Days of wonder and discovery: A volunteer introduction

Mike Winter (right), with Pepperwood’s Preserve Assistant and workday leader Devyn Friedfel

Days of wonder and discovery: A volunteer introduction

By Mike Winter, Pepperwood volunteer

My name is Mike Winter. It’s a little after 9:00 AM on the first Saturday of March, 2017. I’m one of about fifteen volunteers that have come together this morning to participate in a Pepperwood workday. We’re standing on a hillside, grateful that the light rain that’s been predicted is holding off. Instead, we’re wrapped in thick fog that obscures the magnificent views that Devyn, our workday leader, has promised are out there. I know he speaks the truth; I’ve been on a couple of public hikes here at Pepperwood and have marveled at the stunning views that stretch in every direction.

I’m here to help achieve the workday objectives but I also have a very personal reason for being here. I want to find out how it feels to be in a volunteer relationship with the people and places of Pepperwood. As I mentioned, my first experiences at Pepperwood were as a guest on a couple of public hikes. It was on these hikes that I was introduced to the organization’s mission statement—to advance science-based conservation throughout our region and beyond—and became aware of the volunteer opportunities that Pepperwood has available. I was impressed and decided to become a member.

Volunteers at our March 2017 workday

At the beginning of 2016, I sold my construction company and for the remainder of the year transitioned to the life of a retired person. I knew from earlier life experiences that volunteerism would be a part of this stage of my life, I just didn’t know who I’d be volunteering with or what I’d be doing. One of the lessons learned from earlier volunteer experiences was that the greater my commitment to the volunteer work, the greater the personal satisfaction so I knew that I’d want to engage deeply with the volunteer group that I chose. I would want a good volunteer organization to partner with in this relationship so I decided to be selective and “test the waters” whenever possible. Pepperwood offered that opportunity with this workday activity.

Our volunteer workday started at the Pepperwood barn where Devyn outlined the goals he hoped to achieve. We’d be working in an area that had been part of a controlled burn the previous fall. It was explained that the burn was implemented to help eliminate certain non-native, invasive plants that compromise the health of the Pepperwood’s grassland habitat. We would be planting native plant seedlings that had been started and grown in the Pepperwood’s greenhouse.

We pulled the tools we’d be using and headed out. We reached our work area, grabbed our tools and the flats of seedlings, then walked to the locations designated for planting. The process was straightforward—we used a broad bladed, hoe-like tool to scrape the existing vegetation from a small spot on the slope, punctured the soil with a dibble, and inserted a cone shaped seedling “plug”. Light hand compression to set the plug and we were on to the next planting. It didn’t take long to master the process and gain a steady rhythm.

We made good progress and the flats of purple needle grass (our official California state grass—who knew?) and a native rye grass were emptied and the seedlings were in the ground by 11:30 AM. Good timing! The anticipated light rain was starting to fall. Our primary goal had been met so we went to work on the eradication of an invasive plant species, doing our best to ignore the light drizzle that was quickly becoming a steady rain. A short while later, Devyn called a halt to the work and we headed back to the Dwight Center where a hot lunch was waiting.

Volunteers plant native grass seedlings at our March 2017 workday

The workday was a very satisfying experience. We had a leader that gave us a clear, understandable and achievable objective. He gave us the the tools and training necessary to achieve the goal and despite the less than pleasant weather conditions we accomplished what we set out do. Today, there are about 900 new grass plants that have taken root in their new habitat.

It’s now the first week in May 2017. Since that first workday, I have applied to Pepperwood’s Steward program and started working on the prerequisite requirements for Steward status. I have enrolled in the Santa Rosa Junior College BIO/ERTHS 85 Natural History of Pepperwood course work and have participated in several more workdays.

Increasingly, I believe that a vital, fulfilling retirement is, at least partially, achieved by nurturing a sense of wonder and discovery. I’m happy to be in a volunteer partnership with Pepperwood. An organization dedicated to that same sense of wonder and discovery.

Click here to learn about volunteer opportunities at Pepperwood!

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