Dot Drake: garlic mustard’s foe

Featured Volunteer — June 2007

[Photo: Dot Drake]

Photo by Tim Boyle

They think Im such a great volunteer, but Im actually just enjoying myself outdoors, its my favorite thing to do, Dorothy Dot Drake confides almost conspiratorially. Yet shes one of FMRs greatest assets in the campaign against invasive garlic mustard.

I would probably be out here walking anyway; I get outside whenever I can. And I love to pull weeds. For anyone else, love might be too strong a word, but for Dot its definitive. Dot hasnt been with FMR long, but is already well known for her garlic mustard-pulling tenacity.

Dot was the first garlic mustard Pledge-to-Puller at Pine Bend Scientific and Natural Area to complete and report her hours (eight total)…on a postcard in flowing, handwritten script. Dot also detailed the flora and fauna of the area. It was a real delight, getting a card like that in the mail, said Restoration Ecologist Karen Schik.

Just days after, the incorrigible Ms Drake responded to yet another call for garlic mustard removal, this time in Crosby Farm Preserve in Saint Paul. Dot couldnt wait to get to work, said river stewardship coordinator Karen Phillips. She began pulling mustard from natural areas near the parking lot — long before the group left for the designated pulling-area.

[Photo: Dot Drake pulling garlic mustard.]

Dot Drake spots another patch of invasive garlic mustard. This patch wont last long.

Photo by Tim Boyle

Dot is 72, but her exuberance renders her timeless, youthful, and occasionally, girlish. In addition to taking long walks in natural areas, Dot confesses that she especially likes to go out barefoot in the rain (my building thinks Im crazy).

Dot has seen a lot of changes over her years. She grew up in the Rondo neighborhood of the capital city, the fabled, diverse community razed by Interstate 94 in the 60s. She was a house mom until her four boys got off to college, and enjoyed every minute of it (well nearly), balancing her urban life with much camping and yearly trips to the BWCA and the Quetico.

During her second life she was a proofreader for West Publishing for many years and later escaped to a home near Lake Mille Lacs … until the Big River pulled her back to Saint Paul, not far from where her former neighborhood once stood, for good.

When asked if she thought shed be doing anything like environmental stewardship when she graduated high school, she replied, I dont think anything like this existed then. The world was a different place and values have changed. I would have loved to do it though. I wish we would have started then.

When not volunteering or enjoying the outdoors through long walks, Dot enjoys reading and following Minnesota baseball and hockey. She visits her relatives in Grand Marais, including her granddaughter, a sought-after professional blacksmith.

Meanwhile, back home there is always more garlic mustard to pull, particularly when youre one of St. Pauls most sought-after invasive species removing specialists.

Tim Boyle, a fellow FMR volunteer, can be reached via e-mail.