Attention nature lovers! I have good news for you. The Maine Master Naturalist Program is sponsoring three, count them, three Tier One Associate Naturalist training classes here in Maine this summer. Located in Bar Harbor, Bridgton and Farmington, the class runs from May through September and covers a diverse array of natural history topics.
And what is a naturalist you might ask? A person knowledgeable about the natural world and the interconnectedness of natural systems, is attentive to details and attuned to process-someone who’s knowledge is broad enough to span the different parts of the natural world. In an age when science is more and more specific and compartmentalized, the naturalist plays an important role, helping us both look closely and draw back to see how the dots all connect. Naturalists are observers and at heart share a great and passionate curiosity.
I discovered this program four years ago when I heard about a naturalist class that was going to be offered in Belfast. I had long been a devotee of all things natural history, and felt fortunate to have studied with Ron Davis, Chris Campbell and Arthur Haines while at the University of Maine, but I was out of touch with that part of my life and longing for a way back to it. A year long course with fellow nature nerds sounded like just the thing.
After completing what was then a nearly year long course in Belfast, but not feeling quite done with this organization, I volunteered to mentor fellow students in a course held the next year at the Fields Pond Audubon Nature Center in Holden. Even then the draw to stay involved was strong, and I volunteered to coordinate and co teach the newly reorganized pilot version of the Tier One Associate Naturalist course last year in Blue Hill. That was last year from May to September of 2015, and the lessons we learned putting that class together have informed the slate of three Tier One classes being offered around the state in 2016.
The goal of the Maine Master Naturalist Program is to develop a corp of people with the training and knowledge necessary to go out into their communities and lead natural history programming, helping to connect their neighbors to nature. This goal is important enough that 20 hours of volunteering in the community is a requisite for completing the course. The Tier One course content focuses on natural history basics: trees, forbes (herbaceous wildflowers), ferns, insects and other arthropods, mammals, birds, and ecological principles. The skills of a naturalist are emphasized, students spend a lot of time learning how to use keys because if you are can use a key, you can identify any unknown plant or animal! Drawing from nature and keeping notes on phenology (timing of seasonal events) are a naturalist’s bread and butter hence, keeping a nature journal is another significant component of the class.
I love being a naturalist and I am proud to follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard and Terry Tempest Williams, not to mention Dorcas Miller, Susan Hayward and Cloe Chunn, three of the MMNP founders. I love that there is always more to know, and new things to learn. I love that to a naturalist, the commonest species, the chickadee, the robin, the red oak, the dandelion, still have things to teach us, we are never beyond their reach. And I love that this community is growing, we nature nerds are finding each other through these classes and tribes of people willing to spend the afternoon wrestling with fern identification or staring into tide pools are coming together.
If you are looking for your tribe, this may be it. If you want to broaden your knowledge about the natural world, spend many hours with some quality people, spend many more hours making notes, drawing in your journal, reading in the literature and building your own teaching collections, this course might be for you. And most importantly, if you can see your self giving back, volunteering in your community, demonstrating the relevance of natural history in today’s frantic frenetic world, this class could definitely be for you. The application period closes March 15, so do not delay.
For those of you looking ahead, the Tier 2 courses will be offered in the next few years (once a critical mass of Tier One graduates is reached), and may include geology, astronomy, lichen and bryophytes, winter weeds and trees, climate change, invasive species, system specific content (riverine, intertidal, alpine, bog etc), teaching techniques and an independent capstone project, as well as volunteer time that includes not just natural history knowledge but teaching/leading.