I have to confess that I am an accidental naturalist. As a girl who grew up in suburbia and tolerated summer vacations to stunning national parks, I never expected to become a wildlife and nature enthusiast.
But every journey begins with a single step, and mine was a slippery slope to amateur naturalist, meandering through a progression that – in hindsight – seemed inevitable.
It all began in 2006 with a move to a little island in the Puget Sound of Washington State. Anderson Island is a tiny oasis of a thousand or so folks, surrounded by trees and water and all the nature you could ask for. With ferry-only access, this place makes you slow down and smell the forest, so to speak. After years of living in densely populated places – Austin, New Orleans, Clearwater, Olympia, Bremerton – my partner and I settled into our first home and this new life – gardening, hiking in our parks, soaking in the sounds, smells, and sights of a life surrounded by nature.
In May 2013, I bought my first DSLR and embarked on a picture challenge to get over the learning curve. At that moment, my relationship with nature shifted from passive to active. It was no longer just the backdrop of my life, but a playground in which I could seek and find a thousand small wonders to capture. Two years into my commitment to photography, I rented a super-telephoto lens and fell madly in love with wildlife photography. Bit by bit, adventure after adventure, I accumulated the thousands of hours of patience, muscles memory, and post-production prowess to uncover the hidden world around me.
That’s when something magical happened – I discovered a curiosity for nature that I had never before experienced. By giving myself the time to experience the world around me, the skills to capture those experiences and take them home, and then the time to absorb the story they told, I began to ask all sorts of questions – What are you? Why are you doing that thing? Are you always here? For the first time in a long time, I began researching and learning for the sheer joy of understanding and connecting the dots. It wasn’t a new skill for me, but until that point, I had really only applied it to my professional life, driven by external demands and practical considerations. No one gave a damn whether I knew the migration schedule of cedar waxwings or how stinking adorable their babies were…except me.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. Each time I downloaded photos, I had a new set of questions to ask and answer, new mysteries to untangle. Suddenly, I was learning about the 3 sub-species of orca and which ones were in my area. Then I was learning how to ID them based on their dorsals and saddle patches. I began to recognize individuals who visited regularly. I downloaded Merlin – a brilliantly easy bird ID app – and began learning who my local feathered friends were. I poured over online resources to glean more insight into the behaviors I was seeing. The more time I spent in these pursuits, the more my net widened, inadvertently learning more about the ecosystems that these animals existed within, and how it was all connected.
Most of all, I began to see the story in every encounter, and I began to share it. Through the nine years of my weekly picture challenges, my friends – willingly or otherwise – heard me chirp about bird facts, whale tales, unusual moments, new discoveries. I plugged into communities who gave me more awareness, resources, and shared knowledge. I started a bird group on Facebook for our island and began engaging my community of nature-lovers in sharing photos, sightings, and tips for birding. I created a cycle of learning, sharing and enrichment every chance I got, and it just continued to feed my curiosity and desire to learn and see more.
Through this amazing journey of curiosity, exploration, connection, and sharing, I have transformed into a Wild Child.