A volunteers memoirs

2007-08-06 16:16:57.000 – Matthew I. Stearns,  Summit Volunteer

Nin in the sedge

There are two things that I donate: Blood is one, and time is the other.

Now, I know that lots of people donate money, but I’m cheap. Let’s face it, it’s too expensive to not be cheap … although, my grandfather prefers the term, “thrifty”. In any case, donating blood and donating time both feel very different from one another. When I donate blood, I go through a progression of feelings: First, mild and laughable annoyance at the repetitive battery of questions (no, I have never taken bovine growth hormome and, no, my family has no history of Crutzfeldt-Jacob disease…at least they’re easy questions). Then, after a little bit of anticipation, I feel generally good that I am providing something crucial for someone else (at no cost!). Finally, there’s the light-headedness … life in the valley is busy, and so in a rush to get back to life, I usually end up pumping blood into that little bag at breakneck speeds and then leaving without snacks and water, which I think is frowned upon to some degree. Volunteering, though, is a different story of feelings altogether. Without going into too much matter-of-course detail about volunteering, I find that it is a way to animate my sense of commitment to the community – it is my way to do my very small part, and to try to do something that matters. With that said, it feels right.

So, a few months back I was delighted to have been contacted in response to my volunteer application at the Observatory. I reconfigured some vacation time away from my life as a worker-bee just outside the Mount Washington valley, and planned to make the hike up the mountain to do my part. Just so that I don’t scare any potential future volunteers, normally you’re provided with a ride up the Auto Road to your volunteer post. But I am a bit of a purist, and having only been up the mountain one way (on foot many, many times), I decided to keep it that way. So, on July 31, I hiked to The Perch, a little over a mile from Mt. Jefferson, cooked some couscous and tuna for dinner, and put up a tent. At about 4:45 the next morning, I set out toward the Gulfside Trail in the direction of Mount Washington. I enjoyed a beautiful morning hike along 5 miles of the Presidential Range. Once I hit Mt. Clay, I was greeted by the typical harbinger of the Rockpile’s early morning awakening – dense fog. I arrived early – around 7:30, and I haven’t had a reason to complain since. I’ve seen a hodgepodge of stuff while up here: On the inside of the facilities, I’ve met lots of MWO members as they’ve toured the building, we’ve hosted two edutrips, and I got to see Nin nursing his Nin-babies! And, who could forget, an unbelievable crew. Each and every one of them are intelligent, dedicated, and they’ve all got hearts of gold. I’ve also seen some really memorable things outdoors here at the summit… nighttime lightning peppering the northern sky, a couple of great cumulonimbus clouds, a really decent sunrise, a great sunset from the lip of the Great Gulf, and relatively clear skies throughout the week (120 miles of visibility on Sunday!). Oh yeah, and we are fairly certain that the building was hit by lightning in the morning on Monday. Let’s also not forget the obvious: I’ve been able to sleep at the top of the Northeast for a week! For a person who lives in NH and appreciates every minute of it, this has been an exceptional experience – one of, shall we say, outdoor opulence…even though I haven’t showered for a week (hey, I’m here to give, not to take). Between volunteer duties such as cooking, cleaning and the like, I’ve had time to enjoy two of my favorite hobbies – day hiking and photography.

Great Gulf

Alpine Garden


Summit sunset

And now, to end with some personal reflection…

As humans, I see our approach to consistently acting in the best interest of a greater good as asymptotic at best…however, without this infinite pursuit, our existence is really no existence at all – we are reduced to nihilists, meandering upon a vast acreage. Personally, I choose to continue said pursuit. Some say altruism can never be pure because in volunteering there are always personal gains for the volunteer – I do tend to agree here, but I say do it anyway. Yes, my love for the mountains of NH was a major impetus for me to come here and volunteer. However, I can say quite simply that the idea of donating time to the MWO seemed to make sense to me. If you are on the website regularly or you know your facts about Mount Washington, I don’t have to tell you why this observatory is so important for the study of weather – again, it seemed both sensible and useful for me to give my time here. This experience was certainly gainful for me, and I sincerely hope that my small contribution to the Mount Washington Observatory was meaningful to the organization as well.


Matthew I. Stearns,  Summit Volunteer

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