Volunteering is very easy in San Francisco. For comparison, I’ve only lived in three other cities. In Madrid, when the phone number actually answered, some volunteering seemed reasonably well organised, but bureaucratic. It also could mean you risked ending up in a protest movement. In London, since the 1980s, individualism reigns and volunteering is now promoted by and left to well-meaning eccentrics, middle-aged to elderly ladies and the economically excluded. Much better than nothing, but hopefully that is changing. In Sydney, I didn’t seek out volunteering related stuff but I’m sure it exists and is probably left to the Salvos (The Salvation Army) to organise. San Francisco is ‘awesome’ for the scope of volunteering and taking advantage of the volunteering of others, quickly and easily.
The San Francisco Library and also Parks and Recreation are just two organizations that excel. You get the impression from the ease with which volunteering is done, that it seems more unusual here not to volunteer than to volunteer. How it should be.
So, two weeks ago we were in the Presidio, in one corner of the park, at a smallish body of water called Mountain Lake. Brian from Parks and Recreation welcomed us all and introduced some of the regular volunteers in the group of thirty of so and gave us a brief history of the Presidio’s only natural lake. In the early days of San Francisco under the Yankees, it was touted as a possible water source for the growing city. That seems amazing now. Unfortunately it is quite seriously polluted by lead poisoning and other toxins due to run off from the highway, but it’s still a lovely spot! We were told that our job – part of an ongoing clean-up – was to weed out or get rid of the non-native plants around the lake that are choking the natives. Is this weeding? Is a non-native plant a weed? The two we were honing in on to cleanse (we should be careful about extending this policy of plant cleansing too far) were a purple tinged, longish grass and a more easily identifiable plant with very pretty small white and purple flowers called Fumario (so-called because the Spanish thought the flowers looked like a cigarette). It was great fun scrambling up and down the bank grasping for fumario (that is definitely choking the natives) and chatting with a group of very friendly people. Everything was so unassumingly, inclusively and engagingly done. There was no feeling of being a novice – all help was welcomed and appreciated. After an hour and a half of work we were all treated to coffee and cake! We returned to the fray for a while and then left feeling better educated about our natural surroundings. A great morning.