Tag Archives: environmental education

In Search of Invertebrates.

On November 10th, several of our cohort members went on a field trip to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology  (OIMB) with Dr. Carol Ferguson’s Invertebrate Zoology class.  The purpose of the field trip was to meet with biologists working on marine invertebrate research, observe marine invertebrates in their natural habitats, and have a fun experience in an exciting location.

OIMB is located on the Oregon Coast, in Charleston, OR, and acts as the marine station for the University of Oregon.  Upon arrival, the visiting students from Cohort 9, along with several other SOU students, quickly made themselves at home in the dorms and, then, went out for a night exploration of the Charleston Boat Docks.  Using flashlights and headlamps, students explored the nearby marina for anemones, sea stars, crabs and more, all of which utilize 15094288_10154325375494690_1494818490654910913_nthe docks for habitat.  The highlight of the evening was the discovery and observation of a marine polychaete swimming near the docks and responding to our flashlights.

The following morning, the visiting students were welcomed for a complete tour of the facility and were able to talk with several of the students that are currently studying at OIMB.  The institute houses undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate students as they take courses and pursue research projects in the field of marine biology.  The research happens on site in various labs with multiple saltwater tanks, scanning electron microscopes, a confocal microscope, and DNA analysis machines that utilize PCR to amplify DNA sequences.  Current research projects include how caffeine induces tetraploidy in certain inverts, how certain fatty acids are transferred through trophic levels and how parasites affect that transfer, and the reproductive cycle of cold-seep mussels in deep ocean ecosystems.  These are all very special opportunities for students, who get to explore topics, design their own projects, and carry them out.  This sometimes 20161111_100437includes the use of research vessels, including manned and unmanned submersibles.

Aside from touring OIMB, SOU students were also allowed to visit the Charleston Marine Life Center.  Here, they were able to touch and observe several unique species of marine invertebrates in touch tanks and aquariums.  Some of the more interesting ones included nudibranchs, armored sea slugs, and an octopus.  They were 20161111_113905also able to converse with some experts in marine biology and explore amazing exhibits about the local marine ecosystem.

After lunch, the class went tide-pooling at Cape Arago.  Armed with rain jackets, rubber boots, and laminated field guides, the students struck out searching for tidal invertebrates.  Thirty-four different marine species 15094264_10154325363749690_563838647025621390_nwere found including gumboot chiton, sea anemones, and multiple species of sea stars.  However, the most exciting might have been the clown nudibranch that was found by Melissa Donner and Morgyn Ellis.  

On the final morning at OIMB, the visiting students packed up, ate breakfast, and headed out to visit the Interpretive Center at the State of Oregon South Slough Estuarine Reserve, which was the first national marine reserve in the United States.  Here, students explored several exhibits about the importance of the South Slough Reserve and were able to buy some fun momentos at the gift shop.  They then returned to OIMB for a presentation from Scott Groth, the Pink Shrimp and South Coast Shellfish Project leader with the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.  Scott shared his expertise with the invertebrate zoology class, discussing the multiple invertebrate fisheries in Oregon and how they are managed.

This all created a wonderful experience for everyone that was involved.  Hearing about ongoing research projects and getting to see and touch wild invertebrates sparked interest and fostered creativity in nearly every student on the trip, all of which was enhanced by the passion for the subject and expertise of Dr. Carol Ferguson.  And now for the question that we are all surely wondering… When can we go back?

14955994_10154123071493505_5307849141711757826_n

Written By: John Ward

Photos By: Dr. Carol Ferguson, John Ward, Alessandro Broido, and Malia Sutphin

Advertisements

Find Your Place: Musings from the Bear Creek Greenway

DSCN0007
Bear Creek Greenway in the fall

In the summer, insects drone loudly beneath a thick canopy of riparian vegetation and ripe blackberries, while white fluff falls like snow. The future of Black Cottonwood trees along Bear Creek is certain. My wheels whir a harmony with the insects and the breeze down by the water is refreshing, a meditation to combat the southern Oregon heat. In the fall, cottonwood leaves dance pirouettes in the air, yellow-brown hearts strewn about the trail. School has started now, and I begin riding to Medford each Wednesday for my graduate teaching classes. A weekly celebration of bikes and the seasons and learning. Winter is stark. The rains are cold, but the path is clear of ice near the water, and the Great Blue Heron nests are now visible high in the trees. Bare branches reach for the sky, as I-5 traffic barrels past. cottonwood- The School for Aromatic StudiesThe path smells musty, like decomposing leaves, and we hope that spring will come again soon. Like clockwork it comes, with its sweet smell of lilacs and warmer days. The mornings come sooner and the rains are less chilling. Cottonwood buds emerge by the thousands coating the path with little brown bullets, resinous and fragrant. The smell is overwhelmingly delightful, like warmed beeswax inside a busy hive.

Riding my bike has always been a way for me to connect to the world around me. Everything seems so alive from my saddle: smells, sights, sounds, the feel of the air…all of it is so close, so present, so tangible and alive. I have traveled to great lengths and accomplished much on the seat of a bike. I have climbed mountain passes, slogged through three inches of snow, ridden from city to ocean, found hidden paths inaccessible to cars, and regularly glide by “rush hour” traffic in Ashland.

This past year, I have had the joy of getting to know the Bear Creek Greenway, a 20-mile trail that connects Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point with a single, concrete track. It meanders its way alongside Bear Creek, a tributary of the Rogue River that originates near Emigrant Lake. It is home to deer, salmon, and countless birds, including a notable Great Blue Heron rookery near Phoenix. During my rides along this path, I have written poems, had conversations with friends, watched the creek rise and fall with the seasons, and am always able to experience the world in the raw, even if I am riding through the pouring rain.Greenway

Riding a bike is just one way to feel connection with the natural world in our busy, technology-driven lives. As Karelia wrote in “The Water Ouzel,” a previous post, finding places to go back to again and again is essential for all humans, but most of all environmental educators. If we are to teach our students the importance of caring for and conserving beautiful places around them, we must practice what we preach.

NatureAwarenessI leave you with my favorite environmental education activity, “Secret Spots,” a classic EE activity written up by world-renowned environmental educator, Joseph Cornell. He encourages his audience of educators to feel connected to the places around them and pass this along to their students. Cornell’s bestselling book, Sharing Nature With Children, has now been updated 35 years later in an all-inclusive book called Sharing Nature: Nature Awareness Activities for All Ages. In this practice, the instructor allows his/her students to find their own “secret spot,” away from all other students. They return to this spot day after day, to write, draw, and observe how it changes. It is likely that we will never know every spot in our yard, our neighborhood, our town, or our favorite wilderness area, but it is important that we do form those connections as a modeling practice for our students, the future stewards of wild places. After all, as Jane Goodall reminds us, “Only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help. Only if we help shall they be saved.”

 

 

 

Zoos and Environmental Education

Throughout this holiday season, thousands of people flocked to their local zoo in hopes of immersing themselves in the lights, sounds, and smells of Christmas that many city zoos displayed as “Zoo Lights.” While this is a seasonal event that zoos provide as family-friendly entertainment, throughout the year, zoos also provide numerous environmental and conservation education opportunities. Many zoo visitors may only see the entertainment value in zoo visits, but it is almost impossible to go to a zoo without being educated about the environment and wildlife conservation. As David Grazian explains in his new book American Zoo: A Sociological Safari, zoos can be “centers of environmental education with the potential to mobilize audiences around issues of great import, from ocean pollution to climate change.”1 According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), zoos and aquariums are visited by 183 million people annually. This is just in the United States and only includes the approximately 220 zoos and aquariums accredited by the AZA. With this many visitors, zoos have a large platform upon which they can cultivate an environmentally literate community. In fact, this is a key focus for the Oregon Zoo located in Portland, OR.

ZoologoV130gold.pdfI had the pleasure of speaking with Alison Heimowitz, School and Teacher Liaison at the Oregon Zoo, who gave me some insight into the zoo’s innovative environmental education programs. Alison serves as the interface between schools and the zoo and coordinates the programs that go into Portland schools. One of the most recent programs is the Salmon Habitat Restoration Project. This program, which the zoo created for a Portland elementary school with a sustainability focus, teaches students about the biology of salmon, with each grade level focusing on a different aspect of salmon biology. For example, kindergarten learns about habitat, 1st grade learns about adaptations, 2nd biodiversity and so on. Students in 3rd grade study the life cycle of salmon by actually raising salmon from eggs and eventually releasing them into a nearby stream. Students also restored salmon habitat by planting trees along stream banks to create much needed shade, as salmon prefer cold water temperatures.

 

In addition to the school programs developed by the Oregon Zoo, there are a number of other education programs that take place within the zoo including zoo school, zoo teens, ZAP teens, and exhibit interpretation. Oregon Zoo’s commitment to education has led to the expansion of the education center, which is currently under construction but should be opening in 2017.

Many zoos are situated smack dab in the middle of urban metropolises. This is not coincidence but by design. David Grazian explained that the first US zoos were created as “oases of nature” as a way to escape the industrial and urban development of the 19th and 20th centuries.1 Just because these zoos are in urban environments does not mean that there is not still potential for environmental education. John H. Falk, Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning, states in his article “Evidence for the Educational Value of Zoos and Aquariums” that “many members of the public do see zoo and aquarium experiences as vicarious wilderness experiences, and…for an increasing number of urban dwellers a visit to a zoo or aquarium may be the only ‘nature experience’ they have.”2 

Tracy-Aviary-LogoTracy Aviary, one of only two aviaries in the US to be accredited by the AZA, is situated in urban Salt Lake City, UT. The aviary has embraced its urban location and created an environmental education program entitled “Nature in the City.” Free and open to the public this family-oriented education program provides opportunities for participants to explore the nature that is all around us, even if we’re in the city. The programs take place in locations all around the city to show just how much nature is out there that may have been bypassed. In addition to “Nature in the City,” Tracy Aviary also offers Birds of the Great Salt Lake Wetland Tours. These daylong trips give participants a greater understanding of the significance of the Great Salt Lake as migratory bird stop over and nesting habitat. Although it may not take place directly in the city, this program still shows the urban dwellers of Salt Lake City that there are significant natural areas in close proximity that need our protection.3

If you ask an environmental educator why they do what they do, I’m sure many, if not all, will say they want to help connect people, kids especially, with nature. Well, this is a goal of many, if not all, zoos as well. In fact, there is a recent movement within the zoo community to create what are called “Nature Play” areas. The AZA, in partnership with The Walt Disney Company, are working to help zoos develop Family Nature Clubs. These will be “safe havens for unstructured nature play” which are “child-directed and allow for spontaneous learning” within AZA accredited zoos. There is vast research showing the mental and physical benefits of allowing children to play outside in nature, but much of the learning done by today’s children is so structured and focused on technology. These Family Nature Clubs will allow families to bond and learn about wildlife and nature while also fostering a conservation ethic through self-led discovery and shared experiences. As stated by the AZA, “More traditionally structured environmental education programs serve an important role in cultivating an environmental ethic, but direct experience with nature and opportunities for unstructured play in nature are at the heart of most environmental action in adulthood.”4 

g_ZNElogoOne of the zoos incorporating the ideas of nature play into their park is Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo which is part of Zoo New England. Through campaign efforts the zoo has raised money to build the Nature’s Neighborhoods: Children’s Zoo where families can experience and learn about red pandas through the Bamboo Climber, climb into a giant eagle’s nest to get an aerial view of the zoo, and track animals through the Tallgrass Maze. This interactive and experiential learning opportunity provides children and their families with much needed connection to nature while instilling them with conservation values.5

04_adventureplay
Nature’s Neighborhoods: Children’s Zoo “adventure play” area coming to Franklin Park Zoo

While many visitors may not realize it, zoo education expands far beyond the interpretive signs in front of the animal exhibits that guests may or may not read. Zoos are creating opportunities for guests of all ages to connect to nature, become environmentally literate, and participate in conservation action. With about 1 in every 10 people visiting a zoo this year, zoos really can and do make a difference in educating people about our natural world.

For more information:

1 American Zoo: A Sociological Survey

2 Evidence for the Educational Value of Zoos and Aquariums

3 Tracy Aviary: Nature in the City

4 Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium Resources

5 Franklin Park Zoo Nature’s Neighborhoods: Children’s Zoo

 

Featured image from The Oregon Zoo: http://www.oregonzoo.org/discover/field-trips-and-school-programs/zooschool 

 

 

http://www.amazon.com/American-Zoo-A-Sociological-Safari/dp/0691164355

http://www.amazon.com/American-Zoo-A-Sociological-Safari/dp/0691164355

Discovering the Mystery of Where We Live

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

-Rachel Carson-

Rachel Carson in the field
Rachel Carson in the field

Rachel Carson (1907-1964), renowned biologist and writer, is most well-known for her career as an activist, taking a brave stance against pesticides with her publication of Silent Spring in 1962. She is a prime example of how science can be used to educate the public and effectively change attitudes about the environment. However, Carson was also a sensitive nature writer and mentor to her nephew Roger. Her book, The Sense of Wonder, chronicles their adventures in the varied terrain of the Maine wilderness, through intimate and sensory accounts of their findings. As environmental educators, it is important for us to follow Carson’s example, using our strong background in scientific principles to strengthen the messages of our lessons. However, she also shows us the other side of the coin: the importance of fostering a sense of wonder in children.

hiking in the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
hiking in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

The Masters of Environmental Education program at SOU does an excellent job at finding the balance between these practices. We integrate ourselves into deep scientific study of natural history, botany, ornithology, herpetology, etc., but we also recognize that it is our job to practice Carson’s advice: “rediscover with [children] the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” The educators of Cohort 8, in all of our diverse experiences and geographic homes, were already united around this common purpose before we arrived in Ashland this July. We all seek careers in which we can make a difference while spending most of our time outdoors. But why now? Why Environmental Education?

Some of us have worked in wildlife research in the past and are now looking for a more direct way to impact conservation. Some of us have worked in schools and are looking to diversify our skills teaching outdoors. Some of us seek more scientific knowledge. Some of us are fresh from undergraduate degrees, eager to continue learning. And some of us intend to work in nonprofits, seeking experiences in management. We arrive from homes all over the country: Upstate New York, rural Washington, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, San Francisco, Hawaii, Maine, northern Michigan, Oregon, and fishing boats in Alaska. One of us even arrived in Ashland by foot via the infamous Pacific Crest Trail! We come together united by a common goal: how do we transmit information to people of varying contexts, attitudes, personal histories, agendas, ages, and skills? And how can this program prepare us to do this?

It all began by immersing ourselves in our new place. We spent a weekend together when we first arrived, camping, hiking, swimming, eating, camp fire-ing, and identifying new plants with our professors and Cohort 7, at the nearby Cascade Siskiyou National Monument. We then took a four-week place-based Environmental Issues class, in which we were introduced to six quintessential ecosystem types and their flora and fauna that we will encounter throughout our studies in this area. We practiced critter catching and collected data and dreamed about the environmental education programs we would soon begin designing. And we hiked to the tops of stunningly tall peaks where we could see the entirety of our new homes from a new vantage point.

Cascade Siskiyou National Monument: http://www.cascadesiskiyou.org/
from Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument: http://www.cascadesiskiyou.org/

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, practically in our backyard, is a place of unmatched diversity. It is a mystery of colliding mountains, where ecologically distinct regions coexist in the nexus of the Cascade, Siskiyou, and Klamath ranges. Pygmy Nuthatches and kangaroo rats, typically found east of the Cascades, share habitat with western species such as rough-skinned newts and Northern Spotted Owls. Bigleaf Maple and Eastern Juniper grow on the same bluff, as do Manzanita and White Fir. All of these species coexist at the CSNM, along with the highest butterfly diversity in North America.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus ledifolius

During this summer’s orientation weekend, we hiked to the top of Hobart Bluff, one of the tallest vantage points in the CSNM. Its high elevation reveals unique plants that exist in exposed, wind-swept areas. One such species is Curl-leaf Mountain Mahogany, or Cercocarpus ledifolius, a hardy specimen with bending branches, uneven bark, and small, indistinct leaves. But its ability to take root in a harsh, rocky environment is its true wonder. How does it do it? The answer is in the seeds. Spiraling out from the base of each leaf cluster are countless numbers of corkscrew-like seeds, whose fine hairs allow them to leap into flight at a passing breeze. And if they are lucky, each will find a piece of damp Earth in which to uncurl, drilling themselves into the ground, rooting their way to nutrients and new life.

Cohort 8 at the top of Hobart Bluff
Cohort 8 at the top of Hobart Bluff

Like the CSNM, our cohort is one of great diversity: age, experiences, and career trajectories. But for eighteen short months, we come together to learn. We will dream up and facilitate a program of our own creation. We will learn how to work together in close quarters, practicing life-long skills of conflict resolution and program planning. For eighteen short months, we will ground ourselves in the Rogue Valley like the curl-leaf mountain mahogany, wind-dispersed from our home places, and rooting ourselves into this new place.

Stewart Janes (Environmental Education program director) reminds us continually, “In a year, you will be the experts.” And we will. We will study the land and its diversity, acknowledging the unnoticed and marveling at the big picture. We will look closely, taking it all in as we ask new questions. And we will discover the mysteries of where we live, reminding ourselves of the inevitable stories of some of our future students: What would I do if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

If You Want to Learn More:

More than a calendar

I remember sitting on my mom’s couch and having the whole family tell me that the documentary I was watching was boring and weird.  But to me, this was an edge-of-my-seat exploration of one of the coolest hobbies that exists: keeping bees. I learned about colony collapse disorder, climate change, pollination, and of course honey (sweet, sweet honey). From that day on, I sometimes snuck in time to do internet research about beekeeping, look at beekeeping blogs, and just be generally nerdy about the whole thing. Unfortunately, at the time I was deep into my biology studies and had little extra time to devote to learning beekeeping. I told one of my professors how interesting I thought bees were and how I would want to become a beekeeper in the future. A few weeks later, he called me to his office to give me a gift… it was the most beautiful beekeeping calendar with up-close shots of bees and honey comb. This calendar went up above my desk to help me get through my immunology and microbiology studies, but beekeeping would have to wait until I had time for a hobby.

Alex and BeeGirlFast forward a year to the first few weeks in the Environmental Education Master’s program here at SOU. A beautiful, wonderful member of last year’s cohort met me for coffee and to share about her year-long internship experience…..with a Beekeeper! She didn’t just learn about beekeeping, she had the chance to learn about non-profit business and to be active in the conservation of bees and their habitat. The amazing organization she works with is called Bee Girl (http://www.beegirl.org/).  Bee Girl specializes in beekeeping education and honeybee conservation and has a mission to “inspire and empower communities to conserve bees and their habitat”. I was lucky enough to meet Sarah Red-Laird, the founder and executive director of the Bee Girl organization and she invited me to be a part of the Bee Girl team as an intern for the 2014-2015 school year. Can you guess what I said?

Alex and HONEYMy life will never be the same. What inspires me? The smell of wax and honey on a warm day, the buzz of fifty-thousand bees, the tickle of their hairy little legs when the land on me, and don’t forget the taste of fresh honeycomb straight from the hive. The honey bee is one of the most remarkable creatures on the planet and they have a big job to do! Bees pollinate many of the plants that are important to wildlife and to humans. Through their pollination services, bees are directly responsible for 30 percent of our diet. They are so important and amazing. I feel blessed to be a part of the beekeeping community and to have the opportunity, through Bee Girl, to be educating the public about the issues faced by my fuzzy little friends.

What does my beekeeping have to do with my studies in environmental education? Not only do I get a chance to keep bees and be involved with some of the most important pollinators on the planet; I am also working with children, adults, community groups and new beekeepers. I am educating the public on important environmental issues such as habitat conservation, sustainable farming, and local beekeeping. I have discovered that I can combine my passion for environmental education and my love of bees into something that makes me happy. Maybe beekeeping is meant to be my hobby. Or maybe in the future as a classroom teacher, I will be able to use this experience and to expose my students to new and interesting ideas. Who knows, I might even end up with bees in a school garden similar to what they have done at Ruch K-8 school (http://www.ruchschool.org/) . I’m happy and I love what I spend my time doing. Anyone can do this. If you love hiking, farming, the ocean, art, birding, geology, goats, kittens… (I don’t care what you love just as long as you embrace it) then work hard to find out where it fits into your life. If it makes you happy, then make it more than just a beautiful calendar on the wall.

Alex and Bees!

A Professional Theory

Why did we pick our profession over all others? This is a question that has been rattling around in my head for the last few weeks. We all begin life with nearly infinite possibilities, and over the years we narrow them down until we find ourselves in a single career. Is it something that we choose, or are we destined to our careers? It’s a question that I’m sure has sent many a philosopher into thought upon thought.  But how often do we, as everyday red-blooded Americans, think about the” why” behind our choice?

If you are anything like me you don’t think about the why of it very often. And when you do, your brain starts to hurt and you have to lie down for a bit. I’ve always seen this question as a challenge, and I must defend my choice. I’ll launch into long-winded dissertations about how the wonder of nature inspired me to share it with others, how this planet is ours and we need to care for it, or that seeing the “aha moment” in my students eyes is why I chose Environmental Education. However, I’ve developed a universal theory that is much simpler than all that.

On Friday February 27th one of my classes took a snowshoeing trip to Crater Lake National Park. The park was covered in snow, the visibility was minimal, and the wind was bitter cold. In the midst of these harsh winter conditions my theory began to take shape. We went on a 2mile hike with a Park Ranger and learned a little bit about how the plants, animals, and even the lake are impacted by the forces of winter. As we trekked along on our snowshoes, stomping down hard so as not to slide down the slopes, I started putting some pieces of my theory together.

Our hike provided gorgeous views of snow covered meadows bounded by glistening Mountain Hemlock. Even when we were hiking through clouds the views were still beautiful, if in a more ominous way. The first piece of my theory clicked into place, as I realized that there are few other professions that would allow me to call a day of snowshoeing “professional development”.

As we walked on, our guide told us about the different adaptations that plants and animals have to survive the harsh winters at Crater Lake. Did you know that Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels lower their body temperature to 39 degrees when they hibernate?! I even got to wrestle a young limber Mountain Hemlock to the ground to demonstrate how they can bend under the weight of snow and not break. Piece two was added to my growing theory. Knowledge of the natural world is what inspires me to learn more and make myself a better person. If I wasn’t always learning something new about the natural world, I would be terribly bored.

After the hike we gathered in the second story of one of the few open buildings at Crater Lake to discuss the performance of our guide. Our discussion took us through how you develop a theme, challenges of teaching during winter, how to read audiences, and how to keep a presentation fresh. The theory grew further during this talk. Discussing the art of teaching and learning how to convey your thoughts speaks to the communicator in me as well as the perfectionist. If you are going to do something you love, then you better do it right.

These three things were swirling around in my head as we pulled out of the parking lot. Maybe as we pulled out the driver stopped too suddenly or that last brain-cell finally decided to fire, but whatever it was my grand unifying theory of why we pick our professions came to me in a flash. When I looked at the simplicity of my theory I couldn’t believe how obvious it was, but here it is. We pick our careers for the sheer fun of them! For me, the only way the day could have been better is if I had a group of my own to present to. Every part of that day made me come alive with joy. I started to realize that all of the things surrounding Environmental Education are fun for me. Even sitting in meetings trying to determine what kind of t-shirts we should have are fun.

Hopefully that’s how you feel when you think about your career. Whether you be an electrical engineer, social worker, architect, or professional stay at home parent we all do these crazy things because they are fun for us. I’m sure the day I described above would be boring to some, but a day running computer simulations on the tensile strength of steel or flying a plane from city to city would not hold the same allure for me as I’m sure it does for industrial engineers and pilots respectively. So I wrote this blog to honor not overthinking things for once. The next time someone asks you why you do what you do, or you’re in the midst of an existential crisis I hope you look deep inside of yourself, hold your head up high, and answer with “I do it because it’s fun!” And for those of you who are still searching for a career or honestly can’t answer with “because it’s fun” I urge you to search for your fun, whatever it may be. Life is far too short not to have fun in your career. And that’s my professional theory.

Humbled by Giants

Last weekend, my grandma and I escaped the fog that had blanketed the Rogue Valley for days, venturing beyond Cave Junction, to where the road winds down the diverse rock formations and forests lining the Smith River. We were headed for the coast that I’d had a long overdue reunion with the weekend prior on a field trip. I’d wanted to go back as soon as I’d left and took the opportunity to do so, while at the same time share many of the things I have learned over the course my time here in Oregon.

Our first stop was a short botanical trail that led to an unadvertised wonder.

darlingtonia
Darlingtonia

The scene on our arrival could not have been more perfect as the sun broke through and illuminated the delicate features of the sprawling cobra lilies occupying the fen. We both stood in awe. This was only my third encounter with the unique plants and my grandma remarked on how she’d never in her life seen anything quite like it. Energized, we continued on toward the sea, where the noble Coast Redwood trees live. I have been infatuated with the giants since I was first humbled by their presence and could hardly contain my excitement.

But this was abruptly stifled as my grandma said that the last time she’d visited a redwood forest, she’d felt that “once you’d seen one, you’d seen them all.” I nearly swerved off the road as I gasped and searched for a way to respond to such a blow. I composed myself as I resolved that no one who had truly encountered the trees could utter such a thing. I knew then that before we could reach the sand I was aching to dig my toes into, we had to spend time in the forest.

herping
an ensatina

I took the split off of the 199 that takes you just barely into California and the Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park. I was headed for the Simpson Reed Trail I’d been on a few months earlier. It was short, but I was hopeful that it would be enough. Within our first few minutes on the trail, I was already babbling away about fire resistance, finding amphibians, and chewing on redwood sorrel. Although my grandma wouldn’t touch the slimy creature I’d discovered, she did humor me and try the tangy sorrel leaves. The tallest of the trees scattered the sunlight in warm rays that lit up ancient looking ferns and soft mosses; it was as though the forest were putting forth its best ‘face’ for my grandma. And in less than a mile’s walk, it worked.

When we got back into the car, she turned to me and said,

“Chelsea, thank you. That was truly magnificent. I was wrong, I understand.”

redwoodsI could have cried. It wasn’t just that she now understood my love for the trees, or even was on her way to developing a love for the forest herself, but the reminder that people don’t need to be convinced of the importance of preserving such natural wonders. More than sharing knowledge and facts, environmental education is about love. Drawn to the enthusiasm you can shamelessly share for what you are passionate about, people’s eyes are more open to see and respect that connection, and they may even begin to develop a passion of their own.

The rest of the day was just as magical. Back across the border into Oregon we spotted a few late southern Gray Whale migrants from Cape Ferrelo and explored the colorful rocky intertidal zone of Harris Beach.

the fluke of a gray whale
the fluke of a gray whale

So absorbed in exploring the coast, I’d forgotten that I’d mentioned earlier on our redwood forest hike that the largest trees in Jedidiah Smith State Park were along Howland Hill Road, which wound from Crescent City to Hiouchi.

As the late afternoon sun sparkled on the ocean’s calm surface and I began to entertain ideas of never leaving, my grandma again took me by surprise.

“Chelsea, do you think we’d have time to go back the long way along that road from Crescent City?”

My heart nearly burst.