Confessions of a Busy Naturalist

shoes of a busy naturalist

I remember sitting on the dock at the lake house, where I lived during my time at WAS, in early spring with my friend Michelle. We were watching the sunset, talking about our boy troubles.

When it got chilly, we went inside and had some friends over for a delicious home-cooked meal, after which we all sat down and did some nature journals. Usually, after so much focus time, one of the rowdier characters would pull out a bow drill or hand drill set and we would experiment for a little while. As people got into their cars to leave, I would Fox Walk to my Sit Spot, and sit in the dark.

I’ve been thinking about days like these quite often lately. It’s been exam time, here at McGill University, and I can’t help but long for the days when everything was slow, and I could use my time freely. But alas, my university days have begun. Slowly, that old, familiar, but not-so-pleasant feeling of high stress has set in, and with it comes the thought that permeates my mind: there’s NO TIME to go to my Sit Spot.

I’m embarrassed to say that it’s been weeks since I’ve had a good solid sit out there. The fact that it’s snowing has attracted me a little bit, and so I’ve gone out to my spot, confirmed the presence of a squirrel hollow through tracks, as well as answered some questions I had about squirrel butt prints. But, for the most part, the only sitting I’ve done has been on my couch with my computer, reviewing notes, or behind a desk, writing feverously.

After a particular rough exam, I sprinted to hand an assignment in so that I could go study for the following day’s final. While I stomped around, looking at my feet, completely in my head, something caught my eye: A flock of starlings, sitting in a tree, eating small crab apples.

I was astonished. As I stood there and watched in the middle of campus, I noticed that whatever the starlings dropped, the pigeons below were foraging on. What an interesting connection! I watched for a little while longer before my thoughts caught up with me again and I ran off, to study for 7 or 8 more hours.

Why is it that, during periods of high stress, it is so easy to write off my Sit Spot? I’ve come up with a few theories, and I hope some of you can relate. First and foremost, I think that telling my “Story of the Day” is one of the reasons why I was so committed to sitting during my WAS time. When I would get home for a sit, more often than not, someone would be over and would ask me what I saw. They would often ask good questions, or share stories, which motivated me to continue going. Good naturalist buddies are harder to find in the city, and without them, I often feel a little lonely, and lose the motivation to sit.

Second, I think that the old couch potato rule comes into effect. I’ve noticed this in myself; one hour of TV usually leads to two more. It’s easy, when I’m sitting and comfortable, to talk myself into staying longer, especially when I’m tired and have little energy. Instead of sitting, I use TV as my study break, because it seems exhausting to put my boots on and walk the 5 minutes.

And lastly, we find “Sit Spot guilt”. It’s the feeling I get when I’m thinking about sitting that reminds me that my time might be better spent studying/working/writing/researching. That old voice that reminds me that a little time for myself means less time for the “important” stuff.

And yet, while I was watching those birds, I was struck with the need to laugh hysterically. There I had been, taking myself, my life, and my grades, so seriously, that I had not acknowledged anyone or anything else around me. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision when everyone around me has it too. It took a bunch of bland-looking birds to get me out of my funk (not completely—I’m still working on it).

So, if you’ve related to anything I’ve said so far, whether you work, are a parent, go to school, are traveling, etc. have no fear! I’ve come with a few thoughts on how I’m going to talk myself into sitting more often:

  1. Go first thing in the morning, before you are too tired or too distracted to go.
  2. Find a buddy, and exchange emails every few days to check in on how it’s going, and share stories of what you’ve witnessed at your Sit Spot.
  3. Find ways to turn Sit Spotting into something ‘important’, by taking on a job or volunteering as a naturalist, tracker, etc, running an activity group, leading scouts. Consider it essential to your new responsibilities.
  4. Take notes on the wildlife around you, even if you’re not at your Sit Spot. (I recently noticed a tailless squirrel on campus after one such endeavor).
  5. Give thanks, even if you didn’t make it out that day. I’ve found that giving a little thanks makes me smile, relax, and helps me get to my spot on subsequent days.
  6. Bring nature into your home. Make sure you have a nature table in a visible area, with plenty of mysteries, but also bring in worms, plants, wild foods to process, to remind you of the natural processes and connections that are happening outside too.

In parting, I will leave you all with a quote that my friend Norm posted on my Facebook wall during a particularly ugly study period:

“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”
– Oscar Wilde

Sheina Lew-Levy is a student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. She is a graduate of The Immersion at Wilderness Awareness School, and the Nature Instructor Training program. Sheina is also fluent in four languages and a wicked naturalist.

Wilderness Awareness School