Understanding how the entire tapestry of my local landscape works together, makes participation in the natural order of all it so much more enjoyable. When I recognize the sound of a certain bird, I feel a greater sense of connection to the world around.

When I was a kid, there were no youth hunting seasons. We were in the same mix as the adults. That said, I’m a fan of youth seasons, and participate in them with kids regularly. But, as with most things in today’s instant gratification society, we have sped up the process of becoming an outdoorsman. With that, we seem to be losing the strong naturalist skills that derive from hard won accomplishments and long hours outdoors.

It took me four years to kill my first deer. When I finally took that doe at 14 years old, I’d spent countless hours sitting in a tree and stalking through forests and fields learning from my many mistakes. These days, many kids kill a deer on their first hunt, sitting in an enclosed box blind warmed by a heater while playing on their phones. I’m all for whatever it takes to get kids outdoors, but they are missing out on so much of the experience. And so are we as mentors. 

Now I admit to not being the most proficient naturalist. I don’t know my wildflowers, trees and birds as well as I’d like, but I continue to learn. It makes time outside more enjoyable. When I’m strolling through the deer woods, it means a lot to me to know the difference between a red oak and a white. And I really get excited when I see a Chinkapin, because I’ve learned deer love those sweet acorns. 

Understanding how the entire tapestry of my local landscape works together, makes participation in the natural order of all it so much more enjoyable. When I recognize the sound of a certain bird, I feel a greater sense of connection to the world around. Plants, too, have become a solvable mystery. Is this a native or an invasive? I want to know. What are the benefits or detriments of having this graminoid or forb on my land? Don’t know those words? Look them up. 

Thankfully, there are many people out there who are incredibly skilled at identifying plants and animals, and they understand how important sharing such knowledge is. If you are interested in becoming more knowledgeable about the natural world around you, all you really need to do is spend more time outdoors with good guide books, but if you want to have more fun and enjoy the learning experience with others, then look for opportunities in your neck of the woods to join an interpretive class or nature walk. Many conservation organizations offer such events. 

State parks are a wonderful place to undertake such adventures, and here in Missouri we have some of the most beautiful parks anywhere in the country. Bold statement, I know. But for real, when you walk amongst the old buildings of Ha Ha Tonka, or along the beautiful stream pouring through the valley at Bennett Spring and look around while thinking what life most have been like for the inhabitants of the area back in the 1800s, you feel an incredibly strong sense of nostalgia. Yes, parks are wonderful places to study nature. 

Thankfully, there are often staff at these parks who know where to point you to look for certain species of plants, tree, and wildlife. If you check with the parks ahead of time, there may even be classes you can take. Staying a few days in a state park this time of year is a great way to learn about trees in the winter would be a nice reprieve for cabin fever. Numerous Missouri State Parks have cabins and lodges, for those not looking to brave the elements. 

Understanding the natural world around you makes time spent outdoors more enjoyable. Knowing what sort of a tree you’re looking at or what kind of grass you’re walking through makes you a more well-rounded outdoorsman.

See you down the trail…

For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast on www.driftwoodoutdoors.com or anywhere podcasts are streamed.