For Chandra Burkhart and her daughter Emma, the Arboretum has provided a focal point amid the blur of everyday life.
Chandra is currently in a degree program in digital media, combining technology and art, at Hudson Valley Community College – in addition to working full-time in the IT department at the college and raising two teenage children. She finds both peace and a literal focus at the Arboretum: the Great Oak and the swamp have given her some memorable photographs for her course work.
Like mother, like daughter. Emma, a junior at Duanesburg High School, takes time from a busy schedule of schoolwork, track and field, and drama club to walk the trails at Landis, sometimes with a friend, and to volunteer with Chandra at Arboretum events. She’s also worked behind the scenes, helping Gail Browning and Louise Polli put out lunches for the other volunteers.
The Burkharts have been “rooted” in Duanesburg for more than 20 years. Chandra and her husband Rich built a home with reclaimed timbers from a 19th Century chair and cradle factory in Massachusetts. Chandra grows vegetables for her family in raised beds, nurturing her plants from seeds. She also cultivates several perennial gardens – stocked with many plants from the Arboretum’s two annual plant sales. She maintains two “memory gardens,” planted with flowers whose names recall those of departed family members – phlox ‘David’ and helenium, for example.
When Emma and her brother Albert, now 13, were younger, the family spent time at the Arboretum, and the children participated in several of George Steele’s nature programs. Chandra attended workshops and, as her gardens grew, she was drawn to the plant sales. Then, a few years ago, Chandra and Emma started to work at those sales.
First, it was just unloading trucks – and Chandra noticing specimens that she just had to have. And then it was writing tickets, cashing out customers. Chandra said that she began to learn so much “just by listening, by asking questions … by talking to people.” Emma added that she was impressed that “people cared so much” about the place and admitted that she had fun, even with the manual labor – and there will always be her favorite peaceful spot, looking out over the Schoharie Valley.
Both will be back for the Spring Plant Sale, that’s for sure. Chandra has joined the Garden Club and the propagation team. This year, she will be heading up the bake sale after Phyllis Olsen’s many years of service. And she’ll be bringing her in-laws to the sale.
Both mother and daughter commented on the peace they found at the Arboretum. Chandra said that when she’s there, “the stress is gone. There are no horns honking, no phones beeping .… It’s a retreat. There’s so little peace left in the world these days.” A native of urban Detroit, she noted that she realized how important it was for the Arboretum to preserve open green spaces, as well as to provide an opportunity for families to participate in the natural world together.
Focus: a coming together – for the Burkhart family and many others. At the Arboretum.