I'm running late as usual, and I've just discovered that my newly-charged but four-years-old camera batteries are flat, as are the spares. I curse manufacturer promises of "over 1000 recharges" darkly under my breath, discard the camera and rush to the bedroom where I have to stand on tippy toes to grope blindly around the top shelf of the wardrobe. Eventually my fingers reach their target and I quickly retrieve my hiking boots, which, I immediately notice, are coated with a shamefully thick layer of dust. As I throw on a pair of socks, I decide that perhaps I can pass the dust off as dried mud, because I sure don't have time to clean them. I attempt to jam the boots on my feet, and am suddenly, literally, halted in my tracks.
"What the hell?!" I think. My toes scream in agony and my heels chafe painfully in the back of the boots.
My comfiest, well worn-in pair of boots are - apparently, suddenly - way too tight and impossible to walk in. I take them off and stare at them stupidly until I realise that I haven't worn them since before falling pregnant with our second child. I've forgotten in the interim that three pregnancies resulted in my feet spreading outwards by nearly a full shoe size. I grunt in disgust and disappointment, toss them in the vague direction of the pile of items (still) waiting forlornly to be delivered to the local charity op-shop, and shove on my every day joggers.
Phew, not too late!
I grab the bag containing our drink bottles and snacks and shoo Miss Five into the car only to realise a few minutes down the road that I've forgotten, again, that the local road is closed for bridge repairs and I have to take a 10-minute detour. Argh! Now we really are late!
I practice deep breathing, try not to project nasty thoughts about the driver of the semi-trailer I am stuck behind and eventually, at long last, we reach our destination, only a couple of minutes late. I pull up quickly and sigh in relief to discover that the small group hasn't set off yet and are still milling around at the meeting point.
As we head over the join the group, the sun pokes out from behind a cloud and treats us to it's warming rays, almost too warm for this Spring day, although dark clouds hover on the horizon with the promise of a shower or two of rain.
The group is now assembled, so our host, Tricia, gives a brief introductory talk, we introduce ourselves and head off in search of Persoonia pauciflora. It's the national Threatened Species Day, and we are here to help survey a new conservation area for the North Rothbury Persoonia, a critically endangered plant discovered only about a decade ago, of which perhaps only 400 plants exist in a small area of the lower Hunter Valley near Branxton.
We stop for an informative talk and morning tea before we spread out in a long line to methodically survey the area and log the location of any plants with a GPS and notebook. I give Miss Five her own notebook and pen and she draws numerous pictures of the various pretty native flowers we see in the open woodland, before befriending an older lady nearby who is happy to discuss, at some length, the probability of fairies living amongst the various logs and fungi they see.
The sun comes out again and stings the back of my neck as I crunch slowly through the undergrowth, praying fervently that it's too early in the season for snakes to be out and about yet. I swot away a mosquito as I simultaneously feel something bug-like skittering uncomfortably up the inside leg of my jeans, and I'm loving every minute of it.
A wave of almost-nostalgia comes over me as I remember crunching through similar undergrowth during various University undergrad courses, many years ago now. I remember contemplating future employment and thinking at the time "Fancy getting paid to ramble through the outdoors like this!" and vowing, ever so naively, that I would not, could not, ever take an 'office' job. A little wave of jealousy directed at Tricia comes over me briefly, until the memories of my first 'real' job in the 'real' world come flooding back: the shock of 'real' time sheets to fill in, 'real' paperwork to steal your time and metaphorical brick walls to bang your head against every day whilst trying to achieve some 'real' results.
Still. How good is it to be out amongst the action again? My thoughts turn once again to the reality that Miss Five is off to Big School next year, and this day out is making the thought of NOT returning to paid work, very, very hard.
I sigh deeply and return to the task at hand. I spot a small Persoonia seedling but I am uncertain as to whether it is a pauciflora or another Persoonia species, so I signal an expert and wait patiently for him to make his way to me. My thoughts wander to Shannon Hayes' book Radical Homemakers, and although I identify in part with many of the women featured in the book, I wonder how on earth it could be possible to juggle full time motherhood with radical domesticity AND use my environmental training to try to do good in the world, without dropping one or more of the balls.
"Can't be done", says a little voice in the back of my head. I feel whiney and petulant and have trouble resisting the urge to stamp my little foot.
I want to say "Ha! Just watch me!", but I am overcome by a coughing fit - a precursor of the nasty 'flu virus which is about to lay me flat - and reluctantly concede my health this year has been shabby to say the least, and that working even part time is not possible unless and until I can a) get rid of these stupid bronchial issues once and for all and b) get my auto-immune disease under control.
Again I try to resist the urge to pout and feel hard-done-by, because really, it's our earth that's getting the raw end of the deal. By now the expert plant identifier has arrived and confirms that I have indeed found a pauciflora seedling and sets about logging the details. I feel a quiet little thrill of success and move on with my survey.
As I continue to scan the scrub a few metres either side of my feet, I think about what we are doing today; a small group of interested locals, volunteering in a small way for a few hours. I glance up to check on Miss Five to see her studiously "sketching" a small Boronia flower whilst chatting away animatedly to the ladies in her vicinity, and the obvious hits me over the head with a metaphorical slap: Why not just do more of this? Why not make a point of getting out regularly as a family to volunteer for more environmental work? It's a win-win, for the environment and for our girls who will get to learn more about the world around us than I can teach them at home in our back garden. We've been out and about to parks and activities but have not - yet - engaged as a family in any 'real' volunteering.
I smile and think: "Yeah! Bring it on."