stay close to nature.
It will never fail you.”
-- Frank Lloyd Wright
For the last 2 months, I’ve been attending classes at the University of Illinois Extension Office as part of the Illinois Master Naturalist program with 22 other like-minded nature lovers.
Each week, guest lecturers from area nature preserves introduced us to their particular specialty-- plants, forests, prairies, wetlands, soils, birds, mammals, meteorology, reptiles, and insects. Perhaps the most memorable class was the one last week on herpetology when the lecturer brought a Blanding’s turtle, and a variety of friendly snakes to the class.
Of course, you know what happens when snakes come to class….one, inevitably, springs loose from its pillowcase and decides to try and hide amongst the audio/video cables beneath the presentation table. But, never fear! The class jumped into action to help safely find “Freddy the Fox Snake” before he could hurt himself.
The class also did a workday to help Kendall County Forest Preserve stewards pull invasive Dame’s Rocket plants from a local park.
Our final session last night ended with the group picnic roasting hot dogs, banana boats, and s’mores around a campfire--
We now have graduated from Illinois Master Naturalist Trainees to now being considered “Interns.” The program’s next phase will be for each of us to volunteer 60 hours of service at local nature centers and parks to complete our internships and become fully certified.
It’s been a fun and enriching experience, thus far, and a great way to meet others who care deeply about the natural world around them and wish to spread that environmental enthusiasm to the general public. A number of other states have similar Master Naturalist programs, so if this sounds of interest to you, do a web search to find your program!
If no program is offered right now in your area, fear not! There are plenty of other ways you can get involved to increase your knowledge, lend a helping hand to local land stewards, and meet others.
Many parks, nature centers, and local environmental organizations seek volunteers to help with a wide variety of needs from doing workdays (to restore habitat, pull weeds, collect seeds, and help with controlled burns). to collecting data as a “citizen scientist” (for annual bird counts, butterfly and frog monitoring, etc). As you become more knowledgeable and skilled in a particular focus area, you might be asked to serve as a volunteer docent, steward, or interpretive guide.
Study of our natural sciences and natural history can easily become a life-long pursuit. No matter how much you feel you’ve mastered a particular subject, there are always new discoveries and further research, outreach, and conservation work to be done!