By Deb Fall
Darke County Parks
Before I worked at the Darke County Parks and heard the term” Naturalist” I thought it meant someone who was literally one with nature, no deodorant, no haircuts, living off the land. This is not the correct definition. I’m not a park naturalist but if I could go back 40 years it would definitely be a career I would pursue. Instead, I work at the Darke County Parks in the accounting /HR department, but I’m ecstatic to be a part of my park family.
According to the dictionary, a naturalist is anyone who studies nature and has knowledge of birds, insects, trees, plants, animals and so much more. So, by that definition there are times we all are naturalists, especially my parents.
Growing up on a farm my father taught me about the many types of trees in our region and how to plant a garden, while my mother taught me how to harvest the garden. I would study the plants in amazement as they grew and produced a crop. Sometimes I would eat the vegetables straight from the garden, and tomatoes were always my favorite. I would eat them on a hot summer day, what a treat! Recognizing a plant by its leaves is an acquired skill taught to me by my parents, I am ever so grateful to them. They also have free apps, like iNaturalist, to download on your cell phone that will help you identify all kinds of plants.
One spring, when I was a child, my father planted potatoes for the first time. I was delighted to see the plants grow into a big green bush. My father asked my brother Gary and I to bring in a few potatoes from the garden. We ran back into the old farm house as quick as we ran out and proclaimed there were no potatoes on the plant. My father laughed as he approached the garden and stated yes, there were potatoes. My brother and I argued with him as we inspected the plants and found nothing. My father then dug up the first potato. Wow, were we surprised.
My children grew up with a garden too. It was a special bond that I could provide them with nature. Understanding where our food comes from is an extraordinary gift you can give a child or grandchild. Watching a plant grow gives a child so much gratification and respect for nature.
I am very fortunate to have grown up with the knowledge of plants, animals and trees, but my comprehension is minimal compared to my Naturalist co-workers.
I have asked many questions from “what bird is that at the feeder?” to “how do the beavers, close to the park’s creek, build their dams?” The Darke County Parks Naturalists are a wealth of information and they are willing and ready to share it.
We have four Naturalists at the Darke County Parks, Robb, Mandy, Megan and Mitch. Each has a tremendous respect for nature and working next to them has been a lifetime reward. To gain insight to their knowledge of nature sign up for an event, class or workshop. I promise you won’t regret it! Visit darkecountyparks.org for more information or call the park office at 937-548-0165.