Here’s to the Volunteers

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April 22 …

Here I am, at a visitor center in Waynesboro, VA, posing for a selfie with Jack, who volunteers there. A brief word on volunteers: Our wilderness experience would not be the same without them. From west coast to east – from manning visitor centers to maintaining trails to planting trees to rescuing hikers to picking up trash, to advocacy at the local and state and federal levels and much more – I have been the grateful beneficiary of their selfless efforts.

Back in rural East County, outside San Diego, where I lived for 10 years, my favorite haunts were lovingly tended to by people who cared enough to do something. One of these spots, Wright’s Field, in Alpine, a rich grassland just behind a local school, was saved by dedicated activists from local developers. Now it is a community asset run by a local trust. Another, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, would not be able to function without the efforts of the people who show up on their days off, eager to pitch in, whether with a pick and shovel or a garbage bag.

It’s been my honor and privilege to meet some of these people, have coffee with them, even camp out with them. Some of them are Facebook friends. Now, I was about to make another.

I had been on the Blue Ridge Parkway for three-and-a-half days. Prior to that, I had spent three days in a forest outside of Asheville. Add to that the two swampy areas I had called home for the night, and you begin to acquire a certain affect, one associated with sidekick characters in western movies. Out west, my sidekick persona was “Squinty,” an ancient prospector who accompanied a certain “Raven Woman” on her adventures. “Eh, Raven Woman, this reminds of that time in seventy-six. Me and me mule Plato, we was jes’ mindin’ ar, own business an’ all of a sudden-like …” On and on. The two are washed away in a flash flood. Squinty washes up on a dry spot to find Plato has already set up camp and has the bacon frying. After that, Squinty has to sleep outdoors while Plato gets the tent to himself.

I hadn’t yet had time to figure out my east coast sidekick persona – maybe I would be “Flinty” instead of Squinty with a coonskin cap – but I know I would have passed every Hollywood casting call with flying colors. I had a foretaste of this less than an hour before when a female Morris dancer commented on my get-up. Check out the photo of the Morris dancers in my previous post. A Morris dancer remarking on my get-up. That says a lot.

So here I am, sidekick material – both western and eastern – emerging from my vehicle in shorts and flip-flops, with at least two jackets, one over the other, sporting a woolen Himalayan cap with earflaps, with a white beard that is truly taking on western prospector dimensions. On top of that, I have left on my goofy reading glasses, which have come to a rest near the tip of my nose.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has just ended, and I need to check out my options. On to Skyline Drive and into Shenandoah National Park? Or take a valley drive, instead? In any case, I needed to find somewhere to pick up supplies, you know, a sack of flour, a couple of flasks of rum, some flints for my musket. Yes, Flinty – my new eastern sidekick name.

So it was that Jack greeted me and went over a map with me, informing me of my options. So it was that he heard a bit of my story and I a bit of his. In these circumstances, it was only natural that I go out to my car and return with two didgeridoos, one for demonstrating and the other – my travel didgeridoo – for him to sign. He affixes his signature to a piece of brochure that I will later paste onto my didgeridoo. Time for the mandatory selfie.

Jack is now my Facebook friend, and we stay in touch by liking and commenting on each other’s posts. Crazy thing, even as Squinty or Flinty, I manage to forge human connections. But this post isn’t about me. It’s about people like Jack and the work they do. In preserving a legacy bequeathed to us by God the Mother and Father, in making it possible for us to share in that precious bequest, they are true heroes and saints. As a bonus, the layer of insight and wisdom they bring to the table benefits all humanity. Here’s to the volunteers.

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