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Saturday, August 31

Weekend Adventures: Master Naturalist

Last year, around this time, I was grappling with how best to squeeze my major passion of the outdoors into an all too busy life.  There were thoughts of figuring out a new career path, but completely by mistake, I seem to have stumbled upon the right one of those.  So, it didn't take me long to figure out I needed a plan B.  I needed to figure out how to do more of what I loved.  Nature, every part of it, speaks to me on levels nothing else can.  Whether it's the breathtaking ocean, towering mountains, gentle rolling hills or beautiful morning sky, I discover a level of being with each that nothing else can beckon.  

Thankfully, I stumbled upon the West Virginia Master Naturalist Program.  Still a fairly nascent program, the effort started around 2003 and was a cooperative effort among several state agencies and a couple of educational institutions.  It has definitely grown and expanded in that time, and I'm lucky enough to live near Oglebay Park, which holds many classes each season.  It's basically an accelerated and hands-on series of courses that prepares individuals for leadership in conservation and best practices with regard to nature.  Due to a lot of adjustments in my life over the past year, I had only had the chance to attend one class; but, I've enrolled in several for this fall, and I got to take the first of those today.  What's better than a Saturday morning spent, listening to a fascinating and interesting lecture on West Virginia's aquatic habitats?  There was talk of the ecosystems of several waterways, and then we got to go trekking around in the waters of a stream in the vicinity of Buffalo Creek and Castleman Run.

A couple of my favorite lessons from the day included a teaching on the American Bittern, which is an intriguing bird whose chest plumage imitates that of dense grasses/cattails in lake and pond areas.  The instructor had some amusing tales of approaching these birds, which apparently allow you to approach so long as you do not look at them (thus, employing a sidestep).  When they see you approach, they raise their head so as to better blend with the surrounding grasses and do so until you're uncomfortably close, at which time they and their 4.5 foot wingspan flush.  Also, there was the Lethocerus giant water bug, which has the ability to "deflate" a frog through its use of digestive enzymes and proboscis.  We also learned how to determine quality of water, using EPT Taxa, a method based on the presence of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies.  This last lesson was what led us to the stream to collect samples and interpret.  I managed to collect a mayfly that looked to have hatched this morning, so that its body was almost completely translucent with the exception of its beady black eyes.

Later this fall, I'm lined up for a mammals class as well as a class called "Growing up Wild," which equips adults to teach children about nature.  The Master Naturalist Program is just one more reason to love this beautiful state (and be grateful for Oglebay Park being just up the road)!    


zuckerman said...

Very cool! Congrats on finding a way to keep this avocation alive in your life.

Courtney Chase said...

Thanks zuckerman!