I haven't been as successful as I'd like in updating these notes from the woods, but I'm happy to report that 2020 will be full of more adventure. The take-away is It's not too late! Here's a not so quick update: I’ve never been a big resolution person and even the idea of setting a goal for the year is usually something I abandon by Valentine’s but when I sat at my desk looking at a map of Virginia this time last year, I was determined to hike all 38 Virginia State Parks in a year. Not as a resolution, or even a goal, but as hope to somehow restore me. I went into the new year knowing two things: I absolutely had to leave the job I was in, and I had spent very little time outdoors in the last few years. Hiking is something I have always loved, but it is not a love that my spouse shares, so as I finished my annual First Day Hike at my local state park, I knew that one thing I had control over was allowing myself the time to do what I love…hence the 38 state parks goal.
When I came home and told Adam my plan, he met it as he does most things I tell him I’m about to embark on, “have fun with that,” he said! And so the planning began. By the end of January, I already began to feel more clear headed. I was also firm in my decision to leave my job by spring. I have always cobbled together part-time jobs that have allowed me to feed my creative soul and knew that I had my creative writing classes lined up and my adjunct professor position, but I needed something else. I had been job searching for a year with no prospects and didn’t want to get back in a position where I felt like I was losing myself.
In my state park planning I stumbled upon a blog post that said “Spend your summer in State Parks!” I was intrigued. It was a national service position with Americorps. I applied on a complete whim, thinking the small living stipend may be a way to supplement my income and allow me to do something completely different from the office work I had done for the last 15 years. I never imagined that I would be considered, just based on my age and lack of outdoor work experience. I was shocked to be selected and after a series of interviews assigned to my home park. I left my job with no regrets, and had the best summer of my life as an interpretive park ranger. I signed up for the Virginia State Park’s Trail Quest challenge and ended up completing my journey of all 38 Virginia State Parks at the end of October, (a full two months ahead of schedule) and 2019 ended up being the year that I was outdoors or in the woods all 52 weeks of the year and the health benefits of that were evident. I never felt better mentally, physically, emotionally, and creatively.
Stay with me, there’s more, but first a shout out to all the people that helped me on my 2019 journey. First, Adam for always believing I can do anything, for never saying a sideways word to me even though I have changed jobs 7 times in our relationship, for helping me with rental cars and directions and loving me through this crisis and letting me heal. Thank you to my family and especially my mom whom I know worried endlessly over my travels. Thank you to all my hiking companions, Kathy Sarosdy for False Cape State Park, Cynthia Greene for Pocahontas State Park, Rick Johndrow and Cynthia Johndrow for Belle Isle State Park, Lily Sun for Occoneechee, Staunton River, Staunton River Battlefield and Smith Mountain Lake State Parks, Hannah Donnelly for Westmoreland State Park, Virginia Parsons and Laura Papp for all our time at First Landing State Park, for educating me in all things swamp and bay and for rooting me on, you both have become life-long friends, and for Adam who never complained hiking Blue Suck Falls at Douthat State Park and re-visited Natural Bridge with me on a perfect March night.
Thank you to all the strangers at rural gas stations who re-directed me when I was lost and had no GPS signal in the mountains of Virginia, especially to the woman who let me follow her as she drove all the way to the interstate to get me back on track, to the rangers who helped me choose the best trails and find the must see attractions, a special thanks to the Twin Lakes State Park Maintenance Rangers who pulled my rental car out of the mud, to the Air BNB farm hosts who gave me a reduced rate for helping with farm chores and to Brooke Rodgers, an Air BNB host who saw me come in to her home 3 hours behind schedule, covered in mud and exhausted, and made me soup and tea. She has become a friend I continue to communicate with.
I collected park pins on all my visits and in November, I was invited to my home park for a small ceremony where I was given my Master Hiker Certificate, my final Trail Quest pin, and a Virginia State Parks badge. I’m currently working on an art project to put all these pins together.
There have been so many times in my professional life where I have felt unfulfilled, drained, taken advantage of, unstimulated and truly lost. Other than teaching, (which I will always do) I never felt like I belonged in any of my jobs. This embarrassed me and I often felt like I should be farther ahead than I was at this stage in my life. The most surprising thing about my time in Americorps was that I felt home. I knew from the second day of training that I had found my people and I had found my place. It took me a long time to figure out what I want to be doing and where I belong, but I’m so grateful that I found it. Trust me, it’s not too late to find your place.
So, I’m taking another leap. I want to continue to be a better steward of the environment, to learn about conservancy and ecological sustainment, and to educate others. I have been accepted into the Americorps Virginia Service Conservation Corps Career Development Program. I have joined the District 1 Natural Resource Crew and will be working alongside a team that handles 6 Virginia State Parks. I will spend the next 9 months learning everything I can about this field. I will need lots of good thoughts and prayers to pass all my certifications which include Wildland Firefighter and Chainsaw Apprentice(!). Here’s to another year of adventure and growth. Onward!