By Sally Shuffield – Column for Durango Herald
“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it,” said American journalist, Russell Baker.
This statement rings true for me as I remember my own childhood and watch my children and those who have been at Durango Nature Studies’ Summer Camp all summer. For some reason, all the bug bites, scraped knees, scorching days and crawdad pinches are worth it because it is a day spent outside under the beautiful Colorado sky exploring without a time frame and without a structure.
In fact, it is often the suffering that we remember with the most fondness as time passes. I remember the teacher who changed my life taking a group of ninth-graders on a hike beside the Buffalo River in Arkansas. When we got lost and had to float the river (water moccasins and all) to find our way back, it became an epic rite of passage burned in my memory forever.
Today’s generation doesn’t always have the luxury of having a piece of woods or a wild plot of land that they can roam as a 6-year-old. So, we at Durango Nature Studies hope that the Nature Center becomes that place for the generations of kids growing up in Durango.
Even though they may not be completely on their own, kids get to river tromp all the way down the Florida River or climb beyond the highest trail (Rattlesnake Ramble) with just a touch of fear connected to rock scrambling and finding their own way between trails. Luckily, even the name “Rattlesnake Ramble” gives a touch of adventure to the “long hike” each group does every session. When kids are playing in the river, the brave ones go to the “deep section” to navigate the only place where the current picks up a little bit.
One thing I have noticed – in the five years that our camp really started and has flourished into what it is today – is that returning kids expect certain things. They often are teaching new counselors that “this is the best place to catch crawdads,” or that “river tromping really gets exciting at this point,” or that “the same giant bullsnake likes to soak in the sun at a particular place at a particular time every day.”
When the kids decide that they want their “den” to be “Oak Hollow” because it provides the most shade and hiding places, I know that they are choosing it based on their knowledge of what is special to them at the Nature Center. I have noticed that the Nature Center no longer just belongs to Durango Nature Studies or the counselors who are hired that summer. The Nature Center belongs to the kids who continue to come and love it. They are the ones living the adventures and getting to know a special place and becoming forever changed by a piece of land. Thank you for another wonderful summer and to the parents and kids who appreciate the importance of a summer spent exploring the natural world.
I will end as I began with a quote by a wise person. As Abraham Lincoln said: “All my life, I have tried to pluck a thistle and plant a flower wherever the flower would grow in thought and mind.”
The kids at Durango Nature Studies’ Junior Naturalist Field Camp have truly blossomed this summer and their memories will continue to grow throughout the year.
Sally Shuffield, Executive Director