Third Anniversary

Four "Returning to Nature" Stories

October 9, 2008
Cactus Wren
Canyon Wren
Welcome to "Bird Is A Verb"'s new home. For this third anniversary column I'd like to recount four good news stories about getting back to nature and, in deference to Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods who recently addressed a convention here in the Valley, three of these stories feature kids. By some accounts Louv's book is a downer because it catalogues how far we've strayed from our species' roots in the natural world. My stories are uppers. They spotlight reconnections with that world which still happen even in the scurry of post-modern lives.

First Story--Our Phoenix grandson, JP Burns, tagged along on many of our birding adventures as soon as he could walk and talk, and the first bird on his Life List was the eared quetzal, a rare and spectacular vagrant from Mexico which famously spent the winter of '96 in Haunted Canyon west of Globe. Though JP's interest in birding has waned, his love of nature and the outdoors has not. Now a middle schooler, he is a competitive rock climber and has his own kayak. Last summer, returning from a river trip to Alaska, the family stopped at the Beringea Interpretive Center in Whitehorse, Yukon, and JP did a workshop where he learned how to design his own atlatl. An ancient seed flowers in a modern teenager.

Second Story--Dianne Petro, a reader of this column, remembers walking down a road in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument with her six year old son well after dark on a camping trip. Let Dianne tell it: "As we walked in that velvety blackness that you never encounter in the city he said, 'The stars come right down to the ground!' And so they did, and we were walking among them! A connection was definitely made!" Thanks Dianne. For sharing a wonderful story but, most importantly, for planting another seed.

Third Story--I recently led a birdwalk at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Among the participants was 11 year old Aster Despain of Chandler, accompanied by his father, David. Aster was carrying a field guide and looking up each species as we saw it. When we spotted a singing canyon wren, Aster stopped every adult dead in their tracks, exclaiming "This is better than Disneyland!" I am not making this up. David reports Aster hopes to be a "birdologist" when he grows up.

Fourth story--Tom Vezo of Green Valley, arguably the best bird photographer in the country, recently passed away. He died of a heart attack while hiking in the Rincons in southern Arizona. I knew Tom well enough to know his "return to nature," untimely though it was, happened exactly as he wished. I know this because we had this conversation two years ago when I saw him in Texas during spring migration.

Tom's wildlife photography was renowned for drawing viewers into nature and chronicling its cycles of life and death. How perfect for one whose life work conveyed his love of nature to end that life outdoors doing something he loved. A seed flowers. The flower goes back to seed. A life Richard Louv might have scripted.

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