There are dear hearts and gentle people I love back in my homeland of Missouri even though I don't get to see them very often. Staying in touch through written communication and telephone is a secondary choice of contact, but so many of the subtle changes in the community and countryside are missed without personal observation.
You have the precious memories of the past to refer to, but sometimes the shocking face of reality is a vivid reminder that physical forces of change can alter the absolute and create new scenarios. That is one reason I am glad to see the "same birds and leaves over and over again." Nature retains vital freshness and features that encourage hope.
While river watching in October, I kept looking for the arrival of the Bufflehead ducks. A couple dozen of the diminutive water acrobats seem always to spend the winter along the river, the males attired in their jaunty white hats as they go about the business of diving for a living. The kinglets had arrived to liven the thickets, as had the warblers and Cedar Waxwings and White-crowned Sparrows, but only the mergansers and gulls occupied the riffles. Just like the first wildflowers in the springtime, there is something special about the first view of the seasonal newcomers.
Then one morning just before Halloween, there they were! One male and four female Bufflehead hungrily feeding in the shallows! I was so gratified that at least some had made it over the rigors of the wildlands to grace the dark river channel and spread good cheer into the world.
As I watched, the ladies' exercise class passed by, and at least two stopped to hear my good news. But to my dismay they were more concerned about why I watched birds over and over again and how I remembered the names of them!
"It is to keep in touch with wild things and constantly be reminded of nature's beauty," I somewhat randomly replied. "You have to repeat, or you'll forgeeettt!" I added, remembering an old saying.
After they passed and calm returned to the riverside, I mused about that issue of keeping in touch. Some wonder why I revisit the Oakland area when "all that traffic and crime exists down there." I try to explain that I found some good places and good people connected to environmental projects "down there" and I like to keep in touch, to also see the Buffleheads return to Lake Merritt, and the loon along the waterfront, and the redwood depths along Palo Seco Trail, and the waves breaking on the sand, and the trees of the parks. I could go on and on, and even elaborate on the good people working with naturalist programs and environmental education and how I like to make contact to get the latest. Some understand, and others ....
Ask birdwatcher Richard Redmond of Chico Audubon why he goes on birding field trips and Christmas bird counts over and over again. He is likely also to emphasize the value of watching the loveliness of nature and the challenge of finding new variations in the way creatures react, plus the possibility of seeing something you never saw before!
Ask Patty Donald of the Shoreline Nature Center in Berkeley why she devotes long hours in presenting nature programs to the public audience, and she is likely to tell you of the satisfaction in guiding the uninstructed into the natural mysteries of the world.
Ask Stephanie Benavidez of the Oakland Rotary Nature Center at Lake Merritt why she has endured the difficulties of working with a naturalist program and intricate public and administrative relations and animal keeping crises in order to reveal the wonders of the world, and she is likely to tell you she is dedicated to the promotion of nature.
Ask naturalist Debbie Petersen stationed at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area why she endures the climatic extremes from ice to mosquitos in a small home on site, and she is likely to tell you about the grandeur of the marshes and the camaraderie of working with people interested in the out of doors.
Ask me why I worked there at the Rotary Nature Center 32 years through managerial upheavals, weekend work, and public strife when I could perhaps have been making big money in other positions, and I will tell you there is no greater joy than sharing nature experiences with other people, either on the trail or over a paper.
It is with some nostalgic delight that I recall some of those youngsters that were attracted to the wildlife of the Rotary Nature Center and who later went on to make careers of various forms of outdoor education. One marine-life enthusiast went on to be a famous professor at Connecticut's Woods Hole, and another in entomology. No less gratifying is that my two children also went on to make careers related to outdoor wonder - my son Ben is connected to astronomy at the new Oakland Space and Science Center, and my daughter Rebecca is into landscape architecture at Carter/Burgess in Sacramento.
It was with some interest that I noticed an article about another 11-year-old girl in Chico, California, who has been inspired to study butterflies. In fact, Katie Jones (5 Deborah Ct, Chico CA 95926) has designed a booklet of The Butterflies of the Annie Bidwell Trail, and you can order one for fifty cents. With her dad, she has collected and studied butterflies for years, preserving them in boxes and viewing their hidden scale beauty with a microscope. She says, "There is no typical butterfly; they are all unique. They are all so different. Some are really fast and others are really slow. They live only about a month and the best time to see them is late spring and summer." Katie hopes to be an author someday.
People who develop nature interests like Katie have that sympathetic awareness that hangs in the mind the rest of their lives. "Those who in the love of nature hold communion with her visible forms" have a quality value that builds a person who tends to protect our environmental resources and spread goodwill throughout the world.
Keep in touch, with those who have found the wonder of nature and those who aspire to learn more, and goodness shall surely prevail!
© 2000 Rex Burress
October 30, 2000