EALT Field Work: A Prescription for Better Mental Health and Increased Physical Wellbeing

Ladies and Gentlemen!!!!  Are you feeling overwhelmed, tired and rundown?????  Step right up and volunteer to do some field work with EALT and we will guarantee you will perk right up, be re-energized, have a rewarding experience, feel a sense of accomplishment, tone up the old body a tad and achieve some meaningful results for a good cause!  Just in one day!! A failsafe prescription for better mental health and increased physical wellbeing, recommended by doctor’s worldwide!!!!  (Well, ok, by Dr. Jones in Beaumont.)  And it’s free too!!!  (Well, ok, you have to bring your own lunch.)  But we guarantee your satisfaction, or we’ll provide you another day of volunteering at our cost!

There are two ways you can achieve all this goodness.  You can sign up for a group volunteer day and participate with a great bunch of people with all the wonderful social aspects ofworking together to accomplish the task of the day.  Or you can ask for some solo work where it is just you and nature for the day.  Let me give you an example of the latter which came about through the former.

On August 25, an awesome group of folks from Enbridge descended on the EALT property at Boisvert’s Greenwoods for the purpose of Winding-Up the Wire for Wildlife.  Which meant removing one or more strands of barb wire from the fence on the property boundary so that wildlife can get over or under the fence line more easily.  Despite a huge effort by the group and the EALT mini-gang of Steph, the leading lady of the day; Felysia,  intern extraordinaire; and Mark and yours truly, volunteers du jour, we ran out of time before we ran out of wire on the west and south fence lines.  This was the second group day removing barb wire as there had been an EALT volunteer day in July that completed the east side fence and part of the north side.

Being of a somewhat analytical nature (just ask my wife), it bothered me that we had left several sections of fence unfinished on the 25th.  So with the blessing of Rebecca, the ever-efficient EALT project coordinator, I embarked on a solo day to complete the wire removal on the west side of the property.

Chapter One:  Getting There

It’s a wee hike to get from the parking area to where I needed to be.  Close to a kilometre actually.  The first part is on the brushed trail that follows the south side of the property and then swings north through the forested area and back to the parking area.  Instead of following this nice easy walking trail where it turns north through the forest, we continue west through some open areas, some young forest areas and some nice patches of shoulder height Canada Thistle and Stinging Nettle.  Wherein lays the surprise of the day.  As I am carefully picking my way through a rather largish patch so as not to get stuck or stung, the end is in sight when there are several sudden explosions of sound and from nearly beneath my feet, three large fluffy brown objects come rocketing off the ground and into the trees!  I think I might have said a bad word.  For an old guy, my heart is pretty good and it only took a couple of minutes for it to settle back to a non-emergency level.  I’m still puzzling about just what had taken place as I take another step.  And two more large fluffy brown objects explode from near my feet and rocket into the trees.  Up goes the heart rate all over again!  But this time I am more prepared and get a better glimpse of the UFOs.  Hmm, still didn’t get a good enough look to decide if they were sharp-tail or ruffed grouse.  Definitely grouse though.  And a family still together!  How cool is that to see?!?

I wait until the pulse has stopped pounding and take the first step onward.  And three more grouse explode from the grass and weeds!  But, hey, been there, done that, no more surprise!  So with my lightning fast reflexes, I drag off my gloves, dig my camera out, turn it on and get a picture of the last three ruffed grouse (yep, lots of time to identify them this time) as they fly into the trees.

You can see the south end of the grouse going north, can’t you?  Really?  Well, they are right there in the middle, just past the last of the thistles!

The rest of the walk in was anti-climatic.  Although it was rewarding to see a rather large hawk in the distance swoop down and then proceed to have his lunch (gopher, mouse, ?) that he just caught.  I took a picture of that too but he was so far away that he just didn’t show up nearly as well as the grouse.   So I didn’t include it.

Chapter Two:  Being There

Once at the far section of the west side fence that had not been completed, it was a matter of pulling the staples and rolling the wire.  All pretty mundane except for the raspberry bushes, the dogwoods, the thistles, the nettles, the birch trees and the grass that were intertwined with the wire and, just like good old friends, very reluctant to part ways.  But brute force and a few nasty words prevailed and the wire appeared.  Coiling the wire after it is freed is the easy part of the whole operation.  As long as you have good gloves.  Otherwise it is a rather prickly business.  Thank you, EALT, for the good gloves!

And here we are, enjoying the beautiful, warm, summer day, just me and Mother Nature in all her splendour.  We just pulled a staple and are ready to roll up some more wire.

Yep, despite the drought, it has been a good growing season for weeds!  The stinging nettles here are nearly two metres high.

A couple or three hours of pulling staples and rolling wire and we’re done!  The west fence line anyway.  The rest can wait for another day.  Now we just have to get me and the wire back to the starting point.

Chapter Three:  Getting Back from There

How hard can it be?  It’s only a kilometre back, a trail through the nettle patches is already made, a nice cool breeze is blowing and a snack and cold drink awaiting at the vehicle.  Off we go, wire in hand.

Did you know that barb wire has one truly magical property?  It increases in weight over a given distance.  E.g.  these rolls of wire started at ~ 10 kilograms.  But after the one kilometre carry distance, they weighed 25 kilograms.  No. Really. I swear it is so.

Nonetheless, or nonethemore, we and the wire made it back to the start point and onto the rapidly accumulating pile.  The wire that is, not me.

After a wee bit of refreshment and catching a breath or four, I hoisted my weary carcass into my truck for the drive home.  As I did, it occurred to me there had been no encounters with wasp nests and their defending inhabitants this time, unlike the other two wire sessions.  Bonus!

Given the need to focus on watching your footing on the uneven ground, avoiding the thistles and nettles, keeping the barbs on the wire separated from skin, you are only conscious of your work, the birds chirping, the wind rustling the trees. No phones ringing, no traffic noise, no nothing from city life. Just you, nature and the task at hand.  You don’t even have to hit the gym, this is just the best day of exercise one could hope to have.

As tired as I was and knowing how stiff and achy I will feel in the morning, I drove home with a silly-ass grin on my face thinking about the great day I had.  And I get to do it all over again next Saturday!

EALT field work – the best prescription for better mental health and increased physical well being!

By Jamie McQuarrie, EALT Volunteer

Jamie is a retired Forest Ranger, Forest Protection Officer and Manager, who worked with the Alberta Forest Service.