Recently, I was talking to a friend and we ended up discussing the art museum she was visiting that weekend with another friend who had a membership there. Somewhere in this conversation she brought up a metaphor of sorts that was equally odd and fascinating. She made the claim that there are art museum people and there are aquarium people. Both places offer memberships, but these memberships and places often appeal to different kinds of people.
Now, there is the obvious awareness that some people choose the memberships they pay for because they like art more than they like aquatic animals or vice versa, but the idea she was trying to convey was that there are people who are content to return to the same unmoving pieces of art again to potentially find something new in it and then there are people who prefer to know they will find something new because the things they are observing are constantly moving, changing, and active.
As brains tend to do, my brain immediately made a somewhat tangential connection and went to an interaction I had earlier this month. As I was coming off a trail in the woods, I was stopped by a group and asked what was up ahead. I started to explain where the trail went and what types of forest and habitat was ahead, but I was stopped and asked a question that threw me off for a moment. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but it was along the lines of “But there’s nothing to see, though?” I had to collect my thoughts for a moment, because my immediate response would have been, well of course there is. Instead, I responded by saying that it was just a trail, nothing particular and they went on their way.
The real answer to that question is probably something more along the lines of “Well, that depends on what you are looking for right now.” It depends on how much time you have, who is in your group, the terrain ahead, and what you are looking to see.
On that day, technically there wasn’t anything down that trail you could mark on a map. There wasn’t a bald-faced peak with sweeping views, a waterfall, or even a tall observation tower. It was just the woods and a couple of ponds. I could not guarantee that the trail ahead held something notable enough or moving that would give them a reason to go that way. Were they looking for an art museum or an aquarium? A peaceful walk through the pine trees or cute animals?
The great thing about nature is that you are allowed to make that choice for yourself. The insects, the turtles, the trees, and the birds don’t care if you walk right by them or choose to go somewhere else with a “better” view or a place more likely to see elk or bear. Whether you stop along the way is up to you and so is what you choose to look at.
Some people are constantly looking for something changing and moving, whether that is big or small, and some people can sit on their porch in the exact same spot, looking out at the same scenery day after day and be perfectly content. The outdoors has room for both the people who are looking for adventure in the form of fast hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, or whatever it may be and it has room for the people who want to go on a leisurely walk on the same trail again and again.
When you begin spending a larger amount of time out in nature, you learn quickly that there is almost no guarantee on what you will find. The artifacts in a museum and the animals in the zoo or aquarium are going to be there. They might be off display and sometimes there are temporary exhibits, but once you make the choice about what you want to visit you can go in with expectations and have them largely met. Walking into the woods looking for a specific animal or experience is mostly up to luck and persistence.
Despite the differences between a curated space and the wilderness of the outdoors, everyone will still come out with a different experience based on their own interests and the places they put the most time and energy on. Everyone has a different reaction, connection, and interpretation of what they see in front of them based on their personal experiences. Although that trail ahead contained one of my favorite sections, I could not guarantee that the people I interacted with that day would see something they found value in up ahead. That’s entirely dependent on their reasoning behind choosing their path that day.
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.
Chelsea Jandreau is a Nature Educator at ACNC.