Reflections on environmental education, conservation, wildlife issues, and birds; primarily of Southwest Missouri.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Teach Your Parents Well
Today it's official. The news will be released to the media that 40 people from all across the nation have been awarded a 2010 TogetherGreen Fellowship from Audubon. I find myself among this tremendously talented and amazing group, and it's all more than a little bit humbling.
Since my task in the coming year is to write a guidebook for conservation leadership academies, it is helpful for me to reflect upon the events in my life that led me to this point. My own love for the outdoors goes back a long way, when as a child I'd sit in a duck blind in the middle of the Central Flyway watching seemingly endless strings of ducks and geese passing overhead, extending to all of the horizons; east, west, north, and south. I was a watcher, never quite understanding the passion of hunting that my father and older brother possessed, but the majesty of the scene unfolding around me touched me deeply.
During college, I would wander through the Flint Hills, where I honed my nature skills while I was a Biology major at Emporia State University. I found my loving wife there, and together we gravitated toward the land, becoming part of the "back to the land" culture of the early '70's. After graduation, we moved to Missouri where we taught school in remote areas of the Ozarks.
It was in the heart of these hills that we made the single most important decision of our life. We chose to have children! First, we thoughtfully weighed whether we should bring children into this troubled world, then we analyzed what we had to offer as parents, and then we simply said "what the hay", and took the plunge. There was, at the time, no way to truly grasp how this decision would profoundly shape the direction of our own lives. Our children unknowingly shaped us in countless and irreversible ways. And that leads me to the topic of this blog. Our children..... and how they "taught their parents well".
Nathan was a watcher from the beginning. He would sit for long periods of time, seemingly extracting every nuance and morsel from the objects in his world. Content to play on the floor for hours, his first notable passion was for trucks. "Eighteen wheeler!" he would shout from the center seat of the 66 Chevy truck, where his unbelievably irresponsible parents let him stand up, unfettered by a seat belt in the old pickup.
And I have to mention Nathan's interest in birds.......that is second only to parenting in time spent in his life these days. Well, I found his sketchings of birds and mammals that date back to when he was three, so I guess it's been there a while. I can't say that he pointed out the birds and "cawed" as crows pass like his son Noah is doing these days, but he knew they were out there from a very early age. We would quietly approach the herons of the Finley River, with as much stealth as one can muster in an aluminum canoe. And it was his interest that led us both to the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society.
And then there came Laura! Laura was an active participant in everything she did, and still is! She would run though the forest, scattering leaves and birds ahead of her, shouting in joy, much to her brother's dismay. She loved plunging in the river, banging her paddle against the side of the aluminum canoe, joyfully and fearlessly experiencing everything she encountered. Her infectious smile masked her sense of mischief, and her magnetism always turned peoples' heads her way. She was, and is, always at play, and her playground is the great outdoors!
Yes, early on it became very evident to Martha and me that this parenting thing clearly was not a simple transfer of knowledge and awareness from parent to child, but was a mutual exchange of experiences that would change all of us forever.
Our love for Nature did not diminish. It flourished with every family outing and vacation, where we balanced the interests of our children The formula was to go to the birds, to the ocean (or mountains), and to the city. Examples included Bentsen Rio Grande, South Padre, and San Antonio: Ding Darling, Sanibel Island, and Orlando: Bass Rock, Isle of Skye, and Edinburgh: Laramie grasslands, Yellowstone National Park, and Denver. The theme seemed to work, as we strived to balance all of our family vacation requirements with each outing.
Laura and Nathan on Fidra Island, N. Berwick, Scotland. 1995
On the Isle of Skye, Scotland 1995
Edinburgh, Scotland, 1995
And so, that brings me to today. Nathan now works at a museum, and Laura is a 5th grade science teacher. Although very different, each of their lives embraces the outdoors and expresses it in a way that either came naturally, or was tweaked a bit by their upbringing. I suspect much of both.
Laura now works tirelessly to bring the wonder of science and the outdoors to her promising young 5th graders. She is currently the school's Project Leader in a joint Ozark Upper Elementary/GLADE community grant project involving the development of a trail system, an outdoor classroom area, and all the good stuff that goes with it. I'm excited to work directly with her and her students as we join together to build a site where young naturalists can explore, play, and discover the wonders of Nature.
I celebrate a great honor today as a 2010 TogetherGreen Fellow, and I want to extend my honor to my wife Martha and two wonderful adult children, who made it possible. Therefore, I dedicate this fellowship to Nathan and Laura, who individually taught me to "observe and listen..... to see for the first time what has always been there", and to "dive in and play....... so that you can always feel the joy that life has to offer". The truth is: None of this would have happened to me if both Nathan and Laura didn't have an uncanny ability to "teach their parents well". For this, I am forever grateful.