We left the house at 8:15 Monday morning. I had prepared for a week prior, texting my favorite available naturalists for advice, practicing my presentation with my own children so much that all three of us knew it by heart. Driving down the all-too-familiar road, we pulled into Weldon Springs State Park. I was nervous that I wouldn’t do the presentation justice. What if someone asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? How would I keep 50 children entertained for two hours as I taught them about trees and leaves? Would the children think that was fun?
A friend had texted me that morning. He said, “The kids will see your passion and I’m sure it will ignite their desire to learn about nature. Kids like dirt and bugs...So take a deep breath and just be your fabulous self. It’ll be fine.” It was just the advice I needed to start Camp Osage’s Nature week. My mom always said that she had the best job in the world, she got paid to chase butterflies and play in the creek. For the first time ever, I was getting paid to do the same.
Searching through all of her files and old notes, I can feel the passion my mom had for what she did. Her handwriting, her words - speaking to me and all who will attempt to follow in her footsteps; and what big footsteps we all have to fill. It amazes me, the amount of people it takes to fill one void. She was my mom and that is a loss I will always grieve, but she was an asset to our children, to our community - to so many more than just myself.
A close friend of the family, and previous intern at Weldon Springs told me, “Remember nature has a way of happily, unexpectedly cooperating...don’t miss these moments.” What grand advice, not just in preparation for my presentation, but for life in general. We can prepare for multiple situations, but being unprepared for the moments out of our control can lead to some phenomenal experiences.
I was surprised to find out how many children had never been fishing and how many couldn’t identify a photograph of a cardinal - but their excitement to learn, to experience new things and see nature in a new way, was paramount. Hearing the screams and giggles of a group of girls as my daughter caught a bluegill, kissing it before its release, made me think to myself that we were all making memories together, and wasn’t that the whole point?
Bird watching was a really fun day, I don’t know that there was a single child that wasn’t excited at the chance to use a set of real binoculars and flip through their Peterson Field Guide to identify (and many times, successfully) the birds they were seeing. The Great Blue Heron is my favorite bird - a bird that has become very special to me, my husband, my children and my closest friend - and one that was special to my mom. I took full advantage of the opportunity to express my love for the bird, challenging them all to find one - them, just as excited as myself, when we found one - all five days. As promised, my excitement ecstatically rubbed off.
I know that my talks and activities were flawed, as I am not a professional naturalist, but while I studied and researched - I remembered that my mom was self taught, and I had the confidence that it could be done. We made it through the week (tree identification, prairie walk, fishing, birdwatching, aquatic study and scavenger hunt) with minimal issues and a lot of fun. I can only hope that even one of those children will grow up to value Weldon Springs in a personal way, loving the park for all it has to offer, helping to preserve its significance for future generations.