by Carol Roberts, ACRES board member and editor of the Quarterly publication for members
“The colors, sounds and scents of the wild are exhilarating. They instill in me a feeling of order, purpose and wonder. If I can instill that sense in others, it’s been a successful day!”
Pam George, an active lifelong educator, taught elementary students, supported teachers as a principal, teaches future teachers at IPFW, volunteers for several Allen County nature organizations, co-coordinates the master naturalist program through Allen County Parks and serves as an ACRES board member and volunteers as a hike leader and trainer.
Where The Wild Things Are: Pam George’s Story in 9 Questions from Carol Roberts
Maurice Sendak’s award-winning children’s book brought to life Where the Wild Things Are. As a preserve trail guide, how do you define “wild things” for walkers/hikers?
Sendak’s “wild things” were hidden deeply in a child’s imagination and represented some of the dark sides of life. But thinking about or actually being in the presence of wild things has a peaceful soothing effect on me. The colors, sounds and scents of the wild are exhilarating. They instill in me a feeling of order, purpose and wonder. If I can instill that sense in others, it’s been a successful day!
Why is it important to make nature accessible to people?
Since we have tightly scheduled lives, it’s nice to know ACRES offers over 6,600 acres for us to explore and enjoy any time between dawn and dusk.
I’ve heard you talk about helping hikers develop a personal connection to natural subjects such as frogs, trillium, woodpeckers and trees. How do you do this?
I share my own fascination, excitement and knowledge when a special plant, animal or geological feature is spotted along the trail. I hope my feeling is contagious enough to inspire others to care about preservation. I try to recreate in the hiker’s mind an image of both the geological/natural and human/historical significance of the land. Then the area becomes more than just trees and trails — it comes alive with secrets to share.
Last April you patiently explained to me that what I assumed I was hearing in the Dustin wetlands were not only spring peepers but also western chorus frogs and tree frogs. How did you learn to tell the difference?
I believe we first start to recognize differences in sounds, shapes and smells by relating them (perhaps unconsciously) to experiences we had when we were very young. I first recognized the sound of katydids in the fall while studying late at night beside open windows. The katydids’ soothing cadence made doing my homework acceptable.
From there, I think that once you have one piece of information to hook on to, you’ve made an emotional connection that propels you to just keep learning and adding additional information, year after year. When you reach out to teach others, you gain new insights and add to your own accumulated knowledge, especially in your passion areas. I’ve been fortunate to play the role of teacher for many years with both children and adults.
I had the honor of teaching the Frog Watch program through the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. To become a certified “frog watcher,” you need to recognize all eleven frog and toad calls for this area! At first I needed to review the calls every year to recognize them in order to do weekly monitoring or teach a new class of citizen scientists. But soon all the calls were recognizable and a permanent part of my knowledge base.
This could happen to you too. You could learn to recognize frog calls the same as you recognize the tone of your cell phone ringing.
Why is it important for people to recognize frog and toad calls?
Amphibians are an indicator species for our earth’s environmental ills. They spend part of their lives in water as tadpoles and continue to breathe through their skins as adults. Both conditions make them very sensitive to all kinds of pollutants. Monitoring their presence in an area helps scientists keep track of a community’s environmental health.
What is your vision for ACRES’ volunteer Share the Trails guides program?
That we’ll be able to grow so we’ll have enough veteran trail guides to keep our preserves bustling with hikers every week. The more people experience the preserves’ beauty and tranquility — the more they interact with nature, the more willingly they’ll support ACRES’ preservation goals – and the more local land we’ll be able to protect together.
Any advice for wannabe volunteer trail guides out there?
If you have a deep interest in nature and find it exhilarating to share your passions, take the first step and join others with a similar love of nature. You’ll learn answers to new questions and have rewarding experiences while performing a valuable service for the environment.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your current volunteer work as a naturalist?
I’ve been fascinated by the biological and natural sciences since the days I spent on my grandparents’ farm helping my grandmother clean chickens. My formal entry into the world of interpretation started when I joined the Fox Island Alliance and started attending all their training programs led by a very gifted volunteer naturalist named Vera Dulin. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share with my fifth-grade students. We even scheduled end-of- the-year overnights at Fox Island to immerse ourselves completely in nature.
What one thing should every hiker always bring on an ACRES’ hike?
Your sense of wonder and curiosity!