July 12, 2018
Today is a heavy day for all of us at Trees, Water & People, and will continue to be for time eternal. One year ago today, on July 12, 2017, we lost our beloved Lucas Wolf on an otherwise perfect day on Cuba’s south coast.
Among many other things, Lucas Wolf’s final week was spent expanding his personal and professional circles in Latin America, speaking up for the environment on the radio in Havana, Cuba, and exploring this amazing country with his Mom and #1 travel companion, Mary Ellen Keen. He didn’t know it was his last, but he spent every moment of that week working to create a better tomorrow. As Mary Ellen wrote to me recently, quoting a Mark Strand poem:
Nothing could stop you.
Not the best day. Not the quiet. Not the ocean rocking.
You went on with your dying.
Lucas’s departure is still raw, and his absence still palpable, yet he has infused so much beauty into this past year that I’m certain his impact on the planet will reverberate for generations. Since he left, new friendships have been born, multiple projects have been launched in his honor, his ashes have been spread in more than 10 nations, and peculiar miracles have transpired almost everywhere he had set foot in life. He’s made every connection count.
Here at Trees, Water & People, we feel his presence daily. We made a conscious decision when he transitioned that we would not lose pace, as he would resent nothing more than his death causing a diversion from the causes he embraced so fully. Rather than retreat, we advanced - shifting, recruiting, and hiring people that could carry on what he and our teams had in motion.
Lucas left more than just nodes and connections in his life. He left living networks of motivated people, all working in some way to improve their communities and the planet. We are people that don’t consider what we do “a job”, but an obligation, a way of life, and a privilege. That’s the only reason we’ve been able to plant 243,111 trees in Lucas’s name in the last 365 days - those who loved him have committed fervently to keeping his work alive.
We all have things we wish we’d done when we were able. Lucas undoubtedly got several of those out of the way the week he passed - strengthening partnerships with Cuban friends and colleagues, eating coconut ice cream from the shell in Havana, living by and swimming in the Caribbean, making new friends and sharing life with dozens of locals, and touring his momma around the city in classic cars. It was a dream week in an illustrious life. Knowing this takes some of the edge off, but certainly doesn’t make his absence any easier.
We miss you, Lucas. You really have no equal on this planet. Working with you was a privilege, and carrying on TWP’s work in your name is among my most cherished responsibilities. You continue to inspire us, and we continue to grow and do you proud. Thank you for spending some time with us, and please continue to smile down on the good works your people carry on for you, and on all the complex forces that make good things happen in the world.
We love you.
December 22, 2017
Yesterday we marked five months since Lucas’s departure, and we were finally able to breathe after a dizzying 150-day effort to pull ourselves back onto our feet after losing our beloved man in Managua.
During this time, we’ve rebuilt our staff, refocused our energy, and recharged our batteries in preparation for a new year that promises to keep us going at full speed. Lucas has presided over every meeting, phone call, and strategy session from his perches throughout our office, and has fueled our desire to become even better at what we do.
In our reflections, we noted that Trees, Water & People (TWP) fundamentally exists to help people reach their fullest potential, by combining local knowledge with new skills and ideas to rewrite what’s possible for rural communities throughout the Americas.
We’ve come to understand that the greatest outcome we can hope for in our work is improving an individual’s self-esteem to the point that they can tap their own innate capacity to solve their local challenges. We also believe that strong rural livelihoods depend on the health of local ecosystems, and that engaging young people in their community’s development is the surest way to create lasting change in these areas – values that Lucas embodied fully.
In August and September, I was able to travel to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador to plant trees and start tree nurseries in Lucas’s honor. I visited homes that had hosted him, people that had loved him, and roads on which he had traveled so many times to fulfill TWP’s mission. I was able to visit the last of these two countries with Gemara Gifford, our new International Director, which made for a moving final hand-off of Lucas’s programs and contacts.
When I returned, Gem and I hatched a plan to really ensure Lucas’s legacy was carried out to the fullest extent possible. We decided that we would make it our personal mission to plant 1 million trees to bear fruit, improve soil, provide shade, cook food, and create habitat in Lucas’s name between Jan 1, 2018 – Dec 31, 2022. Sounds reasonable, right?
While we’ve already built some momentum behind the effort, we will officially launch the campaign at the Rotary Peacebuilding Conference in Vancouver, Canada, this coming February, to which Lucas had been invited as a speaker before he passed. Once the campaign picks up speed, we hope you’ll help us celebrate the life of this man who left his mark on so many, by planting new life across the Americas to honor his memory.
Thank you for your support this year – you’ve really helped us get through this tough time, and we hope to do Lucas proud as we continue this important work.
If you haven’t experienced Trees, Water & People’s (TWP) work first-hand, it’s difficult to explain the importance of having someone like Lucas Wolf leading your efforts in the field. TWP’s success depends less on what we bring to the communities in which we work, and more on how relationships are created and cultivated, and how promises are made and kept. Lucas was incredibly talented at building trust and empathy with people across borders, cultures, and walks of life – a trait that made him excellent and irreplaceable in his work.
Over the past week, I’ve had the honor of taking Lucas back to some of the people and places he loved most in Central America. Lucas is missed not only because he helped bring clean cookstoves, solar lighting, rainwater catchment systems, and tree nurseries to the region, but for the genuine connections he made with people during the years he spent here.
In Honduras, we commemorated our love for Lucas by planting walnut and citrus seedlings with his ashes, and scattering some into an ancient volcanic crater that fascinated him. In the community of La Tigra, his friends Norma and Pedro surprised us with a sign dedicating a tree nursery to Lucas and TWP, complete with a hand-painted wolf by his name. At the Center for Education in Sustainable Agriculture (CEASO), where he was like an adopted son, we held a prayer service and planted a walnut tree with his ashes in the center of their campus.
I then traveled to Nicaragua to celebrate his birthday with his loved ones in Managua, and sent portions of his ashes home with friends from various corners of the country. Friends in Cuba honored him by planting a seedling for him near Cienfuegos, and by burying some of his ashes under a Cuban Palm in the National Botanical Garden in Havana. His friends in the U.S. spread his ashes along the High Line in New York City, a place he loved to jog while on the East Coast.
Today, we continue to celebrate Lucas by planting a Ceiba tree (his favorite) in his name at the Nicaraguan Center for Forests, Energy & Climate, and a Crabapple tree outside of the Trees, Water & People office in Fort Collins, CO. Next month we’ll continue the tributes in Guatemala, and then El Salvador, ensuring that his remains regenerate life in as many places as possible.
What more can I say – Lucas touched people’s hearts across the planet in a way only he could, and it’s an honor to take him back to the people and places he held dear. Lucas always insisted on smiling through life’s challenges and spreading as much sunshine as possible in our short time here on earth. We can only hope that spreading his ashes under trees throughout the hemisphere will serve as a daily reminder to us all to Live Life Like Lucas.
Two and a half years ago is when I was first formally introduced to Lucas Cameron Wolf. His mother, Mary Ellen, brought a meal over when my wife Claudia gave birth to our daughter Lucía and reminded her about her son Lucas, who was living in Nicaragua looking for non-profit work. Coincidentally, Claudia had met Lucas in 2005, the only year we all overlapped in Honduras. As my traveling wings were due to be clipped with Lucía’s arrival, Claudia insisted I meet him immediately, to interview him for my position at Trees, Water & People (TWP).
On our first international Skype call, in December 2014, I opened with a multilayered introduction of myself and the organization in unhinged, fast, Central American Spanish to see if he could keep up. Not missing a beat, Lucas replied jovially, fluently, thoughtfully, and completely. He even threw in some Central American slang to show me he wasn’t playing around. I was hooked and was convinced this was the guy I needed on my team.
His first day of work, in March 2015, we spent at a pub in Antigua, Guatemala. We had some beers, shot some billiards, and got to know each other casually with three members of a group I had brought down on a Trees, Water & People (TWP) Tour. He spent that week in the deep end, leading half of the tour group throughout the week, learning TWP history and culture on-the-fly, and confidently translating topics to which he’d never been formally introduced.
He aced it.
The truth is, from that day forward he became my right-hand man, my eyes and ears on the ground, my sounding board, my regional envoy, and TWP’s Man in Managua. He was a force of nature, taking on massive, shapeless tasks with confidence, grace, and humor. He had an incredible knack for building sincere relationships across every sector of society and would treat an 8-year-old in a Central American village with the same level of respect and gravitas that he’d reserve for an international dignitary.
To say Lucas was a man of the people is an understatement. He was a man of the cosmos, here on a mission to show us how to be kind to one another, how to work for the things that matter, and how to honor life on this planet. His legacy is a challenge to us all, to strive for the most profound experience possible in the short time we have on earth.
Lucas Wolf enriched my life from the first seconds of our relationship. He was an unflappable colleague, a dear friend to my family and me, and a conduit to a world of people, places, and ideas. I speak for my entire organization when I say that his departure leaves a gaping hole in both our personal and professional lives, from which we’ll never fully recover.
We love you, Lucas Wolf. Thank you for sharing some of your precious time with us at Trees, Water & People — you’ll always have a home here.
- Sebastian Africano