Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Scent of Pine

Volunteers haul brush at a recent workday for the DNRE.
I went back to my roots Saturday morning. Or rather, I went back to the brush and boughs of my youth.

When I was about ten, my mother took a part-time job at a senior citizen center about three blocks away from our home. During her work days, I was allowed to stay home without a sitter. The idea thrilled me. While my friends had to be carted away to some middle-aged woman's home with crappy playground equipment, I was going to be free to roam. But, my father had other plans, and he made sure to keep me busy with a multitude of chores. I could earn five bucks a day. It was a pretty good deal for both of us.

Mowing the lawn and weeding were pretty standard chores. Doing the dishes and picking up the house didn't bother me. I didn't even have a problem scrubbing a toilet. But when my dad told me that part of my summer tasks would include picking up sticks from the woods, I was skeptical.

"Dad, it's the woods...sticks are in the woods. You know?"

My protests and groans did me no good. I was to pick up sticks and brush that would later be burned. I still don't see the rationale of burning brush that would naturally decompose.

Our home sat on a three-acre lot at the edge of town. Rows of red pine lined the back yard, resembling aisles as neat as a grocery store. Red pine is good for nothing except for snapping in half and making a mess during Northern Michigan ice storms. Now it was going to dictate how I spent my three-month reprieve from school.

As an adult, I've started to see the wisdom in my dad's plan. I was ten years old, left alone in our home. I  realize that my dad just wanted to make sure I didn't get into any trouble between the hours of nine and three. And it worked.

So when I was e-mailed information on a workday for the DNRE, it was pretty easy to show up to the Silo Field Trial Area at Highland Recreation for a day of work I was familiar with.

When I arrived at the field, I thought I had stumbled upon an ad for Carhartt. Most of the volunteers are involved in field trial training for various dog breeds. I was asked a few times what dog group I was from, and when I said that I wasn't, I was asked who I was affiliated with. It seemed that no one could understand I was representing myself. So, I gave The Oakland Press some credit even though the paper really has nothing to do with my project except for hosting the blog on our website. Mostly, I tell people I'm an editor at the OP because it excites them because they might be featured. And it never hurts to promote my work.

After we filled out volunteer information, we headed back into the field. I decided I would walk out with another volunteer, and I ended up winded by the time I reached the site. Once there, we started hauling brush and limbs through the snow, towering them onto piles. This was fairly steady work for about an hour and a half. After a while though, we started to catch up with the downed limbs, and I mostly gabbed with people for a half hour.

I listened while the volunteers talked shop, movies and what deer they bagged this fall. It felt like home.

The work was gratifying. The cold air was refreshing, but lacked the bite often associated with January weather. I only got snapped in the face about a half-dozen times and I managed to catch myself from a face plant after my leg tangled with some sort of invasive vine. I'm starting to understand some of the work the DNRE is trying to accomplish.

When it looked like most people were doing more standing than working, I decided to cut out early. I don't use these fields and I had to prepare for about fifteen guests coming to my home for the evening. I said good bye to my fellow volunteers and caught a ride in a pickup with one of the men I met earlier.

Volunteering with the DNRE is not only a great way to get out of the house, it also helps out the state because it provides free labor. It also helps restore the native species that provide habitat for wildlife.

If anything, Saturday's work gave me some exercise and a time for reflection. I've noticed that many people don't get the same satisfaction I get from doing manual labor. Those people are probably smarter then I am. Regardless, I met some new folks, and I have an idea for a feature story on this sector of Oakland County dog enthusiasts. The DNRE offers a variety of work days in various parks, if interested, click here.

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