“All children, as long as they still live in the mystery, are continuously occupied in their souls with the only thing that is important, which is themselves and their enigmatic relationship with the world around them. Seekers and wise people return to these preoccupations as they mature. Most people, however, forget and leave forever this inner world of the truly significant very early in their lives. Like lost souls they wander about for their entire lives in the multicolored maze of worries, wishes, and goals, none of which dwells in their innermost being and none of which leads them to their innermost core and home.” ― Hermann Hesse, Iris

Hermann Hesse captures something in his short story “Iris” that moves me to tears. It reminds us that as children, we have a unique relationship with the world that is full of magic, wonder, and mystery. Children have an innate desire to touch, taste, smell, and experience the world in a real and tangible way. The older we get, the less time we have to appreciate the wonder and the magic in our lives. The desire to explore and seek out new experiences is often times replaced by a fear of change, a fear of the unknown.

As we trudge through the day-to-day responsibilities of work, marriage, parenthood, and everything else that “adulthood” brings, once in a while we come upon a door. A door that we haven’t opened before. A door that leads to the unknown. In that moment that the door presents itself, if we’re lucky, we see it, we acknowledge it, and we attempt to envision what might exist on the other side.

Last year, when I discovered the opportunity to apply for the President’s position at Audubon Community Nature Center, I instinctively knew that it was something that I needed to pursue. To the surprise of the search committee, rather than interviewing via internet call from Denver, Colorado where I resided, I hopped on a plane and made my way to Jamestown to meet everyone in person. This was the moment that I chose to walk through the door.

Now, a year later, I can safely say that this was the door I was meant to open to lead me home. Home is a place that we come from, that we have a unique understanding of deep within. Sometimes “home” can be the place where we are born, and sometimes we don’t find “home” until we die.

“Home” for me has been more of a feeling than a set place. It’s a feeling of safety, of support, and community. I have been fortunate enough to experience this feeling in places such as Rochester, New York, Peterborough, New Hampshire, Denver, Colorado, and now, here at Audubon Community Nature Center in Jamestown, New York. The connections that you make with people, plants, and the place around you are what make it feel like home, and at the Audubon, it feels like I make a new connection every day.

Volunteers share stories with me of their past careers, and they talk about loved ones that they’ve lost. There’s something natural, authentic, and REAL happening here…something I can feel deep down in my bones.

Leigh and volunteers after planting gardens in partnership with YWCA.

My kids are starting to see the world differently, and they’re noticing things that they’ve never noticed before. They’re stretching their own boundaries of what they define as being “normal” as they’ve watched their mom return to work after being a stay-at-home parent, and they see her becoming an integral part of a community that was once entirely unknown to them.

I’ve learned where the sun rises and the sun sets through the trees that surround my house, and I know just the right place to put my chair in the morning to catch a few rays of sunshine while enjoying my coffee.

I feel very fortunate to call Audubon Community Nature Center and Chautauqua County my home, and to be raising my children in a place where wonder, magic, and the appreciation of nature is still alive and well. We are so lucky to share this beautiful place, and I am so grateful that I chose to walk through that door.

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.