Erny Palola volunteers at Audubon Vermont’s Green Mountain Audubon Center, but that’s an understatement. He’s been a volunteer here since 2012 and it seems like every time I turn around he’s getting something done.
His volunteer work duties have included felling trees, building benches for students, clearing trails, mowing lawns, carpentry projects, sugarhouse firewood stacking (have you seen the wood pile this year??!), mounting our new trail wayfinding signs, and wind storm recovery. When I notice that something has been fixed at the Audubon Center, I can usually thank Erny.
Last month I had the opportunity to sit down with Erny to talk about the path led him be such a devoted, hard-working volunteer for Audubon Vermont.
Erny grew up in the 30's, 40's, and 50's in the Pacific Northwest in North Bend, Washington. His mom was a housewife and worked in restaurants. His dad was a log truck driver, which gave Erny a unique perspective on working lands. He remembers being a preschooler, riding with his dad to take the workers up to the logging camps. The big, burly workers rode on the sides of the railroad speeder while he rode with his dad up above. He was glad for the distance from the intimidating loggers.
Just 15 years later, while a student at the University of Washington, he found himself working in logging camps in various highly dangerous jobs. He started at the “bottom of the ladder” with a job setting chokers, which are huge wires that loop around the giant Douglas fir logs to pull them off the land. He wore corked boots to keep from slipping off the debarked timbers which were as slick as ice. He rarely saw the cutters. They came through with their hand saws ahead of his work crew. They were paid by the log and worked hard and fast. Erny next worked with spurs on his boots as a “high-climber,” a job that took place 200 feet off the ground. His last and most advanced logging job was as a “second loader.” He worked on the bed of the logging trucks, unhooking the claw from the logs and delimbing trees with an axe.
Surviving all of these jobs inspired Erny to pursue advanced degrees in psychology and sociology. He worked as a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, the University of Nevada in Reno, the University of California at Berkeley, and the State University of New York, Empire State College.
The Vermont Chapter
In 1972 Erny and his wife Darlene purchased the Scott and Helen Nearing Farm in Winhall, Vermont. They spent 36 years restoring and maintaining the buildings and surrounding lands. During this time they raised their two children, spending nearly every weekend out on the hiking trails, backpacking in the Green Mountains, Adirondacks and White Mountains. Being in outdoors was a huge part of their family life. Their family backpacking trips took them to the Cascades Mountains, the Olympic Peninsula, the Sierras, and Europe. Their two children are now grown. They have a daughter who lives in Greece and teaches middle school science, and a son who is executive director of a foundation seeking to preserve wild life in Costa Rica.
Connecting with Audubon
In 2012, Erny and his wife Darlene moved to Huntington, Vermont. Volunteering for both the Birds of Vermont Museum and Audubon Vermont’s Green Mountain Audubon Center "substituted" for the work he had grown accustomed to doing on the Scott and Helen Nearing Farm. It also gave Erny the opportunity to work outdoors.
In Erny's words, his enthusiasm for Audubon and the Museum stem from, "the quality of staff at both places, my early experience with Scouting, our many family hiking and backpacking trips in Europe and the U.S., and growing up in a logging family/community."
Asked about what he appreciates about Audubon Vermont’s work, Erny stressed the importance of educating people about what’s around them in the natural world and getting kids into the outdoors. Erny considers Audubon an essential part of the Huntington community and we’re honored to have Erny be such a vital part of our Audubon community.