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Warner's Impact: Priceless Squared

I could type a really long essay here but in trying to be brief I will spare the reader. First and foremost Warner provided me sustenance for body and soul for more than half of my life. I led my first group of snowshoeing kids as a Warner volunteer trail guide in 1975. Then in 1977, I was hired as a full-time interpretive naturalist by Bernie Fashingbauer, Warner's first Director, I quickly learned that the real backbone of Warner was the amazing corp of volunteers trail guides.

In the early years of Warner, Bernie had worked hard, alongside the Jr. League of St. Paul, to create the volunteer corps. That model became the envy across the country and Bernie traveled to various national science and environmental organization gatherings to present on how such a model looks. Nearly all the volunteers were women and being the young guy on the staff, I felt as if I was surrounded by the biggest family of big sisters, aunts, and moms.

So many dear, dear friends who were utterly dedicated to their responsibilities at the nature center. As one of them noted, "You know the great news out here is that we are all like family. And the bad news is that we are all like family." My experience at Warner birthed a love to write. With the amazing collection of books in the Ordway Library, I had at my hand a treasure trove of knowledge. (Bear in mind this is prior to the internet.)

The nature center provided a burial ground for a beloved family member. My beloved black lab, Bjorn, was known by many of the volunteers and so it seemed fitting that early in the darkness of an early December morning I swung a pick to break through the frozen ground to lay his body. I was mightily touched by the number of volunteers who brought a found rock of intriguing shape or color and placed it on Bjorn's grave. I buried him about 25 years ago and some of those stones can still be found.

Better than a graveyard, Warner has been the altar of my wedding to my dear wife Nancy. After meeting each other at a Warner bird banding event, in which she volunteered to scribe the bird data while I banded a mess of spring warblers. After netting her, we got married, on a lovely snowy day in February in front of family, friends (including many volunteers, staff and a McNeely family friend), and the mute, adoring stares of the various elk, moose, bighorn sheep and other critters up "in the balcony."

One of the greatest gifts delivered to me during all my time at Warner there was the gift of humility. As a naturalist, I was continually asked questions about some facet of the natural world. I learned quickly that I had to outright admit, "That's a great question and I'm afraid I don't know the answer but thanks for the question because now I am going to do my best to find the answer." I learned that there are far more questions than answers and it was that parade of questions that drove me to inquiry. Each question was a gift in making me a more knowledgeable naturalist and a better writer.

The other priceless gift were the young people, kids and teens alike, with whom I had the absolute privilege of surrendering to the wonders and discoveries of the natural world. I especially love the testimonies of how we inspired kids to go home and teach neighborhood "classes" on insects, birds, etc. In a sense, we were all missionaries in converting others to love critters and their places of home. Even though recent news feels like an evisceration of our combined years of efforts, thousands when you think of it, we must realize that the impact each of us has made on thousands of kids is beyond any amount of so-called wealth. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

This story was shared by:

Tom Anderson

Warner Nature Center Trail Guide since 1975


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