I wouldn’t call myself a naturalist, not really, for I’m not trained as one. But that was always my intention — to wear the wide-brimmed Smokey the Bear hat and shiny National Park badge, silly things we deem important when we’re younger.

I was on my way to setting up campfire programs and interpreting nature when I declared my major at the University of Nevada, Reno — wildland recreation in the Renewable Natural Resources Department, otherwise known as RNR (no, not rest and relaxation). It was there I was sure I would someday be teaching others about the grandeur of nature, the marvel of it all, and saving it too. But that dream went up in smoke as math and science just about killed me, and I couldn’t recover from the bitter sting. So I did what a lot of failing college students do — I dropped out.  

Leaving academia behind, I embarked on a different kind of nature journey, working outdoors for Nevada State Parks, Oregon State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, and the U.S. Forest Service in the Sierra and the Sawtooth Range in Idaho. I was living the dream, working outside, and getting paid to fight fires and backpack. Who needs college?

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Along my outdoor journey, the strangest thing happened. As beautiful as each new environment was, I felt like an outsider. The Sierra had been my home for many years and I knew it well: the sunning marmots, the squeaking pikas, the towering pines and firs, the big granite boulders teetering on car-sized granite tables. But living in other regions, I felt like a stranger in strange lands until I finally figured out what I had to do: I had to get educated. I dove into field guides and started asking questions of the residents, nagging them to let me in on the local geology, biology, literature and culture, flora and fauna, environmental battles, and the people responsible for saving places and educating others. I took the necessary steps to become familiar with what surrounded me in the desert, in the deep, wet, northern forest, and along the high-peaked ridges. Before long, I became familiar with the unfamiliar and no longer felt like a stranger.

Even today, after returning to the Sierra 27 years ago, I continue to pour through field guides and websites and talk to those in the know about weather, plants, and animals. Because of this column, I’ve been getting acquainted with the Tahoe area, actually reacquainted, and learning tidbits about the pine trees and ravens and granite.

Had I finished college in wildland recreation, perhaps I would be working in Yosemite or Yellowstone and that would have been grand, but living in the Sierra is pretty grand too. Learning about nature, right here, in every season, is eye-opening every day.

Do you have a question about our region’s environment? Email mountainlife@moonshineink.com.

Author

  • Eve Quesnel

    Eve Quesnel has lived in Truckee for 35 years with her husband Bill, once-upon-a-time daughter Kim-now on her own-and many dogs through the years, currently a Border Collie-Aussi mix. Her favorite pastimes include walking in her neighborhood and nearby woods, hiking in the high Sierra, and reading and writing. Quesnel is now retired from teaching English at Sierra College in Truckee but continues to pursue several writing projects. She is intrigued by the natural world of which she explores and writes about for the column "Nature's Corner" in Moonshine Ink.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I look forward to Eve’s articles about the nature around us. She may not have been trained as a naturalist, but it is obvious she loves Mother Earth and her critters. I am thankful she shares her knowledge with us.