You do not have to be a nature nerd like myself to enjoy being outside. I understand that a three-hour one-mile walk, prodding bark for hidden creatures and turning over fallen branches in search of something with six legs, is not for everyone. However, most people enjoy a stroll through the woods or even a casual walk through a city park on a nice day. Even better, step outside with someone you care about and perhaps love will step in. That's how it happened with Dan and me.
I was quite sure I had rambled on way too long on the magical world of mollusks on our first date. I was deep in explanation of my conviction that the Angel Wing clam likely started its fragile life inside floating driftwood when I realized I was likely boring the daylights out of him. Shockingly, he called me for a second date. It is hard to pinpoint the exact moment I knew Dan was my soul mate, but I knew he was special when we spent over an hour searching out all the moths and nighttime insects attracted to the dimly glowing lights of the campground bathrooms. Dan snapped photos and I gushed over the diversity and their resemblance to alien creatures for over an hour. Prior to dating me, I seriously doubt Dan would have spent so much time exploring the insect world. Although, from the beginning I knew there was an appreciation for nature on his end; I could not help but notice his abundance of wildflower pictures. Dan's appreciation of nature is usually captured through his camera lens and mine through touching and identifying.
It was time for the family reunion in Hope, NY. Hope is a little town in the southern Adirondack Mountains and some of us chose to camp versus traveling the forty minutes to the nearest hotel. I made a bold decision to invite Dan and it was on this camping trip I began to fall for him. Mother Nature made it easy by providing so many opportunities for exploration, discussion, fun, and mutual awe. He arrived with all his camping gear and about twenty pounds of trail mix. I smiled at his sweetness and laughed to myself thinking of lugging it all on our two mile hike. I watched the near thirty-year-old Dan revert into a twelve-year-old boy as he jumped over and over into the cool mountain waters from what our family calls the "big rock." He was not alone, young and old alike took turns plunging into the Great Sacandaga River.
So why does Mother Nature make a wonderful place to fall in love? Lots of reasons! You can learn about each other's families, share stories that have shaped your life, and laugh with someone you care about with the only distraction being Mother Nature. Natural distractions come randomly and perfectly. A distraction can start with something as simple as finding the letter "s" in tree bark and lead to a shared interest that lasts a lifetime. Who would have thought a random wasp sting to Dan's chest would be a welcomed conversation starter while on a walk through a state park. We now laugh over this shared memory. Not only can nature inspire and provide the perfect place for great conversation, it allows for learning to occur. The knowledge I have gained from Dan while walking, exploring, camping, or simply swinging in front of a Chautauqua Lake sunset is abundant. I now have a better understanding of the workings of electricity, computers, and what an accelerometer does in a cell phone (needless to say, Dan is a tech nerd). I like to think I have taught Dan a nature thing or two.
I fell in love with the natural world early on in life and it only builds with each new day and each new creature. It never ceases to amaze me. It is fitting that I fell in love in nature and it is a love that grows in the same way. Dan, now my husband, and I will forever enjoy the diversity, intricacies, and fun found in nature. This Valentine's Day it is my hope that you will step outside with someone you care about and enjoy a date outdoors. Share, learn, and laugh with one another while sledding, skiing, or come to the Audubon and take a walk on one of our many trails. If you have not found the one you love yet, no worries, take a walk in nature and perhaps someone special just might cross your path.
Hope Lyon is winter seasonal naturalist at Audubon and a hopeless romantic.
The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road in the town of Kiantone, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, New York and Warren, Pennsylvania. For more information, call (716) 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org.