Friday, November 28, 2014

field inspiration

My last post was sort of a long rant, so I thought I'd balance things out a bit with a more positive subject. If you do fieldwork and love being outside, (potentially) out in nature, do you have someone who gave you that love of nature? Maybe it was someone you grew up with, or a camp counselor, or maybe it was a teacher.

My field/outdoors inspiration (as opposed to my life inspiration or science inspiration) was my grandfather, John. Born before 1910 to an alcoholic mother and an absent father (his parents divorced, but not before having a bunch of kids they couldn't take care of), he essentially raised his younger siblings. As a teenager, he took a job as a ship's cook for a sailing ship, and eventually he settled down in the city that was the primary port of call, married my grandmother in the depths of the Depression, and had a bunch of children.

When John's multitude of children were young, money and time were both tight, but he still found time to be heavily involved in the boy scouts. He taught generations of inner-city boys orienteering/survival skills and a general love of nature, and he received the silver beaver, which I believe is the highest boy scout-specific adult leadership award (i.e. for actually leading boy scouts, not for national issues/public service). He built rifles and went hunting every chance he could, although in his case, "hunting" involved tracking some kind of game, getting close enough for a nice clean shot, and then sitting down for a meditative smoke. Once the deer/moose/whatever had wandered off, he'd repeat the process.

My mother was the youngest and the child of his retirement, and he made her a child-sized backpack and spent as long as he could teaching her everything he knew about hiking and the woods. He always found a way to be outside and to go for long walks. Even past his mid-eighties, when he was frequently afflicted with gout (my love of good food is genetic), he was still active: he did the grocery shopping and would go for long walks from his apartment. He also filed down the ribbon eye on that silver beaver and gave it to me when I was young, since he didn't need the award and it had caught my eye. I still have it.

We were too far apart in age for John to take me out into the woods himself - by the time I was old enough to practice everything he knew, he wasn't mobile enough to get onto the trail and poke around. But he did instill in me an appreciation for silence, for sitting and waiting and letting the wildlife get comfortable, and an appreciation for all the little things you can learn if you just look.

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