Our Coast and Estuary Conservation Manager Nadia Gardner reflects on the role of Outdoor School in forging a lifelong love of nature.
While I have lived on the Oregon Coast for 15 years, I will periodically visit my hometown of Portland for work, errands, and to see friends and family. Just recently, I was on one of those visits, buzzing from one place to another. Driving around a corner under the Fremont Bridge I observed two people in the road. As I drew closer, an object at their feet became apparent. Just before carefully pulling around them, I saw it was a bird. I drove past, late for my next appointment. But within a block, I turned around, ready to help.
Upon my return, the two looked at me with worry. “The bird seems hurt. It won’t fly. Audubon is on their way,” they said. But in the meantime, it was rush hour and cars were rounding the corner in rapid succession. I quickly parked, pulled out my raincoat and a reusable shopping bag. Stepping into the street, I tossed the jacket on the American kestrel falcon, scooped it up, put it in the bag and handed it to the astonished couple, recommending that they wait for help to arrive off the street. They asked me how I knew what to do, and I laughed, saying “that’s nothing. The last bird I caught was a pelican and it was much bigger!”
As a native Oregonian, nature is in my blood. As I walk down a trail, I snack on berries and pluck mushrooms for an omelet later. Sitting in my backyard at sunset, I am joined by songs of varied thrush, pacific wren, and various owls. When I see wildlife in trouble, I know what to do and who to call.
This knowledge and appreciation of nature are engrained in my day-to-day life. I garden in a way that supports wildlife. I use alternative transportation whenever I can. I reduce, reuse, and recycle. I also chose environmental science as my study and nature conservation as my career. For almost a decade, I have worked for Columbia Land Trust.
All this is thanks to my childhood outdoor education, including Oregon’s Outdoor School. Growing up in North Portland, my exposure to nature could have been limited to the bats and crows that lived in nearby Peninsula Park. My mom saw my interest in nature at an early age and made sure I got into the woods. I attended Audubon day camps and OMSI summer camps. I joined my 6th-grade class at Outdoor School at Camp Howard and volunteered as a junior counselor at Trout Creek during high school. These experiences did more than educate me; they helped make nature a part of my life.
These days, I am a mom myself. I will nurture baby Matteo’s interest in the outdoors as my mom did. With any luck, by the time he reaches Outdoor School age, it will do for him what it did for me and nature will run in his blood too.
Columbia Land Trust recognizes that we can only accomplish our mission of conserving and caring for the lands, waters, and wildlife of the Columbia River region by fostering a culture of stewardship, especially with the young people who will someday inherit our charge. That’s why we’re endorsing Oregon Ballot Measure 99, which ensures a week of outdoor school for all fifth or sixth graders statewide. We believe that Outdoor School is a crucial experience that instills in young Oregonians an appreciation for nature. With luck, a few more Outdoor School participants will go on to join the next generation of conservation and stewardship professionals here at Columbia Land Trust.