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Learning Through Nature

Posted Feb 20, 2019
Learning Through Nature

Blog by Bob Howden, Asbury Woods Volunteer and Board Member

Some people take up golf when they retire. Others move south to warmer climates. Still others, like me, channel their energies into “helping, learning and doing.”

When I retired in 2014 after 30+ years in public relations/marketing, my thoughts focused on nature and the environment, a passion of mine since the early 70s. I turned to Asbury Woods, a facility I became familiar with after moving to Erie in 1986. In early 2015, became a volunteer in the Squeaky Frog gift shop.  It did not take long for me to reinforce what I already knew – that Asbury Woods is a gem that offers so much to the Erie-area community. But how do I enhance my learning so I can share with others?

That opportunity came in the fall of 2015 when Larry Berrin, former executive director, invited me to participate in a program to become a Certified Nature Guide.  That program afforded me the opportunity to delve into specific nature topics of interest to me. I decided to learn more about trees.

 Trees are something we all take for granted and often curse in autumn when it’s time to rake up their leaves. While many of us may be able to tell the difference between an oak and a maple, that is probably the extent of our basic knowledge.  Becoming a Certified Nature Guide gave me a whole new appreciation of trees – the way they grow and mature, the habitats they provide for birds and animals and the key role they play in our ecosystem. Our planet would not survive without trees.

Img 7915 Bob Howden

I completed the program and became a Certified Nature Guide. So, what’s next? It’s time to put this new “expertise” to work! In the spring/summer of 2016, I began leading “Tree Walks,” taking interested people through Asbury Woods, pointing out different types of trees and telling them some of the unique features of each species. Do you know how tulip trees got their name? What is some of the folklore surrounding the hawthorn tree? Can you tell sugar, red and silver maple trees from one another?

Speaking of maple trees, I’ve always been fascinated by the annual winter/spring ritual of processing maple sap into maple syrup. Asbury Woods is the perfect place to learn about this classic aspect of Americana. From tapping the trees and hanging the buckets, to collecting the sap and boiling it into syrup, I’ve done it all at Asbury Woods. What a great way to enjoy nature!

These various learning opportunities have added significantly to my appreciation of Asbury Woods, over and above working at all the various public events – Maple Fest, Honey Harvest, Scary Creature Feature and Winter Wonderland.  

 But the learning process continues. In June, Executive Director Jennifer Farrar asked me to consider serving on the Board of Directors of the Asbury Woods Partnership. It is an honor I eagerly accepted, and one that adds a whole new dimension to my knowledge of Asbury Woods.

Nature is truly a wonderful thing. If you want to learn more, take a walk through “the Woods.” And if I’m around, I’ll be happy to be your guide!