Featured Volunteer: Esta Lee Albright

Esta Lee, this month’s featured volunteer, is the woman behind the animal adoption program. The animal adoption program helps pay for fresh food, good lighting, clean bedding, and improvements to our animal habitats.  Our exhibit animals, gardens, and other wonders of nature are available to adopt for one year. Esta Lee’s work is important to the maintenance of our exhibits and we’re grateful for her help. 

PEEC: Where are you from and how did you end up in Los Alamos?

E.L.A.: I grew up in Oklahoma and lived a bunch of my adult years in the Washington, D.C. area, then a few years in Santa Fe and more than 40 years on the Central California coast. My daughter Heather says I moved her around entirely too much. I moved here in 2006 because my daughter lives here.

PEEC: Tell us about yourself.

E.L.A.: Growing up in the middle of the country, I didn’t see the ocean until I was 22 and it was instant love. Ocean life was the beginning of my fascination with nature. I was married to an underwater historian with the Smithsonian Institution, and I found underwater life as interesting as the shipwrecks we dove to. I took marine biology courses after getting my masters in Library and Information Sciences. While sailing my sloop, volunteering in the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and teaching classes about marine mammals, I worked part-time and summers as a naturalist/guide on whale watch cruises out of Monterey. 25 years, part-time, on boats with whales and dolphins. Oh yes, I was also a librarian in a community college and taught research skills.

Since I grew up landlocked in the middle of the country, my family did, and still does, think I am a very different person. They were teachers and I credit them with my careers in helping people learn. Our value system was based on that and reading, music, writing, and love. They emphasized education. We were close to relatives and 2 generations of my mom’s family all had first names beginning with “E.” My brother was a successful engineer who worked in aviation and contributed to the space program.

PEEC: How did you get involved with PEEC?

E.L.A.: I moved to Los Alamos about 25 years after my daughter came here to work in the lab. We both began trying to learn about the nature around us. After a great introductory tour by Chick Keller just after I moved here, I felt right at home becoming involved with PEEC in the old building and trying like crazy to learn local nature as fast as I could. I volunteered as a “surrogate mom” tending orphan sea otter pups in the Monterey Bay Aquarium and I felt especially drawn to the exhibit animals at PEEC. I was on the PEEC Board of Directors and involved in the start of the “adoption” program; donating as “adoption” of the animals at the nature center reminded me of the years I had a long-distance adoption of killer whales in Puget Sound. I had been interested in writing since first grade and had edited and written articles for the newsletter of the Monterey Chapter of the American Cetacean Society, so I was happy editing and writing for PEEC’s member newsletter: Nature Notes.

PEEC: What are your jobs with PEEC?

E.L.A.: I support the adoptions program. I helped staff enlarge the adoption program to include animals in the center, bird feeders in the viewing area, and the gardens outside. I enjoy working with staff and admire their advancement of the program. I write the welcome letters that go in the introduction packets to new “adoptive parents.” Then twice a year I write the updates about those animals, birds in the feeders, and gardens, and send them to the “parents.” The updates are lots of fun because I watch the animals, the birds through the viewing window, and the plants in the gardens. I also do research and talk with the staff that care for the animals, the birdwatchers, and the gardeners. I think I will always like to learn. I keep records of the “parents” and donors; we now have 25 active adoptions.

PEEC: Which is your favorite animal in the adoption program?

E.L.A.: Flash, our Plateau Fence Lizard, and the Canyon Treefrogs.

PEEC: Why do you think it’s important to volunteer?

E.L.A.: Volunteering is a chance to learn new things and develop skills I didn’t think I had time for when earning a living. A whole different world is inspiring. Volunteers, including PEEC staff, are from many different backgrounds and it’s a great way to learn how and why our world differs all over the place. Volunteers also sometimes spell the difference between success and failure of an institution, group, and many important things in the community. Sometimes volunteering can tell us about a job we wish we had or educate employers about hiring us.

PEEC: What do you enjoy most about volunteering?

E.L.A.: I’m learning and producing something useful. Every day I’m here has something new to offer. I enjoy meeting people who are visiting, working, and volunteering.

PEEC: Do you have any advice for people interested in volunteering?

E.L.A.: Come into the building and wander around, watch, go to some programs, talk with staff and other volunteers. It’s a beautiful and interesting place to be.

PEEC: In your opinion, what’s the most important work PEEC does?

E.L.A.: Guiding people to learn and use their skills for the environment, no matter what role they play. Examples in PEEC and the programs help all ages learn standards that are necessary, as well as enjoyable. Through PEEC, visitors and members of all ages can see results. A large part of the population needs to find the way into nature and PEEC helps with that.

PEEC: What outdoor hobbies do you enjoy?

E.L.A.: Reading outdoors about the places I find myself. Observing nature. Writing. Sailing and swimming.

PEEC: Best outdoor experience in LA/WR area?

E.L.A.: Admiring nature. It’s seeking us out, too. I suppose the most startling experience was watching the bear climb up on my deck and try to raid the bird feeders. Another is being in the Jemez Mt. forest during a thunderstorm.

PEEC: What do you love about the Pajarito plateau?

E.L.A.: I love the way our area looks: mesas, canyons, plants, animals, sky. All so beautiful.

PEEC: What is on your wish list for PEEC for the next 10 years?

E.L.A.: I hope PEEC will continue to use great ideas to increase the marriage of people and nature. It’s enjoyable to watch the ideas come to fruition and to know the number of nature lovers will grow.

PEEC: Best and/or funny memory working with PEEC? 

E.L.A.: I think I laughed longest when Jennifer Macke, another volunteer, told me the procedure for moving a black widow spider from its home in the critter care room to the exhibit box. Evidently, It is necessary for two people to take the living spider in its smaller critter care box, plus the empty exhibit box, to the outside somewhere –carefully–and gingerly, give the spider the opportunity to crawl into the exhibit box. Closed but ready. If it gets loose it becomes a requirement to step back and let the spider go on its way. I laughed but I’m not volunteering for that.

PEEC: If you could be a local animal which would you pick?

E.L.A.: Wild: ring-tailed cat, PEEC: swimming, watchful salamander

Article by Christa Tyson, PEEC Visitor Services Manager

4 comments on “Featured Volunteer: Esta Lee Albright

  1. Esta Lee didn’t mention that she occasionally helped take care of the animals back at the nature center on Orange St. We used a turkey baster to spot-clean the aquariums, and she nicknamed it “the splooge”. She’s been a fun person to volunteer with for many years!

  2. You are so lucky to have Esta Lee as a volunteer. I have fond memories of sailing on the Monterey Bay with her, giggling with the “rails in the water”, observing whatever wildlife the day brought. Her wonder at and curiosity of the natural world is infectious. We miss you, Esta Lee!

  3. Doesn’t she look great! Esta Lee and I have known each other since we were 12 years old and it has been such a wonderful experience. You go girl!! I love her sense of humor.
    Mary Kaye

  4. Esta Lee is always curious, kind and finds new ways to understand nature. I’m grateful to have known her for over 35 years. She has fun ways to expand other people’s knowledge as well as her own.

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