Friday, March 3, 2017

The Budding Naturalist, Part II: What I did for Fun as a Kid

I already mentioned that I have incredible parents, and that they encouraged my love of nature from a very young age.  They are outdoorsy people themselves, and probably had no idea how my love of nature would first blossom as a kid, and then explode, continuing to grow into adulthood.  But what a difference it has made in my life! 

Hiking in the Sierra with my parents

My earliest memories involve the outdoors: playing in our backyard and learning the call of a Mourning Dove, camping at the Grand Canyon, staying in a cabin at Lake Tahoe where we spent our days on a little beach by the lake.  When I was 9, we took a family road trip to Glacier National Park.  There is home video footage of me in a grassy field, identifying various species of wildflowers using a field guide… in the rain.

The first wildflower field guide I owned.  (My collection is up to about 10 now, with more on my wish list!)

One of the greatest weeks I ever spent was with my dad in Pacific Grove when I was 11.  We stayed at a place close to the beach and spent virtually all of our waking hours exploring the beaches and tide pools of the rocky shoreline.  After breakfast, we would pack our lunches in a backpack and head for the beach.  When dinner time rolled around, we would trek back up to the condo, make dinner, eat, and set out for another walk, either along the beach again or through nearby woods.  The first time I saw raccoons in the wild was on one of these evening walks, and I remember it vividly still.  The beaches around Pacific Grove are places my dad and I continue to visit regularly!

Hermit Crab in the Monterey area.  Always make sure to place tide pool creatures right back where you found them!

Weekends and breaks from school involved day trips and long road trips to National Parks, lots of hiking, and visits to zoos, aquariums and museums.  Camping trips were particularly special treats, events I looked forward to with much anticipation.  Everyday activities at home involved neighborhood walks with our dog, catching bugs in the backyard, identifying weed wildflower species in vacant lots, reading books and writing essays.  Yes, writing essays for fun.

Always keep those binoculars handy and that field notebook up-to-date!

I wrote one of my favorite mini essays when I was eight years old, titled "The Forests are Disapering."  Spelling is hard.  But the paper had a strong message, one that many adults don't grasp, let alone an 8-year-old kid.  "We should try to help the animals and trees, not harm and destroy them."  I offered a few ways to help the environment: "Don't litter, don't set the forests on fire, reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink."  And at eight, I already exhibited an understanding of ecological concepts: "If one animal speshei goes extinked, another speshei might go extinked as well."  Spelling is really hard!

Baby Red-eared Slider - not a native species, but cute nonetheless!

It's often quoted that true naturalists are born, not made.  We tend to be quiet, observant types, prone to methodical study but also easily moved by beauty.  Lest that paint a portrait of a feeble scholar of poetry, allow me to remind you that naturalists are also apt to be outdoors in all weather.  We will happily hike many miles over difficult terrain in blazing heat or freezing cold, just to experience a stunning view, see a new species of flora or fauna, or sometimes just to say that we did it.  Most of the time, we explore just for the sake of seeing what there is to see.  We will sleep on the ground, wear the same clothes for several days in a row, and prepare meals with dirt under our fingernails.  And picking up all manner of questionable matter, from tadpoles to owl pellets to bear scat itself, is just part of the experience.  Yes, naturalists are hardy folk indeed.

Not even snow in the Mojave can damped my spirits!  I was over-the-moon excited by all the blooming Beavertail Cacti!

The signs were there from an early age: my desire to be outside, to explore, learn, observe, collect.  Learn to recognize the signs in the kids in your life, and nurture them.  If she wants to sleep outside on the ground and get up before dawn to see foxes and hear birds sing, let her.  If she wants to climb trees or catch creepy-crawlies or identify wildflowers, let her.  If she wants to walk in the rain or explore tide pools or hike in the woods, let her.  Let her experience the beauty of the natural world in all of its intricacies.  Build her a tree house, make her a butterfly net, take her to the library to check out a whole stack of field guides.  Give her a raincoat, get her a pair of binoculars, let her keep the frog and the jar of snails. 
Teach her, learn with her, learn from her.  Encourage her, go outside with her. 
My parents did, and I will be forever grateful!

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