Part 1: A 40-hour week of volunteering for Mother Nature
Exactly one year ago, I made a 3000-mile road trip from New England to Oregon, teardrop camper JT in tow (aka James Trailer), wondering how on earth I would cultivate new roots as I retired and transplanted myself into this unfamiliar new territory. My daughter-in-law wisely suggested I take the online Oregon Master Naturalist (OMN) course offered by OSU. It seemed a good place to start building a sense of place and community and meet kindred outdoor spirits. The course is packed with Oregon lore—geological and ecological histories, mind-blowing stories of accreted exotic terranes and eons of volcanic roiling, eight vastly different eco-regions from rain-forested coastal range to arid mountainous desert, and a flood of information about species of concern beyond my brain’s absorption capacity. Cougars and beavers and birds, oh my!
The online course was followed by 6 days of field learning last June. For my fieldwork, I chose the East Cascades Ecoregion, the dry side of the Cascades in central Oregon, often called (imprecisely, I learned) the “high desert.” Caravanning our group around the region, the profs showed us the rimrock lava flows of a bygone caldera (quite likely the hot spot now located under Yellowstone NP); areas of riparian restorations where trout and salmon are just beginning to retrace their ancient migratory runs; a ranch where the owner and OSU are measuring effects of juniper removal on the water table; a recently burned ponderosa pine forest; and a cathedral-like wood of lodgepole pines and Douglas fir where I contemplated a sapsucker’s coming and going from its its brood of chicks in a cavity high in a snag. (Photo credit)
The final step in completing the OMN requirements is to perform 40 hours of service for any of the hundreds of Oregon organizations with outdoor missions. This can include performing office tasks for conservation organizations, doing citizen science by counting animal sightings and tracks, transporting migrating fish around river barriers, removing migratory barrier fences or installing wildlife-friendly fences on rangeland, yanking out invasive weeds, or planting native trees and shrubs on a degraded section of a stream.
Eager to complete the OMN journey, I decided to make my 40+ hours of service a “full time job” for nine days. I concocted a brew of four volunteer jobs, and trundled JT from Portland, across Mt. Hood to Bend, and then through and around the Ochoco Mountains, to begin a new friendship with the high desert. The next entries chronicle this nine-day volunteer expedition, dubbed by one weed-pulling volunteer I met along the way as “Choose your own adventure.”