Be happy: Volunteer!

Volunteering!!

Maybe this post flirts dangerously with the unsolicited advice-giving side of things, but let me just say it: volunteering is something I strongly recommend. I mean, volunteer for whatever you’re interested in and in whatever way you best can, but volunteer for something — find a community or a little part of the world you care about and help make it better. And in doing something outside the reach of yourself only, end up nourishing your own soul too.

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(Sidalcea blooming at Mt Tabor Park — super soul-nourishing!:)

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When I was furloughed at the beginning of April, I lamented the fact that most of what I know how to do with lots of time off — travel, volunteer, visit friends and family — was off-limits with our pandemic restrictions. So there I was with all sorts of time, and also the need to radically reconceive of how to spend that time in a way that still felt productive and useful to me.

Of course, there is never actually a shortage of lots and lots of things to do in this world. This is one of them:

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(just a totally unstaged picture of a super stylin’ vest!)

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Way back in the day, I worked a bonus, super part time job at Mt Tabor Park as the Stewardship Coordinator for Friends of Mt Tabor. That meant that every month, I got to convene and work with groups of volunteers to help tend the plant communities of the park. When I took my current job, though, it didn’t play well with the Mt Tabor schedule, so I had to let that super lovely, super part-time job go. To replace it, I decided to sign on as a Foot Patrol volunteer (even though I do kind of hate the term “foot patrol,” which sounds vaguely militaristic to me).

I spend an awful lot of time at Mt Tabor — running, wandering, plant-and-bird-geeking-out-ing, reading, writing, and in general just loving life — and it didn’t seem right that I would stop stewarding it somehow just because I didn’t work there.

So, for the last two years, I’ve tried at least every month to bike to the little Foot Patrol hut, grab a vest, some gloves, a bag, and a litter picker, and go wander the park picking up trash, thanking people for having their dogs on leash, answering questions, smiling at everyone, and otherwise helping it be the park that I want to be able to come to.

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(which is a pretty damn great park)

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Foot Patrolling, it turns out, is also a totally perfect way to volunteer while physical distancing, which is why I mention it today. Once I grabbed my own litter picker, vest, and a supply of bags and gloves from the hut (so I didn’t have to touch everything and then sterilize it all every time I went), I’ve been totally set to at any moment bike or walk to Mt Tabor and pick up trash. Which has been especially needed recently, since it has lately been much more trash-ful. Perhaps because people who would normally pick up a random bottle or paper they saw on the ground are afraid of touching other people’s stuff now, so most accidental trash goes untended except for by those of us with litter pickers and gloves.

(There are, of course, also the jerks who leave their piles of bottles and cans or bags of dog poop all over, or the people who leave their toilet paper behind trees — that shit’s just dumb — but I like to think that most of what I pick up is accidental).

Point being, it’s a sweet exercise in helping clean up a little corner of the world that I value so very much. And though you might think that it would be annoying picking up other people’s trash (and yes, the obviously-consciously-left-behind trash is obnoxious), it actually never fails to make me super happy. I mean, at the core, I’m just wandering around in the (urban) woods, helping a place be the kind of place I want it to be. Sometimes people thank me; sometimes they ignore me, but no matter what, it makes me feel good to know I’m leaving a corner of the world at least a little better than I left it.

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(Mt Tabor reservoir gates, just cuz I think they’re pretty)

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Foot patrolling is just one way I like to volunteer; there are many others, although my specialty does seem to be direct service, people-or-nature oriented things. My partner James, on the other hand, volunteers by spending time on civic issues, helping craft the policies that make our world just a little more fair and a little more civil. One of my dear friends volunteers facilitating groups of people dealing with the loss of a loved one. Everyone has some way that it makes sense for them to give back; everyone’s got something to offer to the world.

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(Maybe I should mention that my current job also relies on people volunteering their time to steward public lands, so I am also very professionally grateful to people who are willing to use their time in the service of others.)

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Today, my volunteering wanders through Mt Tabor took me to an itty-bitty dark-eyed junco baby hopping around after its parent, just a sweet little nature moment to interrupt my trash-grabbing. Sometimes, a red-tailed hawk swoops overhead, or I hear a barred owl, or the sweet scent of False Solomon’s Seal drifts on the breeze, or an unripe thimbleberry portends all the berries upcoming in our glorious Pacific Northwest summers. As I wander and fill my bag with trash, I’m taking care of something bigger than myself, but in the process I become part of that bigger thing; my soul is filled, expanded, expansive. Which is a great way to feel, especially now.

Volunteer. I recommend it:)

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