The focus of our mission at Carpenter Nature Center is teaching others about the natural world. The majority of those we teach are K-12 students, yet they are not the only people who benefit from our programs. Here is a great essay from a former environmental education intern, Katie-Lyn Bunney:
While this is not my earliest memory, it is one I can bring quickly to my mind: Iâ€™m about 5 or 6 years old. Itâ€™s springtime and there are a plethora of muddy puddles around my house and school, made by melting snow and rain, and the indentations of tire treads in the soft ground. It was a frequent outdoor pastime of mine, looking into these watery worlds; Iâ€™d spend hours moving from puddle to puddle (some were quite large) with my trusty stick in hand, poking and prodding around the leaves and mud to see what I could find.Â Â
I think that is where my appreciation of nature first started. I donâ€™t recall if I found much beyond the decaying leaf or occasional larvae or frog spawn, but I loved doing it. The idea that something, anything, could thrive in a place that was so tiny and (to me) barren, was fascinating.Â
As I grew older my fascination moved from things in puddles, to things Iâ€™d find in the grass or on trees or even in the dirt. I still laugh at myself, though, because for the longest time I was terrified of earth worms. But still, I looked for them and their other dirt companions. I never knew what many of these things were called beyond the basic worm, bird, bug, or tree.
Now, of course, I know better. I can name birds and insects and trees just by sight (something that seems to amaze many of my family members, but to me is just second nature by now). But my love of nature has never wavered. In high school I took every earth science class that was offered–I could learn about the ocean and geology and zoology (physics and chemistry still stump me). I soaked up every minute of it.
I have no idea where this love of the outdoors and all things nature came from. My family would be completely lost and probably highly uncomfortable if I told them I was taking them to spend the day in the woods–no toilet, no video games, no lawn chairs–just us and nature. I think the bugs alone would scare most of them off in about 20 minutes. Some of my more recent friends and acquaintances (even co-workers) may be surprised to know that I had never even gone camping until college, especially knowing how much I love it now. It wasnâ€™t that I hated it growing up, but the only real exposure I had to it-since my family didnâ€™t camp or hike-was through Girl Scouts, which was sleeping on a platformed canvas â€˜tentâ€™ with cots and bug nets.
But I had the privilege of having some of the most nurturing teachers throughout my school years. My science teachers fueled my curiosity and encouraged me to find more, to look things up, to take this class or that class. I will be forever thankful to those teachers for always making science and nature something interesting to me and not dampening my natural curiosity for them.
That curiosity led me to college here in the great state of Minnesota. I had some wonderful experiences during those years. But one that stands out the most is when I realized that what I wanted to do most was to teach others about all these things, to be to someone else what all my teachers were to me: someone who could inspire curiosity and appreciation about things they may not have even thought of before, but especially about nature.
This wasnâ€™t just a moment of epiphany; it was more of a gradual realization throughout my sophomore year of college. I was taking chemistry and biology courses (which were interesting, of course) but I was realizing that they would only lead me to years of work in a laboratory with some occasional field work if I was lucky. I knew I didnâ€™t want that, so I switched from Biology to an Environmental Science major, hoping Iâ€™d be able to work outside.
It wasnâ€™t until I got my job at a local natural history museum, and then again later during my internship at Carpenter Nature Center, that I realized that teaching about all those interesting nature tidbits was what I really wanted to do. One of my greatest joys is seeing that spark of understanding in kidsâ€™ eyes when they realize how connected everything is to everything else, when they finally see that getting rid of all those bugs we may hate flying around our heads in the summer can actually affect things we wouldnâ€™t want to live without. The bees pollinate flowers that give us fruit like strawberries and apples; fish sometimes eat those bugs and still more animals eat those fish, and so on and so forth. And whose to say that something we do today wonâ€™t have an affect on an ecosystem fifty years from now? Rachel Carsonâ€™s â€œSilent Springâ€ comes to mind.
I absolutely love what I do. I feel so lucky to be someone who connects people to nature. How many people get to say that they spent the whole day outside on snowshoes looking for animal tracks, or with their feet in a mucky pond digging up insect larvae and loved every minute of it?
No one could have told me all those years ago as I poked through those puddles that I would one day get to do that, and teach about it, for a living. I wouldnâ€™t have believed them. I wanted to be an archaeologist and was absolutely sure Iâ€™d be digging through the sands of Egypt looking for mummies. At five years old the idea that someone got to play outside all day for work seemed absolutely ludicrous. It still does, but Iâ€™m not complaining!
So next time you see one of your children or grandchildren or nieces or nephews getting dirty in a puddle, let them. Join them. See what you can find. Or if you donâ€™t like the mud, move somewhere else. Come out to Carpenter Nature Center, if youâ€™d like–weâ€™ve got plenty of nature to go around! Take a good long searching look around you. Try to find something youâ€™ve never noticed before. Maybe youâ€™ll see a woodpecker in the tree, or some tracks showing scuffle between fox and rabbit. Perhaps youâ€™ll take a look at the sky and see a Bald Eagle soaring over the river. Youâ€™d be surprised at what you notice if you take the time to look. Share the experience with someone. It could turn out to be a life-forming one, like mine was for me.