Would I be a volunteer host again? You betcha, and for a whole lot of reasons:
- Elliott and I have learned to live in a smaller space, with all of our essentials. Do we need 3,000 square feet? Certainly not. Can we live in 95 square feet indefinitely? Um, no. Among other things, a somewhat larger shower would be nice, as would room for my sewing machine. And having room in the fridge for more than one chilled bottle of wine would be great, though not necessary. Elliott probably misses his computer tinkerings and all of its assorted pieces of equipment. If I were to do this full-time, I’d need two desks: one for my computer and one for my sewing machine. And yes, I like my creature comforts–though fewer of them than I had thought I needed.
- Living isolated has taught us that it’s up to us to get out and move. I can’t rely on my running buddies (though I definitely miss them) to motivate me to run. I miss running–correction, I miss having run–and I’m not sure enough of my footing to go trail running. Hiking is a good alternative, and the uphills keep me huffing and puffing. I still need to make myself go out and hike–the lure of vegging out in front of the computer is strong–but the self-discipline is good. (I think I was a sloth in a previous life. In a warm climate. With plentiful food supply.)
- It feels good to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. (This might be the royal we, as I haven’t really talked about this with Elliott.) Knowing that I can make a difference in every park visitor’s experience is motivation to keep that smile on my face, that “we’re glad you’re here” in my voice. (Though I will admit that’s not always true. There are those rare people who talk down to me as if I were a second-class peon whose only purpose is to fulfill their every park desire. See the vest? It says “volunteer,” not “walk all over me.”) Even picking up litter means that I’m making this bit of the world a little bit better.
- Getting to know a park really well–and the other park volunteers–is rewarding. When someone asks me, “What’s this trail like?” I can reply with personal knowledge and maybe make their visit a little bit rewarding too. As a day-tripper, I could appreciate the scenery from an egotistical point of view (“I like this,” “I find this beautiful,” “I saw an eagle,” etc.) but I couldn’t share a lot about the park itself. Now I can. (And yes, that’s a do-loop of an egotistical point of view as well. I think it’s impossible to escape our ego, but not impossible to let it rule us.)
- And speaking of ego, working in a not-very-well-funded state park means a lot of our focus is on making the park better, and not on ourselves, our experiences, our self-entitled worlds. Everyone here works to make the park a better place. It means some days I find myself plugging mouse holes with 2” circles of wood and a bit of glue, and other days I’m painting ceilings in the bathroom. It means combining Elliott’s trip into town with a stop at the shop to drill holes in the new “welcome, visitors” signs advertising free coffee and tea.
I’m thinking this has opened up a whole new world for us, one that I hope we’ll repeat. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the sticks-and-bricks home that we’ve built–not yet, anyway–but it has definitely expanded our world.