I believe that environmentalists are not born but are made, made from childhood experiences that introduce the natural world in a way that fosters emotional bonds destined to last a lifetime.
My father did not look like an environmentalist when he dressed for work in the morning, wearing a grey suit, white shirt and striped tie, then boarding the Long Island Railroad to make his way to work in mid-town Manhattan. But we who knew him, my brothers, my mother and I, knew him for the nature lover he was, one who carefully tended to his roses, grew Macintosh apples and cultivated Concord grapes in our tiny Long Island backyard. And in summers, as the sun rose over the horizon, he loaded the car with camping and fishing gear and drove for eight hours to a remote and far away spot in the Adirondack Mountains, on Osgood Pond, so that we might experience the wilderness before it disappeared.
Here, I witnessed my father’s transformation as he spoke in quiet tones, showing me how to cast a line into secluded little fishing spots famous for their bass. I watched as tentative chipmunks approached his outstretched hand so they could nibble on the peanuts he offered them, as he comfortably sat on the front porch of our log cabin. Other times, he rallied our family for day long hikes into the woods, up mountain sides, sometimes ending with an overnight under the stars without the protection of a tent.
Those summers I fell in love. I fell in love with the mountains: White Face, Marcy and St. Regis. I fell in love with wild blueberries, pan fried trout and water drunk straight from a spring well. I fell in love with brilliant pink water lilies and the call of the loon. Surrounded by the serenity of the clear lake waters, in the crisp early mornings made warm by my father’s stoking the wood stove, and amid the constant, sweet scent of birch and pine, we fell in love with one another. The rustic simplicity brought my family together, so on long mountain hikes we could talk, or laugh over stories of the fish that got away or Lizzy, the garter snake who scared us half to death as we walked along the stone paths joining one cottage to another.
Now fifty years later, I believe that my parents could not predict the emotional impact of those magical summers, nor did they know that they were forming the foundation, and framing my life with experiences that would forever cause me to be a true romantic of the great outdoors, continuing in my own way to experience the wilderness before it disappears.
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