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From Cats Spreading Poison Oak to Finding Several Microwaves in the Ground: This Creek is Awesome!

My name's Néstor De la O Vargas, and I've been a volunteer leader at KCCB for many months so far, and I have to say that the ride has been great! I remember entering the team back in late January and learning about poison oak. An interesting but nasty fact is that a cat can rummage through poison oak without getting a rash, but the moment you touch that little fellow, you won't find yourself so lucky. That story, which I credit to our Volunteer Event Coordinator, Annette McMillan, pretty much represents what volunteering here is all about. Cleaning up trash is just one aspect of the Creek, which is a river!

cat at creek
Cute cat; unlucky poison oak

The real experience is learning more about the people who work and live within the Creek. For example, I've learned much about the homeless community, such as how some people keep roosters to get eggs and that society's assumption about them being filthy or deadbeats is wrong and does not do them justice. Homeless people have dignity and many clean up after themselves and work to keep the Creek nice and tidy for their neighbors. I remember talking to a homeless man, who only spoke Spanish, who explained that the trash in the area was the work of illegal dumping from people who didn't even reside within that area! This is also the same person who let me know that there were some dangerous snakes, and I thanked him for the heads-up. These kinds of interactions changed my perceptions of what community lived in the Creek, and I now have a lot of respect for the people who are forced to live in the Creek yet still retain their sense of tightness and look out for the community.

Look at me...lizard

Before joining the volunteer team, my connection with the Creek was relegated to south San José where I'd often jog or walk with my dog. I knew that there was diversity within the area, but by working with KCCB, I have seen small salamanders, huge beetles, scary spiders, quick mice, and more. There is so much life in Coyote Creek! Additionally, I have always been stunned to realize that the ground I have been standing on for many hours was not natural and just dirt that accumulated on the trash of others. The relationship between trash and nature is astonishing as animals and critters have made homes in trash, and plants have grown roots in all sorts of places. However, the important part for me was reducing that waste to let wildlife roam free without the danger of ingesting something such as a battery or spilled pills on the ground and simply letting nature do its thing.

plant through carpet
Nature makes its way through waste

As a student of biology, I know that I can never return to look at the Creek again in terms of ignoring the science and ecological relationships. Right now I am interested in pollination and the relationship between pollinators and plants. The Creek is super useful in bringing diversity to pollinators. Many plants are native to this state, such as the California Poppy which I sometimes find during cleanups. Or, I might find a native plant species planted by local organizations as part of restoration processes in the Creek. Once you have worked here for a while, you grow close to this place after maintaining it for a while. That is why I try to do my part and just spend a few hours of my weekend to protect this Creek the best way I can.

volunteers at a creek cleanup
Volunteer are the backbone of the community

Over the past months, our team has worked with the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the San José Conservation Corps, and this teamwork has led to a mutual success for everyone. I have to say that volunteers are the backbone of every organization like ours. They give up time in their days to work in the rain, withstand horrible smells, and accept the dangers of putting them in an unknown and possibly dangerous environment. That says something about the residents in San José and a lot more about the young volunteers who put in sweat for their volunteer hours or their sense of public duty.

Néstor De la O Vargas
That's me... Néstor De la O Vargas

I am glad to be given this opportunity by KCCB and I hope to continue learning more about the Creek as it is part of my home and my life.


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