Helping Hands: David and Marianne Books

LOS FRESNOS — Vermont residents Marianne and David Book have carved out a second career of sorts as official volunteers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This winter and last, they’ve settled in at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is our second year to work here,” said Marianne. “We’ve worked at Santa Ana for a couple of years, we worked in Arizona at a refuge for a couple of years, and we worked in the panhandle of Florida for six weeks.”

“And Oregon for six weeks, and Louisiana for a winter,” David added.

The Books are RVers who, like most Winter Texans, have pretty much had their fill of snow, ice and weather-created hassles. Yet they’re still heading back in a couple of weeks despite the major snowstorm which just dumped all over the state of Vermont.

“We’ve had a ton of it up in our area in the past week, so it’s going to be an extra hard time to get in,” David said. “But we’ll make it somehow.”

Marianne and David are two of more than 40,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service volunteers who contribute to research, serve as guides for nature tours and help with habitat restoration for the federal agency.

“This is my 25-hundred hour pin on my cap,” David said, “and that I’m proud of.”

Both Marianne and David said the hours they volunteer with USFWS are not just a one-way trail to nowhere.

“I can say I get a lot of personal satisfaction, I feel like we’re paying something back,” David said. “I love birds, so to be doing a bird tour here on a weekly basis is just a real treat and a real privilege to share with people from Michigan and Wisconsin and Iowa and Minnesota, in particular, the beauty that we have here.

“We’re at the age where a lot of people give it up and say OK, sit in front of the TV and watch TV the rest of our lives — we’re not that way at all,” he added. “We want to get out there and get with it.”

Last year David said he noticed a need at Laguna Atascosa right there in the visitor center. He said they had children’s books on several animals but nothing on the endangered Texas ocelot, which of course is almost a totemic creature at Laguna Atascosa since about 15 live on the refuge.

“So between last year and this winter, I wrote a little children’s book about the ocelot and gave it as a gift to the Friends of Laguna Atascosa,” he said. “It’s gone — it sold out — and it’s already second-ordered. That makes me feel very good when I can contribute like that.”

Marianne says what she and her husband do is something anyone can do, and they are firm believers in the power of volunteerism to change lives — even one’s own.

“I would encourage you to volunteer wherever you’re living,” she said. “Get involved in something you’re passionate about.”