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A couple of weeks ago, the media was filled with stories about New Year’s resolutions: why so many of us are so bad at keeping them and how to make better ones.

I’m just now emerging from my post-holiday stupor/head cold, and I find myself surrounded by the same piles of stuff and incomplete projects that have been hanging around for years. I know myself too well to bother with specific goals, but that doesn’t mean I don’t face each new year with a general feeling of determination to do better/more (exercising, cleaning, blogging, etc.). It just seems natural to periodically take stock of life.

When attempting to move forward with resolve, it helps to have inspiring examples, and it occurs to me that a piece I have in the January issue of Encore Magazine is particularly timely for this season of hopefulness. (Not that Encore stories in general aren’t inspiring. The magazine specializes in “stories of success,” like the ensemble of eight talented young cello players that I profiled in the same issue.)

The story that inspires me now is that of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, which facilitates the preservation of natural areas by acquiring some outright and also by helping private landowners legally ensure that their properties will never be developed. Their work is extensive: they search across nine counties for areas worthy of preservation, go through all the legal hoops to preserve them, and then do the never-ending work of maintaining the land in its natural condition.

These days there are so many ways to feel hopeless about the environment. The goals of the SWMLC seem daunting to me, but the people involved with it (I interviewed staff members, a volunteer, and a property donor) are all remarkably optimistic. The non-profit organization’s directors are not the kind of people I’d expect to talk as if government cut-backs were a good thing, but they told me that groups like the SWMLC are well-placed to lead the land conservation movement now that public funding for such work is drying up.

These people know how to persevere.  For example, volunteer Kristi Chapman has gone out almost every week for years to pull weeds, collect or sow seeds, chop exotic trees and shrubs, or burn dead brush to make way for new growth. She told me, “Early on we’d come to some new preserve and stare in dismay at all of the non-native plants that needed to be removed, but year by year it gets better.”

They are rewarded by the progress they see, however slow it may be. Executive director Peter Ter Louw pointed out, “You can see the impact we have on the people and the land, and that’s incredibly powerful and fulfilling.”

I know that if I can tackle just one pile of papers or actually publish this post, it will make it a little easier to face what comes next, so here goes.

What seemingly insurmountable tasks do you face, and how do you take them on?