Picturesque Oak tree on Mount Wanda at John Muir NHS
Picturesque Oak tree on Mount Wanda at John Muir NHS

My first week at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historic Park (RoRi), Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site (EuOn), John Muir National Historic Site (JoMu), and Port Chicago Naval Magazine as Centennial Volunteer Ambassador is underway. Boy that is a long sentence indeed! Things are going well so far. One of the best things about working with the Park Service is that everyone else that works for the NPS is passionate and invested in preservation too.

The parks out here tend to receive a little less visitation during the summer from school groups so I turned up right as everyone was taking off for vacation. It’s made figuring out what I need to do a little tricky, but it has also allowed me a wonderful degree of freedom to truly listen and observe without the pressure to tell people my ambitious hopes and dreams (which I am still working on formulating).

So far, even on just three site visits, I’ve learned a TON. I am learning how to ask the right questions to get people really talking about their volunteer programs, which are all more developed than they realize. If I say “tell me what y’all do with volunteers” I invariably hear “well, we don’t get many volunteers here.” But if I ask more specific questions then I learn they are doing much more than they realize.

I have only been to three of the sites so far, as Port Chicago Naval Magazine is closed for the time being, but I am having so much fun. Today I’ll just write about one or else we’ll be here all day.

Driving to JoMu for the first time felt like driving into the set of East of Eden. The orientation video made me verklempt and I feel very excited to have a role at such a pivotal NPS site! As Jim, the ranger who showed me around, said (and I am paraphrasing), “This is the most important room in all of the National Park Service because without the writings from John Muir’s Scribble Den, we might not have a National Park Service at all.” I’ve never lived anywhere where you could eat the fruit off of the trees. It’s a magical feeling, even when the plums are sour and the figs coated my fingers in a film so sticky I had to wash my hands 3 times in order to be able to pick up a piece of paper.

I must admit that Mt. Wanda was my favorite part. I was dressed far too warmly (the Bay Area micro-climates inevitably leave me perfectly dressed at least once a day and terribly dressed at least once a day) for the hike but I managed to soldier on. I could practically hear Mr. Muir in my ear saying, “See?” And I looked at the gently undulating hills covered (quite literally) in Amber Waves of Grain with mighty, stoic oaks seemingly placed at just the right place by the hand of God. I stood silently in one shady spot and marveled at how close to the city I was and yet how very quiet everything felt. I could hear the wind rushing through the grass and the birds calling to each other. Perhaps a little of that Father-of-the-Park-Service-sentimentality was rubbing off on me.

Reaching the top of Mt. Wanda was spectacular. Despite the fog enshrouding the bay, I could see San Francisco and Berkeley and more golden hills stretching behind me. California feels like the land of plenty and I understand why it bewitched Mr. Muir so thoroughly.

Next week I will get to meet the superintendent of the parks and I am very excited about that. I have a lot of ideas ruminating for where this already-wonderful volunteer program can expand but I’m reminding myself to keep listening for as long as I can.

-Allison Joyce