I’ve always said that my favorite thing about being a naturalist and an environmental biologist is the fact that there is always more to learn about nature. In my experience every time I answer a question or discover something new about the natural world I am left with even more unanswered questions. I could spend a lifetime digging deeper and deeper into the complex world of natural history and still know next to nothing about nature.
When I first started as a Nature Education Intern at Audubon in the Spring of 2015 I knew very little about the natural world. Before being a Nature Education Intern I had spent nearly two decades running around the woods and fields of my parent’s farm in Northern Chautauqua County and spent three years at SUNY-ESF, but I didn’t have a lot of practical knowledge about the natural world outside my window.
Okay, so saying that I didn’t learn anything by spending time outside as a kid or that I learned nothing during my four years at college is not fair. I learned a lot through those experiences. I discovered the best places to capture crayfish and that tiny little frogs emerge from our pond by the thousands every year. I learned that salamanders can sometimes grow two tails and that the giant seed pods on Northern Catalpa trees are nearly impossible to retrieve unless you are standing on some kind of boat, which believe me, is pretty difficult. I learned even more in college, like not all trees with needles are pine trees and that the egg came first (a chicken-like bird laid an egg that hatched the first ever chicken).
Anyways, when I first arrived at Audubon, I struggled to answer the most basic questions. What is that foamy looking stuff on the stem of that plant? Do all bees sting? What do you do if you find a baby bird hopping around your yard? I can answer those questions like a pro now, (foam produced by Spittlebug nymphs, no, and please just leave the poor little guy alone), but when I first started working at Audubon my pretty typical response to all of these questions, plus more, was “I don’t know.” Better to admit your deficiencies than make something up, right?
During my first spring and summer at Audubon I learned just how much I didn’t (and still don’t) know about the natural world, but over time I learned. The thing about studying nature is no one really needs to know it all, in fact, no one ever will. All you really need is a passion for learning, a curious spirit, and the ability to slow down long enough to appreciate the world around you.
I am so incredibly grateful for all the things I took the time to learn during my time at Audubon. Some of the things I learned while at Audubon I learned the hard way. I got so tired of saying “I don’t know,” that I finally had to look up the answer. Some of the things I learned from just spending time on the amazing property that our nature center sits on. Most of what I learned came from the amazingly passionate, knowledgeable Audubon community.
The staff members, volunteers, and community members that I have worked with during my time here have taught me so much about the natural world and about myself. It was at Audubon, after all, that I first discovered my love of teaching. I am grateful to have been surrounded by a community of people who know the value of curiosity, play, and discovery and I can’t wait to continue to spread those values wherever the path may take me.
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.
Margaret Foley is a Nature Educator at ACNC.