Metro has several personal nature essays that are worth a read, particularly the first one:
Looking for beavers and turtles? You might spot a special person, too
By James Davis, Metro naturalist
During 30 years as a naturalist, I’ve led hundreds of programs and helped thousands of people connect with nature. Every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to develop a longtime relationship with somebody who lives near one of “my” parks – somebody like Doolin O’Connor.
The first time I met Doolin, he was 4 years old and came with his mom for a turtle walk at Smith and Bybee Wetlands in North Portland. He carried a first aid kit in a small bucket and wore a helmet and red wool gloves. He was prepared for anything. Fortunately, Doolin took my suggestion that he could lighten his load since I already had an official first aid kit and the helmet would be way too hot in the sun. But he kept his gloves on – hardly ever a bad choice when working outdoors.
We had a great walk that day, and I got to know Doolin pretty well. I think there were a few other people along, but I was so busy keeping up with Doolin’s curiosity that I can’t remember. When we headed back, Doolin asked if he could hold my hand, and I said, “Sure.” His mom, Sherry, says she will never forget seeing that little red-gloved hand in mine as we walked out. We were buds, that was clear.
Doolin and his family, who live in the St. Johns neighborhood, became regulars at Smith and Bybee. When his school came on field trips, he helped a younger grade because he’s so familiar with the wetlands. Doolin has always liked uniforms, and I gave him one of my patches for his ranger shirt. He got some other great ones at summer nature camps, so he looks pretty official now. Doolin has volunteered at Bug Fest, an annual celebration that Metro co-hosts. His family comes to events along the Columbia Slough, too, and Doolin slips right in to take my place at the mammal pelts display if I step away for a moment.
I know he wants my job, but I’m happy to make way for the next generation of naturalists – when they’re ready.
It will be fun to watch how Doolin, who’s 9 now, grows up. Will he stay in the naturalist groove? I know I’ll stay in touch with Doolin and his family, because they are my special friends from Smith and Bybee. Getting to know them is as important a part of my experience as the park naturalist as paddling among the painted turtles or seeing the beaver swimming at dusk.
The other day I ran into Doolin’s mom and his younger brother, Keegan. I hadn’t seen any of the family in a while. “Wow,” I said, “Keegan sure looks older.”
“Jamesdavis, Jamesdavis!” Keegan said, using the boys’ one-word name for me. “Look at the bird we saw in our yard!” He pointed to a drawing of a varied thrush in his bird guide. Sherry let me know that Keegan, who’s 6, is quite the bird watcher. Another naturalist in the making in St. Johns.
I like to think that my son is another naturalist in the making, too. We are all naturalists, however, if we spend time outside observing and thinking about our natural surroundings and appreciating it.