At times, I can feel imprisoned while living in the city. At night, I fall asleep to the sound of motorcycles and ambulances rushing down our street. On my way home from work, I pass through five stoplights, three of which I am stopped at every single time. A few times a week, I usually go for a walk in our littered park, which has been a slight reminder that I still have access to some type of environment.
Since I started volunteering at a nature center roughly a half hour away from my house, I have seen it as a brief escape from the city. I am not sure how large it is in acres, but I would say it is at least fifty if I were to guess. I feel at peace when the sun radiates upon me in the prairie, when the blooming spiderwort creates a sea of purple that rocks in the breeze. I love hearing the water crash down into the river from the waterfall at the edge of the lake. The mosquitoes are especially vicious this time of year, yet I have somehow grown to appreciate them as they symbolize the roughness of nature. They show how not everything in nature is beautiful or perfect--they just are.
My first day at the nature center was just over three weeks ago. Each day is centered around a certain project. Mondays, which I usually attend, are dedicated to the phenology hike, where a chart is filled out to show which plants are in bloom. I am the youngest person in the group, by at least fourty years. I was taken aback by their age at first, feeling slightly out of place.
"Who needs to use a big pen for their arthritis?" one of the volunteers had asked.
I simply smiled politely and declined her offer.
The rest of the group, though, contains some of the friendliest and smartest people I have met. Many of them are retired teachers, who have a great knowledge of the local flora and fauna. On Tuesdays, the projects require more manual labor and attract a younger crowd. It is focused around trail maintenance--things like spreading woodchips, pulling invasive plants, and repairing broken bridges and boardwalks. A few weeks ago, after the local flooding had done incredible damage, I helped to repair a broken footbridge and clear the sticks and debris that were damming a creek. Yes, the work is quite exhausting, especially when it is humid and the mosquitoes are dense. But it is the rewarding kind of exhaustion, the kind that lets you know you've worked hard and accomplished something. And there is always something new to accomplish.
I was reluctant to start volunteering at first. After my mother had passed away, I didn't feel a desire to do anything--work, band, seeing friends. I thought my entire summer would be drastically altered. Everything I wanted or had intended to do would be put on hold until the situation would clear up. But I knew such thoughts did not make sense. Change is sometimes inevitable, but the results of change do not have to be. I knew that if I let my grief consume my summer, I would regret it and learn nothing. I knew that my mother would have wanted me to make the best out of my summer, despite the situation. So I decided to give the new project a try and make something of the next few months.
Thus far, I am very satisfied about my decision to start volunteering. It is an important step to becoming an environmentalist, if that ultimately is the field I go into. I have met some very interesting people there and listened to their stories. Some of them are teachers, some are environmentalists, and others are everything from software engineers to construction workers. One of the things I have noticed is the diversity among the volunteers. Before I started, I expected everyone to be either an environmental scientist or a teacher or a naturalist. Contrary to what I first thought, everyone there is decicated to something different and has different stories to tell. I am happy, now, to be a part of that group and preserve a chunk of nature for others to enjoy. It helps to know that I am able to escape the concrete jungle I call home whenever I need to.