Three years ago Susan Wilcox ripped out her large Rancho Palos Verdes lawn.
“The surface wasn’t flat anywhere,” Wilcox said. “It was like the ocean, and it sucked up so much water.”
She consulted with a local landscape designer and together they created a backyard sanctuary that has changed both her morning routine, and her life.
“I start in the garden every morning and drink my coffee and look at the view,” said Wilcox, who recently changed her career path and was hired as the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy’s Director of Development. She’d served a similar capacity early in her career, but her new job also aligned with her passion for conservation.
“I had that job title 20 years ago,” said Wilcox, who worked for large California Universities for most of her life, including Berkeley and USC. “Recently I was considering the next steps in my career and I decided I needed to be more selective and needed to drop something, so I decided to drop commuting. I loved my job at USC, and my mom, who previously lived with me, had recently moved in with my sister in the East Coast. So I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I had new found a sense of freedom.”
Wilcox had already been volunteering for the Land Conservancy since moving to the area three years ago and loved exploring nature in the Palos Verde area.
“I love being part of the outdoors in California. I love the fragrances of our native plants, I like being in it. There’s nothing prettier to me than our wide open spaces,” said Wilcox.
She didn’t expect that she would be lucky enough to turn her passion into the next step of her career.
“As soon as I found about this job I knew it was the job I wanted,” said Wilcox. “I was even willing to drive for it – I love this organization. I was looking for a set of attributes in a job that are completely fulfilled here.”
She didn’t want to deal with the bureaucracy of working for a large organization, a long commute or delays in the process of her doing her job, which was prevalent in her past job experiences working with state-run schools.
“I have no commute, no delays and no bureaucracy,” said Wilcox. “I work with about fifteen people in three or four little offices and I’m insanely happy. I think the work we’re doing is so important.”
One challenge she has faced in her new position is designing educational programs that people appreciate.
“At USC everyone all understood the value of education, here there are a lot of people who walk the preserve who don’t understand the value of what the Conservancy is doing,” said Wilcox. “It presents a real challenge.”
Her answer to that problem is to think globally and act locally.
“If we think globally and provide information and learning opportunities for people about global issues and translate specific situations into what we’re doing here, people will not only appreciate what we’re doing, but will understand the world in the context of our work,” said Wilcox.
She is currently planning a film and book series that she hopes will help bring people together.
“That’s another problem, we represent a place of solitude,” said Wilcox. “To create a sense of community you need to get off the preserve and into a place where you can come together as a community in a learning and entertaining way.”
An important part of her five months working for the Conservancy has been recognizing that there are many people who want to get involved and understand the importance of nature.
“We’re really lucky to have so many volunteers helping to make it all work,” said Wilcox, who added that the recent release of the Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly back into the wilderness was an especially rewarding experience. “It’s been kind of a sense of returning to what counts in life – a grounded, wholesome, non-caffeinated life. Just a really good way of living.”
She’s looking forward to developing closer relationships with her coworkers and the community in the future.
“I’m convinced that we have a lot of good things coming, and I’m going to have a significant role to play in making those happen,” said Wilcox. “It’s exciting and fun, daunting and scary and challenging and wonderful. I’m energized and I always feel like I want to do more. I feel very fortunate.”
The Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy’s upcoming fundraising event, Palos Verdes Pastoral: A Garden-to-Table Dining Experience will take place at Mar’sel restaurant Terranea Resort on October 6. Tickets are limited. Visit www.pvplc.org for more information.