Being open to new and unique life experiences led me to WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and later volunteering for the National Park Service. WWOOFing is an exchange of labor for room and board and typically requires 4 hrs a day. A profile is created and then you either search for positions in various parts of the country or host can send you a request. My first assignment was in Woodstock, GA at an urban garden using available materials to construct a terrace garden. I basically built the structure for the terraces with fallen limbs and branches and the host later filled the slope with compost and soil. She sent me a picture months later with a thriving terrace garden along the steep slope of the property. Their meals were all organic and freshly made breads and humus - super delicious. I then traveled to Cary, NC to another urban garden specializing in native plants. Not sure I helped out much, but I did complete the bullet list of projects including planting trees, shrubs, digging out non native plants and mulching beds. After 4 hrs of work each day I explored the area and even visited an old submarine buddy who lived in the area (including a Superbowl party). The last assignment actually sent me a request to work the maple syrup harvest and feed farm animals in Bartow, WV for 5 weeks along with another couple from Florida. What a cool experience to tap the trees, set the buckets, then collect and boil down the sap to syrup. No other ingredients aside from the sap. Feeding the two alpacas, two pigs, and a few dozen sheep and goats was actually pretty fun. We overcooked a few batches of syrup and ended up making BBQ sauce out of one and maple butter from the other - both turned out great! And dang the syrup was amazing! Before we left we had a nice community pancake breakfast and supplied with jars of syrup to share with family and friends. The last night was spent lighting a huge bonfire with beers resting in the snow and sharing life stories and dreams of future adventures.
NPS VOLUNTEERING Giving back and discovering purpose.
I have felt the need to volunteer in some capacity for a handful of years and just the opportunity came available January 2023. I drove up to the north entrance of Big Bend NP for a 9 day van camping trip. I was excited to be there as it is my favorite National Park. All happy and smiley I mentioned to the fee attendant that I would be available to volunteer if there were any positions opened. She did a little head shake and asked for how long. I replied that I had nowhere to be until the middle of March. She then took a step back, smiled, laughed, and asked for my contact information. Long story short, I began as Backcountry Patrol at the end of my 9 day camping trip. I would spend 7 weeks patrolling backcountry roads, campsites, and remote hiking trails. Talk about a happy camper! I was fortunate to be selected for another volunteer position in October of 2023 at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in NM. This time greeting visitors at the Visitor Center and giving orientation / Q&A at the Cliff Dwelling trailhead and at the Cliff Dwellings. A huge bonus to volunteering at National Parks is the access you have to amazing wild places. I spent most every series of off days hiking, biking, or backpacking. One ranger commented that I'd hiked more trails and backpacked more than some of the full-time staff.
I must say that these experiences have been super positive and the folks have just been good people. The kind of people that make you want to be a better person. I have not only learned a lot about organic farming, maple syrup harvesting, serving the public, protecting our national resources, but I have learned how rewarding giving back can be, and how happy I am being outdoors, and how being in magical places draws you into it. I can't tell you, after some time, how refreshing it is to spend all day outside, on your feet, immersed in nature. Your senses gradually become more acute; noticing the differences in song birds, the change of smell as you enter a canyon, the slight movement of a desert lizard, the warmth of the sun reflecting from the cliffs, and of course the fleeting beauty of a sunrise and sunset.
Gallery of WWOOFing and NPS Volunteer service (Big Bend NP & Gila Cliff Dwellings).