Old Diary

The Value of Men

the value of men

“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” – Moorish proverb

Without a doubt, the best part of Rv’ing and Volunteering is the people you meet along the way.   That doesn’t always mean you’ll like every one of them; nor does it mean that you’ll get along with them all; or agree with their life choices.  And we have met some doozies since arriving here!

Peg & I are attempting to wind down, to disengage and let go of what has been a very passionate time for us.  Just at the time when we want to detach a little, it seems that karma and human nature are attempting to keep us embroiled in the lives of our volunteers.  We still have five days on the volunteer clock but today is Saturday and volunteers aren’t the first thing on our mind.  But neither are they out of our mind, and I wanted to take a few minutes to work through that.

crucifixionI spent 25 years as a bi-vocational pastor — so one of my ‘gifts’ is the ability to listen to folks.  Goodness knows that pastors spend a lot of time listening — and not just talking.  We’ve spent a lot of time listening to volunteers.  In part, that was our job.  It’s difficult to see that the Forest meets the needs of their volunteers if no one is listening to what they are saying;  I have been (in the words of the staff here) the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Forest Service.  That’s an obligation I took more seriously being a volunteer myself.  A staffer would have a very different take on events than I have had and the reaction of the volunteers here upon learning of our departure speaks loudly that most of them know I have been their advocate. And I have been happy to be such.

In the case of a pastor, there is often some expectation of intervention upon hearing about questionable life choices.  As a volunteer coordinator that is hardly the case.  It’s not my place to correct, to admonish, to approve or anything of that sort.  It’s my place to listen; and to reflect their needs to staff.  But because I’m a good listener (as well as someone never accused of saying too little) I get more of the back story than can ever be relevant to the Forest Service.  Knowing what to edit; what to pray about (because I do pray about ‘my’ volunteers); and what to pretend I never heard — well, that has been a challenge.

The last several weeks have been punctuated by stories of ‘poor’ life choices. Most of which I haven’t even hinted at;  they don’t belong on someone’s blog.  I know it’s not my place to judge — and when I say ‘poor’ life choices I mean choices that have not worked out to the satisfaction of the person.

What do you do when someone tells you straight out that they are fundamentally unhappy with their own life choices?  The fact that Peggy has sleepless nights worrying about volunteers; or that I have had some of the worst nightmares in my life (and I’m a guy who never has nightmares!) speak the insidious way in which these folks have gotten metaphorically under out skin.

I troubles me when I see people a mere dozen years younger than ourselves who have gotten themselves into horrible predicaments.  Parts of me want to help — but other parts of me know that we get the lives we deserve (in the sense that they result from the sum total of all our individual decisions) — and helping would not be a solution when the cause has been habitually making immature choices — the party would just make more immature choices.

Then again, we have met others who have been beaten down by events in the world who have rolled with the punches life has thrown at them and have overcome and prospered.  Often that has meant that they haven’t had a lot of money — but they have taken the life that remains and made the best of it.  Younger or older — it never matters.   They always seem upbeat, no matter how badly their body might be begging for relief.  They are always ready to help someone else — even when they may not have much themselves.  I have been inspired by their spirits, their generosity, and their smiles.

Siuslaw National ForestWe have volunteers with multiple advance degrees and other volunteers who are illiterate.  The most educated aren’t necessarily the wisest and the illiterate can sometimes make me look unlearned by their knowledge and understanding of the natural world in which they live.  There is no place here for quick judgements.  And there are too many surprises to think that anyone person knows very much about anything.  There are different points of view — they are all valuable.

volunteer badgeI have no idea whether we would ever come back here to volunteer.  Beyond those things I’ve written about over the past 10 months there are myriad untold stories that affect our attitude about this place.  Not the least of which is the sheer frustration of working ‘in government’  even though I’m not part  of government.  If this same position was open in a year or five years I don’t know that I would have the stamina to take on the same harness — even though there are  other projects I would like to see accomplished here.  Whether they can ever be done here, or within the USFS — those are very different questions that time will determine and the answers will be forever altered by the names of the staff who move in and  out of the positions in this Forest.    Besides, this is not my circus, and these are not my monkeys!  I’m a volunteer — not staff.

I will forever be changed by the people we have met, come to care about, helped, and been helped by.  I’m sure we’ll keep in touch with some of them.  I’m sure we’ll meet up with some of the again — perhaps many times.  But our time here is drawing to a close and how can there not be some moments of sadness and reflection and relief.

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for coming along on our unscripted life, our spontaneous journey, our retirement adventure.  I hope you are enjoying the trip as much as we are.  I’ll talk with you tomorrow. 🙂

And now — Off to The Green Salmon for breakfast!


11 thoughts on “The Value of Men

  1. Although my volunteer interaction is considerably less than yours (definitely something I manage occasionally rather than every day) I’ve figured out a few things about the “volunteer”. Not all volunteers do so out of kindness or a need to keep busy. In my experience, an alarming number do so because they can’t function without drama in their lives.It’s complicated and I’m generalizing but the end result isn’t about focusing on a task so much as finding a place for sympathy, or make noisy stinks since that’s all they know how to do.

    You have the patience of a saint, 🙂


    • My dear friend Ponder,

      You are right about the fact that many who volunteer do so for reasons that are hardly altruistic!

      There IS the need for drama for some. There IS also the growing percentage of volunteers who are Boomers, part of the ME FIRST generation, who aren’t volunteering to give back — they are volunteering to GET something — and how much they actually GIVE in relationship to how much they attempt to TAKE is sometimes disappointing. There are those who want to give back — but one of the things I have talked with staff about — Da Boss and others is the changing nature of volunteerism. Personally — even though I love what we have done here and at other volunteer gigs along Life’s path — I don’t see the situation improving. We americans like to pat ourselves on the back about how big-hearted we are but I also see supplies disappear intended for other uses, and projects never completed; I see good meaning people sometimes caught out by their own baser instincts.

      I find the entire world-drama situation to be quite troubling. I quite shooting weddings because it seemed as if brides and bride’s mothers took the drama of TV to heart and were quite literally trying to out Bridezilla the worst they had seen on TV. We idolize celebrities who themselves live lives out of control — and we (as a culture) seem to think that’s how people with money, and fame, are supposed to behave. Shame on us.

      Of more concern is why our national mores have sunk/risen/collapsed to this point. TV doesn’t help — instead of two or three stations trying to fill air-time there are now hundreds of NETWORKS each trying to fill 24hrs/7days a week and they all need ratings to survive. What brings ratings more than drama. And what brings more drama than people behaving WORSE than the average joe blow or mary blow out there watching the TV — because people love to feel superior don’t you know! Don’t give them someone to look UP to so they feel inferior. Give them someone to look down at to make them gloat. It’s a sad state of affairs.

      Don’t get me wrong — I am not bitter. But I AM a realist. I accept the world for what it is even when it seems to make no sense. We will surely volunteer again. But ‘again’ may not be for a while. Personally I need to decompress. Peggy needs to see some of the country that I promised to show her before we started this Life Unscripted. But I suspect that we’ll look for volunteer gigs of a different nature than we found here. I LOVE most of the people we have met here — we love them for being the flawed, quirky personalities they are. But I know who I am as a person and there comes a time when I just need peace and quiet.

      I’ll put the saint on the shelf for a while. Maybe we’ll take him down from time to time to give ‘i’m a chance to shine again… but not for a while, I’m sure.

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂



      • In my mind, the “volunteers” who refuse to take direction, in fact going so far in the opposite direction it boggles the mind – those are the nuisances responsible for volunteer migraines.

        Brides/Bridezillas – I hear you! – I spend just about every weekend smoothing their ruffled feathers.Every time I think I’ve seen it all, along comes a monster putting the rest to shame. I agree with you about TV – shows like Bridezillas condone bad behavior, far too many impressionable young women think “bride” comes with a “free to be a selfish bitch” card.As for the media fueled selfish,vacant,cult of celebrity,gullible and unrealistic nincompoops too busy trending and tweeting to form a single independent thought – don’t get me started! I did write this a while ago…


        Have to go, I starting to feel grumpy 🙂


      • It’s good I have the blog. Our ‘normal’ life is so far from the drama that has inundated our last 10 months and I’m looking forward to a return to normalcy.

        I think I missed Reality on MTV. In the early 80’s I watched it a little just to know what ‘kids’ were up to, but I tired of that well before Reality aired. Now I exclude MTV and VH1 from my DISH ‘favorite’s’ list. But I get your point!

        I’m glad I don’t have to deal with most of the nonsense going on. Campgrounds are filled with different people than you find in business — or at least the same people with a different weekend attitude! And I’m glad I got out of wedding photography!!!!!

        Sorry, didn’t mean to ruin your mood!


  2. Mrs. P says:

    I only recently realized how drama free my life has become when I had to deal with two companies and their internal bureaucracies, oddly both were related to health care.

    Society has become so apathetic and has such a low standard of acceptability that poor service is rarely challenged. I am not the type of person to just give up when I’m being ignored. I’m the person who moves up the command line until I get someone with authority to do something that gets a result. I’m not an ass about it but I am pretty unbending. It’s those times when I feel like a bull, scratching the earth with its hoof…steam blowing out the ears…just daring someone to tell me I can’t do something.

    I am always successful…always. It’s why I have always done well in management. Except it has been more than five years since I had to do those things on any regular basis that when I had to do them recently, I found it really bothered me that I had to go to those extremes. It actually gave me a fierce headache until I realized that I was simple out of practice.

    Well, I like being out of practice. I like my calm life…drama free. I like that I still know how to put on my big stompin’ boots when I need to do so. But I feel awfully bad about all those poor people who don’t know how to stomp…when they really need to. Or for those who would never consider it. Those people are getting shafted and that just isn’t right. So, when I can and if it’s wanted…I help those guys. Because the guys in the white hats need to know that being good and doing the right thing still count for something.


    • We share some DNA someplace along the line!

      Peg and I have generally had relatively little drama in our lives — more in the last 2 years than ever. And more in the last 10 months than ever wanted.

      I share the willingness to be confrontational when needed and that may help along on a lot of cases but I’m to a point now that I also realize there are times when helping is no help at all. There are times when folks make regularly flawed decisions and to some degree I have to accept that they are free moral agents and entitled to live or screw up their own lives as desired.

      We too like being out of practice and are going to ‘work hard’ at getting back there.

      You make an important point though — other people don’t / won’t know that the guys with the white hats still exist, or that they too could be a guy in a white hat if they never see such behavior modeled and patterned. Sometimes the best we can do is inspire others to follow our own pathway. And that TOO is part of volunteerism, and activism, and being willing to be mightily ticked off until you get something changed!




      • Mrs. P says:

        I gave up being an enabler a long time ago. The people I want to give a little extra help to are the good decent citizens of the world who once in a while find themselves overwhumped by the current trends in society.

        Don’t know if you ever saw the series LOST. We finally got around to it after the series ended…Boy was it good. Yeah it had drama but it also had some wonderful characters. Rick and I like to say that we are most like Rose and Bernard, not wanting to be part of the drama…just living for each other. And if too much drama hits are universe…it’s time to move the island. You’d only understand this comment if you’d seen the series.


      • “just living for each other” — now that is a concept I can get into!

        I often wonder what will happen when something happens to one of us. We are each other’s best friends and faithful companions — and I have seen couples like ourselves and coping as 1/2 of a couple can be a challenge but I’d rather face that challenge when it comes than to have been companionless now.

        We did not see LOST but I suspect when the drama comes we would be right behind (or in front of you) when it comes to extricating ourselves from that mess!

        I am actually quite surprised that I tolerated what I did as long as I did. But I AM moved by goals. They have never been monetary goals — we are lucky to be able to be RV’ing — we never thought we could afford to do so and how long we can continue will yet be seen. But we are living our dream that we never had the nerve to dream.

        When we switched volunteer jobs in December I literally re-wrote my own job description. The old one started out, “this is not a 40 hour a week job, expect significantly more demand on your time than that.” And My first reaction was, “I’m not an employee, there is no way we’re working this hard.” Whether did in the end or not is moot. What was important was that I committed to re-writing the handbook, to doing photos of campsites, and a few other little known and largely invisible little projects. So, I did a different job than the USFS definition of what a Volunteer Coordinator is ‘supposed’ to do. We spent much less time with volunteers than I would have liked — in terms of being their advocates — but it was as much time as I could spend and still meet my own objectives. And as we were making our goodbyes there were first three, and now four different couples who told me, “let us know where you end up — we’d be glad to come and work for you again, you made it so easy for us and you treated us fairly” — so I know that in spite of the fact that we didn’t do the job the Forest Service wanted we did a job that got us good reliable help and help that was willing to do an exceptional job. So, we are happy — even though we got way more drama than we wanted — mostly from the longer time volunteers.

        I am habitually short with people living in the midst of drama. How I ever managed to cope is beyond me. But like yourself when there are problems I have no problem escalating the issue until I get answers. And my final escalation I finally pulled off on my last day on the job. The day before I confronted Da Boss’ boss about those volunteer uniforms that were supposed to be ordered almost three full months ago. We are approaching the fiscal year deadline for uniform orders and I learned yesterday that the guy finally signed off on the order so at least they’ll have sizes that they need for future more rotund volunteers! 🙂

        Anyway…. might be late but its’ a success nevertheless.



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