April 29, 2021
I grew up long before TV, computers and the Internet. I spent a lot of time outdoors in nature developing a great fascination and love for birds, trees, wildflowers and rocks.
After high school I went to Ohio State University and got a degree in Wildlife Conservation in 1960. I worked as a park naturalist for a while and returned to complete my Master’s degrees in Wildlife and in Science Education. Later, I returned and earned a Ph.D. in Ecology studying DDT and its effects on mammals.
Over the years I taught high school and college science courses in Ohio and in Maine passing on my enthusiasm for all of creation to my students. While teaching at St. Francis College, which later became the University of New England, I taught an Elderhostel course in summers that I designed for Senior Citizens. From those older folks I learned a great deal about life and how to live it.
After I retired, my wife and I planned to travel and see the country, especially our National Parks. While I have many wonderful memories of her, she developed an illness that derailed those plans. I was her primary caregiver and when she died 11 years ago, I had a massive void in my life. The following summer our children suggested I travel for a while. I traveled across the country by rail drinking in the spectacular beauty of many of those National Parks for us both. While traveling I had time to think and I decided to devote my time and talents as a volunteer.
For the last ten years I’ve concentrated mostly in music, biking and nature activities. I sing with my church choir and with Harbour Singers, a group that sings at bedside supporting persons with life limiting illness and at the end of life. In volunteering with the Eastern Trail (ET), I have applied my naturalist background leading nature walks for children and adults. I led monthly Moonlight Walks on the ET for about eight years as well as walks sponsored by the McArthur Library and AARP.
I’ve been attending Saco Park and Rec programs for a few years now, meeting people and making new friends. My volunteering is primarily in conjunction with the Eastern Trail. I’d set up a table at a few Saco Rec. open house events and was given the opportunity to lead a bike ride on the trail. We put together a program, “Discovering the Eastern Trail by Bike,” and Seniors who enjoy biking join me on a guided ride on the trail. We meet at a trailhead and set a destination like the Scarborough Marsh or Bug light in South Portland, depending on our starting point. This is not designed for professional bikers, it is for us common folks, we take it easy, swap stories and enjoy the scenery.
Seniors are very special people, who know what life is about, are very enthusiastic and enjoy getting out into nature. One of the best aspects of the experience is having a chance to get to know each other and learn from each other while exploring the trail. It’s beautiful to enjoy the fresh air and exercise. For Seniors, especially during the pandemic, it was wonderful to provide an opportunity to have something to look forward to.
Volunteering has given me a chance to sharpen my knowledge and share information. Over and above that, there have been special moments where nature reinforces that connection to my wife and the love of nature that we shared.
- Joe Yuhas, Saco Parks and Rec Volunteer