This spring I was to engage over 1,500 local youth in presentations regarding our environment. Handouts were ordered. Seeds were collected. Easels were purchased. April, May, and June were to be busy months.
Since all those events were canceled due to the pandemic, I found my work as an environmental educator on pause. But, it has not stopped me from observing, reporting, and thinking about our environment.
Luckily, we now find ourselves in mid-summer which means it is monarch breeding season. But, my observations of nature start well before the days are long and warm. In late spring, I start looking for my milkweed to emerge from the ground. Then, I wait to see the hummingbirds return. Sugar water is hung and the tiny birds eat from a feeder less than a foot from my kitchen window. This year my milkweed was tall and budding before I saw any monarchs in my yard. It was late – early July, in fact. Now, thankfully, I am observing eggs and larva on my milkweed plants. Finally, I have a chrysalis from which a healthy monarch will emerge in the next few days. My flowers have gone from the yellow daffodils of spring to the purple Liatris of summer. Pink Coneflowers are in full bloom. New England Asters are tall and getting taller each day, getting ready to set their deep pink blooms. Birds continue to visit. Besides hummingbirds, we’ve seen loons at our cabin, orioles, cardinals, bluebirds, robins, thrushes, and finches in our yard. The pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, are among my favorite to watch.
One of the topics on which I planned to speak this spring was that of Citizen Science. Observations of our natural world are important but without documenting those events and observations, they get lost in our memories, misplaced in time, and not remembered correctly chronologically. The Journey North website has helped me to document my observations of natural occurrences. Since 2006, I have entered data on the emergence of milkweed, the sighting of my first monarch of the year, and the return of hummingbirds. There are other cyclical events that can be documented on this website. Submitting the date of the observance helps me to track whether the arrival of monarchs is late or on time, whether hummingbirds are arriving earlier, and where I am making these observations. After reporting data for so many years, I can start to see a trend in these natural cycles. Reporting data is also very useful for the “real” scientists studying these phenomena.
Although I have not been sharing my observations or knowledge this spring and summer, it does not mean that I have stopped thinking about our environment. Far from it! I was just on the Aldo Leopold Foundation website. I was looking at their educational materials and requested a few samples. When I teach or present, I always reflect on the lesson in order to make the next time better. With the current “pause” on environmental education in real-life settings, I am using this time to review my lessons and possibly create some new ones. I’ve ordered three new books – all on the environment and am looking forward to new ideas and new ways to reach our communities.
Our environment does not wait for us to continue our daily lives. Our environment has benefited, but will also receive consequences, from the pause of human engagement. There will always be things to recognize and learn in the field of environmental education. For me, there has been no pause…..just a delay in delivery. I’m still observing, reporting, and thinking. And, I’ll be ready to teach once again when we can gather.