One advantage of working as naturalists on the deck of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming, is meeting some of the young visitors who come through on vacation. While many people bemoan the deterioration of today’s youth, we witness first hand some of the dedicated and caring folks of our future.
Many of the college age young people we’ve met are more concerned with environmental issues than with earning gigantic paychecks.They study ecology, environmental science, biology, and some subjects we’ve never even heard about.
Younger visitors have proved interested in the skulls and snakes, absorbing as much information as we can deliver. Many arrive with some previous background and can ask intelligent questions as well as answering many of our prompts.
“I want to be a paleontologist when I grow up,” a 9-year-old recently informed me as he pulled out his own money to buy a book on Teton geology. I wondered how many kids his age had ever even heard of that word!
Another time, a 15-year-old boy was only one of three people I’ve encountered in 8 years of displaying my skulls who could identify every single skull, including a desert bighorn.
“How did you know it’s a desert bighorn?” I asked. “We’re here in the Rocky Mountains. Why don’t you think it’s a Rocky Mountain bighorn?” The only reason I knew it was a desert bighorn was because I obtained it in Arizona. As it turned out, the boy worked for a taxidermist and was well acquainted with skulls and the differences that identified them.
Occasionally, however, we encounter a youth so dedicated and self-motivated by a subject that we have no doubt that he or she will continue to pursue it as a passion and vocation. This year we met 12-year-old Gabe Brown, so well informed on reptiles that his knowledge surpassed or at least equaled many adults we’ve known in the field.
“We were like peers,” said Chuck who spent much of his life reading about and studying snakes even before becoming a docent at the Denver Zoo and learning from reptile experts. “It was very stimulating!”
As Gabe and Chuck shared experiences and knowledge, it became evident that Gabe is not only dedicated to his subject, but also passionate enough to devote a lifetime to it. While some kids his age might come across as a know-it-all, Gabe was well informed and was comfortable having a dialog on the subject. For nearly an hour, he and Chuck discussed snake species, shared reptile information, and compared bedding used for captive snakes. “He even knew the best bedding is aspen because it doesn’t irritate snakes or cause respiratory problems like pine or cedar bedding,” said Chuck.
It’s a thrill for us to meet young people who show promise for and interest in the future. People like Gabe, as well as many other youngsters we encounter in our naturalist work, give us confidence in the next generation. All we need to do is listen to and encourage them to secure our future!