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Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Nov 14, 2013

evelynevandersande_mug“To inspire a passion, awareness and respect of the environment, and to preserve and protect for future generations the history and ecosystem of Placerita Canyon.” This is the mission statement for the docents and volunteers at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. We have found that nature education is a great tool to take daily steps toward our goal.

This is why we have school groups coming to Placerita from Monday to Friday. This is why we have educational programs on Saturday, as well as outreaches at different places throughout the month.

This is also the reason we have educational programs once a month on Sunday, when we realized it was a slow day and we could start something new to bring crowds to learn about new topics. (Check Placerita.org for our special programs.)

eve121413aWe found that by starting with educating the kids, we were getting ahead faster. The kids are good ambassadors. They do a good job of convincing their parents by bringing new ideas into the household and setting higher standards.

Here are a few examples:

A harried father is getting out of the house to drive to the supermarket to pick up a few items. His daughter catches him at the door. “Dad, you are forgetting your shopping bags and you are going to be sorry when you are at the cashier.” Dad does not grind his teeth because he knows he has to set a good example, “Thanks, dear. Do you know where your mom left them? I will put them in the car so we don’t forget them again.”

Change of scene…

eve111413c“Mom, I looked in the garbage can and there was a lot of paper and plastic in it so I went to the garage, found this box, reorganized your kitchen closet and now, it will be much easier to recycle.” Mom tries not to rush to see what “reorganize your kitchen closet” means; she thanks her son, and you can bet recycling will become an everyday affair from now on.

I have conducted many interviews in the past, and there is always a major question I need to ask. I find it important, and I ask people to take the time to answer it carefully: “How did your love of nature start?”

Most of the time, it starts in early childhood with a family member who already had in interest in nature. It was a little spark of knowledge, showing a plant or an animal, sharing a camping experience or a hike in the hills. It did not seem like much when it was happening, but it can have a profound influence on a fresh mind. We are all mentors and teachers, and we can give this gift easily and enable somebody else to become interested and enjoy the outdoors.

It works for other people, but it works for you, too: If you see ants crossing your patio in a long line, you have the choice of flushing them with your garden hose, or you can go on your hands and knees to check what they are doing. Are they starting a new colony? Did they find something to eat and they are going back and forth? I have learned to check many of my questions on Google. Why do ants march in a line? There is an answer to that…

Nature education is important because it gives you respect for your environment. That’s good, but I will be self-centered: It gives you more pleasure, too.

Consider: Often you sit outside with your laptop and coffee and see birds to the left and right, almost in a blur, and you do not pay much attention.

Say you went on a bird walk last week. People were wearing binoculars and identifying birds. You did not know any of the names at first, but you started to be part of the game and were able to put the name and the bird together. By the end, you were kind of proud because you could recognize a few, and you finally were able to handle those binoculars with more confidence.

eve111413dA week later you notice you remember a few names. Here is that blue bird you always called a blue jay; you found out it is actually called a Western scrub jay, and you repeat that with a certain pride. What is the bird doing? It just made a hole in my lawn and covers it with leaves. Would it be hiding some food? But how will it remember where it is? Oh, there is another Western scrub jay watching what it is doing. Scrub jay No. 1 is screaming like a maniac at scrub jay No. 2 and almost attacks it. Scrub jay No. 2 retreats in a hurry but is perched not too far away, still spying. My back yard is a battlefield and I had no idea.

This is what I meant when I said nature education gives you more understanding of what is around you. You start noticing all kinds of little details: new plants, bats in the evening, bird calls. The names are not too important to remember, but what is happening, is.

I want to remind you there is a bird walk every second Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Placerita State Park for all level birders, led by Rosemarie Regis. There is another one at the Castaic Lake Recreation Area on the first Saturday of the month at 8 a.m., led by Roger McClure.

Sometimes, special events unfold, and if you have some nature education, you look at the event with different eyes.

A few weeks ago, three mountain lions were spotted in Saugus, during the afternoon. That is uncommon. If you have an understanding of mountain lions, the visit to Saugus was intriguing, I grant you, but the fact that there were three of them together was the unusual part.

They are animals that lead solitary lives. Male and female get together only for mating purposes and need a large territory where they are the only mountain lion hunting in that zone, to be able to survive. Three of them together? There is only one time in their life where this situation would happen: We came to the conclusion that it was a mother with two juvenile mountain lions. They were full size, and they were looking for a territory to be able to leave Mom and start their adult life.

eve111413bMany new houses have suddenly appeared in areas that were open just a few years ago, so establishing a new territory takes some walking around and checking of the situation. I guess Saugus sidewalks won’t do the trick, so they kept on walking.

As I mention mountain lions, it is always a good idea to repeat a few safety precautions. Do not hike alone, keep children close to you, do not approach a lion. This seems so completely obvious, but give them space and a way to escape. Do not run from a lion. If you do, you will become their prey.

I found some more information to understand the situation clearly. In Nepal, some research was done on tigers and leopards killing cattle and domestic water buffalos while ignoring humans standing nearby. A human standing up is not the right shape to be considered prey for a cat, but a person squatting or bending over looks like four-legged prey. If you run, you are definitely prey.

So what should you do?  Make yourself appear larger by raising your arms, opening your jacket, picking up small children and putting them on your shoulders – but do not bend over to do so. Speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey, and you could be a danger to it.

If you are attacked, fight back and protect your neck and head. Do not play dead; others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands.

I started this article in a pleasant way and finished in blood and gore. I sure hope this will never happen to any of my readers, but nature education sometimes can make a difference between life and death … or a pleasant hike, listening to the birds.

Remember those bird walks, and come enjoy nature with us.

 

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

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