John Edward Mullen has been employed as a wild-lands firefighter, economist, financial analyst, university lecturer, and for twelve years he worked as a programmer/analyst. To learn more about John and his books visit his website.
Doing “Yard Work” in Yosemite
If home is where the heart is, I am fortunate in that I have several homes, one of which is Yosemite National Park. Each year for the last fifteen years, I have spent a week as a volunteer in Yosemite helping to maintain and restore the Park.
Most of the work I have done in Yosemite is what my wife would call “yard work.” And she can’t understand my willingness to drive 500 miles to pull weeds and invasive plants like bull thistle and mullein (no relation) when I run from the mere suggestion of doing such work at home. Somehow, work, even physically demanding work such as digging holes for fence posts, becomes enjoyable when I can look around and marvel at the natural beauty that surrounds me: giant trees, massive granite structures, waterfalls, deer.
An important side benefit of volunteering is that I’ve developed friendships with other volunteers, some of whom I’ve worked with almost every year since 2000. They and some of the Park Service supervisors have become family, and each annual work week becomes a family reunion.
My favorite project was the restoration of The Fen at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. Back in the 1920s, half of this boggy area was paved to make a parking lot. A few years ago, I helped restore the area to its natural state. Removing asphalt, rock and fill could not be done by heavy equipment right next to the trees. So volunteers, including me, used picks, shovels and pry bars to loosen up large rocks snuggling against the trees and moved them to a pile that could be scooped up by a small skip loader.
After we had removed all the rock and fill, we transplanted willows, reeds and other plants we had dug up elsewhere in the Valley. Each year I return to The Fen and am amazed. Over the years, The Fen has transformed into an Eden, and I take pride in knowing that I helped accomplish that.
Yosemite also played a role in my writing. I began my novel, Digital Dick, shortly before the 2008 work week. On my Wednesday day off, I sat at a picnic table in our group camp wrestling with how to make my protagonist—a sentient artificial intelligence—a well-rounded character. While sitting under the tall pine trees, I received an inspiration—I’ll have my robot character, Dick, hate cats. Now I had a robot with personality! (Note that we have a cat at home who loves me. Also, Dick has a perfectly “logical” reason for his dislike of cats.)
I return to Yosemite in about ten days. This year I’ll be collecting seed in Tuolumne Meadow which will later be used to revegetate other areas in the Park. If doing “yard work” in Yosemite sounds interesting, consider joining the Yosemite Conservancy and signing up for a work week. Maybe I’ll see you there next year.
As a computer with a human personality, Dick Young struggles to understand people. Some would deny personhood to Dick, others who fear him would take him apart chip by chip.
After he witnesses a bloody murder, Dick offers to assist the San Diego Police Department catch the killer. But when the search for the murderer turns up a second body, Dick’s Satisfaction Index plummets. He breaks company with the police and begins investigating the case on his own. As he follows the clues, Dick learns more and more about humans: how they live, how they love and how they murder. He will need that knowledge to overcome the killer who threatens to destroy Dick and everyone that Dick holds dear.