.......and Reflections

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Holiday Gift Via The U.S Postal Service

Our family Christmas celebration is always early. It is actually my “extended” family Christmas with in-laws, the kids I raised, grandchildren, and a menagerie of pets of various sizes and personalities. It is festive and chaotic. There are too many people in a confined space with presents, wrappings, children, dogs, and cats scattered about. We have too much food, more than enough alcoholic drinks and lively conversations that are rarely remembered the next day. It is a fun event that once a year is sufficient.
It would be difficult to calculate how many people out there could care less about “The Middle of Nowhere”. A survey of my family interest in birding and natural history would reveal that about one in ten million people would have any interest in, or any understanding of the Middle of Nowhere, or anything I might write about the subject.
It is because of this fact that I write this blog. By just getting the subject out there might just attract a few souls to a wonderful world under appreciated by so many. But family “get-togethers” are always a reminder to me that even my family doesn’t understand who I am or appreciate the things that have consumed my life and career.
I’m not at all feeling sorry for myself but more so for them. I’m working on my grandchildren but I have such a small influence on their lives. Perhaps by some miracle, my efforts will result in a fledgling naturalist or birder.
Yesterday I got a letter in the mail from Phil Nye. Phil is from Bay Village, Ohio and I have known him for the over 25 years I have lived in northeast Ohio. He now lives in Naples, Florida and we have stayed in touch over the years. His mail included a picture of Phil with his sons and their wives, a short Holiday salutation and a National Audubon news letter from Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. It was a welcome correspondence for sure and a contrast to my recent family experience.
I am very proud to have had two successful careers. I had a very productive career in a natural resource field and another in my passion for birding. This has in large part been possible because I have had mentors and have surrounded myself with people much more talented than myself. Phil Nye is one of those people that made me better and enriched my passion for birding and natural history education.
Phil has been a Volunteer at National Audubon Society Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary & Blair Audubon Center for 15 years. Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is one of the premier nature preserves in North America and a model for preserves around the world. The importance of this sanctuary has grown evident in the 15 years since Phil dedicated his time and talent to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
Naples, Florida and the Florida Gulf Coast have exploded in population, development and conservation issues throughout the last 30 years. Naples is a very affluent community that continues to steadily sprawl out to, and around the Audubon Sanctuary that was once a significant distance from the populated coastal areas. Most people would be surprised to know that a major conservation and safety issue for this suburban community is the invasion of wildlife, primarily Black Bears and Florida Panthers.
It is not hard to imagine how important it has become that the community has this tenured Audubon Sanctuary in their community to help guide the difficult task of bridging the needs of the community with the needs of Florida’s wild natural resources and valued endangered wildlife. The whole world is watching as classic human/wildlife clashes endure around the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. The bottom line is that Florida’s natural history preservation or demise is of major significance to all America and beyond.   
The newsletter sent with Phil’s Christmas salutation was much appreciated. Phil Nye loves Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. He knows as much about its natural history as anyone. There are few volunteer jobs Phil hasn’t done. His hands-on attitude is driven by his desire to learn and his love of the Sanctuary ecosystem…top to bottom….above and below. Phil gets ecology.
Aside from Phil’s eagerness to serve in any volunteer duties, engaging visitors, educating them and answering their questions, as-well-as representing Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and the National Audubon Society is his greatest strength. Phil attended many of my bird excursions while I was at the Lake Erie Nature & Science Center including local, regional, and even international trips. His enthusiasm and birding skills were always value added to our groups and he helped me grow as a trip leader and a birder.
Not surprisingly, Phil is featured in the Corkscrew Audubon Sanctuary 2011 Annual Update. Phil has been awarded the prestigious honor of 2011 Volunteer of the Year. I am glad that the Audubon staff and fellow volunteers recognize his value to the Sanctuary and the Audubon Society mission. They couldn’t pick any better person to help the Sanctuary meet the challenges they will face in coming years. His words are powerful because he is a citizen volunteer and people respect what he does and what he says.
Congratulations to Phil Nye for all he has done to make one of America’s most famous sanctuaries an even greater value to the thousands of visitors that come there to explore, to learn, and to be enriched. Thanks, Phil for enriching my life and making me better.
And as for that family thing……Well, I guess they are a left-handed inspiration as well. They affirm my passion for the Middle of Nowhere and they remind me that the alternative isn’t very attractive, at least to me.
Phil Nye is a reminder to all of us that the “Middle of Nowhere” is places that start in the heart.

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