As a Child I Loved Nature

Chickadee Courtesy edbo23, photographer and Pixabay
Chickadee
Courtesy edbo23, photographer and Pixabay
As a child I loved nature. Not liked: loved.

I consumed it. I learned the names and types of animals especially, from all over the world. My love was ceaseless, carefree, and itself consuming.

There were phases of course, too. First it was bats, then dinosaurs but back before they had feathers, then penguins, dogs, spider monkeys, and sharks. With each new kind of animal I learned about, I was drawn in closer by what makes them special and sets them apart. I could imagine myself as any one of a million kinds of critter. I could play as if I were one, hunt or forage like one, build a den or nest like one. I was what I imagined myself to be and I loved it. My world was infinite.

Those days though are decades behind. For a long while now, I’ve thought about what happened to that child; what happened to that infinite world? Years of schooling and structure had pushed my attention into books, screens, and facts. The world did not leave me, I neglected that infinite world, and so it too became schooled and structured and sterile.

This realization of what had happened first hit me when I began student teaching kindergarten a few years ago. One day at recess a child asked me to play with them. I realized then that I couldn’t remember how to play and imagine and see the world as infinite still. I awoke from the dream of education and discovered that I had not learned but books, screens, and facts.

Since then, it’s been hard to relearn how to play and imagine. This relearning casts a shadow of struggle over you, especially as a teacher. It can drive you to try and find what obscures and what shines.

My search for reprieve from a knowable world has taken me all over this country: from coast to coast, and from northern desert to southern swamp. Just the other day though I finally found a true breadcrumb back to the infinite world: a black-capped chickadee.

Sitting in my springtime backyard, one came to my only, lone bird feeder that I got at the grocery store. As it sized up the plastic tube full of food, I began to do something that I hadn’t done for a very long while: I just watched it. It was not like how I watch ducks or deer or loose neighborhood turkeys, as food if only it came in range or the city ordinances were a bit more forgiving, but instead I watched it just to see what it did and who it was.

The small songbird flew from its perch and simply rummaged through my discount bird feed until it found a black sunflower seed and flew back to a higher branch. It worked the shell off the seed with diligence, determination, and intelligence. No schooling required. After eating the morsel within, it flew back for another and ate that one in the same wild manner. It then called out, perhaps to pay the good fortune forward, and flew off without giving the feeder another glance. The momentary abandonment of gluttony is the privilege of spring.

It felt strange to just watch a bird for a few minutes. It felt foreign. My mind kept asking me why I was watching such an unassuming creature and for why. There were books that need reading, screens that need seeing, and facts that need knowing. In the end though, it felt good to stick it to what organized my wild instincts and to just watch the chickadee like a true human being again.

I could in that moment imagine that I was that chickadee: wild, rebellious, and free. Never before had I thought of myself as a chickadee though, truth be told. If any bird, I would have before liked to be a Canada jay, or a raven, or a Swainson’s thrush. But after seeing that chickadee, and thinking on it, the chickadee seems the best of me now and the best of who I want to be. It can be humble, measured, and cooperative, or proud, excitable, and driven, depending on the needs of the season. It’s easily seen, easily unnoticed, and easily pleased.

Importantly, though it reminds me of that child with the infinite world. It reminds me why I loved nature. It gives me hope that I can again.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy and Copyright Stephen Peterson, Photographer
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Kelly, Patrick, The Canyon, Wild About Utah, Jan 28, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-canyon/



The Canyon

The Canyon: Grand Canyon of the Colorado Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain
Grand Canyon of the Colorado
Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain
Here it’s just called, The Canyon, like there is no other. It’s a place we go to get away from, or get into, it. It’s a place that still lets us trust each other’s word, and have plans on when we should be back. For those waiting on The Canyon, we practice patience and balance with our expectations.

For those of us in The Canyon though, we have entered a different, older world. Out here, once up and away from the road, we find what keeps us out late, what drives us home early, and why we go back.

Free from the paved groan, the threshold is passed, and the stories are all in front of us now. We hike old trails, finding new turns, flowers, and shades. We scout new paths blazed by others, leading to timeless vistas, stands, and grounds. We hear strange ancient birds. We smell new familiar fires. We taste life’s grit.

The repetition is not the kind that gets old, going out and discovering; getting dirty, thirsty, hungry, bit up, rained on, or suddenly freezing mid-stride when you hear a branch snap in the wood aside from you and you like that you still have some of that good instinct left, especially in this age.

The Canyon as we know it though did not begin as it now is, nor will remain. In its long winding life thus far, The Canyon has been sculpted by water, want, and what some call westward expansion.

For some of us, we know the story like it was passed down every winter. For others, we quickly learn that it’s worth the stillness.

Trees now grow on what was once an oceanic graveyard: the floor of a great sea. The very stone and rock that lifts dramatically upwards is an elaborate crosscut in geologic history taking place over millions of years. We find deposits of shells, fish, and other oddities as we ascend The Canyon, travelling through time as if in some wonder of which all museums aspire to be.

On and into this grand mountainous slab came Guinavah, The River. The Canyon’s deep V-shape has been carved from Guinavah flowing water over the forgotten seabed once more, finely eroding a channel through, giving The Canyon it’s great bends; perfect for catching an eddied trout or fleeing a pesky cell signal.

The River has been essential for humans as well for thousands of years. When the valley was settled, this time by Easterners in the mid-19th century, Guinavah became known to these settlers eventually as Logan River.

Historically, these lush environs once donned The Canyon’s many great iconic mammals, but the iconic do not easily survive in the limelight. 100 years after Eastern settlement, the once-abundant bison, bighorn sheep, and brown bears were gone. To mark their absence, we have Ephraim’s grave and the imagination.

This said, there is certainly no general void of wildlife in The Canyon. Seeing another traveler is always a blending of curiosity at what they’re up to, and of gratitude that they’re out here too. From here our paths diverge. Some of us continue the hike. Some of us continue the hunt. Some of us back away slowly and keep an eye on the company.

This is the world of The Canyon, a product of its many stories. For us who see the Canyon but have yet to venture in, there are ways in all seasons to experience it. Try a trail, Fork, or any number of Hollows, and visit one of the last quiet places in any one of the unnamed corners of your 1.6 million acre backyard.

It’s a good place out here. Many go out to experience how The Canyon is now, many go out to experience how it All once was, this is an invitation to go and experience of how It can all still be tomorrow.

I’ll see you at the trailhead.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Grand Canyon Image Courtesy Pixabay, Public Domain
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Strand, Holly, A Grand Old River, Wild About Utah, July 9, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/a-grand-old-river/

Strand, Holly, Last Blank Spots on the Map, Wild About Utah, Oct 29, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/last-blank-spots-on-the-map/

Grand Canyon National Park, US National Park Service, US Department of the Interior, https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrandCanyonNPS

Ross, John F., The little-known story of how one man turned the Grand Canyon into an icon, AZ Central, Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., Gannett…, https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2019/01/27/grand-canyon-national-park-icon-john-wesley-powell-history/2651251002/

Hikes, Colorado Plateau Explorer, Grand Canyon Trust, https://www.grandcanyontrust.org/hikes/