One of the most important things that I’ve learned since being at the Audubon Community Nature Center is you should never lose your sense of wonder. No matter what age you are, there’s always something incredible to discover. At Audubon, true curiosity is easy to observe when working with children all summer. It’s amazing to see what children find interesting; often it’s simple things like chipmunks, feathers, and pine cones. As someone who has seen many pine cones in my life, I usually don’t stop to admire them by myself. If I’m with a child that starts yelling with excitement when he finds one, you bet I’m stopping to figure out what that strange spikey object is. With adults, it can be more difficult to find that same sense of wonder, but it still exists; it may just be expressed differently.
The easiest place at Audubon to find curious explorers involves day campers and ponds. One of the more popular activities at summer day camp is pond dipping. After throwing on a pair of boots, grabbing a huge net, and filling a few plastic cups with water, the campers splash into the ponds to see what they can catch. The knee-deep, boot sucking mud in the ponds is the perfect home for many awesome critters. Whether it is a small water beetle, a wiggling tadpole, or even a crawling leech, campers wade out of the water while calling my name so that I can share in their discoveries. Afterwards, they quickly deposit their finds into the waiting cups and race back into the water to see what else they can find. If you’re looking for inspiration to wonder about something, hang out with a group of kids for a day.
Recently, I found something that made me feel just like my summer campers when they discover something new. Since I live in western New York, I’ve spent a lot of time exploring the shores and waters of Lake Erie. Using a mask and snorkel, I’m able to go a few steps farther then my summer camp kids when exploring. In the lake, I commonly find lots of things left behind by humans like large tires, rusty pipes, and old cans. The other day, I was excited to find a huge tractor tire but after taking a closer look, there was something even cooler inside of it. Right in the middle of the tire, was the largest catfish I’ve ever seen; it was so large that it’s hard to even describe. I’d say probably about the size of a skateboard, but it could have been bigger. As surprising as it was to find that fish, it was even more entertaining to watch others find it throughout the day. After telling a few people, the story of the giant fish spread like wildfire and in a few hours, everyone was searching for the catfish. Paddleboarders, jet skiers, and swimmers all adventured out to discover it for themselves. Along with their discovery came a whole slew of questions.
They’ve seen catfish before, but have they ever seen any that large? I wonder how large that type of catfish gets? Are there other large fish that live in the lake? Finding something similar to something you’ve already seen before can lead to a whole new set of questions.
Through my personal experiences and my time at the Audubon, I’ve been able to observe people of all different ages discover new things or learn something new about something they already knew about. The result from such a discovery is often wonderment and new questions. Many of the children that I’ve worked with simply find things that they didn’t know existed and instantly become curious. While adults typically know more about the plants and animals that amaze kids, there is always something more to discover about that creature. No matter what age you are, go out and make new discoveries; be curious. Wonderment makes life interesting and you never know what you might find next.
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 as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. 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.
Clare Foley is a Summer Nature Education Intern at ACNC.