Egret’s Haunt

I’ve been thinking about us nature lovers quite a bit lately and I’ve realized we have an important role to play. We can be the teachers to a surprising percentage of the population that has no understanding of the natural world. Let me tell you what I mean….one day I saw a little boy throwing rocks at some geese in a pond. Nobody else was speaking with the boy, so I did. I explained what the goose was doing there, that it was in its home, and that throwing rocks wasn’t the right way to connect. I made it personal, by asking what if people who didn’t know him threw rocks at him instead of getting to know him. He put down the rocks pretty quickly! I realized then that so many people have no reference point when it comes to nature, and so they are afraid. What do we do when we are scared? We pick up rocks. Native peoples taught their young how to connect to the natural world through stories and rituals, by showing how to sustainably harvest plants and animals that they needed. They taught reverence and gave their young ways to connect with the natural world.

I’ve come to the realization that this has been a sub context to my work all along. The landscapes I paint exist because the people in my area have deliberately set them aside. Citizen scientists have taken the time to learn how the ecosystems work, and roll their sleeves up in restoration projects. Maybe if we, in our photographs and paintings, portray people connecting to nature in a positive way we will begin showing people better ways to respond to the natural world than, say, driving jeeps through it.


  1. Your story of the little boy throwing rocks at geese happened to be about nature, but I think the problem is more widespread. You’ve reminded me of a time when I was in a department store and a couple of kids were running around yelling and making a nuisance of themselves. After a while I finally spoke up and said something like: “Hey kids, you’re not in your own home. In a public place with other people you have to be calmer and quieter.” Then the mother, who’d been letting her children romp around the store at will, finally appeared and got mad at me: “Don’t you say anything to my kids.”


    1. I’ve had a similar experience with lazy bad mothers. What I was getting at with the story though was a little different. I think children and adults want to relate to nature when they encounter it, but many have not been taught how. And so they throw rocks or drive jeeps through it, or toss their cigarette butts out the window, or…..


      1. Right. I knew you were emphasizing nature, but that other incident came to mind so I thought I’d mention it. Even in a place like Austin, with one million people in the city limits and another million in the suburbs, we fortunately have enough natural areas that people can learn about nature. A place like Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, which a group of concerned women saved from development a few decades ago, offers guided hikes every weekend so visitors can learn about the native plants, animals, and geology. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center hosts plenty of activities for children. And of course you have your Grant Woods and Illinois Beach State Park and Indiana Dunes State Park and National Park.


  2. Opposite behaviors can be just as harmful as stone-throwing. One of the great temptation around here is feeding alligators, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found people throwing everything from cinnamon rolls to chicken necks meant for crabbing to the gators. None of the food harms the alligators, but it accustoms them to associating people with food, and in that reptilian brain, it’s not a far leap to regarding people as food. That’s one reason I don’t worry much about gators in truly “out there” places, but where people have been around, I’m very, very cautious.

    My own personal rant would involve social media, and the destruction of highly-publicized spots by people who want them only as background for their instagram posts. There were some well publicized examples during California’s superbloom, with the landing of a helicopter in the middle of a poppy field probably the most egregious. Still, the bad behavior is everywhere. Add geotagging, and it only gets worse. That’s one reason I’ve already made the decision not to publicize the specific location of some rare/endemic plants I’ve found. Certain plants, such as east Texas orchids, are highly prized, and there are people who will dig them up.

    There are a couple of photographers I follow who never, ever offer a hint of where any of their photos are taken. It used to frustrate me, but now I understand it, particularly since they roam areas filled with more than goldenrod and sunflowers.


    1. Don’t even get me started on people who feed wildlife. In addition to making some species such as bears and alligators dangerous, it increases the breeding success of all species until they are completely out of balance with the ecosystem. I’ve seen English sparrows drive out wrens and downy woodpeckers and chickadees, and yet bird feeding is an accepted practice!
      I confess to a certain grim satisfaction when the selfie-mad take fatal dives off the edges of cliffs. And yes, I never share the location of the rare plants I draw. I will not draw on location, either, lest I attract attention or accidentally trample something in the process. I remember when a bird of some sort got blown way off range and was spotted in a delicate habitat at Illinois Beach State Park and posted it. Suddenly over 200 birders descended on the spot so they could say they saw this poor bird, and the rare plants in the area were utterly trampled. On a sandy habitat like that, the damage of trampling feet can last for decades. But you see, that is exactly my point. People are no longer taught how to connect to the natural world. I think when people build cairns, or take selfies, or throw rocks, they are trying to respond to what they see. It is hard for us to grasp, but these people don’t have the knowledge that we do and so don’t know how to respond. Think of a child who must be taught to pet kitty gently.
      I even think this extends to how we treat the Other. Those of us in urban areas grow accustomed to seeing saris and burkhas and (hopefully) accept people who are different. But a person from a small community might well feel a fight/flight response.


  3. I like the long rectangle, and the colors once again….and it’s good that you spoke up. It can be a fine line to walk, trying to intervene like that – you have to be skillful. 🙂


  4. Drive jeeps? Like they have been used to at their Saturday golf trips? 🙂
    It’s a matter of legislation, I think? We have lot of country sides and even more tracks into the wilderness, however, only throughways allow cars! On all other roads in the area you walk – on your feet, but a bicycle may be used. Thats’s the limit!
    I noted that you had visited my blog, but perhaps you didn’t realize it was one of the largest blogs in Norway displaying close to 8000 pictures from Norway and Norwegian nature – nearly all in
    ‘full screen’ modes? I don’t paint, but you do!


  5. Beautifully captured egret moment 😊. I’ve had a couple such moments since moving to Ontario: the lone egret in the quiet, lush, unique wetland landscape. We both live near a Great Lake now!

    I like what you said to the boy. It is easy to connect with other “nature lovers” and much harder to connect with those who have different inclinations or educations. The difficult connections are important and I’m happy that you had the kindness and courage to engage with the boy.


    1. Thank you so much, Myriam. You know, you are the only one who got what I was trying to say with that post. So much for connecting! lol
      Are you enjoying living in your new digs? For me it was really hard to move far from the sea but I’m finally getting over it and the big lake goes a long way to easing the pain. Of course, now we are talking about retiring to Asheville in 3 years. Further from my beloved Pacific! But, better for a couple of aging fuddy duddies who are ready for an easier lifestyle in a more affordable area. Plus, they love their artists there. Always a good thing.


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