Monday, January 05, 2009

Wildlife Adventure...At the Dump

Where do the wild things roam? If you look to nature shows and nature books, the answer is clear: Far, far away. Nature, we learn, is some place out there, free from human influence. The otherwise excellent Planet Earth series, for instance, features almost no footage of humans in its grand tour of human habitats. After finishing Rick Bass' recent memoir, Why I Came West, I was disheartened by Bass' assertion that only in wilderness areas can humans truly connect with the natural world.

I'll state up front that I believe we need the large wildernesses full of large predators and large herds and migrating fish. We need to protect what remains of these places for future generations. But conservationists are sending entirely the wrong message if we're communicating that nature can only be found in such big places.

The truth is, wild nature can be found all around us. Conservationists are often not made in the wilderness; they're made in woodlots and farm fields and little streams and vacant lots.

Last week, my wife and I walked with our nephew Jacob down a snowy Iowa farm lane: Not wilderness, but full of tracks of deer and rabbit and turkey and pheasant and coyote and vole. Jacob loved trying to figure out what creatures had passed, where they may have headed, what stories were written there in the snow. I was reminded that such great conservationists as Aldo Leopold and John Madson were not first introduced to wild things in the great Rocky Mountain wildernesses, but rather on Iowa farms much like the one we were exploring.

The curious naturalist knows that the wonders of nature are not just out there, but often right before us--sometimes in the most unlikely of places.

Like the city dump. This weekend, you can see some of that wildness yourself. Hard-core birder R.L. Rowland leads his annual gull watching trip to the Boise Landfill, beginning at 9 AM. In what is perhaps the most bizarre Idaho nature trip you'll ever take, R.L. will help you identify the many gulls that visit this landfill--as many as twenty species some years. As with all of the always excellent Golden Eagle Audubon Society field trips, this one is free. Call 336-9808 or email R.L. to sign up.

Even in a city, there is wildness to explore. Chances are, you had no idea that twenty different gull species, right now, are circling over Boise. Let's keep working to protect the big wildernesses, but let's also not lose sight of the wonders that are all around us, every day. --Matt Miller

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