European Wilderness Volunteer DiaryThe Diary of the European Wilderness Society Volunteers

Smoking with the kids

Rebecca Hollely

Kangaroo-dog, cloudberries and a road trip.

My weekend followed the theme of previous weekends – predominantly nature, which I am loving. It involved a long ramble up the Lasaberg, a hill just outside my front door, and a hike in Wießpriach with the EVS volunteers from Salzburg, who had all piled into a bus to visit the Lungau.

Nature and good spirits

So the Lasaberg is gentle, and covered in pine forest. I headed out in the afternoon up a country lane that followed a stream, zigzagging up the path to inspect everything that drew my eye, before cutting into the hill on a forestry path. Pines towered above me and it was cool and damp under their shade. The path was overgrown, swampy where the sunlight couldn’t reach it, and grasses and wildflowers tickled my ankles as I set about exploring. As I headed up higher, I began to see glimpses of Tamsweg through the trees, laid out before me looking like a toy town. I could make out the clock tower in the centre, and the two rivers that flowed through Tamsweg. I didn’t come across a single soul whilst walking, just me and the trees. It feels wilder when I don’t encounter other people, and I lose myself – all my worries floated away; they suddenly seemed unimportant and small when I start to think about how vast the mountains are and how long they have existed. As always I lost track of the time, but came back to reality with a jump when Anni sent a message saying that dinner was ready, and I was almost two hours away…

Sunday, we had invited the volunteers from Salzburg down to the Lungau to go hiking in the Weißpriach, which is the valley I visited a few weeks ago. I was so excited to be going back, and this time alongside my wild team I would also get to meet a bunch of EVS volunteers from the city. EVS, the European Voluntary Service, are currently funding my year with the European Wilderness Society, and they fund a host of other young people all across Europe in social, business and environmental projects. So Sunday was an opportunity to meet some of these other volunteers, who work in social projects in Salzburg.

They were all friendly, outgoing and full of smiles, and had brought along an excitable greyhound that ran like a rocket the entire walk, bounding and weaving in between us all and earning the nickname ‘kangaroo dog’. The valley was beautiful, it’s the only limestone valley in the region and we followed the river path upwards, the chalky hills either side dominated by pine and larch.
We stopped at Ullnhütten Wasserfall (jaw-dropping) and to say hello to a cow on the path, her cow bell gently clanging. She was huge and soft but I kept my distance – anyone that’s seen me in a cow field before knows I’m not happy being close to cows, they make me all nervous and jittery. (Incidentally did you know that around five people are killed every year by cows in the Alps? This was something I found out on Sunday that I’d probably have been happier not knowing…)
The weather was beautiful and everyone in good spirits. Our final stop was at a traditional German hut for food, the ‘Grangleralm’. We sat outside on wooden benches by the river, and had our fill of German dishes, all of it local, organic and delicious. Heading back to Tamsweg, my pockets full of sweet-smelling larch pinecones and a wet dog laid across the three of us on the backseat of the minibus, I had tired legs and a happy heart.

The week brought a mix of ups and downs; I was mostly in the office, where I spent my time reading, writing, and proofing. Monday I focused on bear trophy hunting and policies in Romania, getting riled up at how the government can justify killing 10% of the bear population every single year, and the money going into the pockets of trophy hunters. This really happens!) I wrote a post for the website but I struggle to balance the line between neutrality and shouting that it’s never okay to kill animals like this, particularly protected species. Website stats tell me we have lots of people (to me, at least) that read the posts and it’s important to send the right message out. I also have a habit of writing too much, and I ended the day feeling lost and unsure how to improve my writing to be able to write catchy, informative website posts.

Nick also had a big deadline on Thursday so I tried to help where I could, and Verena was back in the office so I spent some time reading up on Leave No Trace, which she had just been to a course about in America, and looking into the European equivalents. I was researching regulations about collecting firewood for campfires, but I also discovered many little nuggets of information, such as the names of magical sounding berries to collect in Finland, like cloudberry, bog whortleberry and bearberry. (I read a paper on their utilisation and income generation and it was like a cross between science and moominland).