The plant catalogues are piling up, spilling off my bedside table. It's dead winter now but, by the time you read this, spring should be coming on in full force with peepers peeping from every pond and pool, woodcocks peenting and spring beauties starting to bloom.
The most exciting thing about spring for me is all the possibilities. As a gardener, I can't wait to get my hands in the warming earth. As a birder, I'm eager to see which warblers will come through this year. As an angler, I'm ready to dangle a line near the lily pads at our pond's edge to see if a big old bass is hiding in the cover.
I love to read, but it's the direct contact with the outdoors that gets me going.
It's also fun to see my own efforts really do something. We're seeing more quail, for instance, since we've changed from solid acres of fescue to a mix of native grass and flowers. And we've got better-fed fish in the pond after we thinned their numbers.
The idea of hands-on conservation is nothing new. Farmers who leave food for wildlife in their fields and protective cover in their fencerows have always understood it. The hunters, anglers and trappers who follow the movement of life on the land enjoy it. And any child fortunate enough to catch a fish, see an eagle, watch an Arbor Day tree grow or sleep under the stars is changed by it.
Unfortunately, these natural connections are harder and harder to make. Who has the time? Who knows how? Cars and concrete are too much a part of our outdoor experiences. Seeing nature in a rearview mirror just doesn't satisfy the soul.
One of our jobs at the Conservation Department is to help Missourians make their own hands-on connection to the outdoors. That task might mean providing an interpretive trail at one of the Conservation Nature Centers, teaching hunting skills and ethics to youngsters, or showing people how to use native plants for low-maintenance gardens that also attract more native birds and butterflies. We try to make people more aware of how they can make a difference on their landscape through programs like Grow Native! and No MOre Trash. (By the way, May 1, 2003 will be No MOre Trash day, a chance to make your own pledge to keep Missouri litter-free.)
In the Outreach and Education Division, we are expanding the range of our outdoor skills training for more students--young and old--to learn fishing, hunting, primitive skills, camping, birding and canoeing. They'll not only acquire practical skills, but they'll learn how to help maintain and replenish our outdoor resources. For example, students will learn not only how to cast, but also how to create healthy habitat to keep our aquatic systems thriving.
Unlike the transporters in the Star Trek episodes which would "beam you up," we want to help "beam you out." Outdoors, that is, through our classes, movies, websites, magazines. We are committed to helping you make a hands-on connection with the natural world. Once you have it, you'll never want to let it go.
Lorna Domke, Outreach & Education Division Administrator