Someone I just met asked me what my most recent degree was, knowing I used to be a nurse. I answered that I had obtained a second master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin at Steven’s Point in Natural Resources with a focus in Environmental Education and Interpretation (EE/EI). I responded that I was essentially trained to be a Park Ranger, but those jobs were not in my realm due to the mobility required to hold one for a season miles away from where I lived.
Okay, so my answer was not as detailed as what you just received, but you get the gist! I quickly gave my elevator speech about my background. This included a baccalaureate nursing degree, obtained on a campus they were familiar with – Alfred University – a Master’s degree from the University of Buffalo in Child Health that allowed me to function as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, a field in which I eventually obtained national certification. This was ultimately used to obtain a joint faculty appointment at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland where I functioned as a CPNP in the newborn nursery at the hospital and taught in the accelerated RN to BSN program at the university. It was the best of both worlds. And, had we elected to stay in the Baltimore area to raise our family, I am sure I would have held those jobs for as long as we were within striking distance. I loved both of them. The joint position answered many of my professional needs – to be clinically active and to teach. My intelligence and contributions to the respective teams were respected and appreciated in ways that I have been unable to experience or replicate since in a professional capacity since that time. Johns Hopkins has an excellent national reputation for a reason!
My involvement in EE/EI evolved naturally from my volunteer activities in founding and running a student garden club at one of our local elementary schools. My oldest (now 27) was in fourth grade at the time. I led that club for 13 years and taught over 500 students during that time to love our earth, noting that caring for it naturally followed for many. Just prior to developing the club, I went through Master Gardener Volunteer training and struck on the idea of working with school aged kids in the garden. This was 2004 – well before the rage of school gardens and outdoor classrooms. I developed my own curriculum and hands-on lessons for our monthly meetings, involved older students in service learning and enhanced our community by founding and leading this group.
Over time, as my own knowledge grew, monarch conservation became the focus of at least a few of our monthly lessons each year. By year two, a group of students researched local butterflies and their host plants and by year four we had a certified monarch way station. This was in 2008. Again, well before other school gardens and monarch way stations had taken off.
Part of my reasoning to obtain the second degree in EE/EI was to give my new and extensive knowledge base credibility and legitimate authority, not that anyone but myself was questioning it. I had grown professionally and started offering community education outside of the school system on various conservation topics, including forest stewardship, prairies, gardening with kids and citizen science, as well as my ever popular talks on monarchs.
My involvement in monarch conservation now spans almost 20 years in the midwest. This year I joined a new citizen science effort run by several collaborating agencies including the WI DNR, the Natural Resource Foundation of WI, and Monarch Joint Venture. This was my 7th year of tagging monarchs. By the time of peak migration in our area of Wisconsin was underway, I had tagged at ten monarchs and had six more in chrysalises, ready to be labeled with the tiny stickers I got from Monarch Watch in Kansas.
Then, my mom became ill. I certainly could not take the chrysalises with us as we travelled from Wisconsin to New York. So, I attached them to the screen in the outdoor enclosure my husband had made for raising my pollinator friends. I had to hope for the best and knew that nature would take its course. And, so it did.
When my husband was home last week, he found that all but one of the chrysalises had eclosed a monarch. The last one came out and was getting ready to fly, as seen in the photo earlier in this post. Both my husband and I are impressed by nature. My monarch season had not ended as planned and yet all the chrysalises continued to produce healthy butterflies. They did not seem to need me. Even though six adult butterflies I raised did not get tagged, I can wish that they fly far and arrive in Central Mexico to overwinter, signaling a successful migration.
But then, something happened. It’s called hope. I saw an article by one of the monarch conservation groups about tagging in the Southwest – Arizona, Utah, New Mexico. And, I realized that I’ll have another chance to tag when we go on a much needed vacation to some of our national parks next month. The tagging season is almost done in Wisconsin. But, it will still be in full swing a month from now in our Southwestern states.
I’ll take my tags, just in case.
Perhaps, the monarch season isn’t over for me quite yet!