I had my last official shift at the Wildlife Refuge, and even though I’m going back for Book Club and Naturalist Training next week, I felt like it was sort of a “last chance” kind of day. It really was a crummy day on the refuge with rain squalls, but that was okay for me.
The past year has been one of lessons to remind me of who I am, my purpose, and what fulfills me on a deeper level. I have found solace and comfort along the trails of Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, as well as friendship and gratitude at the Wildlife Center. Each animal, tree, and bend in the river has taught me important lessons, sent me a message, or helped me appreciate nature in a new light.
My first shift at the Wildlife Center I was introduced to a book called “The Nature Principle” by Richard Louv. The book has helped shape more cohesively concepts I was already trying to practice with EarthFit. After reading about Nature Deficit Disorder, I knew my Experiencing Nature component of EarthFit was vital, necessary, and relevant. But that wouldn’t be the first time I would find my way through the refuge.
The refuge’s star attractions are the eagle pair that have had their nest on a great big snag in the center of the refuge, like a beacon for nature lovers to draw them in. The magnificence of our nation’s symbol was never lost on me. I never saw the eagles up close, and I didn’t even see them every time I was at the refuge, but they were among the greatest teachers I had. They reawakened the significance of finding the messages and lessons I needed from nature. Eagles represent so much to the Native American culture, and to environmentalists. I had forgotten the relevance and significance until the eagles boldly reminded me. They also reminded me of one of my favorite lessons as a conservationist- “Just because you didn’t touch the animal doesn’t mean the animal didn’t touch you”.
There are a lot of reclusive and mysterious animals on the refuge. Often, I never saw the animals, but only found remnants. From feathers to nests and even piles of scat, I became enthralled with looking for clues about the secretive life of animals. I learned to seek out every opportunity to discover more about animals I was not familiar with.
The refuge was also full of animals we all are familiar with. I couldn’t go down the trail without seeing a robin, or hearing a Canada goose. But these animals, as mundane as they seem to the regular visitor provided valuable lessons themselves. They urged me to discover the magic in the familiar, and that there is purpose for every life.
I found new creatures to adore, and enlightenment in the most unlikely places. Over the winter, the Wildlife Center overlook flooded and became a fantastic home for a beautifully striking duck called the bufflehead.
More than just an entertaining animal to watch, buffleheads helped me learn that there are two types of ducks- dabbling ducks and diving ducks. I didn’t know there was a difference. I knew there were ducks that could go underwater, but never thought about the difference. Dabbling ducks are the ducks that stay afloat and put their butts up in the air while foraging.
Diving ducks are able to submerge completely underwater, reaching the bottom of lakes and wetland pools for their food. Learning this little tidbit taught me that I can always learn more about my world around me.
I did learn more, and about topics I never thought I’d find as fascinating as the refuge showed me they could be. I learned to tell the difference between Douglas fir and grand fir.
I learned the difference between sedges and rushes. I learned what a snag was, and what a Riparian forest was. I learned what a bioswale is and how important they are to the wetlands and the river. I found out why an egg is shaped the way it is, and what a gall ball is.
I will always remember what it was like to see the elusive animals for the first time. The morning I showed up to the refuge early and ran into a family of deer on the seasonal trail. The field trip I shadowed where we found rough-skinned newts and a mink. And the mid-morning book club meeting where we found the great horned owl resting among the trees in the Riparian forest. And the American kestrel finally showing himself at the most obvious of places, the gate to the refuge, as if he was literally welcoming me to my haven.
I even learned a few lessons from the unwelcome residents. It was a hard lesson, but the nutria on the refuge showed me that every living thing has a particular niche that they were created to fill. As wonderful as a certain place may be, if you were not made to fill a particular niche, things can go poorly with the environment. And so I conceded that perhaps Oregon wasn’t necessarily where I was meant to be. To fill my niche in my ecosystem, I needed to find a place I was better suited.
But I could never have made that decision if it weren’t for the refuge. The refuge is a wonderful sanctuary for migrating birds, and powerful predators, but it has also been my haven where I felt welcomed from day one. I have enjoyed every moment of every day while on grounds. So, thank you for helping me discover more about myself. Thank you for sharing your passion and knowledge. Thank you for your generosity of time and experience. Thank you for being here for me. This place has shaped me and changed me in more ways than I can name. I will never forget each and every one of you that has made this place so special.
I am bidding a fond farewell to the refuge. But the heart cannot really leave such a place completely. You will always have a piece of mine, and I will carry the lessons you have taught me through my journey in life.