Friday, May 12, 2017

So Many Questions

 For May 1-8, 2017
“So how do you get to be a camp ground host and what do you have to do? What do you get out of it”

These questions are asked of both Carl and I several times each week and depending on who the person is, depends on how we answer.

Generally speaking if you want to volunteer for a position, you go to the website, www.volunteer.gov. and start looking. The opportunities are broken down by state, agency and position. You’ll find a job description and how to apply. It’s that simple. That takes care of the first question.

The second question is answered by the agency involved. For us, the camp host position in Nebo required the use of a rake, shovel, cleaning supplies and the ability to drive a pickup truck. We were also required to do a small amount of paperwork and handle money to sell firewood and rent campsites to guests without a reservation. There was no schedule to adhere to, no minimum amount of hours one had to work and no one looking over your shoulder at all hours to make sure the work was completed. Our responsibilities at Sherando Lake were similar in nature without the use of the pickup truck or the need to handle money. This was substituted by a lawn which badly needed mowing. Have I ever told you how much fun a zero turn riding mower is to operate? The camp ground at Assateague is similar although you are provided with a schedule. The work week is four five hour shifts with two days off and you get a golf cart to complete your rounds which include traveling to the ranger station to advise them of checkouts, squatters and problems.

It’s that 3rd question that can give one some pause to think. “What do I get out of it?” Volunteerism is nothing new. Citizens have been signing up for two hundred years to protect family and home along with the ideals of democracy we hold dear. As early ( or late ) as the Sixties, President Kennedy and his family created the Peace Corps. The list goes on and on but the key premise is still the same. What you get out of a volunteer position is knowing that you have, in some small way, helped. For those of you out there thinking I’m taking someone’s livelihood from them, it isn‘t the case. Every hour I have given to the state of North Carolina, the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest in Virginia and Assateague Island National Seashore off the coast of Maryland is time doing jobs that otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t get done because of budget restrictions, cutbacks and layoffs. There is no monetary benefit to me for providing this service. In fact, Carl tells me it costs us more for these three months because we still have expenses at home. True, we are provided a camp site for each month with water, electric and sewerage which is worth several hundred dollars. But, it’s that feeling I get at the end of the day when the supervisor tells us what a great job we’ve been doing or the camper who remarks on how clean everything is in the park. Even when I’m speaking to people who have not been paying attention to the rules, it’s the education of that individual who asks the intelligent questions afterwards and will have a much more enjoyable experience because we are there to explain why that particular rule is so important.

On our volunteer “time sheet”, there is a category for how many visitor interactions you have every day. The higher the number, the better I feel, the more I’ve helped. I think it was said best like this, “Volunteerism is not what you get out of it, it’s what you put into it.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Unplugged Somewhere In Virginia

Our modern day lives are inherently bound to the use of technology so when we don’t have it at our fingertips, some people are just plain lost while others are forced to do without and learn or recreate by other means. With a statement like this one, a story is sure to follow.

Our month at Sherando Lake Recreation Area in Lyndhurst, VA is almost at an end. During this month our lives have been centered around the care and cleanliness of the Meadow Loop Campground, consisting of 18 sites and a bathhouse with two showers and two toilets. There is also a family sized bathroom to be used by handicapped or parents with small children.

This responsibility has been a joy to accomplish. There is a beautiful little stream running along the back of the camping sites as well as another stream bisecting part of the lawn area when significant amounts of rain fall. For more than 20 days, this stream has been flowing at full strength. To say we’ve had quite a bit of rain would be an understatement. Our supervisor measure just shy of 4 inches in a 24 hour period.

Our site is situated along the road where we have a southern exposure. Now for most of you out there, southern exposure means lots of sun for all of part of each day.  Not so with my husband. Our site is equipped with water, sewerage and electricity so a southern exposure means he can have excellent satellite reception for his television pleasure. Doesn’t sound like much of a hardship, does it?

There is no cell service at Sherando and it took me the better part of two weeks to stop grabbing my phone to research trivia, check on the weather, look up a word in the dictionary and to ascertain if any messages have come in. I would go through this fruitless exercise several times each day but I eventually learned. For a few campers, being without their “smart phones” has proven too much for them. Some have left the camping area, demanded their money back and even mumbled some less than flattering remarks under their breath about the “primitive conditions” in this part of the country. I question whether the smart phone would help them.  

No cell service, for me, means I can’t check on which movies are playing in Waynesboro, where the Outback Steakhouse is for our next lunch, how to use the word “penultimate” properly in a sentence and also to find out if we should close our awning because we are expecting high winds.

Now, these are most assuredly man made modern day hardships. In truth, my only real issue is being out of touch with my family back home in New Hampshire. I haven’t missed the numerous telemarketers, the phishing spam in my e-mail or the ringing of the telephone at unusual hours.

I do some of my best reading, walking and enjoying of nature during this month. I talk with campers, watch children playing outside in the fresh air and smile when I see a newly arrived flock of Gold Finches feeding on our lawn. It was impressive and “no, I don’t’ have a photo to share because the camera was inside the camper and I didn’t want to frighten them away”. It was awesome to just sit and watch the dozens of brightly colored birds moving about while they feasted on all manor of bugs. I’ve even had time to watch the foliage turn slowly from bud to leaves over the course of the month. At home, with our hectic and electronic lives, you don’t have time or take the time to enjoy those sorts of things.

My electronic fix is grabbed when I go do laundry or have to go into town for groceries. So, while I’m waiting for the clothes to spin, I’ll get this blog entry posted and then go enjoy some more nature. I may even have to mow the lawn this afternoon. I swear I can see it growing after all that rain we had a couple days ago.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Questions, Always With The Questions

When you volunteer to be a campground host, you must be prepared for all sorts of questions. We just hope when these questions are asked, we have the correct answers. We’re always prepared for things like, “ how do I get to campsite #___” or “ how much is firewood”. We’ve even become pretty good at directing people to the Ranger’s Station and to the trailheads in the area. But, the other day, we had a couple of not so routine requests.

On Thursday, a car pulled into the campground parking area. The occupants, 2 adults and a child of about 8 went for a walk towards the lake. When they returned, the mom came to the camper door and asked in a decidedly southern drawl, “Y’all got a pen I could borrah. The boy’s got a splintah” I was ashamed to ask her to repeat her request and eventually figured out she needed some type of sharp pointy thing to dig out said splinter. I handed her my mini sewing kit which included safety pins, common pins and needles. Several minutes later, she returned the kit and wanted to know if I had any peroxide or alcohol. I only had wipes which she had already used. She glanced back at the car where her husband and child waited for her and wondered if I had any Tylenol ’cause she had a whopper of a headache. That I was able to help her with.

A few minutes later the car left the parking area for points unknown and we went back to washing the bathhouse floors.

Just before dark on Friday, a young man approached the camper asking if he could rent a site for the night. We suggested he take a quick peek and choose one and before 10 minutes had passed we were filling out the paperwork for him to stay on site #4. He bought a bundle of firewood and left us, we thought, for the night.

There was a knock on our door about an hour later and I opened it to find Mr. #4 Camper wondering if we could render a bit of first aid. He held a wad of paper towels around one of his fingers. He told us, with no small amount of embarrassment, he had sliced his finger trying to free the firewood from it’s restraints. He added rather tongue in cheek he considered his knife to be pretty sharp.

We invited him in, waited while he washed the affected area and then gave him some more paper towels to dry off the finger. I grabbed my first aid kit  ( thanks, Mom for buying us a first aid kit ) and asked him to sit down at the table. It was then I got a look at the camper’s finger and with that brief glance I realized he needed more medical attention than I felt comfortable giving.

I called the Ranger On Duty, Jamie, who arrived about five minutes later. I won’t list each and every first aid measure taken from that point but I do want to mention Jamie, with his EMT training, did exactly what I was prepared to do. He just has the training certificate which I don’t. I also want to mention my decision to call Jamie could have had future ramifications. Jamie used nitrile gloves and I didn’t even think of it. I’m going to add some gloves to our first aid kit. ( thanks Jamie for suggesting I add gloves to our kit )

The predicted weather has slowed the arrival of reservations. It seems most campers don’t find 20 degree temps with snow as optimal tenting weather. Maybe winter will quit soon and we can continue with spring. I know the daffodils will be happy.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Forecasting Change

The weather changes quickly and often in March. Yesterday, the sky was a deep blue with cotton like billowy clouds lazily floating by. It was about 75 degrees and Carl and I worked up just a bit of a sweat when we walked over to the office. An hour later, the wind picked up substantially, the sky turned a steel gray and off in the distance, an occasional faint rumble of thunder could be heard. Within an hour, the camper was being buffeted with 40 mile per hour winds and we watched as a wide curtain of rain rushed across the lake towards us.  Within moments our parking area had standing water two inches deep.  The storm raged over the next two hours before exhausting itself in the Charlotte area. All we were left with were the high winds which blew all night creating a utilities nightmare in populated areas. Sometime after midnight, the cold front arrived, the winds dropped significantly and we woke this morning to 35 degree temperatures. Tonight, there is a possibility of a hard frost.

This morning, we received our daily report which tells us of expected arrivals, what sites will be occupied, if they owe money, the number of people in their party and it also includes a contact name.

After lunch, we’ll do a walk through to check for downed branches. But right now, I have to confess, the photographer got caught without her camera. Carl spotted a small deer walking slowly across the parking area and my camera was in the truck. Bad on me!      

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Traveling South

Our route south to Nebo, NC covered most of the same roads we traveled last year and because we have traveled these many miles before we approach the roads with an eye towards what had been fixed, changed or improved. It’s not exciting but it does pass the time and is classified as idle chatter in the much grander scheme of communication. So what was different?

 Well, we found the roads to be generally less rough. Many states have large construction projects in the works. Some are clearly in the beginning stages with surveyors bravely measuring and marking while traffic whooshes by at 70 mph which seems to be the legal limit in more and more places. Sadly, we must report Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of the worst roadside litter. It also appears the least expensive gas was in Virginia while the highest prices at the pumps are now reserved for NY and NJ.

Because of freezing temperatures in NH, the water remained off in the camper during our trip. I found it easier to just eat our meals out while on the road which meant our stops in Cedar Knolls, NJ and Harrisonburg, VA  were anticipated for what they had to offer in the way of food. It was Chinese at both places but we did look for possible alternatives should we find ourselves traveling this way again.

We were told by the Ranger Supervisor they are experiencing drought conditions and the fire danger is borderline extreme. We were both surprised when he told us the park had to be closed for a month while employees spent 16 hours a day fighting a fire nearby.

After setting the camper on the host site at Catawba River Walk In Campground, Carl went about his responsibilities which included getting the water connected, lines flushed and securing the satellite dish on the roof. If it were left to the old style antenna on the roof, we would have 6 channels, 3 of them public education.

This year, unlike last year when the campground was closed for renovations, we will have people oriented responsibilities such as collecting money for firewood and assigning an overnight campsite if someone arrives after the ranger’s station closes. We are required to check sites, clean as needed and to generally be here to answer questions day users of the area might have. We are also in charge of the bathhouse.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Not Like It Used To Be

I’m either getting old or we’ve been to Kauai so many times, it’s become common place. Consider this. When we first came to the Garden Island, we were given directions to our resort. The lady said” Go to the traffic light and turn left, follow the signs for Poipu until you reach the gas station, turn left and travel about 2 ½ miles.

Well, it’s not that way anymore. There are countless gas stations, traffic lights and shopping areas. Hundreds of thousands more people come to sample this little gem in the Pacific bringing with them traffic jams, pollution and the inevitable trash along the roadside. The song says “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” and that’s just what they’ve done in a manor of speaking.

Anyway, the northern end of the road is a mere 30 miles from where we are staying and the beach there is a beauty, photographically speaking. So, we picked a day that was sunny but with a high surf warning on the north shore. After two hours of red lights and slow lanes, we were still only about half way. At this rate, with the narrow roads and one lane bridges ahead of us, we wouldn’t return home until well after dark. It was at this point I suggested we head back to the unit.

On the right was an interesting looking Botanical Garden, named Na Aina Kai so we decided to stop. We were greeted but then told unless we had a reservation for a tour there would be no way to view the grounds. They gave tours Tuesday through Thursday and the tours were full for this week. We wandered through the gift shop, beautiful in it’s own way and then left through a lovely courtyard manicured with all sorts of flowering plants and lush greenery. If that was a sample of what we missed, we missed something truly beautiful. So I mentally added this stop for another visit to the rapidly crowding island.

Tomorrow Carl will be going fishing even though he’s come down with a cold while I pack the suitcases. After lunch we’ll be moving from Lihue, near the Cruise Ship Harbor, to the south side of the island and our time share unit we own at Lawaii Beach Resort.

On Monday, we’ll be headed out on a snorkel / sightseeing trip to an island called Niihau, which is privately owned and only native Hawaiians and their invited guests are allowed there. It’s called the forbidden island and that makes it all the more desirable to go there. The reefs are pristine and the snorkeling and fishing is said to be second to none. We’ll spend the day watching for whales, taking photos of Na Pali coastline and avoiding a sunburn during the 7 hour trip.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Wow Just Sums It Up

One of the top 5 items on my bucket list was to see red hot lava running in some shape or form during one of our trips to Hawaii. We were so close in 2008. We drove the Chain of Craters Road, walked in to the furthest point allowed and stood there peering into the distance for some hint, a glimpse of red to indicate there was lava flowing. If there was, we never saw it and returned to the car with our hopes dashed.

Pele didn’t wait long to show off her colorful display to the world. The plane was on the taxiway when the announcement came from the cockpit about an eruption in the Kilauea Caldera. I looked at Carl and he at me, just shaking our heads. Just our luck.

Fast forward 8 years and you can well imagine my excitement when Carl returned from the lobby a few days ago with the news of another collapse of the partially cooled lava bench. You may remember hearing of a 26 acre piece of new real estate collapsing into the ocean on New Year’s Day moments after Park Officials convinced people to move from the area. Now, a steady stream of lava called a fire hose, by the media, had begun to flow. The most in years one reporter claimed. From the moment I saw the video, with mouth agape, I knew what I had to do. Web search for lava boat tours coming up and then 15 minutes later, I was booked on Lava Ocean Tours for Saturday, the 4th at 4:00.

On Thursday, the media talked about the geologists who narrowly escaped injury or death while trying to set up cameras to monitor the formation of other cracks.  Those cameras captured footage of the latest bench collapse and at that moment, it was believed the lava had all but stopped flowing. Just my luck again. It was as if Pele was torturing me for some slight. I even thought about buying a nip of rum as an offering. My religious beliefs frown on that sort of thing but, hey, when in Rome… right?

Cut to Saturday, the 4th, at 4:00 PM. Captain Shawn arrived to call the roll, give a mandatory Coast Guard briefing and to explain how the trip would go. He also called all 60 + aged people together, gave them a warning about back, neck and leg injuries before allowing us to board.

The boat, situated on it’s trailer measured over 40 feet long and it was 10 feet to the gate in the railing. All of us boarded by way of a 10 foot step ladder while the boat was still on the trailer in the parking lot. The crew of 40 did a once around the park and arrived at the boat launch with a fair number of spectators lining the shore to watch as the truck backed us down into the narrow harbor.

And then we were off,  running parallel with the shore line and fairly skimming over the waves, each of us strangers wrapped up in our thoughts. Questions plagued all of us. Would the boat ride be too rough, how wet would we get, will the electronic equipment be safe, would we really get a chance to view one of natures most spectacular shows?

45 minutes into the trip, we began to see steam ushering forth from the ocean’s surface. 10 minutes after that, we saw a red glow through the clouds of moisture and then we began to feel the heat from 200 feet away.

And then we were there no more than 50 feet from the almost surrealistic site. A  glowing fire fall of 2100 degree molten lava endlessly cascading from the miniscule appearing vent, a pipeline the Hawaiians would say came straight from the goddess herself.

All of us, as if we were one, began snapping photos with cameras, recording various lengths of video to try to show those who were not there just what it was like at the bottom of the ever changing stream. At times, the flow would be bright orange and full as it cascaded into the ocean while at other times, the white hot ribbon narrowed and as the gases within mixed with the overly warm sea water, it sent ejecta outward, sometimes the height of the falls.

It took some effort for me to stop taking photographs with both my cell phone camera and my Nikon D200 but I forced myself to sit quietly and just watch. Every once in a while I would hear myself say, “wow!” That was about the only word that came to mind. And still is.

I sat for hours afterwards, studying each and every image,
watching the videos over and over with that very same word
 coming to mind. We were back at the harbor about 7:00,
 home by 8:00, but unable to sleep until almost midnight.
Even now, I have to pinch myself and say, “that was real
and I was there first hand. Wow!”