The Excitement of Exploration – Part II

During a serendipitous exploration, I found suburban-defying wilderness and learned more about human nature. Perhaps yours included.

I was jogging through suburbia… Suburbia, USA

when I found a trail… Is it a trail?

and followed it around that curve to find THIS enticing entrance: An Enticing Entrance

I couldn’t believe my fortune. On my first run in my neighborhood I’d discovered a hidden trail system! Other city animals “in” on the secret: Canis vulgaris and Homo mountainbikusCanis vulgaris and Homo mountainbikusBeaming, with bated breath, I entered. I walked carefully. I listened closely. I reveled in the dappled light. I picked up trash. I was unexpectedly comforted by the continuous drone of traffic. (Maybe I felt slightly wary, and craved the assurance of nearby civilization.) Instructive for anyone who encourages urbanites to enjoy the wild: each culture and level of urbanization embraces its own subtle signs of safety.

I smiled at evidence of humans who enjoy the area:Mountainbike rampsMountain bike ramps. I’m glad someone spends time here, even making alterations.

I adored the colors. The paths. Walking on soil and leaves. Feeling immersed. Exploration Photo Compilation

Sure, I noticed invasive speciesPrivet and Chinaberry

But that didn’t detract from my jubilation while surrounded by this enchanted area.

As I wound between trees and under limbs, I felt I had discovered something. Even surrounded by clear signs of human interaction, I felt the place was mine, dear to me. (Have you felt that?)

An unexpected insight, in November, with Thanksgiving looming.

Our society has alternately revered and reviled explorers and conquerors. We wonder why they did what they did. But we know that effort leads to feeling ownership, and I invested far less effort, emotion, blood, and time in my discovery than the first conquistadors spent simply to arrive here.

An ember of compassion for the hero-villain conqueror-explorers of the Americas (and the world) burgeoned. How would my attitude toward wilderness and native peoples be different if I lived in a different era? Previous explorers valued their discoveries, but operated within a different paradigm – one of dominion and objectification. I’m now closer to understanding why they considered their rights unrestricted.

Insight doesn’t excuse inhumane behavior. But it can engender compassion and squelch judgment. Like mine.

I was still elated as I emerged from my wilderness. An Elated Exit

Looking back from the street, I realize I’ve passed this area before. I’d never guess that just around that clump of trees is an entrance to a wooded wilderness, a forest fairyland. Looking Back

If I’d found the entrance via satellite map, it wouldn’t have been as exciting, as connection-inducing as making the discovery in person. Good educators know that guided discovery (not spoon-feeding) is the best way to engage learners of all ages. Exploration is engaging. It’s eye-opening.

Explore with others. If you’re a teacher or a parent, give your kids the chance to explore. Be fearless. Or rather, admit your fears and still go for it.

And, dare I suggest it? Explore on your own. You’ll learn about your world, and about yourself.

Happy exploring.


The Excitement of Exploration – Part I

Have you seen the wildness in your neighborhood?

My sister has inspired me (thank you!) to run. Or jog, in my case. When yesterday’s indoor computer work tangled me in malaise, I suddenly realized I was craving outdoor exercise. I did something uncharacteristic and donned workout clothes, stepped out my front door, and tried to employ proper technique.

I had no particular aim, but couldn’t have found a better destination. Because I went outside, I rediscovered the joy of exploring. I also gained insight into human nature (and therefore into some of history’s heroes and villains).

Explore. What you find outside (and within you) may surprise you.

My journey started unremarkably. I jog-ran for about 10 minutes through uninspiring suburbia. Suburbia, USA

I pondered whether suburban yards have more or less biodiversity than most wilderness preserves. I know what I assume, but what’s the real answer? Maybe there’s more biodiversity in a lawn than I realize. I distracted myself from the dull views, consoling myself by focusing on the unusually colorful Fall we’re having in North Texas.North Texas Fall Color

I was still trying to stave off disappointment when a gap in the end of a cul de sac caught my eye. Was that open space between those houses? Beyond those houses? I changed course with mounting hope. I rounded a fence and was met by this glorious view:Eureka!

Not the Grand Canyon, I admit. But compared to where I’d been, it seemed wild. That comparison is useful for those who dedicate their lives to sharing wilderness with others: what people are used to predicts what they’ll consider wild. It’s one of my life quests to learn how to enchant more people with the wilderness around them, and how to get them comfortable in increasingly wild settings. After all, if we don’t enjoy a place, are we going to care about it? Protect it? The likelihood is low.

I fantasized about the City and the nearby residents sculpting the open floodplain into the wilder flood-quelling bottomland hardwood forest it probably had been (and which the single sentinel Bois d’arc indicates).Bois d'arc

We’d start with the trees: add self-sufficient, low-maintenance trees like Cottonwoods, Bois d’arcs, Hackberries. Even adding a few fence posts safe from weed-whackers would give trees that propagate via bird droppings a great start. Get those going, just around the water’s edge. The next step would be native shrubs… flowering perennials… We’d create an evolving urban ecosystem replete with butterflies, red-eared pond sliders (even more than the three I saw), egrets, and happy, engaged citizens…

Before I got too lost in my wildscape-design/community-building fantasy, I noticed the wide, paved path narrowing toward colorful trees.The Trees Beckon

I was intrigued, and continued. I would have been happy enough with that change of scenery (from streets to floodplain to forest) but then THIS caught my eye:Is it a trail?

A trail! Or was it? As it turns out, the best is yet to come…

(To be continued)

Happiness and Heroes

This week, nature has benefitted from the actions of an organization full of happy naturalists. And by “happy”, I mean people who exercise the choice to be positive and proactive. Texas Parks and Wildlife recently exemplified real positivity in response to a negative ad.

If you haven’t already heard from Children and Nature Network or Adventure Journal or your friends in the nature biz, here’s the low-down: Toys R Us recently produced an ad that paints nature field trips in a very unflattering light, and uses under-served kids as their pawns to do it. What’s the company’s suggested alternative to visiting a boring ol’ forest or spending time in the icky outdoors? Acquiring lots of (new shiny expensive breakable plastic made-in-sweatshops) toys, of course. (I’m loathe to encourage more Youtube views but if you want to see the commercial, click here.)

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with gift-giving, with toys, children’s joy, or philanthropy (well, highly publicized philanthropy is questionable). But among the more despicable claims about this commercial, the film crew purportedly took underprivileged kids who were actually excited to go on a field trip to a forest, trapped them on a bus, drove them around for an obscene amount of time, and exposed them to a terrible mock-up of nature interpretation, all for the purpose of a grand switcheroo – a surprise trip to a toy store for a free toy. A very emotionally charged, well-paced, exciting commercial, which unintentionally(???) stabs at less expensive, more meaningful experiences in nature.

I actually wasn’t going to respond to the commercial at all, since I couldn’t think of anything helpful to say. But Texas Parks and Wildlife did something wonderful. Did they moan? Did they write a nasty letter? Did they even deign to mention the offending commercial? No. They created a positive counter-message which stands on its own merit.

I want to shout this example to the mountains. I want us to take a page from TPWD’s book. Let’s tip our hats and hashtags to these brave and thoughtful harbingers of happiness. And in honor of them, let’s enjoy the outdoors, and inspire others to do so.

Hello from the Happy Naturalist

Ah, the challenge: an introductory essay. What does one say?

Do I share my goals? Make my promises?

Explain my passions and values?

How do I say enough and not say too much?

Let me start with the most important words: thank you. To you.

I almost called my digital personality The Grateful Naturalist, because I’m grateful for many things ~ grateful to be alive,  grateful to enjoy the outdoors,  grateful to live in a time when scientific knowledge of nature’s inner workings is available as never before.

But I’m also grateful to you, grateful that you’re reading. This blog would not – will not – exist without readers like you.

But I hope you won’t just be a reader. I hope you’ll also be a responder, a participant. I hope you’ll take my thoughts and expand on them. I hope you’ll comment, confirm, challenge me. I dream that because of something in this blog you’ll be inspired to go enjoy your ecosystem – human-altered features included – even more than before. I desire to help you feel a little more connected to your precious time and space. I want to enrich your life, even as you’ll enrich mine.

Our interaction is something to be thankful for.

So, gratitude expressed, who am I? Or perhaps more aptly, what am I?

What’s a naturalist? It’s a word that’s coming into vogue, and is starting to be disentangled from words like nudism. (Yes, let’s please continue that trend.)

Here’s a definition cobbled together from a quick online search:

naturalist: one who studies and is versed in natural history, especially zoology or botany.

And here’s my addition:

naturalist: one who seeks to understand, experience, and enjoy the natural wonders of the world, including those studied in biology, geology, and ecology.

If any of this resonates with you, you may be a naturalist, too.

I’ll share my goals and values another time, but here are my promises:

  • I vow to be realistically positive. There’s a lot in current ecology that paints a dismal picture. But combating grim predictions with healthy, realistic optimism and action is a good salve. There’s everything to gain by choosing happiness while facing reality.
  • I promise that each essay will be under 500 words and each video will be under 5 minutes. (I almost shared this first to ease your mind.)
  • And echoing life’s biological mandate, I predict (and vow) that this blog/forum will adapt and evolve.

This will be a journey.

And I hope you’ll join me.


Erin Taylor

The Happy Naturalist