Gratitude for Naturalists

"Paralyzing Berries"
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
“Paralyzing Berries”
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Janet Ross & Shannon Rhodes on the San Juan River, 2022
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Janet Ross & Shannon Rhodes on the San Juan River, 2022
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Once upon a time my family met what we now call ‘paralyzing berries’ on a hillside hike. I still don’t know the common name, let alone the scientific one. I sure could’ve used Naturalist Jack’s plant identification and probable warning not to taste those tart wild berries that day. I’ve had the good fortune though to spend time with Wild About Utah’s Jack Green discussing the Wilderness Act walking among the Mt. Naomi wildflowers and along the Lake Bonneville Shoreline. It reminds me of a scene Kenneth Grahame wrote in “The Wind in the Willows” that captures the relationship between a naturalist and a naturalist’s companion: “Absorbed in the new life, the scents and the sounds and the sunlight…it was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both paws and gasp, “O my! O my! O my!” Water Rat was paddling and chattering on as one extremely familiar with, yet not desensitized to, the magic of the place. Sometimes now I find myself a Rat because I was once a Mole.

Let me explain. Three years ago I wrote a page in my nature journal and a related Wild About Utah piece titled “I Notice, I Wonder” as I sat soaking up the smells and the sights sitting alone in the Cache National Forest. Although I was able to in solitude concentrate on wellness amid the pandemic, I wonder how much more rich my experience might have been with a knowledgeable naturalist guide at my side. The third part of this beloved “I Notice, I Wonder” awareness activity outdoors is “It Reminds Me Of…”

Passing some wild berries just this week reminded me of the afternoon 30 years ago my friend Allan Stevens, biology professor at Snow College, taught me about dwarf mistletoe and led me to research the difference between it and witches broom rust in conifers. I’ve never enrolled in one of Allan’s courses, but that’s the best part of having connections to naturalists. They teach you even when you are just out for a drive in the canyon. They have invested time to know how to read nature, they know the names and relationships in an ecosystem, and they usually have the answer to any question you could ask. Dozens of times since then I’ve answered that same question about the thick-growing growth in the trees as others have looked to me for clarity.

Similarly, looking at the berries reminded me of the day Utah Master Naturalist’s Mark Larese-Casanova taught me the term krummholz effect, from the German words “crooked wood,” that describes trees deformed from fierce winds. He did this as we stood atop Big Cottonwood Canyon, gazing at lopsided trees’ persistence in adapting to harsh conditions. That memory reminded me of cruising along a lazy stretch of the San Juan River on a raft with another legendary naturalist named Janet Ross. Just before the Eight Foot Rapid, she taught me to notice the holes we were passing. She said that besides the usual stick lodges, a beaver will build a den in the sandy river bank. Fascinating facts from fascinating people. I’m grateful for these and other naturalist mentors in my life.

So, who unlocked the mysteries of nature for you? Was it a relative, a summer camp leader, maybe a teacher? In this season of gratitude you might consider how to better be Rat for the Moles in your influence as you notice, wonder, and remember other illuminations in the wild. Boldly share as a growing naturalist what you know about plants, animals, and wild relationships with others as you encounter them together.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver
    Courtesy & © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
    Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe, Wakeman
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

BEETLES and The Regents of the University of California. I Notice, I Wonder, It reminds me of. 2020.
and ​​

Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. 1908.

Rhodes, Shannon. I Notice, I Wonder. Wild About Utah, August 31, 2020.

Ross, Janet. A Place Called Home: Quilting a Life of Joy on the Colorado Plateau. September 13, 2023. Colorado: Lost Souls Press.

Strand, Holly. Kissing Under the Dung Twig. Wild About Utah, December 20, 2012.

Schwandt, John. Fir broom rust. 2005.

U.S. Forest Service. Broom rusts of spruce and fir. 2011.

U.S. Forest Service. Mistletoes.

Nature Centers

Nature Centers: Helping Hands, Courtesy Pixabay, Shameer PK, Contributor
Helping Hands
Courtesy Pixabay
Shameer PK, Contributor
With another Earth Day in the offing, my reflections travel to one of the Earthier parts of my long life, that of helping to launch several nature centers. I was first exposed to the nature center concept while residing in Michigan. My prior mindset was seeing nature through my gunsights and on the end of my fishing line. Awakening to the thoughts of nature having intrinsic value beyond sports and putting food on the table was a novelty.

A few years later, I moved to Utah with a new paradigm. Good fortune occurred when I was invited to attend a meeting to explore how a 136 acre parcel of former Defense Depot of Ogden land deeded to Ogden City might serve the greater Ogden community. I, along with other like-minded folks, posited the idea of a community nature center. Following four years of a dedicated, visionary, hard-working assemblage, we opened the gates to the Ogden Community Nature Center. two additional parcels of land have been added since then.

“Our mission is to unite people with nature and nurture appreciation and stewardship of the environment. Since it was founded in 1974 as Utah’s first nature center, the Ogden Nature Center has provided a place where people can go to enjoy and learn about the natural world.”

The 152-acre preserve is our foundation, but education is our focus. Each year the Ogden Nature Center brings more than 50,000 children, teachers, and adults together with nature through hands-on field classes.”

Many years later, I found myself in Cache Valley. Given my deep involvement with the Ogden Nature Center, I immediately began scanning the horizon for another nature center possibility. After a decade of fits and starts, a partnership was created, to resurrect an abandoned American Legion building in Logan Canyon on Forest Service land. The building was near collapsing from neglect. Used as a party place, the fireplace hearth was replaced with a lovely fire ring in the middle of the floor. The roof had been opened to the stars, which accommodated bonfire smoke.
This invited an extreme makeover. The Cache community came to the rescue with an incredible generosity of dollars, materials, and skilled labor to bring the languishing building back to life. This was followed by opening the doors in 1997 for public use and educational programs for the Cache Community. Since that time, many thousands of Cache citizens have benefited from its myriad programs and lovely setting. A satellite site is being developed in nearby Nibley.

“The Allen & Alice Stokes Nature Center is Cache Valley’s local nature center and outdoor exploration hub for people of all ages. Our mission is to provide nature education and promote outdoor exploration for the people of all ages. Our vision is for People of all ages to appreciate and become stewards of our natural world.” Get the latest nature center news at

Other nature centers are scattered around Utah, from the Tonaquint in St. George, to the newly emerging Tracy Aviary Jordan River Nature Center near Salt Lake City.

Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I’m wild about Utah’s nature centers!

Ponderosa Pine Pictures: Courtesy Pixabay, Shameer PK, Contributor
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver,
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon,
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, Bridgerland Audubon,

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah,

Ogden Nature Center,
Ogden Nature Center Articles of Incorporation, May 19, 1975,

Stokes Nature Center,
Legacy Wall:

Tonaquint Nature Center,

Tracy Aviary Jordan River Nature Center,

Shughart, Hilary. Nov 7, 2022. 25th Anniversary Nutshell History of the Founding of the Stokes Nature Center, Wild About Utah,

Stokes Nature Center History, Bridgerland Audubon Society,

EPA History: Earth Day, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),

The History of Earth Day,,

Haunted in the Forest

Haunted in the Forest: Witchy Ghost of a Plant Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Witchy Ghost of a Plant
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Leaf Skeleton Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Leaf Skeleton
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Jaw Bone Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Jaw Bone
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Tree Canker Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Tree Canker
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Costume Change Chrysalis Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Costume Change Chrysalis
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

When life throws scary at you, what do you do? As we increasingly consider mental and emotional health issues and strategies, I find that my answer is that I go to the forest. Of course, I go there when things are going smoothly too, but I agree with Henry David Thoreau when he wrote, “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood.” He, in fact, recommended the “most dismal swamp,” but that is a little too slimy for me. I will stick with solid soil.

A few weeks ago I spied a bat dangling from the bricks on my front porch as I gazed at the moon just as I had asked my young students to do. It reminded me of how in Janell Cannon’s picture book Stellaluna, a young bat survives a predatory owl’s attacks, falling “down, down…faster and faster, into the forest below.” She clings to a branch until her strength gives out, then “down, down again she dropped” into an unlikely predicament. Bats and harvest moons are iconic figures of this season, and as I ventured out for a sanity walk in the Cache National Forest, everywhere I looked I saw more.

Fall forests are full of chilling scenes, and I was first struck by a gruesome sap bleed from a gaping evergreen canker. The yellow ooze seeping seemed beautiful somehow. I don’t remember ever being so captivated by a wounded plant, and because I lingered, I also spotted a chrysalis containing a caterpillar’s costume change on a neighboring tree. Next to that were the witchy remains of other withering forbs.

Beneath my hiking boots was a toothy jaw grinning amid fragile leaf skeletons scattered on the forest floor. Even as I swapped away the cobwebs I didn’t see ahead until it was too late, the eerie beauty of nature eased the tormenting worries in my life. There’s a Chinese Proverb that says, “You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.”

A good walk outside is great for the distressed heart and mind. I needed to find the unlikely power in autumn icons. As Mary Shelley wrote for Frankenstein, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” Next time you are frightened by the unknowns or scarred by the realities, consider falling into a forest.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Text & Voice: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes

Cannon, Janell. 1993. Stellaluna. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Shelley, Mary Woolstonecraft. 1818. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.

Thoreau, Henry David and Brooks Atkinson. 2000. Walden and Other Writings. New York: Modern Library.

Utah: A Love Story

Utah: A Love Story-Zion National Park Courtesy US National Park Service
Zion National Park, Courtesy US National Park Service
“…[A] word of caution: Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out…and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”

Ed Abbey penned those words waxing elegiac on a barstool in Hoboken, New Jersey. I read them decades later on yellowed pages in a rain-drenched tent somewhere in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. When the rain stopped and summer ended, I enthusiastically disregarded Abbey’s first cautioning. I jumped into my car and rushed to the desert.

Another decade has passed since then, and Utah has become home as I’ve spent those years heeding Abbey’s instructions: walking and crawling over sandstone, through thornbush and cactus, blazing trails with spots of blood, finding and falling in love with places. The Colorado, the Green, the San Juan; Bears Ears, Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion; the named and nameless places in between—the cloven topography where we slogged through flash flood debris, broke through the ice of slot canyon pools, and howled at the setting sun flashing shades of red we’d never seen. After a time, the trails I blazed no longer led to vistas, but to memories.

It’s not just the canyon country I fell in love with, though. I came for the desert, but I stayed for the mountains. And after walking their well-blazed trails, I shambled down the ones overgrown and choked with disuse; and when those ran out, crawled on hands and knees. And I saw things. More importantly, I found something: perspective—of place and of home—perspective gained from the many secrets divulged by mountains and running waters, red rock amphitheaters and alpine meadows. It has been a great privilege to share the stories of those places with you all. They are my love letters to their secrets. My family is off to find and fall in love with new places, now, but I’ll always be Wild About Utah!

Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service
Additional Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Friend Weller
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling Utah A Love Story

Sources & Additional Reading

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, Ballantine Books (January 1, 1971),

Boling, Josh, Author Page, Wild About Utah,

    Josh’s Pieces:

  1. Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, Aug 7, 2017,
  2. Tree Talk, Wild About Utah, Feb 27, 2017
  3. Water-Liquid Life, Wild About Utah, May 23, 2017,
  4. The Urban Ecotone, Wild About Utah, Nov 6, 2017,
  5. Kokanee Salmon in Utah, Wild About Utah, Oct 9, 2017,
  6. Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018,
  7. Wild Cats, Wild About Utah, Dec 10, 2018,
  8. A Desert’s Paradox, Wild About Utah, Dec 15, 2018,
  9. The Language of Ravens, Wild About Utah, Feb 189, 2018,
  10. Wild Children, Wild About Utah, Jan 8, 2018,
  11. Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Jul 9, 2018,
  12. Josh’s Raven Encounter, Wild About Utah, Jun 11, 2018,
  13. Wilderglyphs, Wild About Utah, Mar 30, 2018,
  14. Hidden in Plain Sight, Wild About Utah, May 14, 2018,
  15. Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Nov 19, 2018,
  16. Habitat Heroes Explore More Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Apr 8, 2019,
  17. Josh Explains Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Aug 19, 2019,
  18. A Solstice Vignette, Wild About Utah, Dec 16, 2019,
  19. Beaver Creek Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Feb 25, 2019,
  20. The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, Jan 14, 2019,
  21. The River, Wild About Utah, Jul 15, 2019,
  22. The Bear River’s History and Contributions, Wild About Utah, Jun 10, 2019,
  23. Habitat Heroes Explore Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2019,
  24. Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, Nov 11, 2019,
  25. Utah’s Desert Paradox, Wild About Utah, Oct 14, 2019,
  26. Rock Art, Wild About Utah, Sep 16, 2019,
  27. You, Too, Can Teach Outside!, Wild About Utah, Apr 20, 2020,
  28. Brand New Eyes, Wild About Utah, Aug 17, 2020,
  29. Snowshoes and Adaptations, Wild About Utah, Feb 17, 2020,
  30. The Henry Mountain Bison, Wild About Utah, Jan 20, 2020,
  31. Imaginary Wanderings, Wild About Utah, Mar 16, 2020,
  32. Questions, Wild About Utah, Mar 22, 2020,
  33. A New Beginning, Wild About Utah, May 25, 2020,
  34. Karst Topography, Wild About Utah, Nov 23, 2020,
  35. Wandering Home, Wild About Utah, Oct 19, 2020,
  36. Equinox, or Equilux?, Wild About Utah, Sep 21, 2020,
  37. Finding Remoteness, Wild About Utah, Feb 22, 2021,
  38. Utah: A Love Story, Wild About Utah, May 24, 2021,