I was out hiking the other day out at my favorite nature preserve, enjoying a cool and slightly breezy day. When I reached one of the wildlife blinds, I decided it was time to stop, eat my orange, and observe the pond for awhile. Not much was going on, although a great egret had landed at the other end of the pond and ducks were floating in the distance. I stared hard at a belted kingfisher, attempting a mind meld with his bird brain, trying to convince him to come land on a branch right near me for prime photographic opportunities.
The kingfisher was apparently immune to my mind meld technique; he flew off in the wrong direction, chattering to himself.
And then…I heard the tromp, tromp, tromp of multi-feet, and the chatter of small children and a mother’s voice telling them to be careful and not to fall off the walkway into the water.
Here is where I confess to you that I am starting to get a little possessive of my favorite trails, and when I see other people on them I know that I should be glad because that means they are outside enjoying nature but really- all that noise is infringing on my solitude and I want to scream, go away! Go on the other trails! This is MY trail!
The family climbed the stairs to the blind, and we stared at each other. The mother looked at me, my trail pack on the table, my half-eaten orange, my binoculars, and my camera and said, oh, excuse me. We’re bothering you.
No, I said. It’s okay, come on in. I was just getting ready to head on back out to the trail anyway. I picked up my backpack to reinforce that comment. One of the kids looked at me and asked, do you know what bird this is? I took a picture with my phone but my mom doesn’t know what this is. He showed me his phone; it was the great egret that had been at the other end of the pond.
Once upon a time, I was the mom with the noisy kids, and I suspect that many of the birders and nature photographers that we encountered on the trails cringed to hear us coming, but I was a mom with young kids and we were outside breathing fresh air and when I got home they might take a nap or be quiet for awhile. I could tell that sometimes our presence was unwelcome but I had two kids with boundless energy and my need was great.
Now I’m the slightly crazy bird loving nature nerd lady with the binoculars, the camera and the extremely muddy hiking boots, and my kids are off working or studying at Starbucks with friends or playing basketball. I admit, I cringe slightly when the gate attendant warns me that a scout troop is on the trail, or when I hear loud voices in the distance coming the other way.
I’m going to get over it, though. I might be a bit possessive of my favorite trail, but I need you to bring your lively kids with or without their technology. I need you to show them how wonderful an afternoon on the trail can be. I need you to ask me what the blurry bird might be, or if I know what those turtles are sunning on the log at the edge of the pond. I need you to ask me if I’ve seen any snakes, or there really are alligators in that water.
I need your kids to want to come out, and come back, and come back again and again because if they don’t, they might not learn to love the natural world as much as I do, and then they may not care about it, and then they won’t want to protect it for their own children. I need them to take blurry pictures with their phones of great egrets and then ask someone what it is because there was a time not so long ago that I didn’t know what that bird was, either.
I still don’t know what a lot of things are that I see.
It’s a learning experience, being outside. You have to start somewhere. When I see people on my trail which really isn’t my trail even though I like to think that it belongs to me, I work to keep that in mind. Everyone has to start somewhere, just like I did before I acquired the muddy boots and the funky pants and the binoculars and the camera.
So come, start on my trail. I can share.