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Otto: Nature provides the greatest moments

Published: Saturday, April 16, 2011 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, April 17, 2011 4:27 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
The white-tailed deer, odocoileus virginianus, is the state mammal of Illinois.

When I got home from work the other night, I found I had six text messages on my cell phone. Maybe some people are used to getting lots of texts but, for me, a mediocre texter at best, six messages means something big must have happened.

Halfway expecting to read that someone was sick, or worse, I flipped open my not-so-smart phone and started plunking through the texts. Sure enough, there was big news.

All six messages were from my friend Cameron, a great observer of the natural world, and an equally great texter. Here’s what he had to say:

“I just had THE GREATEST natural experience in my life. I was riding my bike and then what do I happen upon? At first it seemed as though it was only a few deer, so I stopped to let them pass. But then, one-by-one, they popped out of the grass. So, I slowly turned and sat by the information platform. I closed my eyes for a few moments, then I heard a quiet rustling. I open opened my eyes and saw a beautiful sandhill crane slowly creeping out onto the path. It was so great because I looked out across the prairie, or wet meadow to be more specific, and saw that even more members of this herd of deer were descending from the forest on the other side of me. It was so incredibly wonderful. And then some guy on a bike came flying through and scared them all away. I’m so glad I live in such close proximity to such an amazing environment.”

I wished then that I was a better texter, because I wanted to express how excited I was that he had had such a memorable experience; how thankful I was that he’d shared it with me; and how unfortunate it was that THE GREATEST natural experience in his life ended so abruptly.

But instead, with my feeble abilities, all I was able to manage was a “Wow!” followed by a request for more details.

Cameron responded that he had been riding on the Virgil Gilman Trail just off of Blackberry Creek, near Waubonsee Community College. He estimated that there were between 10 and 15 deer, and that three of them were last year’s young that were a little more than half the size of the adults they were with.

With that information, more thoughts spun through my head. I wanted to text how interesting it is that we now see white-tailed deer in such large groups, given that, 100 years ago there were virtually no deer in Illinois; how overhunting and habitat loss had caused them to almost disappear; how reintroduction efforts were begun in the 1930s; that today deer are present in large numbers in every county throughout the state; and finally, a supposition of how likely it might be that sandhill cranes, no longer a threatened species in Illinois, might one day be as common as deer.

But, again, all I could tap out was a “Thanks,” along with some well wishes for a good night.

Sitting here now, with a full keyboard and a big, flatscreen monitor, with letters I can actually see, I’d like to add just a few more thoughts. One, Cameron, a sophomore in high school, possesses an extraordinary ability to observe nature, even when the rest of the world is zipping on past. Two, he has an appreciation of the outdoors that likely will stay with him the rest of his life. And three, it’s kids like Cam that give naturalists like me hope for the future.

Pam Otto is the manager of nature programs and interpretive services for the St. Charles Park District. When she is not struggling with texts, she can be reached at potto@st-charlesparks.org or 630-513-4346.

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