What happens when a person’s curiosity focuses on nature? An analogy might be what happens when a person gets stuck in quicksand, but with fewer dire consequences. The natural world, nature as we know it, is a very complicated interrelated system where everything is connected. The more you study it, the less you seem to know. The more you know, the more you want to know. The ever-expanding circles of new knowledge possibilities are what drive a naturalist.
I credit one of my grandfather’s interests in nature for planting seeds that would continue to sprout during my lifetime, urging me to want to know more about the natural world. He had no formal education beyond his schooling as a youth more than a century ago, but he had an unusual curiosity to observe and relate to nature. He was a very large man who spent a lot of his time fishing on the Guadalupe River. While floating on the river, he had the time and interest in observing animals and their habits.
My grandfather was also a trapper in his youth, an activity which matched his skills with many of the animals’ skills to avoid his traps. He loved to share his experiences as a storyteller with me sitting in his lap, loving every minute of it. I am also sure that he embellished many of his tales to make his stories more exciting to me. Those frequent sittings in the front porch rocking chair instilled a love of nature that carried me for a lifetime of wanting to know more about nature.
I became a geologist and worked for a large company, Exxon which allowed me to visit places that my grandfather could only dream about. Looking back at the places I had the opportunity to work around the world, I would like to think he somehow went with me and enjoyed my adventures as much as he did his own on the Guadalupe River. What he instilled in me was the curiosity to want to know more and the passion to make it happen.
When my grandfather was not telling me stories, we would drive around Gonzales Country in his Model T Ford looking at the beautiful spring wildflowers, him teaching me their names, and telling me what he knew about many of them. I chose not to become a botanist, but after retirement taught myself many of the names of the flora of Texas through photography and study. I had the opportunity to serve as the president of the Native Plant Society of Texas with roots again going back to my grandfather’s interest in phlox, Indian paintbrush, daisies, and bluebonnets.
Did the time my grandfather told me stories about redbirds, eagles, ducks, herons and songbirds have some influence on my fifty years of birding as my principal avocation? I think so. Sharing my experience and knowledge of birds with you has become a part of my life that has been both rewarding and fulfilling. I have often mentioned in my talks about birding that the avocation is very addictive and can in some cases lead to obsession. Birding goes well beyond just learning the birds’ names, but understanding their behavior also helps one become better stewards of their needs and well-being.
Curiosity about nature is a never ending pursuit. One can be just as curious about some aspect of nature at age seventy as one can at age seven. The good news is that you have more time to learn about nature in your senior years than you did in your junior years. And you have so much experience in which to analyze what you have just learned. What my grandfather left me was the idea to take time to watch the flowers grow, hear the birds sing, understand the call of the wild, and smell the fresh air on the mountain top. What else could one ask?