Jul 14, 2010

A New Beginning

After being distracted for more than a year, I've decided to jump-start this blog again by mixing some of my writings that have already been published elsewhere, but edited to make more sense for the blog, as well as begin writing new entries. I think it's good to start with a slight reworking of the first piece I wrote for a nature column I had in a local newspaper a few years ago. Here goes...

As a child, when the suburbs got too hot, my parents had put my brother and me in the station wagon, loaded up a picnic lunch, and headed from the suburbs to Shenandoah National Park. Dogwoods in bloom, Bambi around every turn, the air fresh and clean, and creepy crawlies everywhere. I was in heaven. Rambling through forests, creeks, and fields was where I was most at home.

In fact, some of the fiercest battles I had with my mother when I was a kid was over nightly baths. Over each day, and particularly in summer, I had carefully acquired a fine patina of dirt from catching crayfish in the local creeks, chasing rabbits in the fields, and climbing up trees to look in birds’ nests. It wasn’t that I was dirty by nature but that I reveled in the smell and feel of all things natural. My dog and I would come back reeking of nature—him more than I because he had an obsession for all things dead and wonderful.

Fortunately, by the time I entered puberty I had discovered that boys could be more than my frog-catching companions, academia could occasionally answer some of the questions I had about nature, and cleanliness did have a value. (The last was more in conjunction with the discovery of boys as dating material than with discovering the challenges of academia.)

As I moved from budding naturalist to budding journalist, my intimacy with nature seemed to fall away. What was once my natural habitat and my obsession became an academic interest and no longer involved having creek muck in my ears and pine pitch on my pants.

However, I rediscovered my passion when, as a young journalist, I headed to the Rocky Mountain West. As an extension to my love of nature came an interest in its domestication—farming and ranching. I was also pursuing a passion for a mythical species I had experienced mostly through television and movies—cowboys.
After working on a small but prestigious paper on Montana, where I was given the city/county beat instead of the agricultural beat I longed for, I decided to learn about ranching first hand and went to work on a cattle ranch at the base of the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming. There I was mayordomo for the owner and did a little cow and horse work and irrigation.

On the ranch, I got to know about things that go bump really loudly in the night—well, actually, where things scream like someone being murdered (cougars) or howl in cacophony outside your cabin door for hours (coyotes). I was amazed by the masses of box-elder beetles that showed up on my walls in May and then disappeared by July; and by the flies that blackened my windows in August and were gone by October.

After further ramblings around the country, I found my way back to the hills of my first love—the Blue Ridge Mountains—and all its natural splendor. Living within sight of Shenandoah National Park, I now get to wonder why nothing seems to eat Asian ladybugs that cover our walls sporadically, why the Asian Tree of Heaven can seem to proliferate anywhere here but our native chestnuts can’t survive into maturity, why some bears are perfectly content eating the apples from the trees next to my yard while others insist on smashing hummingbird feeders for the nectar inside, and so many other things.

Although I'm a certified Master Naturalist, I will admit freely to being a rank amateur as a naturalist — but one with a passionate, lifelong interest in everything that walks, talks, creeps, swims, crawls, flies, or grows. While I studied advanced biology in school, and even pursued a degree in communications and environmental management, I’ve learned more about nature from rambling through it, carefully observing it, and then pursuing answers to the questions its complexity and diversity invokes. That’s what I hope to do in this blog.

I’ll also stray off onto other topics. I’m ADD. That’s what I do. Oh look! A spider! I wonder why some spiders have hexagonal webs, some have round webs, some seem to have been drunk when making their webs, and some have no webs at all; and why some tiger swallowtail butterflies are yellow and others are black; why….