Coming all the way from the Pacific Northwest to Central Pennsylvania was quite the leap out of my comfort zone. Having never traveled farther east than Arizona, I had no context for what I should expect. The first few days were very challenging. I felt so out of place. The trees looked unfamiliar, the hills rolled like green cotton candy compared to the tall pointy coniferous forests I grew up in. The humidity made me sweat more than I ever have, and the threat of ticks (unbeknownst to me before arrival) made me dizzy with the uncomfortable realization of how far I was from the place and people I knew and loved.
Walking into Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center the first morning after my arrival was stepping into many unknowns. However, starting from the first face I met, the mission of Shaver’s Creek to connect people to people and people to place had been set into motion in my life. I was instantly greeted with warm welcomes and a personal guided tour of the place, stopping to meet every earthling (human as well non-human animal ambassador) I came across. I was filled with emotion every time I felt seen. I began to make connections with the people and my circle continued to grow as summer camp started.
As an assistant naturalist for Shaver’s Creek summer camp, I began to be connected to the place and the uncomfortable feeling of home being so far away slowly drifted. Spending an average of nine hours outside every day, I could not avoid the natural world. I slowly learned the names of the trails, bends, bridges, benches, and spaces of Shaver’s Creek. As I would walk the trails with 10 or so sprightly children following, I had the unique experience of learning and seeing the world right alongside them. The curiosity of the campers and the passion of my fellow staff and mentors for the natural world was contagious. I began to notice the unique bird songs and every insect we came across (mostly the fireflies though, they are so MAGICAL). I became aware.
The first day of every camp week is Awareness Day. We would ask the campers, “How can an awareness of birds/mammals/fungi/people help us all week long?” I have begun to apply this question to life in general. Awareness is the first step in connecting people to people and people to place. To appreciate someone or something, I first have to notice it. Noticing the people and natural world takes intentionality and a child-like curiosity. The more I learn, the more questions I have and the more I want to care about the people and place around me. The mission of Shaver’s Creek has become my mission.
Everyone and everything has a story to tell. I encourage you to become more aware of the people and places around you. As the season is starting to change from summer to fall, take notice of the birds as they begin to migrate or molt, how the insect chorus changes, and how the foliage dramatically shifts. Take notice of people and the seasons they are in. Simply listening and intentionally reaching out to someone may make more of an impact than you could ever know. Take time to connect with others and the world outside. Take a hike, feel the grass on your bare feet, learn a bird song, call a friend, listen to someone’s story, become aware, begin to appreciate, and revel in the enchanting world we are all a part of.