My first week at the park was *truly* one of the better weeks of my life. For the first time in a long time I am so happy to be where I am. The flexibility a volunteer position rewards is second to none (if I could volunteer for the parks full time I WOULD)! I wake up every morning even earlier than I did for school and get excited to volunteer in the park! I go to bed later because I have the energy to paint all night, which is something I did not have in California. Not that I'm sad about my days off either but I find myself missing volunteering!! Each day passes by so quickly despite the fact that the days are even LONGER than my actual job! GAH! It is exciting to know that this might be the start of a career path! I am feeling so fortunate to be here a part of such a rich and loving community of people who love the outdoors as much as I do!
I've been able to collect some pretty solid amounts of trash so far. The other day I stopped my car right by the park entrance sign. I found a handful of beer bottles, a piece of a hubcap, and various paper scraps INCLUDING a park newspaper from the Great Sand Dunes National Park (in COLORADO!!!) How crazy that piece of paper had traveled across multiple state lines only to end up at the entrance to another park?
I ended up taking that lost newspaper with me on the trails. On some days my job is to "rove," which is essentially to hike around wherever you want and interact with hikers along the way (the DREAM). I decided to hike around McKittrick Canyon for the morning and then meander my way up to the nature walk next to the visitors center. There, I found a bench in the shade with a view of the Guadalupe Mountains: a perfect spot to set up shop and paint on the GSDNP newspaper! About half way through my painting a dad and his three kids walked by and wanted to join in the fun. Naturally I couldn't deny these sweet park-going kids the opportunity to make eco art! So we all had an impromptu art lesson on that there park bench! The kids were such enthusiastic artists and stuck around for close to 45 mins. They both decided to paint on old pamphlets that I had brought and we talked about the importance of using digital maps and/or making sure to recycle old paper maps as opposed to throwing them away. Most parks have maps that you can download online so think ahead before taking hard copies! Those kids absolutely made my day and got me even more excited for my first official eco arts in the parks session!
Something that I have been grappling with from this experience is recognizing that not all the art created will stay out of a landfill. If you do take a map and decide to make art out of it will you be less likely to throw it away or will that piece of art just end up in the garbage as well? These are all things to consider and make this issue very complex! With eco art, it is a goal to keep those materials OUT of landfills. But perhaps the first step is just introducing the concept of using recycled materials as a canvas to visitors.
Although I try desperately to keep everything I can out of landfills and be as sustainable as possible am constantly thinking about ways I could be better. JUST TO NAME A FEW OF THE MANY WAYS I CAN IMPROVE: I pass up SO much trash in parks/ everywhere that I don't have the opportunity to collect; I am addicted to La Croix, which is packaged in cardboard and aluminum cans; I don't have a coffee machine this summer (and I NEED coffee) so I have to buy coffee BY THE CAN (kinda gross but gets the job done); I don't have a compost set up for the summer; and I take hard copies of maps from every park that I visit!! THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING! There are so many areas that I can/will work towards improving upon. But again, I believe *realizing* your impact is the first step to a greener world filled with more eco art.
Tangent story but I thought it was worth telling: Later in the week I worked at Frijole Ranch, painting and welcoming visitors. At the very end of the day I met a lovely couple who told me about their various road trips. Out of nowhere they said their next plan was to do an east coast trip starting in BANGOR, MAINE! I just about screamed! THEN right as I was locking up for the day another couple stopped by and asked me about my work. We got to talking and I found out they were both sculpture professors at MASS ART right down the road from Maine!! The man gave me his card to get in contact with him! What a day filled with small world connections!