cow count 009

Our sandwiches started to get soggy as the rain quickly turned from a sprinkle to a steady pour.  My husband Jay and I got up from our seat on a fallen Aspen tree to seek shelter under a large Spruce tree.  I was only one bite into the sandwich from my new dry picnic spot when I spotted it … a flash of lightning.  Jay and I looked at one another and knew it was time to move.  As part of a rather random volunteer assignment counting cows, we were alone at over 9,000 feet, within 1,000 feet of the top of a ridge line in the Manti La Sal National Forest.  As we started making our way down the hillside into the gully, we watched and listened carefully. Like a prey animal I was tensed up, heart pounding, anticipating danger. It was a steep hillside and we were scrambling down off the ridge as quickly as we could without twisting an ankle.  The rain mixed with corn hail which bounced off of our rain gear and blanketed the ground cover.

THUNDER – it reverberated off the steep sides of the gully, the sound waves seeming to multiply in force –  I held my breath and counted, 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … 5 …   LIGHTNING.  Eek!  Too close to stop now.  We kept trudging down and down into the bottom of the gully. Sliding through hail and soaked leaf litter. With each step the storm felt further from us and I could breathe a bit more.  After only a half a mile we were reaching the edge of the storm and could see blue skies ahead. Once we escaped the danger of the storm I felt a rush of emotions. Did we just risk our lives to count cows? We were volunteering to help the environment, not volunteering to put our lives at risk.

The cow count took place five years ago. In the time since, when I was sitting at a cubicle in a climate controlled office, I would have often traded the opportunity to go back to that moment on the ridge. In my career as a volunteer coordinator I trained others in risk mitigation and encouraged volunteer managers to think about making volunteer assignments as risk free as possible. Bring snacks! Have lots of sunblock on hand! Wrap volunteers in bubble wrap and make them sign liability waivers!

Look around in every community and you will see people who deliberately put themselves in harms way or who make sacrifices in order to give back and help others. Are the risks we take to serve part of the reward? 

I plan to explore this question more on this blog over the next few months.