Natural Resource Envy (and 6am excitement!)

It’s 6am on my first morning in Santa Cruz, after my long flight from Michigan, where I’ll be speaking at the Children Learning with Nature Conference. However, this morning I am giddy with excitement because in three, what will likely be very loooong hours, I will meet my friends to go see the ocean. I’m always amazed at how travelling gives me natural resource envy. Yesterday I drove through the hills and was in awe of the majestic redwoods. I got to see the beautiful fields that likely supply most of my winter consumption of fruits and vegetables. But today? Today I will get to see the ocean! Yes, I’ve seen the Pacific Ocean before, several times in fact, but it’s so rare that it’s magical. This idea of natural resource envy reminded me of one of my visits to Schlitz Audubon Nature Center in Milwaukee when they talked about experiencing “ice-canos” on Lake Michigan, and I immediately said something like, “I want that!”


As I’m thinking about the magic of the ocean, and the salt-free ocean-like space of Lake Michigan, I wonder, “Do the locals realize how special their place in the world is?” I’m not sure I fully appreciate the natural resources of home like a visitor might. Sure, I’m always excited to go out and explore, but it’s been a long time since I woke up champing at the bit to go to the woods—even when the morel mushrooms are popping. Wild turkeys are a great example. When people who aren’t from the area see wild turkeys in Michigan they are thrilled to see them. While I still enjoy the sight of turkeys I don’t have the same, “Woah! They’re so cool!” response as when I first saw them. I don’t often wake and think, “I hope I see a turkey today.”


Maybe I need to start thinking about turkeys more often. Well, maybe not just turkeys. I suspect we all need to take more time to reflect on what is it that we have, in our own backyards, that bring awe and wonder to visitors. These are most likely the same things that awaken awe and wonder in young children. After all, both are looking with fresh eyes and seeing a world they’ve yet to explore, discover, and master.


I think we also need to take more time to be grateful for the relationships we have made with our particular places in the world. I love the smell of freshly worked soil in the farm fields in spring. Summer rain also has a special smell that I love. Fat, bright yellow-green sassassafras buds make me happy in spring. These are details a tourist likely wouldn’t see on their first visit, or maybe even 10th visit. I now see these details because I’ve been a relationship with my local natural resources—place.  


Yes, there is magic is new-ness, but there’s also magic in a long-term relationship with a place. It’s the same as with making friends—new ones are great and so much fun, but oh how old friends really are gold (as the song goes). So, as you go about your day today look for the things that a tourist might have natural resource envy over, things you can share with young and old who are still building a sense of place where you are, but also look for the nuanced details that a tourist might never see. What are the things you now know about your old friend that others might not yet know?


As for me, I’m off to beach!