Thursday, June 21, 2018


            I worked as a volunteer writer for the Transplant Games of America and World Transplant Games, interviewing competitors who had received organ transplants. The stories were posted daily on a website hosted by the University of Michigan, and everyone I met had a life-and-death story. I remember most vividly watching a woman meet the recipient of the heart of her daughter, dead from a traffic accident. She leaned over and listened to the heart beating, tears streaming from her eyes. I was linked to both women, and the daughter, and I always will be. I still tear up when telling that story from 13 years ago. (These games, by the way, still take place annually.)

            More recently, Kim and I volunteered at Paynes Prairie State Park in Gainesville, answering questions about the bison and sandhill cranes while advising visitors not to pose their children next to the alligators. It was rewarding to be part of the park as we learned and taught.  Volunteering also meant an opportunity for Kim to take photos.

Turtle Surfing on Paynes Prairie

These guys were everywhere!

We did this for three years, stopping when we found ourselves assigned to the cash register at the Visitor Center.

            And now we are volunteering in Northern Michigan, doing official monitoring for the Michigan Butterfly Network. In this role we walk a prescribed path at a prescribed rate, noting butterflies that we see. Let me correct that – only Kim can see the butterflies, for my role is “scribe.” For the survey to work from year to year, we use a strictly controlled procedure to more accurately measure changes. I have written previously about how we monitored butterflies at Leonard Preserve in Southeast Michigan. Now we are doing it at the Grass River Natural Area. So far we have not seen many butterflies on this route, but that doesn’t matter, for we are outside, walking together on a beautiful path, and we are part of the Michigan Butterfly Network.

            We are also volunteering with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, monitoring two Conservancy properties. We mainly go for walks in places where we would probably go anyway, taking photos of birds, plants, butterflies and dragonflies, looking up the ones we can’t readily identify, and then passing the information along to Angie at the Conservancy. 

European Skipper - smaller than you can imagine

Our woods has an incredible variety of plant life, which we document as best we can. This photo includes a Twin Flower.
             It’s good to feel that we are contributing something – to be contributors. It’s also good to NOT be thinking about health issues or delays in the construction of our cottage. As Kim says, “You are forced to see, and that connects you deeply to that specific place.” And again, it’s good to be outside, walking together on a beautiful path. When we take a break from volunteering we do exactly the same thing on other paths where we are not volunteering.

Little Wood Satyr

            The dictionaries I’ve checked mention altruism in their definitions of volunteering. As volunteers know, it’s not so simple. Volunteering involves stepping up to your full humanity to engage with the larger world. Being a witness – to butterflies, bison, or a beating heart – gives us that kind of engagement – call it religious if you will – and that’s a great pleasure. And how can we not feel blessed when this week’s volunteering brought us these:

Scarlet Tanager

Indigo Bunting

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