Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria's Judith Butler plants the seeds of volunteerism, literally

Judith Butler planted and maintains the garden at the Joslyn Recreation Center on a volunteer basis.
Judith Butler planted and maintains the garden at the Joslyn Recreation Center on a volunteer basis. Special to The Cambrian

Editor’s note:âCharmaine Coimbra’s column on volunteering will appear the fourth Thursday of each month beginning with this edition of The Cambrian.

This question came to mind every time I walked by and admired the Joslyn Recreation Center garden: What creative and talented landscape company planted this?

Along life’s road (actually, in my driveway), I met Judith Butler, a full-time Cambria resident since 2009. She donated some goods for a benefit garage sale I hosted. Our cheerful chat in my cluttered garage wound its way to our volunteer efforts. Her friend mentioned, “And did you know that Judy put in the garden at the Joslyn Center?”  

“You landscape?” I asked Judy.

Her friend intervened and clarified, “Judy is a master gardener, and she voluntarily put in that garden.”

Judy added, “There was a need. Why, we didn’t even know there was a huge fountain in there until we cleaned out all the dead and cluttered overgrowth.”

Besides putting in the Joslyn garden four years ago, she now maintains it as a volunteer. Judy is that lady you might see with gloves, rake and blower in hand working to keep the Joslyn garden in showcase condition. She manages that between her other volunteer efforts that include selling books at the library for Friends of the Library, and picking up various needed work at her church, which includes picking up trash along Highway 46. 

Until recently, she also gave her gardening skills to the gardens at Hearst Castle. Judy’s husband, Carroll Butler, volunteers too. 

Like so many of the people I know who give away their talents, Judy has that glow. 

It’s called the “giver’s glow” according to Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University. Researchers measured this glow when viewing the brain with MRI technology during the subject’s generous or selfless moments.

Post explained in a recent U.S. News health report that generosity “doles out several different happiness chemicals, including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.”

And it spreads, not like a rash, but like wildflower seeds in the wind. The Greater Good Science Center at the UC Berkeley reports that witnessing human goodness blossoms into a “moral elevation.”  

“Past studies have found that moral elevation inspires optimism, and makes people want to be a better person and to act altruistically toward others,” writes Jill Suttie, PsyD., for GGSC. 

Dr. Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, said in a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “The best way to activate positive-emotion circuits in the brain is through generosity. This is really a kind of exciting neuroscientific finding, because there are pearls of wisdom in the contemplative tradition — the Dalai Lama frequently talks about this — that the best way for us to be happy is to be generous to others. And in fact the scientific evidence is in many ways bearing this out, and showing that there are systematic changes in the brain that are associated with acts of generosity.”

For Judy, who, with her husband discovered Cambria while escaping the Texas heat where they both lived and worked in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, volunteering is natural. 

“Carroll and I volunteered in Texas, and it was a natural thing to do when we made Cambria our home,” Judy said. “We didn’t know anyone here, and volunteering was a way of jumping in.”

Judith Butler not only jumped in, but put in roots that Cambrians and visitors can enjoy viewing at the Joslyn Recreation Center garden.