Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day 97 - Volunteering at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum

I have never volunteered at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. As a part of my ongoing "I have never..." journey, I have made it a point to volunteer one place I have never volunteered each month. While this objective originally was intended to focus more on charitable groups, the difficulty finding one time volunteer events with such organizations has proven difficult during the first few months of my "I have never..." year. As a result, I began branching out my efforts to locate volunteer opportunities among other non-profit organizations. During this process I uncovered a series of volunteer events that fit my "I have never..." objective, including an opportunity to assist in invasive plant species removal at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, a sprawling plot of open, natural land at the center of Madison. As someone that has enjoyed the arboretum grounds for years, the idea of giving back to the location appealed to me directly. In turn, I reached out to the organizers of the event and signed up to donate some time. With my plans set, I recruited Rachael to accompany me during the volunteer shift and headed to the arboretum this morning.

As a result of a series of closed roads and traffic blocks on the way, Rachael and I made it to the arboretum a few minutes late for the start of the volunteer shift. Although I was initially worried I may have missed my chance to help out at the location, I was happy to see a small group of volunteers standing outside the gate of the area of the arboretum that would be the focus on our invasive species removal efforts, the Grady Tract. After pulling into the small parking lot near the gate, Rachael and I walked over the group and introduced ourselves. The welcoming crowd of organizers and volunteers responded in kind before explaining the same traffic issues had delayed the start of the volunteer event a few minutes. Relieved we had not delayed the group, Rachael and I chatted for a few minutes longer until the organizers addressed the group. One of the two women was brief in her explanation of our efforts, which were going to be directed at removing an invasive species know as Garlic Mustard that occupied plots of land nearest trails and roadways in the tract.

The work truck
With our objective defined, the group followed the organizers through the gate and down a narrow dirt road surrounded by dense forest. Once in the woods, the organizers passed out clippers, gloves, garbage bags for our clippings, bug spray, and some long sleeved shirts as they explained the appearance of the plant and the potential risk of encountering poison ivy. In response to the warning, I quickly grabbed a women's long sleeved shirt with embroidered flowers along the seams from the back of a nearby work truck draped it over my body. Although I knew I looked foolish, I wasn't about to risk getting poison ivy for the sake of removing an invasive plant.

The enemy!
Once prepared, our group began a short walk deeper into the forest before veering off into a small clearing near the road. There one of the organizers pointed out a grouping of Garlic Mustard plants and provided instruction on how to clip the stems without causing the seeds to drop. Confident we were fully equipped to pick up the task, the organizer then turned us loose on the plot of land, encouraging us to span a wide area of the forest. Happy to oblige, Rachael and I set to work finding, clipping, and bagging Garlic Mustard plants scattered across the forest floor. While remaining ever vigilant for poison ivy, we made quick work of clustered groups of Garlic Mustard until our location was free of the wiry, destructive plant.

Once finished with our first location, Rachael and I continued down the road and deeper into the woods in search of more Garlic Mustard stems jutting from the forest floor. At first, finding more groupings of the plant proved rather difficult, but we remained focused on seeking the Garlic Mustard out in an effort to make the most of our volunteer shift. This continued for several minutes until we stumbled upon a break in the forest that exposed a well lit patch of ground ripe with Garlic Mustard. In turn, we hammered away at each stem of the plant with our clippers until the large black garbage bag we had in tow was filled to the brim.

Seek and destroy!

In response to our nearly full bag, Rachael and I emerged from the woods and took stock of our invasive species removal efforts. Once we were back on the road the sight of our bag provoked an elated response from one of the volunteers, who happily exclaimed, "Whoa, that's a full one" as Rachael and I began our walk back up the road. Although our volunteer shift had been short, it was clear we had helped the arboretum crew's efforts to a great degree, which gave me a sense of accomplishment that lifted my spirits for the remainder of the day. Like the other volunteer events that have made up a part of my "I have never..." journey thus far, putting in a little time to help a great organization made me feel good and helped open me to yet another feeling of satisfaction from giving back to people and organizations that are helping make our community a better place.

The full bag

Walking back

As our scheduled volunteer time drew to a close, Rachael and I walked back to the work truck with one of the event organizers, properly sealed our bag of Garlic Mustard, and cleaned ourselves up. Before leaving the tract, Rachael and I chatted with the organizer, who expressed her gratitude for our assistance and engaged us in casual conversation. Her warm personality and sincere thanks provided an added touch of fulfillment to the overall experience and made me feel glad I had spent a portion of my morning out in the woods today. It may not seem like much, but I'm finding something as simple as helping an organization remove weeds can leave a lasting impression on my day and my life. While I have volunteered plenty of places over the first 30 years of my life, the increased frequency of such events lately has truly left a mark. I'm only three months into this little experiment, but I know events like our volunteer shift at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum are helping me gain new perspective and hopefully helping me become a better person. There's a lot to be said for the simple things in life, and that's something I'm happy I'm starting to discover.

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