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Heartbreaking Beauty: Thoughts From a Steward

February 08, 2021
leaves floating in a pond

[Written by Zach Stark, Director of Environmental Stewardship]

“There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere.” – Edward Abbey

The lights came on early in my mind this morning as I awoke wide awake just before 5 a.m. I quickly gave up any efforts to snooze, and I found my mind racing in deep thoughts. After routine preparations for the day, I jumped in the car. Water, coffee, backpacks, a change of clothes and some food for the day ahead, I am off and on my way.

Most mornings, I listen to the news or perhaps some favorite tunes during the 23-mile drive to campus. This morning felt different; I stayed quiet, left the distractions off and just drove in silence.

As I observed, my mind went deeper down the rabbit hole, watching all the wonderful things the world displayed around me as light slowly crept up from the dawn. To the west, the full moon was waning, and to the east, a fiery red-orange sun broke over the horizon as I pulled onto Concordia University Drive — a stunningly beautiful way to start your day.

The “heartbreaking beauty” we see every day is always present around us. Sometimes, we need to turn off the radio, slow life down, observe and appreciate. I know that I’m extremely blessed to work at CTX. My passion to take care of nature while building Concordia’s stewardship culture and brand is a true vocation for me, and there isn’t a day where I ever dread coming to campus to dig into the dozens of various projects with which I’m thankful to be engaged.

We’ve all heard and thought it a million times: This campus is “heartbreakingly beautiful.” To borrow from our core purpose as an institution, “to cultivate goodness, truth and beauty,” the physical landscape here has practically already done the job for us! We’re all truly blessed to be here, and the work of an environmental steward is shared equally, as we are called to steward God’s creation.

Perhaps, the greatest “curse” of an environmental steward is that not only do we notice the “heartbreaking beauty” around us, but we sometimes also see “heartbreak” in everything that is out of place.

As I drove into work in silence, I noticed the roadside had trash everywhere, freshly shredded by mowers into a million pieces. I thought to myself, why is society so careless? Is it really so difficult to pick up after yourself, put waste in a bin or recycle? I ask myself the same questions when I see litter on campus. When you see it, do you pick it up or walk by, hoping someone else will do it? You probably noticed the thousands of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings that graced our campus; what an amazing sight! As they feasted on juniper berries, I wonder, did they eat our litter too?

Another “curse” is non-native species. We actively manage for these species, typically plants like chinaberry, ligustrum, nandina, etc.; the list goes on. Most folks do not recognize them, but once you do, the landscape is forever different. As my drive continued down 360, I watched new commercial and residential developments spring up next to sensitive habitats. I thought to myself, is this truly sustainable? So many questions, but I’m still unsure of the answers.

I certainly don’t want all of this to sound doom and gloom; these are just examples of the “heartbreaking beauty.” This unique property shares a number of challenges and opportunities.

In my time here, I can think of so many ways that CTX has grown and continues to think thoughtfully about stewarding all of our resources into the future. Enjoy this place outside! Sit in silence, listen to nature, pray, and ask yourself how we each can be a better steward? It all starts with small actions. Be forever the optimist. These are realities, challenges and opportunities for us all to be stewards in our own way.

Learn more about Concordia University Texas' Office of Environmental Stewardship and how you can help care for the University's beautiful campus.