Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exploring Our World


We are beginning to realize our time here at Sarah Helmick State Park is coming to an end in the very near future – less than 2 weeks now.  We leave here on Sunday, June 30th for LL Stub Stewart, near Vernonia, where the next adventure awaits us.  Now is the time we begin to evaluate how this job worked out for us, whether we might want to come here again in the future, what time of year would be best if we did, etc.  We also have a chance to look at ourselves and our “evolution” as we continue to live out our lives as full-time “RVers”.  I guess you could say we are our own lab rats! 

As far as working at Sarah Helmick, there have been a number of things we have truly enjoyed, and only a couple things that were a bit less than perfect from our perspective (everyone is different in that respect!).  Having this park as our “front yard” was incredible!  We love walking around the park.  We enjoy seeing the beauty of this area and visible fruits of our labor.  The local people here, from Monmouth and the surrounding area, seem to us to be just plain old good people – very friendly and warm – both at the park, and in town.  There’s a small town feel we have grown to love.  We notice a difference in how strangers relate to us in the various parts of Oregon we’ve lived in: some don’t meet our eyes – perhaps a cultural thing; others welcome us easily.  It was really great here.  Case in point – as I was writing this very sentence, Steve returned from work with a pint of fresh Oregon strawberries in his hand.  A local man visiting the park gave him a box to thank us for the work we’ve done here.  How can we not love these people when we are often the recipients of their kindness?  We enjoy these people.  As park hosts, we think the amount of litter we pick up says something about the people also.  We rarely pick up anything of any consequence here.  I’m just saying... 

We have learned we can survive on 30 amp electrical service, but that we’d really rather have 50 amps to live fully in this coach of ours.  Remembering to turn one thing off before turning on another was a bit annoying at first, but got better as we grew accustomed to it.  Still, in warmer weather we would require 50 amps to run the a/c when the sun hits the coach.  We heat up quickly in here when the sun is on us.  We’ve been able to run one unit on the warmer days, but wouldn’t be happy here in the summer months.  We refer to our power here as a “flakey 30 amps”. 

The work here was a lot more physical than we generally have experienced when park hosting.  It’s been fun to take on some new challenges.  We’ve enjoyed seeing the results of some pretty hard labor, and have appreciated our increase in muscle mass as well!  However, we realize that doing this much work for the long term would be tough on our aging bodies.  Bless you, park maintenance people!  We will never take you for granted again! 

We’ve enjoyed our independence, being the sole residents at this park, and have enjoyed being trusted with more responsibility here, including being allowed to use large tractor-mowers, gas powered tools, and even park vehicles when necessary to ease the responsibilities of our ranger.  We haven’t always appreciated needing to be up and dressed to unlock the gate at 7:00 each morning, though.  We aren’t so much morning people these days.  However, after needing to be up at Honeyman State Park, it wasn’t as tough as it might have been otherwise.

Ranger Steve DeGoey & Merilou
at Luckiamute Landing
We’ve enjoyed ranger, Steve DeGoey, and we truly have enjoyed working at this park .  We would definitely consider returning to this or one of the other host positions in this management unit at some point if it makes sense for us in the future.

We, as people, are changing as we continue in this new lifestyle.  One of the many changes we have seen slowly, over time, is a desire to see more of the area around where we are living.  We've never considered ourselves as "tourists".  Other friends and family seem to always be going somewhere, exploring new places, always looking for where to go next.  We, on the other hand, are self-proclaimed "home bodies".  We've sometimes felt bad about ourselves for being this way.  We definitely see the contrast between us and others around us.  We've occasionally gone so far as to try to forcibly plan some outings, thinking we'd look better to those other people.  Most of those attempts failed miserably.  We never got away from the coach.  Either we'd decide it was too much trouble, the risk was too great, or perhaps we were just too tired that day...  We are B-O-R-I-N-G!  Any increase in exploring activity would be an improvement, right?

During our hosting time at Wallowa Lake last Fall, as we saw our dear new friends, the Schaffer's, head out of camp on BOTH their days off, exploring roads to nowhere, eating burgers at restaurants in cities we'd never heard of, we had an epiphany of sorts.  I'd expressed our dismay to Sharon about how boring we were, and how we truly felt we should strive to be more like the Schaffer’se Schaffer's, are changing as we continue in this new lifestyle.  turning to this, or one of the other positions in this.  Sharon, a true friend, told me it was absolutely okay if we didn't become just like them.  We are not the Schaffer’s – we are the “Kronschmeiers” (Sharon’s first attempt at remembering our last name has continued to be a teasing point as we continually try to make up new names for ourselves, experimenting with the spelling, etc.  Sharon has spoiled things now by remembering our name correctly, and even being able to spell it, but we continue to enjoy using different names for our own, and her enjoyment.)  Our good friends like us just the way we are.  It is true we are not all the same.  Whew!  We are relaxing our expectations a bit.

Advance ahead in time 6 months or so.  It seems we are naturally evolving into being just a bit more curious about the world around us!  We’ve begun leaving the coach more often, sometimes even taking the cat with us.  Perhaps we're changing because we’re focusing more outside the coach, with the frequent change of scenery.  Perhaps it's because we can make each other crazy if we just sit in the coach all the time.  Perhaps it's because we're discovering this whole other world, right here at home in Oregon, which we never even knew existed?  I mean, who ever heard of Sarah Helmick State Park, let alone the Luckiamute River, or Luckiamute State Park?  We are certainly glad our friend Brian Ingoldsby shared his knowledge of this park with us. 

We have since learned that Sarah Helmick is in fact Oregon’s first State Park!  We had previously never stayed or visited anywhere in this area to our knowledge, though Steve had a daughter attend college in Corvallis.  Trips down this direction were just to see the daughter and perhaps grab a quick lunch.  Visits to state parks were not a part of those trips.  Yet, we are only about an hour and a half drive from where we used to live in our “stick homes” in both Hillsboro and Beaverton for the first 19 years of our marriage, and many years previous.  You might say we are looking at things now through different eyes.

Partly due to realizing that hosting at day-use parks is now attractive to us, we’ve made a point of seeing some of the other parks in within a reasonable distance for a nice drive.  Because our ranger, Steve DeGoey, is also responsible for Luckiamute State Park with its multiple sites, and we have helped him by working at Luckiamute, we learned of two more hosting possibilities within 10 miles of Sarah Helmick.  We decided we also wanted to check out Fort Yamhill State Park, near Willamina.  It’s a gorgeous day-use park focusing on the history of an actual military fort that was on that land from 1856 – 1866 as a buffer between the settlers and the Indians, who had been pushed out of the land as it was settled.  There’s a lovely half mile walk with informational signs along the way, giving insight into the lives of the military, the settlers, and the Indians.


We visited Willamette Mission State Park during May.  That park is head of the management unit which includes both Luckiamute and Sarah Helmick State Parks.  It’s a huge park – something like 1500 acres – with equestrian accommodations and lots of room for picnicking, bicycling and hiking.  It is part of the restoration work being done to return some of the land in Oregon to its native vegetation.  On our visit there, I have to admit I wasn’t sure what it was about…  It’s such a vast area of land and is still being developed.


On our way back from Willamette Mission, we got to see Maude Williams State Park as well – another day use park we’d never heard of previously.  Another set of hosts who were leaving Luckiamute moved to Maude Williams.  We’ve heard they ended up being rather bored with the contrast in work opportunities.


Thompson Mills State Park
We drove to Thompson Mills State Park, near Junction City and Shedd (who’s heard of Shedd?!).  We are so glad we made the effort to visit this park.  It’s an actual flour mill that was operated for something like 125 years on that site, during the world wars and beyond, though for a time it processed animal feed.  The actual silos and mill, with its wooden gears and leather pulley system, along with the owners’ home, still stands.  Guided tours are available.  We had a private tour by host volunteer Pamela Dean, who we learned we will see again when we work at Champoeg State Park this winter.  Pamela took us all over the mill, turned on some of the equipment which had been converted to electric, and even opened the waterway so we could see the turbines operate.  It’s a true historical picture of what life was like back in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The mill wasn’t actually closed until 2002, we learned.  The park system purchased the land, and sold back the water rights.  I just had to buy a souvenir apron with one of the flour mill bag’s picture/logo on it.  Flour bags were often turned into clothing back then, and are works of art in their own right.

While down near Junction City, we looked up a couple Oregon State Park waysides as well – Alderwood and Washburne.  While nice, they are simple waysides for a picnic or a quick rest stop.  Still, we made the effort!  We are changing!

Wheatland Ferry
Buena Vista Ferry
Another one of the fun things we did while residing at Sarah Helmick was check out a couple of local ferries which barge vehicles across the Willamette River.  As we returned from visiting Willamette Mission State Park, we crossed the Willamette on the Wheatland Ferry – a $2 toll.  We were surprised to see the amount of cars waiting to cross the river by ferry!  I can’t remember the last time we took a ferry.  We also learned of, and went to see, the Buena Vista Ferry, not far from Luckiamute State Park.  I knew of the Canby Ferry, as my sister and her family lived in Canby for many years.  Prior even to that, my Grandfather took me for a ride in his VW Karmann Ghia across the Canby Ferry.  I had no idea there were still other ferries on the Willamette!

We have become very proficient at spotting the dreaded, yet beautiful, Cow Parsnip, which we cleared from pathways here at Sarah Helmick as one of our first tasks.  It can cause blistering on human skin, after it is exposed to ultra violet light from the sun, and other problems, so we remove it where people might come into contact with it.  We see it along the roads all the time now in more natural areas and ditches.  We’ll never look at that foliage the same.

We’ve gained a curiosity about what farmers are growing out here in the vast farmland in the Willamette Valley.  What is field mustard grown for?  We had a beautiful crop of yellow flowers on leased-out park land next to us.  I looked it up and have learned it’s a cover crop used in-between other plantings to nourish and keep the soil in place.  There are several bee hives located in the corner of the field mustard field, so obviously the bees like it also!  We’ve seen fields of clover, always with bee hives.  We see fields of field mustard, corn, mint, winter wheat, Christmas trees, and vast fields of unknown white flowering plants, probably another cover crop.  We’ve decided they should all have signs so we can learn as we drive.

We are definitely still broadening our horizons with each adventure, which makes each assignment a new opportunity.  We truly wish we could bring all our friends and family along on this adventure.  We’d enjoy “having it all” that way!  What a great opportunity this is, for those who are led to it!




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!