Responses from Sophia Porter, Pepperwood Steward
I’ve been associated with Pepperwood for a little over 4 years now. It all started with the spring section of the UC Naturalist class offered by the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC). I fell in love with the place and it felt like that sentiment was mutual – the land loved me back.
2. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became interested in Pepperwood. What keeps you motivated?
I studied nursing at the SRJC, and my anatomy teacher informed me about a study abroad opportunity to Costa Rica over the summer. I took that opportunity. While there, she informed us about the UC Naturalist class, Bio 85. I couldn’t take it that fall, but enrolled in the following spring. According to my field journal, I first stepped foot on the preserve on March 27, 2010. It was love at first sight. And, I guess, it is that love that keeps me motivated. Love for the land, love for the people, and an appreciation for everything we do here and why - the belief that we make a difference and a positive impact in the world through conservation, preservation, and education.
I’m not sure how far back you want me to dig in my biography, but I am part Hawaiian, and being part of a native culture that lived and worked on the land is interwoven with my very existence. Maybe a connection to the land and nature is just embedded in my genetics (I’ll let the geneticists and anthropologists debate that one). Each of my siblings feels the same. My outlook about the earth and nature is very similar to that of the other native cultures that once dwelled and flourished in Sonoma County. In some respects I feel like I didn’t choose the preserve, it chose me. I think some of the other stewards may feel the same way, thus we are loyal to our little patch of land, tending to it and taking care of it as a child would do an ailing parent. It is our family, and it is our responsibility as stewards to look after it.
3. What projects have you worked on?
Name something and I’ve probably assisted directly or indirectly in some way, shape, or form. I have worked on wetland monitoring, a fungi study, an oak woodland study, some grassland monitoring, weed warriors, phenology, parts of the first wildlife camera project, I was religiously at every monthly workday for years, have assisted at different events, proctored many classes, and provided stress relief to many other volunteers and staff members ;). Basically I’m a generalist because I love it all and can’t narrow my interests to a mere one or two things. The preserve beckons and I answer.
4. What are three words that describe Pepperwood to you?
I’ll give you four, and then some… Home. Ours. Healing. Sanctuary, in every sense of the word. I could say simple things like nature, environment, research, discovery, wonder, adventure, grace etc. But that’s a given, and the words I list are carefully chosen. Think about what they mean to you and see if you have that same feeling when you come to Pepperwood. Again, it is what keeps us like-minded people motivated. If it were mere tasks – pull weeds, document flower, take pictures, enter data – we would not be here. There is something more, deeply rooted within us.
(See Above) During the throngs of the nursing program, and so many other ups and downs I’ve pushed through over the years, the preserve was a constant and stabilizing agent. The people are always cheerful and welcoming, staff and volunteers alike. You come and nurture the land and you are nurtured in return. It is a place we come to make a positive impact in a world of negatives. We make a difference. Not just I – We.
6. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned or seen at Pepperwood?
I don’t know if anything is really surprising. Many discoveries were there right in front of me the whole time, I’ve just learned how to take note of those things and appreciate them in all their complexity. My tenure at the preserve has trained me to look and analyze nature through a more scrutinizing lens. I guess I find things more enlightening than surprising, and there is so much. The photos of wildlife, especially the bears, the Native American history, the research projects conducted to not only find answers, but more questions to ask as we discover more and more about our environment.
Everything is very enlightening and enriching. Whether it is walking into the Dwight Center and peeking at the new wildlife photos, sitting in the field by Bechtel House and analyzing the life stages of California Poppies, looking across Turtle Pond at the dragonflies hatching and flying around, deciphering the blanket of green (now brown again) that covers our hillsides, recognizing the diversity that exists in our grasslands and other ecological communities, or appreciating the underlying geology that serves as the foundation for it all. Everything in nature has always been present and has been for millennia, so it isn't surprising, just revealing and mesmerizing for those that care to look.
7. What’s the one thing you’d want to share with someone who is thinking about volunteering?
I think everything else I’ve mentioned covers this question. Do it. Make it happen. You won’t regret it. The elation is all consuming and very contagious. Enjoy.
Long walks on the beach, hiking, movies, and a nice romantic dinner… Sorry, I’m just joking around…
I like other outdoor activities, hiking, camping, etc. anything that keeps me busy and mentally/emotionally engaged. Remaining stationary and reading a good book or watching a good documentary is all fine and dandy too. Also, I like facilitating other people’s interactions with the natural world as well, at the preserve and beyond. I have been involved with the geology club at the SRJC for years and like to promote discovering more about our natural world. Learning and academics does not need to be limited to a room with a chalkboard and projector. I feel it is outside where the real learning takes place - learning that motivates action of conservation and preservation.
Interested in volunteering? Check our website for info on monthly Volunteer Workdays or send us an email.