We appreciate you.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have been visiting the Houston Arboretum just about every Saturday morning—minus a period earlier this year, when some portions closed because of the implementation of the park’s ongoing Master Plan. As time’s gone on, I’ve come to love, and to appreciate, this place above just about any other in the city.

It’s almost a religious experience wandering the trails under the Arboretum’s thick canopy, breathing its rich oxygen, keeping an eye out for snakes and coyotes and birds and insects as we make our way to its pond to spy turtles and, lately, hope for a glimpse of the elusive juvenile alligator who’s been spotted emerging from the water’s depths.

Occasionally we pass other Houstonians: dog walkers like us, bird watchers dangling their binoculars, parents and kids at the playground, entire extended families out for a stroll, people sitting on benches reading books or, simply, contemplating the nature that surrounds them, smack dab in the middle of the city. Everyone always nods, says hello. It’s like we’re all in on a secret. I can never understand why the place isn’t more crowded even though admission is free.

And then there are those other people we run into: the ones pushing wheelbarrows along the trails, clearing invasive species and chopping wood and planting things and hauling dirt and doing God knows what else. They gleam with sweat, their faces flushed, as they go about their tasks, which never seem less than impossibly difficult. I always want to thank them but instead simply nod, knowing that they are, in at least one essential way, better people than we are.

Luckily I have this space, where I can say a tiny bit more as I contemplate the things I’m thankful for this month. So, to the Arboretum’s volunteers: You guys are badasses. Thank you for giving your time and energy to care for this civic treasure through your back-breaking labor. While I’m at it, to the stewards of the Arboretum: Thank you for executing the park’s Master Plan, preserving this magical place for future generations of humans, animals, and plants.

And finally, to everyone who’s donated money to the cause: Thank you, too. As of this Christmas, we’ll be joining your ranks—finally—by getting a family membership as a stocking stuffer. In other words, we’ll no longer be freeloaders. And that feels pretty good.

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