Volunteering at Brandywine State Park
It was a sunny afternoon when Alex, Maya, and I volunteered at Brandywine State Park. The sun dazzled bright, blinding my eyes into a tight squint as we drove through long, winding streets in search of the correct meeting spot. Upon arrival, we were met with a mass of people all wearing crimson t-shirts. It was a group of Bank of America employees participating in the same volunteer project. Huddling together as we moved through the sea of red, Maya, Alex, and I tugged on our work gloves and waited for instruction. A lively brunette named Eleanor greeted us with a warm smile. Our task, she said, was to walk along the creek and pick as many garlic mustard weeds as possible. Characterized by its spike-like shape and white flowers, garlic mustard is an invasive species that reduces the biodiversity of the area. According to “The Effect of Garlic Mustard,” an article by Karl J. Roberts and Roger C. Anderson, garlic mustard may reduce the competitive abilities of native plants by interfering with the formation of root growth. Many people, including myself, didn’t understand the importance of biodiversity. The reason diversity amongst species is significant for the health of our ecosystem is because it ensures natural sustainability for all life forms. No matter how small, all species have an important role to play.
The sweat gathered on the back of my neck as I bent over again to grab the garlic mustard by the root. Alex and Maya worked cautiously behind me, avoiding the stinging nettles that surrounded the trail. With each step, our sneakers sunk into the mud. The further we moved down the stream, the heavier our trash bags became. The trees arched inward towards the path, forming a canopy of shade above our heads. Nearby a snake slithered towards the creek causing us all to jump, startled. It was tough work to be doing for three hours, but it was rewarding in more ways than one. I certainly felt that Maya, Alex, and I grew closer through our experience at Brandywine State Park. Being able to connect with each other in a space that was free from distractions, we experienced firsthand the sense of community that comes with volunteering. It felt gratifying to commit a portion of my day to doing something for the greater good, to actively put others before myself. It also felt invigorating to be experiencing nature: the fresh air, the gurgle of the creek, and the wind rustling the trees. We are all tied to nature in curious ways, making it our home rather than merely a place to visit.
Afterwards, I felt satisfied for the rest of the day knowing that I had spent my time in a way that was both useful and enjoyable. According to “Why is Nature Beneficial? The Role of Connectedness to Nature,” exposure to nature has a positive effect on an individuals’ attitude and capacity to reflect on life problems. Three studies done by Stephan Mayer, Cynthia Frantz, Emma Bruehlman-Senecal, and Kyffin Doliver, showed that participants that spent more time walking in natural settings experienced increased connectedness to nature, attentional capacity, positive emotions, and ability to consider abstract problems. This was made in comparison to individuals that spent time walking in an urban setting or experiencing nature virtually through videos. It is interesting to think about the emotional and psychological benefits associated with a connection to the environment, making it more important than ever to do what we can to preserve it.