When in doubt, take your grandson to Nature Center



When you are the grandfather of twin boys like I am, you often find yourself in a dilemma in deciding how to spend what they call quality time with one or both of the boys.

I was particularly anxious to give Tripp a little one-on-one time during a basketball tournament for his brother Chase. I would like to have seen Chase play, but I also know it can be boring for Tripp to watch a game in which he won’t get a chance to play.

Now a movie is out of the question because his brother would be upset at being left out. Fortunately, there was my old standby – the Chattahoochee Nature Center. It’s a much better choice in that we would actually interact with one another. There are 100 acres to wander about with trails, dozens of native animals and hundreds of native plant species already identified.

The particular Sunday I had mapped out for Tripp’s rescue mission was particularly attractive. Of course, there were the usual CNC-guided trail hikes and the Earth Skills Club, which gives demonstrations of outdoors tips such as fire-making (sans matches), flint knapping (making arrowheads) and other useful knowledge if you ever might have to live outdoors.

However, making special appearances were Chipa Wolf and his hand-raised buffalo named Samson, along with naturalist/environmental educator Mark Warren.

Wolf is a Cherokee who uses Samson as the centerpiece of his lectures on Native American culture and respect for nature. Warren is an educator, naturalist and author who wrote a nature series called “Secrets of the Forest” and most recently “Two Winters in a Tipi.”

Both Wolf and Warren walk the walk of environmentalism and living off and with the land.

In other words, there was plenty to see, do and hear to entertain a curious boy for an afternoon. I had learned the hard way not to mention the “E” word (as those who remember my piece on the boys and Arbor Day).

Today would be a cinch. There would be no mention of “Education” on this trip. Chipa Wolf was entertaining and informative, and Warren was an interesting man who did spend two winters in a tipi to hone his survival skills. He later gave a hike on the property with the emphasis on stalking for those who want to actually get close to wildlife to observe and photograph nature in its wild state.

They called it a Primitive Skills afternoon, but I didn’t see anything so primitive about it. It all looked rather sophisticated to me.

They also made lean-tos, forts and spider shelters in case you get caught out in nature in a storm or some other calamity. The natural world is a wondrous place but also quite unforgiving for those who come to it unprepared.

They were teaching things we once knew when your Walmart was the great outdoors. Your tools were all around you, because they were all you had.

My little Indian had a good time that afternoon, and I learned a few things myself.

It was also a great day to be outdoors, because we found we really had a lot to talk about. That doesn’t happen so much any more. The questions seemed to flow like they did in the “old days,” when he was 4 or 5.

That was what was really thrilling to me about the CNC. It captured a young mind and brought it out of its cocoon on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and I got to share in it. We walked the trails, checked out the beaver, the bald eagles and the turkey vultures.

We plowed through the old bones and fossils under the microscope. The bees’ comb close up was extraordinary. But mostly, I watched through my grandson’s eyes.

It seems so much of what we do segregates us from one another. When we aren’t buried in our individual techno-worlds of apps, phones, iPods, Kindles and the Internet, we don’t seem to have much to say to each other.

Where is reality in all of that? Where is nature? And where is there real connection to the people you love? I don’t see it in Facebook or Twitter. Give me an afternoon walk with a small hand in mine as we talk about things that really matter.

I thank the Nature Center for that. And I thank Ann Bergstrom and all of her co-workers who take an abiding interest in the real reality show.

View desktop version