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Walking in Nature

I have to confess, I always feel a twinge of jealousy when I hang out with kids who've been on a fantastic field trip to a nature center. At 30-something years old, I would love to spend a week at the local natural history museum's summer camp. Wading and seining in the bay for fish and crabs? Sign me up! Exploring a restored wildflower meadow with a guide to answer every “what is it?” Yes, please.

Kids do have a lot of fun when it comes to nature-bound field trips and activities, but fortunately they don't get all of it. Finding field trips, walks and workshops for adults can be a little trickier, but they're worth the search. Most programs welcome nature-lovers at all experience levels, though it does help to know which end of the binoculars to look into!

The best place to start looking is at a local nature center—the same place that offers the great field trips for kids. Check the calendar to see if they offer programs for adults, such as a guided hike at a particularly special park or preserve, a moonlight forest walk, or a workshop for identifying songbirds. If they don't, it never hurts to hint that you'd be interested in adult programs if they offer them in the future, and that you'd tell your friends to come too.

Also check your area's chapter of the Audubon Society. I say that as if it's a given that you have one, but it's very likely: the Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club in the west, has an extensive network of chapters throughout the country, and there's a good chance someone offers activities near you. Audubon groups typically focus on bird walks throughout the year, but many of the birders you'll meet are general naturalists, and can help you find programs that cover a wide variety of topics you may be interested in, from mushrooms to turtles to wildflowers to butterflies.

Park districts, national wildlife refuges, and preserves often host guided tours, and may also provide in-depth investigation of specific topics like pond ecosystems or nesting behavior.

There are lots of smaller, specialized enthusiast groups scattered throughout the country, too, but they operate kind've incognito under their often-obscure names. To find them in your area, you'll need to activate your Google fu. Search for things like mycological societies (mushrooms and mushroom foraging), native herpetological groups (reptiles and amphibians), native plant groups, wildflower appreciation societies, “Friends of (a park or preserve)” organizations, or environmental advocacy groups.

I joined a nearby natural history museum as a member as soon as I found out they offered field trips for nature-curious adults like me. I don't have to be envious of the kids anymore! Since then, I've learned from experts on everything from shorebirds to swamps. I even stayed out way past 2 a.m. on a recent weekend, looking at spectacularly beautiful moths for National Moth Week. Every time I go out on a field trip, I fall a little more in love with this island. And the best part is, by learning about the natural world around us, we learn how, and why, to take care of it.

About Erin Gettler
Erin Gettler is a writer, photographer and naturalist living on Long Island, New York. She likes long walks in the woods, but she's too slow for real hiking on account of stopping to look at every little thing. She travels with a sketchbook, and keeps a spare pair of binoculars to share.