Trip Log June 10: Volunteer

As I’m helping myself to coffee at the Visitor Center, a short, stocky guy in his 60s wanders over, spreads out his arms, and says, “Isn’t this a glorious morning?” The brass sign on his park uniform says Volunteer / Scott.

“It sure is Scott,” I say.

In past years I’ve avoided the Visitor Center. After all, I’ve come for a quiet retreat, to live alone in a tent, commune with the forest, and restore my soul. Crowds of noisy tourists stopping off for a quick nature fix are not what I had in mind. But this year feels different. I’m feeling more open.

“I love talking with the visitors!” Scott confides. “They come and ask me what to do. I answer, ’What do you like? A quick hike? A moderate hike? Time by the river? Fishing? A picnic?’ I help each one discover the right way for them to be in this beautiful place! What could be better than that?”

Before retiring Scott worked for a small company in Reno that provided towels and bedding to local hotels. When they needed someone to keep an eye on the payroll and bank accounts, he stepped up, learning as he went, and eventually they made him both Comptroller and Director of HR. Given my background, I’m interested in the HR part. It turns out that Scott taught himself the whole HR function: everything from Training to Management Development to Employee Relations to Benefits Administration.

“Then I got a stroke. Most of the vision in my right eye, and the feeling in my right arm, was gone. And my memory was shot. The boss wanted me to stay. I told him I wasn’t so sure that was best for the company. If he needed something done, he needed to be sure it got done.”

Scott had managed to save enough money, and his needs were simple enough, that he didn’t really need the salary. “I wasn’t working for the money,” he says, “I was working because I loved to do it.”

Scott’s been volunteering for five years, and doesn’t plan to stop. “I thank God for the stroke, and for sending me here,” he says.

“Really?” I say.

“You bet! This is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my life. I used to look at people and nature as two different things. Here I get to live at the interface between them.”

I think about that. “Maybe we can go further and say that all of us — the people, the redwood trees, the bears, the mosquitoes, and everyone else — are nature!”

“I’ll buy that!” he says, laughing.

I head over a picnic table to sit with my iPad and write this story. A big tourist bus parks across the highway, and 40 noisy people swarm past my table. One of them, an old woman, slightly bent over, in loud, colorful clothes and costume jewelry, looks over at me.

“So sorry,” she says in a Boston accent. “You came to be in nature and here comes our busload of tourists and descends on you!”

“Not at all,” I say, looking around. “Here we all are! Isn’t that wonderful?”

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