Warner was Transformative for Me
I remember the very first time I ever got to hold a bird in my hands. I remember the exact feeling it invoked in me, this tiny beating heart cradled in my second-grade palms. All at once I felt awestruck, minuscule, empowered, and full of responsibility. After two seconds the tiny bird took flight and vanished into the understory, and I was left breathless. I had just helped to place a band on this bird's leg so that it could be monitored by citizen scientists throughout its journey across space and time. The Warner Nature Center volunteer next to me flashed a smile in my direction because she had seen this same expression on countless other children's faces before.
The time I spent at Warner Nature Center as a child and young adult impacted me in ways I will never be able to fully express. It was there that I experienced my first encounter with a Garter snake, felt what it was like to bounce on a bog, built a cook stove out of an old coffee can, peered closely at a dragonfly's iridescent wings, got soil under my fingernails, inspected fungi under rotting logs, and closed my eyes in order to piece together the natural soundscape around me. These memories retain more clarity in my mind than anything I learned in the classroom at school. Warner provided a refuge, a learning space, and a source of creativity that was just minutes away from my home and elementary school. It catalyzed my love for natural processes, inspiring me to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies and to come back and serve as a Warner summer volunteer between college semesters. This volunteering brought me full circle while I watched many small faces alight with wonder as children experienced the act of releasing a banded bird just as I had once done. These recollections and understandings cultivated a passion for environmental education that led me to become a naturalist at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland, MN. Looking back on my formative experiences, Warner Nature Center played a vital role in shaping how I have come to value–and exist in–the natural world.
I worry that today's youth increasingly lack accessibility and exposure to natural spaces near them, especially because I know how transformative it can be. I was not able to afford fancy summer camps or far-away exploration trips as a child but it didn't matter because I was able to venture just a few miles down the road to Warner where my senses were saturated and my imagination had permission to run wild. I will always be grateful for the staff and volunteers at Warner Nature Center who have helped facilitate the growth of uncountable young people into environmental stewards who will play indispensable roles in the future of our coexistence with the natural world.
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