Connecting with Nature through Volunteering
At CNC, we are thankful to all of our volunteers who help out in a variety of ways. We asked Bea Hatcher, one of our talented Naturalists to tell us about her experience as a grounds volunteer. Here is what she had to say.
On Wednesdays at 8AM, we meet at the Chattahoochee Nature Center sign in front of the Discovery Center. Pat Carson comes with her “can-do attitude”, Dan Prucha brings his little bag of saws, shovels, and gloves. We are greeted by Jacqueline McRae, Grounds Manager and Horticulturalist with her endearing accent that is difficult for me to not fall into, and Caston who started this year for the Grounds Crew.
There are only a few of us that come and go as work schedules (and life schedules) permit- Dan is the regular while Pat and I come and go. Our fearless leader introduces us to the day’s plan- giving us the Latin and common names of these weeds or the invasive we will be pulling out today- stories about how they came to the US or why they are problematic for the area that they are growing in.
Pat gets started yanking Wisteria sinensis from around the Barred Owl aviary. Have you ever seen Pat pull old vines out of bushes and trees around the Nature Center? I stand back in awe of that lady often- sometimes saying out loud my hopes of being able to do half of what this retirement-aged woman is doing right now. “Just put your weight into it” she tells me. We talk about what we’ve been doing over the week in our own yards- pulling Hedera helix (English Ivy) and experimenting with ways to take out non-native bamboos. Jacqueline sets Dan on some older privets and then the final blow to the main stem of the invasive Wisteria. Dan can saw through an invasive mess quickly, load up the trusty old pickup truck, and then do that all over again. All along I’m just pulling Chamberbitter and brushing stinging ants out of my pant legs. Dan says you can tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ants from getting into your shoes- you don’t look cool but at least you’re comfortable. That’s a bit of wisdom for you.
That’s what you get if you are a grounds volunteer- a bit of wisdom. Sometimes it comes in the form of how to bring pollinators into your yard with beautiful Southeastern US native plants- sometimes you learn what not to plant or how invasive plants can get out of hand. Often- for me- it’s the encouraging people I can talk to and learn from. Sure, I’ve learned a ton about plants-but I’ve learned more about what kind of gardener I want to be, what kind of person I hope to become, keeping humor in hard work, and where I can source conkers should I want to take up a new hobby. Henning stops by and shares how Aralia spinosa (Devils Walking Stick) has been keeping plant predators away for millennia.
This is what I came looking for as a Volunteer. I was a volunteer first before applying for a Naturalist position at the Nature Center. You know that saying “love at first sight”? Yeah, I had that with CNC- turns out that this happens to people- some of my favorite people now. As a Naturalist I have been able to apply my volunteer experience to my programs and my own yard- I know where the Longleaf Pines are, why grasses and Rattlesnake Master go well together, and that Beauty Berry attracts a variety of birds to your yard. My kids were starting public school for the first time in August 2021- up until that point I had been a Stay at Home Mom / Homeschool Mom for nearly seven years. My husband, Luke, and I had bought our first house in October 2020- I was struggling along with my neglected yard- pulling out Euonymus alatus (Burning Bush), Mahonia, Bamboo, and English Ivy. I was ready to learn more about the native plants of Georgia and take back my yard for pollinators, insects, and birds. Pat, Dan, and Jacqueline taught me that I wasn’t alone in my struggle for making peace with my small impact.
The best thing about CNC and a big part of why I love this place so much is really the people. We get this amazing up-close nature experience but behind it is this incredible heartbeat of passionate and compassionate people.
The best way to learn something new is to jump in and get your hands dirty. Maybe you’re new to native plants, learning about pollinators, enjoy challenging gardening projects, and get a sense of satisfaction from giving an overgrown Multiflora Rose a bad day? I would encourage anyone to join us on Wednesday mornings at 8!