By Katie Finch, Senior Nature Educator
While I still feel relatively young, the candles on my most recent birthday cake tell a different story. Some years go by and I don’t feel any older. But every so often, I can feel the accumulated years and the change they bring. This year I feel I turned a corner. I am one of the older staff members in our organization as well as in the outdoor education profession. I hadn’t really noticed before. But there’s nothing like asking a much younger coworker to slow down and repeat the steps of a process on the iPad so I could write it down to make me feel like I am aging.
Another difference between my coworker and myself when it comes to technology shows up when asking questions and seeking the answers. When a question comes up, our responses to finding the answer are quite different. And these are not simple questions, such as “How much do Snapping Turtles weigh?” (They average between 10-35 pounds.) These are strange, sometimes complex questions that happen when you work in a nature related field.
For example, if someone wonders, “Why do turtles have tails?” My response is to say “I don’t know” and pose possible explanations out loud. My younger coworker just looks it up on the internet. The embrace of technology is not always associated with age but it feels like it is in this situation.
The first few times this happened, I felt a little foolish. Why didn’t I think to look it up on this massive database of information we have at our fingertips? After all, our goal is to answer the question that was posed. And some questions have easy, accessible answers. Having the answer is good, right? It adds to the pool of knowledge in my brain. It allows me to answer the question when a visitor or student asks it. Basically, it allows me to do my job better.
But after a few conversations like this, I noticed something was lacking when we went straight to the internet for the answer. I was missing the opportunity to be curious. I like what my brain does when I go searching for an answer inside it. When I actively wonder about something, I search my memories for previous experiences and knowledge. I make connections, many I’ve never thought about before. When questions like this are posed to a group, ideas are shared. They bounce around, are sometimes built upon and sometimes torn down to follow a different path.
Psychologists probably have names for what happens in our brains and can explain it much better than I can. But I know how it feels when I explore something I’m curious about with my mind. It feels like a creative, playful endeavor. And it feels like something worth doing.
Do we get the answer correct? Sometimes. But sometimes there is no answer. The natural world is full of curiosities. Some we can explain and some we don’t yet understand. Some we may never be able to explain. Asking questions and finding answers helps up understand how the world works. This understanding gives us control, helps us create new things, (like the internet) and improves ourselves and our world.
Even though we can, there are times I don’t think we should go to our phones or computers. Sometimes we are too quick to jump to our devices and we don’t let our brains play with possibilities. And if finding the right answer is important, after playing, you can always look it up.
Humans are curious creatures. That curiosity is the driver of all we know. The natural world provides endless opportunities to be curious and to wonder. So go outside and find something to be curious about. But don’t look it up. At least not right away.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.