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Getting Started Loving Nature: Chickadees lead the way

Learning the importance of nature sometimes starts from a small experience.

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That's the way the love of birds - and ultimately all of nature - usually begins; the surprise of discovering that a gray jay will come to you for a hand-out. At that moment, two things happen: there's a link in the heart between child and bird, and at the same time, the person must ensure that he or she does no harm. That means providing the animal with food that will be in balance with a normal diet, something to which some people do not adhere.

I would like to say this is how my love for all of nature began, but it wasn't. I shot and killed a beautiful owl that flew over my head just to prove I was a good shot. How things changed when I proudly brought it back to show to my uncles - especially when I met my grandfather instead - who asked why I shot the owl.

After a series of stupid answers on my part to his profound questions, he gave me his pocket knife then told me to prick the owl, and cut it open to see what it was eating. I did and showed him what was in its stomach: mice. That's when he gave me my first lecture in ecological thinking when he asked about the role of mice on our farm. But it didn't end there, he sent me into the house to ask my grandmother if she would cook the owl for me; which she did and I did eat - a little.

Some 40 years ago, I had the good fortune of belonging to an organization that was made of a bunch of people who were geared toward creating the love of nature and scientific thinking in children: OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry. Meeting up with some of those "kids" of that era today has convinced me we were doing it right, and made me think I would never hook up with anything like that again.

But you know, right here in good old Central Oregon we have several wonderful institutions that I have worked with that have the vision of the old OMSI, and the tools, knowledge and the drive to provide excellent experiences for young people: Wolftree is one of them.

Wolftree goes way beyond the "extra mile." I have had the pleasure of spending many hours in the field with the people who run Wolftree in Sisters. Bess Ballantine and Rachael Manzo are always ready to help a young person achieve the understanding of how they can offer their hand to nature and go on from there.

I have seen the rapture, the care and the feeling of protection that comes to a child's face when they hold a spotted frog in their hand for the first time. Wolftree has made that possible so often.

"Oh, how ugly" was never heard, but one student did suggest that a girl in his class kiss it and wait for the prince...

The Deschutes Land Trust and Upper Deschutes Watershed Council are other forces bringing awareness to our youth about their role in making the world a better place by opening the door to conservation of our natural resources. I have worked alongside people like Kolleen Yake as she patiently builds the blocks of understanding in kids about their responsibility to conserve water for tomorrow.

The homeschoolers who come out with my wife Sue, when she's conducting the annual North American Butterfly Count both on the Metolius and over in Big Summit Prairie, have got the spirit. They're like the OMSI kids of the '60s, full of driving curiosity and always wanting to know more.

Which brings me to our Deschutes Public Library System. It is within the walls of our libraries that a person can find his or her way to experience that next step to knowing more. In all the years I have lived in our beautiful Oregon enjoying my time with the Deschutes Public Library, especially The Friends of the Sisters Library, I have had so many opportunities to help young people find the key to enjoying and trusting nature.

But often it begins with a gray jay coming to your hand, or having a first time encounter, face-to-face, with a chickadee.

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