I’m a bonafide tree-hugger. Always have been. Always will be.
I was first introduced to the world of tree-hugging by my grandfather, Papa, who lived on the water in an octagon-shaped house in Yorktown, Virginia. He was a brilliant man with a caring heart, and as a life-long teacher, you were bound to learn something in his company. As a total nerd, I appreciated the extra learning opportunities because I relished in the extra attention my teachers gave me when I knew more than my classmates.
It was Papa that first introduced me to the concept of endangered species – something that has stuck with me my whole life – fortunately or unfortunately (it’s a depressing subject, sometimes). The fact that there were animals (and plants) out there that were becoming rare, mainly due to human activity was something that my 6-year-old mind just couldn’t comprehend. Sometimes, my 30-something year–old mind still doesn’t grasp it.
Living on the water, Papa had a huge appreciation for osprey. Like bald eagles, ospreys were victims of the wide application of DDT – an incredibly effective, potent pesticide that was used in the 1950s-1970s. Thankfully, for both the environment and human health, the US got their head on straight and banned DDT use in 1972. Over a decade later, as a lone-man’s effort to keep the population in Southeastern Virginia growing, Papa built an osprey nest platform. Once the pair of osprey laid claim to their waterfront property, he would then block off his dock so that no one could disturb the osprey. He wanted to make sure that they laid their eggs, the eggs hatched and that the chicks fledged – all in complete peace and quiet from obnoxious humans.
When I was a young kid, probably no older than six, I went over to Papa’s, with the main goal of playing on the dock – it was my favorite part of his house. I was disturbed to see that the dock was blocked off, and that my plan of feeding the ducks and playing with snails was completely foiled. Naturally, I thought that Papa would let me, his only granddaughter, go on the dock to continue with my day’s priorities. I was utterly mistaken. Papa then took me upstairs into his octagon house, where he had a high-powered telescope aimed at the nest. He was keeping a record of when the eggs were laid and when the chicks fledged. Naturally, I was fascinated. The ducks and the snails could wait – I was nerding out on science and it was awesome! First, I had never had the opportunity to play with a big, red telescope – the ultimate nerd toy. Up until that point, I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the telescope, and now I was. It was a rite of passage – I had grown up and it felt amazing. On top of that, I never got a chance to see birds in such a relaxed, natural setting – something that had eluded me for years. I had always thought that I would be like the cartoon princesses who had birds as their friends. The only problem, I realized, is that when I tried to get close to birds, they flew away from me. Evidently, they weren’t really interested in being my friend, even if my name was Robin. So, the opportunity of being able to see what birds were really like and what they did (when they weren’t flying away from me) was a special treat.
From that point on, I was a tree-hugger-in-training. I took it upon myself to lecture my mother about environmental issues, I won the recycling contest at my Elementary School, I wrote essays about rainforest conservation, I became a vegetarian, and Jane Goodall and John Muir became my heroes. Later, this interest turned into my career: tree and bunny-hugging specialist/environmental lecturer to the uninformed/champion recycler.
It is moments like these that I focus on when I start to question my chosen career path, or when I question my passion, or when I get frustrated with certain people that appear to be anti-environment (which annoys me immensely). I realize that my interest in conservation is deeply personal with wonderful memories of Papa and his insightful lessons. It’s a reminder of a beautiful moment – a grandfather and his granddaughter, spying on some osprey through a telescope, being nerds and getting excited about biology.