When I go on vacation, I visit nature centers. It's like an addiction, I can't help it. Part of the reason is because I simply love nature and want to visit places that embody that. Part of it is to get inspired for our exhibits (read "steal ideas"). Part of it is to make me feel good as I compare what we have to other places. But my favorite reason to go to nature centers is to see the people - to watch children press themselves up against the glass of an aquarium. Parents play at nature centers, because nature can awake that inner child. It's okay to stare in awe into a fish tank, or reach in and gently pet the turtles. Even if you're 67, it's OK. That's the allure of a nature center; everyone learns, everyone plays, everyone connects with each other and nature.
There are nature centers scattered throughout the entire world. Staying in touch with nature is not a new idea. Getting kids close to nature is a fundamental learning opportunity that, years ago, made them better farmers, hunters, gatherers, shamans, healers, doctors, scientists, and people. Yes, it made them better people. When you grow up with your dirt-caked bare feet and sun-kissed skin, picking perfectly ripened blackberries and not minding the thorns, you are a better person. I'm not saying that if you don't have those experiences, you're not a good person. Quite the contrary. Everyone seeks connections. Perhaps your connections are best made with other people. Perhaps you connect better with ideas, or animals, or molecules. Everyone connects, somehow, to the world around them. Connections with nature form the basis of a relationship that allows us to survive here.
When was the last time you visited a nature center? When was the last time you visited Audubon? I bet it's changed since you've been here last. I bet you've changed since you've been here last. Has it been for the better? Have you connected more to your world? You should come and visit. Come and sit on our couches, drink coffee and watch the birds at the bird feeders. Remember that question you had a about that tree in your backyard. Laugh, smile, connect. Find a naturalist, ask her. Turn your head as the door opens and a family comes in, the kids tossing their coats on the floor and rushing upstairs to the puppets just as if they were home. See, they come here so often, it is another home. Their shrieks fill the building and the naturalist grins, and tells you their names. Wander through the building, read the signs, get the gumption to peek at the snake (you can do it), marvel at the things you didn't know. Start a little bit as a voice over the loudspeaker excitedly says "Eagle! Eagle over Big Pond! Going west!" and the staff jump towards the window to show you our national symbol soar over the ponds. There are binoculars on almost every windowsill specifically for those moments.
The Nature Center by Missi Adzima.
Nature centers thrive on connections. They are created by the connections between people and nature and people who love nature. Perhaps you are more like my mother and like nature, as long as it is behind glass. You still breathe air and eat food grown in the earth, and build your house from forest giants or blocks of rock. My parents took me to nature centers and I learned and laughed and connected with what became my passion, my calling, the foundation for my future. I can still see "my" nature center in my head familiar and comforting, though now it has been renovated and doesn't even resemble that magic place of my childhood. I have it in my heart, though, and I'll hold onto that part forever.
Maybe you have to been to Audubon lately. There may still be new things in the building that you haven't seen or that you've missed. Along the trails there are always new things to be seen. The Day Campers brought me a Spiny Oak-Slug caterpillar last week. I had never seen one before! They are incredible, with minute spines resembling crystalline cave structures. And the Luna Moth caterpillars went into their cocoons and their "glue" which adheres them to their branch or bark is like concrete, unbelievably strong. There is always something new to see and learn.
If you're stopping to visit our trails and nature center you can find us at 1600 Riverside Road, located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Our nature center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except for Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. Trails are open dawn to dusk, as is viewing of our captive Bald Eagle Liberty. Come on down and connect in these last few weeks of summer.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon. She would not be who she is today without nature centers.