Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Living the Life We Love

It feels like life has fallen once again into step with what we’d hoped for as full time RVers. Working at Jessie M Honeyman for March and April was just the right thing for us, at just the right time. How time flies when you’re having fun!  Even more importantly, we feel we've found a great area of life where we can make a good contribution.

Cleawox Lake at Jessie Honeyman State Park
Each new job has a learning curve we have needed to work our way through. Though we always work for the Oregon State Park & Recreation Department (OPRD), each state park has its own management and its own unique ways of dealing with things, based on the management, location, composition and culture of the park. We’ve worked at five different parks now in our “hosting career”, and each one has defined our job differently, while all having certain common aspects. At Fort Stevens we had three main responsibilities – relief visitors center, relief sales and delivery of firewood (wood on wheels), and once a week litter patrol, with campsite grooming on the side. At Devil’s Lake, Steve mowed grass as a Maintenance Host, and we groomed campsites and did litter patrol. At Wallowa Lake our main job was selling firewood, and grooming campsites was shared by all the hosts.  At Jessie Honeyman, our primary job was helping campers, including helping with registration, selling passes, renting out yurts, wood sales and light cleaning of restrooms, litter, recycling & garbage. Though we’d never experienced it before, we felt our job there even more so fulfilled what we believed park hosting would be like.

Picnic Area A at Sarah Helmick State Park
We are now in yet another new experience!  We are Day-Use Hosts at Sarah Helmick State Park, just south of Monmouth for the months of May and June.  Again we are experiencing a whole new aspect of park-hosting - the day use host.

During our working days at Jessie Honeyman, near Florence, we were true campground hosts, available to campers, 24 hours a day for 5 days a week. As soon as we woke each morning, we pulled on clothes and went out to raise the American flag. We took it down again each evening at dusk.  Once we were out of bed each morning, our window shades went up, indicating that we were available to campers. If a camper came in the middle of the night and couldn't get into their yurt, or had some other need, we were available for them to find help, (although we'd talk to them through the window, for our safety!). We were the first visible hosts as campers entered the park, which is why we were considered the "meet-greet hosts". Fortunately, we were not waked in the night often! Our “On Duty” sign would not go down for the 5 days we were on duty.

While every day was different, and though our actual working hours probably never exceed four hours a day, we were to be available to help campers at any time. We tried to always have one of us at the coach, with only a couple exceptions. I would stay behind while Steve did light cleaning of the men’s restroom, and he covered while I cleaned the women’s restroom.

Other than refilling paper towel and toilet paper dispensers, we’ve never been asked to do any cleaning of restrooms previous to Honeyman. Even at Honeyman, we didn't do what is considered “deep cleaning”. We would disinfect and wipe down the sinks and mirrors, sweep the floors and pick up debris. The Rangers clean and disinfect the toilets and showers and mop floors. Doing the amount of work we were asked to do in the restrooms did not seemed unreasonable to us at all. It’s actually nice to know we were helping the rangers with their workload, while not doing anything we were uncomfortable with.

Sunrise at the Sarah Helmick gate
We arrived at Sarah Helmick State Park on Monday, April 29th. This is our first experience hosting at a day-use park. We weren't sure we'd like it, but wanted to give it a try.  Our concerns about taking a day-use job were related to feeling secure, and to being lonely.  We are the only residents at the park.  We have been delighted to find that we have enjoyed our time here.  We feel safe, and are not lonesome.  Since we lock the front gate each night, the park becomes our own private front yard after 9pm, until we unlock it again at 7am the next morning.  Locking the gate means we are less likely to be awakened by unwanted intruders in the night.  We are located about 4 miles from the nearest small city, so it's not like we see anybody arrive here on foot!  In addition to unlocking and locking the front gate each day, we also clean and stock the two restrooms, pick up litter, mow our 15 acre park lawn, prune, and generally are a presence at the park. When we first arrived, locals told us of some less-than-desirable activity in the park, which made us a bit nervous.  However, the reality is that when we began to reside here, those people must have gone elsewhere!

The park has two large group picnic areas which can be reserved for various events. We’ve been told there have been weddings held here, though we haven't been able to enjoy that experience.  We've had one area used for a memorial service, but that's been our only reservation to date.

One of our favorite aspects of being at Sarah Helmick has turned out to be getting to know the local regulars who come to the park.  Fred, who has a permit to saw up a couple downed trees in the park, comes almost daily to "have a beer and visit with friends".  We've seen very little progress on the tree during the 5-6 weeks we've been here ...

Steve with new local friend,
Shirley with Lucky
Ody and Shirley come regularly to walk their wolf-mix dog, Lucky.  Shirley has brought us produce from her garden - Swiss Chard and a cherry tomato plant have been real treats!

Chuck and his wife are our "walkers".  They do 8 laps around the park on week days, equaling 4 miles.  We have another regular we refer to as "shirtless man" who comes on sunny days, removes his shirt, and just enjoys standing around in the sunshine.  We have people who eat their dinner here on all the sunny evenings.  They each appear to have their favorite picnic areas.  Some occasionally use the BBQ stands around the park to cook on.  Families, and some young people, come regularly on the nicer days to play down at the river's edge.  It wouldn't be our idea of a good time, as the river looks pretty murky to us, but they love it.  Apparently it isn't too deep.  We have fishermen visit.  One grandfather brought his young grandson to fish.  We've been told catch-and-release is best.  The Luckiamute River, which runs on 2 sides of our park, meanders through a lot of farm land, and we've been told that means it gets run-off from chemicals used in farming, and animal waste ...  Need I say more?

Being trusted with the park truck
is no small thing!
Another couple who regularly visit the park are from further south, past Corvallis.  They drive up highway 99 to the city of Dallas to pick up their inventory of pellet BBQ's, which they sell.  They always stop here at the park on their return trip.  The first time we met them, they stopped us to express fear that they may have seen a young man with a revolver in the park, over by the bridge.  They identified his vehicle for us, and circled the park 2 more times just to keep an eye on him.  We decided to take a drive around the park in our golf cart just to see what we could see.  A young man approached me along the way, asking about a woodpecker he was hearing in a grove of trees.  It didn't take long while visiting with this young man to realize I was speaking to the young man the
Meadow area near the Willamette
at Luckiamute Landing
couple had been concerned about!  The good news is that he was clearly no threat.  He was just a nice young man, from the other side of Salem, with a geology degree who had a nature blog.  He enjoyed visiting various parks and natural areas and writing about whatever he might see.  I probably visited with him for a good 45 minutes that day.  I believe the "revolver" was actually just a small black camera he used to capture photos for his blog.

Ranger Steve DeGoey and myself by the confluence
of the Willamette, Santiam and Luckiamute Rivers
Yet another person we've had the pleasure of getting to know here is the ranger who oversees this park.  He is actually working at Luckiamute State Park, a much larger park about 5-10 miles from us, with various sites along another part the Luckiamute River.  He oversees Sarah Helmick park as well.  Ranger Steve DeGoey had to be convinced to let us take on more responsibilities during our first weeks working with him.  Another host we'd met when we arrived, who knew him well, suggested we do some gentle pushing to get him to let us help him out a bit more.  It worked, and we have had the chance to try yet more new tasks.  During May, Ranger Steve was without hosts at Luckiamute.  We offered to work there too, once we'd caught up on the work at Sarah Helmick.  Our 2nd Sunday on the job, he asked us to come over and help.  I mowed the main site, and Steve accompanied him to do some tree trimming off the main road at North Luckiamute.  I had a blast on that mower, trying to finish the task before they returned from the northern site.

Following the tractor out of the "jungle" 
The following Sunday he asked us to accompany him a few miles in on a service road where a tree had fallen.  He needed to remove the tree, and was required to have a spotter while using the chain saw.  He thought we could help widen the service road by clearing brush back while we waited for him to work.  I drove in the park truck, following Ranger Steve on a tractor.  We have never been in such a dense forested area.  At the point of the fallen tree, we felt we were deep in a jungle!  Naturally, I only remembered to begin taking photos as we were following the tractor back out of the area ...  Ranger Steve told us this area is the largest, mostly unaffected natural forested area in Oregon, if I understood correctly.  It was truly incredible.  Just outside the forest area are natural meadows, looking much the way it did when the first pioneers began settling in this area. 

Willamette Water Trail signs at
Luckiamute Landing
It is such a treat to learn of these areas that I have never even heard of!  We stopped at one point and walked over to the Willamette River, where the Santiam River flows in, and very near where the Luckiamute also connects.  He showed us a river milepost that boaters have available all along the river way.  There are areas where boaters can camp that are only accessible from the river.  There's a whole world out there we never knew existed!  I'm constantly amazed how much I don't know about the Willamette Valley where I've spent my entire life.  There's a great river guide for the Willamette to check out online - just click here.

We've been invited to return to Sarah Helmick or either of the two host sites at Luckiamute again, which lets us know just how much our help has been appreciated.  I don't think we ever see Ranger Steve when he doesn't thank us for our work.  It feels really good - like we're truly making a difference!

The next chapter of our adventure begins in about 2 1/2 weeks, when we will once again be again trying something new.  We'll be working for the state, helping to collect surveys on day-use parks.  We've been placed at LL Stub Stewart State Park, near Vernonia for July and August.  We're supposed to have completed that job in about 6 weeks, and we have host friends we met last August, the Brock's,  hoping to get together with us during that last portion of August.  We also hope we'll be getting lots of visits in with local friends and family.  In addition, we have some routine maintenance due on the coach to take care of.

We are to be back at Wallowa Lake State Park for September and October, and hope to have some fun traveling with our good friends, the Schaffer's, who'll be heading back there from a brief vacation month in Newberg.  I am waiting to hear back on possibilities for November/December of this year, and we are in the early stages of looking into possibilities for 2014.  We have to work to keep from falling back into our comfort zone.  We feel the need to be uncomfortable, at least as far as trying more new things.  The possibilities available to us seem almost unending.  Fish hatcheries need hosts.  We could leave Oregon to try working elsewhere.  We might want to work in a National park or two.  The future is yet to be determined and we are excited to see what plans God has for our future!

Diabetes Update:  As a side note, I am happy to report I'm doing very well currently with my type 2 diabetes.  I just saw the doctor on June 7th and got an excellent report of the progress I've made controlling the disease through diet and exercise.  It won't last, as diabetes is incurable, but she said I should enjoy the next 6 months to 5 years, or as long as I am able to control things without medication.  I'm feeling good again, and we have only found the modifications to our lifestyle to be positive.  Thanks for the treasured prayers of my friends and family!

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