On Becoming a Naturalist

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The Master has mastered Nature, not in the sense of conquering it, but of becoming it. In surrendering to the Tao, in giving up all concepts, judgements, and desires, her mind has grown naturally compassionate” -Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I have found a new balance and blend, or maybe more like a bridge between my most beloved worlds of nature + art. I’ve learned new methods of thinking and ways of how I can contribute positively to society. I’m embracing not knowing it all, but instead staying curious about everything. I’m developing shapes, forms – bigger ideas- before bogging the conceptualizations with details. It’s all happening…

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe. – John Muir

In late June, I went through a week long immersion course at Sagehen Creek Research Station (just north of Lake Tahoe) to become a California Naturalist. To answer your questions of why, what, and wait what?, please read below. 🙂

Why?

Well, the reasons varied, but I initially went due to my sense of adventure and wonder. I wanted to learn more and gain skills to become an educator; I wanted to get away, to rejuvenate and reflect on how beautiful life is. I also wanted to connect deeper to this place I call home. I ended up meeting some of the most genuine, interesting, experienced, curious, kind, and amazing group of people – including my cohort of 15 + the teachers and leaders of the course. They all collectively made this experience a worth while professional (and personal) development week off.

What is a naturalist?

During that week, we were trained on how to share knowledge and interpret science on an empathetic level in order to inspire the blooming of more environmental stewards. We were given tools to essentially pull apart and deconstruct ecosystems, in order to build them back up again with our words and stories for better understanding. I like to think of it as a training on connecting people to place.

Naturalists also observe nature by drawing or photographing and journaling about their observations. I doubt my nature journals will lead to breakthrough discoveries and they might not be published like the great John Muir, but it’s a useful tool to really pay attention to a place.

Yes, there really are classes for this. Check out the UC website if you’re interested and want to learn more: calnat.ucanr.edu/

What did you do?

I stayed at a the research station for 7 days, 6 nights. This lively, serene, secluded place is about a 20 minute drive north of Truckee, CA and is owned by UC Berkeley. I had class most days from 9AM-9PM with breaks and deliciously catered meals in between. It was like adult summer camp. 🙂

We had a terrific professor of hydrology lead us through the entire course with brilliant guest speakers occasionally dropping by in our outdoor classroom. Some classes occurred while on nature walks, including geology, botany, and the search for beaver dams along the creek. We visited other places two of the days, including UC Davis’ research center (TERC) at Sierra Nevada College and learned about the natural history of Lake Tahoe. We also learned a great deal about the research that’s going on around the lake and around Sagehen’s experimental forest.

I recommend picking up the California Naturalist Handbook. It provides great overviews on geography and biology of CA, and highlights some challenges we are facing now with global warming.

We were also introduced to a cool app called iNaturalist. It’s a community for nature observations and has some great information on it. I also recommend checking this out if you take a lot of pictures of nature and are sometimes curious about what something’s name. I still have some observations to post for Sagehen Creek station, but my username is “renae” if you want to find me on it.

What now?

It was sad seeing the week end. It’s truly incredible how quickly I connected with a group of strangers from different walks of life. I’m very grateful I met everyone I did and learned all of the information that I could grasp in such a short amount of time. I was very inspired by my classmates’ passion for the environment. On the last day, we all presented what we will be doing for capstone projects upon the completion of the course. All 14 projects I heard about were quite impressive and I know these individuals will make positive differences in their communities. I hope to carry my own project out within the next few months and to begin volunteering with some local parks.

Although I slightly dreaded driving back to San Jose and returning to work, this week gave me the creative and inspiring boost I needed. Thanks to all of my fellow naturalists and our fearless leader for making these memories!

Stay curious 🙂

 

 

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