I have had a wonderful 3.5+ years here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort helping Joe, Ronnie, and the rest of the Kona Kai staff realize their dream of an ethnobotanic teaching garden here in the Florida Keys, where visitors can come and learn about the incredible importance of plants in their lives.
Looking back, it's amazing to see what we've accomplished. I remember some of our first projects: building a comprehensive BG-Base database for KKBG's plant collections, creating 500+ records labels and 140+ display labels for the plants, and developing the first iteration of our "Ethnobotanic Tour," which we now call our "Transforming Your Understanding of Plants Tour." The Tour has been taken by over 1,200 people from all around the world since I began leading it in March 2011. After working on establishing these foundations for the Gardens, I moved on to develop kkbg.org, the Gardens' virtual mobile-friendly botanic garden "app", with Joe while at the same time working with Ronnie on expanding our educational outreach to the local community by making The Fairchild Challenge (a very successful South Florida environmental education program developed at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens) available to Upper Keys teachers and students as "The Upper Keys Fairchild Challenge," which involved over 900 students (53% of all local elementary and middle school students) last year. Since Day One, I have worked closely with our Grounds Manager, Veronika, when it came to learning more about the characteristics and needs of the plants here on the property, conducting tree trimming, discussing plant selection, and planting our precious new specimens. I also had plenty of interaction with the other staff here, too, even if it wasn't as frequent or intensive as my work with Joe, Ronnie, and Veronika. Tracey and Denise coordinated reservations for my tours, and I always saw Ileana, Maria, and Charlie around the Gardens taking care of the accommodations or their garden beds. We have also recently been blessed with another great addition to the team, Karen, who is helping Veronika out in the Gardens, and it seems like she will fit in wonderfully.
As you can see, even though I have been the "face" of the Gardens for the past few years, I've had incredible support from the rest of the staff here, without whom the Gardens' work would not have been, or continue to be, possible. On a personal as well as professional level, I have learned from each of them, and know I am a better person for it. One of my favorite parts of working at Kona Kai is that the staff here do not see each other exclusively as co-workers or colleagues, but friends and family, which I believe is no small contributing factor in what makes Kona Kai so magical; you feel like you're coming home from the moment you arrive on the property, especially as a returning guest.
Although I am departing, it is not because I see the mission and vision of the Gardens to be unimportant, as I hope you've been able to realize from all of my previous 75 blogs, which I have written from the heart. Indeed, I still consider it one of the most noble and urgent causes in today's world. What I have felt is a calling within the deepest parts of my spirit that I can no longer ignore, and unfortunately I cannot answer it while at the same time having a full-time job. In 2007, a strange unprompted curiosity came over me about contemplative monastic life, which I knew nothing about at the time. In order to learn more about it, I visited a Trappist monastery in Massachusetts while at Connecticut College, after which I knew I needed to return at some point for a longer visit and also explore other monastic orders, which I was planning on doing after finishing my internship at Holden Arboretum in 2011. One of my favorite quotes is "If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans," and as I was making plans for monastery visits, I came across the advertisement for my current position here at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. I could not believe there was a position being offered at that particular moment in time that suited my ethnobotanical interests / education and my botanic gardens work experience so well, so I figured this might be where I was meant to be for the foreseeable future. I applied for the position and have been here since. Even though I see the work being done here as extremely important and I really couldn't have asked for a better job for several reasons, the pull towards monastic life has not ceased to leave me, and has become more and more intense, especially over the past year, during which I made two visits to the same monastery I visited in 2007. After my last visit in June, I've had a deep sense of peaceful conviction that it is time for me to make the necessary visits to the monasteries to discern whether or not life as a monk is my next vocation.
I have no doubt the "sunset" of my time here will quickly make way for a beautiful sunrise; I am confident the Gardens' work will continue to thrive, supported by all the staff I mentioned earlier, Kona Kai guests, the local community, and one other notable addition (to be introduced in the next posting) who will take my place as Associate Director of the Gardens at the beginning of September.
What follows is a slideshow I put together covering the Gardens' main themes and undertakings over the past three and a half years. Be sure to watch it in full screen mode (click on the button on the bottom-right-hand corner of the video) on a laptop or desktop (if you watch it on a mobile device, you won't get any of the sound that goes along with the video and you probably won't be able to read any of the text), and adjust the quality to one of the HD options by clicking on the "gear" button on the bottom-right of the screen after you've begun playing the video in full-screen mode. Here's to many more "fruitful" years to come for The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort!