How Turkey Tracks and Some Imagination Can Change a Mind

Reflections on my Environmental Education Internship

Some of my most cherished moments growing up, and the reason I have been an environmentalist my entire life and found myself as the Audubon Education Intern, was time spent in the woods. Or in a field. Or in the river. Or any location where the sky was my room and the ground my floor. The changing atmosphere and a world full of critters as my friends, what could be better? I never gave up this perspective as I outgrew my childhood rainboots and snowpants, however, there has been something missing from my outside exploration that I only just realized was gone: magic. At some point throughout my years trees turned back into trees, rather than a home for fairies and elves (which I never saw, not because they did not exist but because they were too scared and just wanted to watch me from afar). A river was once again just a natural body of water in an ecosystem, rather than an enchanted waterway that would lead me to a secret world if I just followed it around the bend.

It never occurred to me that this drastic shift in my interpretation of the world happened until I stepped into the Education Barn on my first day as the Green Mountain Audubon Center’s Education Intern. My coworker Kyra was sitting on the floor trying to fix a vacuum, when she casually asked me to ‘pick an animal to hide in the field’ and gestured to a box filled with laminated critters.  It was a snowy day, and turkey tracks had been the first thing to greet me upon my arrival (in addition to my coworker Sarah who excitedly spotted and identified them), so I opted for turkeys. The spark of whimsy began to creep up as I tucked the turkeys into little hiding spots – in the snow and behind stones, tricky enough to stump children's growing minds but still fairly obvious (I have since gotten too ambitious and lost a few of my own critters in the field). While I love a good scavenger hunt, I would say I prefer to do the searching. That was until the children arrived and I saw their little minds taking in the scene and hunting excitedly. Each time they found one and quickly ran over to me the look of awe grew. It was stunning and the first time I understood that even though my time as a child is over, the world is still full of wonder and now it was my turn to share that magic with others and help them discover the fairies in the trees. Little did I know, the children would begin to show me more of the world and mystery than I previously knew. Sure, I could set up little critters around the field and teach them fun new games to play, but it is their ability to melt the barrier between reality and play that makes the magic come alive.

A few weeks into my time as the education intern I was introduced to Forest Playschool, an absolute dream for any young mind. I joined right as lunch was beginning and sat around while the children told one another jokes. All the classic formulas were there: knock-knock and why did the chicken cross the road, however, none made any actual sense. Nonetheless, the children cackled every time one of their peers spewed out a sentence that somewhat resembled humor. After they finished eating, the children quickly returned to their play; Nascar racing on two fallen down logs. As my coworker, Emily, informed me, this is a place they come back to week after week and pick up where they left off. They also were in a ‘pirate mindset’ and would seamlessly shift into pirate mode right in front of us. Someone would declare themselves a captain and the rest of us could practically see the ship in front of them. It was absolute magic, seeing their imaginations take control to find these connections and joy within this little community they had formed together.

I suppose for some this is a fairly obvious idea; the imagination of children is potent magic. For those who already understand, I am thankful and hope you never lose that spark. For those of you who are reading this and realize the mystery of the mundane has escaped you, all I can say is keep looking. For the perfect leaf to act as a fairy house roof or for a new bird call you can’t quite put your finger on. Whatever it is that makes your world have a touch more whimsy is worth chasing.

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