think I’m ready to take a little break from that. I want to go and try to help in any way that I can.”
Helping the planet is a major priority for Sarah but she also wants to reach children and help them understand how important it is to protect our planet.
“I think a lot of younger children are getting exposed to conservation and recycling in school and that is a good trend but the environmental cause is composed of so many groups that are fighting one another over certain issues and nothing gets done,” said Sarah. “We all need to find some common ground and channel our energies. I think working with children is one way to solve that problem.”