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  • Writer's pictureLynn Sparrow Christy

"Save the Planet," Up Close and Personal

Ryan shows boys how to handle a snake

Today my son posted a picture of himself showing some boys how to hold a snake. I hate snakes. I certainly don’t enjoy looking at pictures of them. But I loved this picture and even saved it to my computer. Why? Because the text with it said, in part, “I feel so much pride when I get to share my passion for the outdoors with others, especially children.” Ryan works as a guide at Camp RIO at Lula Sams, an innovative outdoor learning center operated by IDEA Public Schools in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The camp serves as a field trip destination for students from elementary school all the way up through high school, and its mission is to augment classroom learning with direct, hands-on experience in nature. Ryan’s job is to plan and conduct grade-level appropriate outdoor learning experiences for students.

At Camp Rio, kids learn about conservation, wildlife habitat management, and ecology. They take nature walks where they learn to identify plants and animals – and where they may encounter javelinas, bobcats, and armadillos in the wild.

a wild bobcat spotted at Camp RIO

They learn survival skills as well as recreational outdoor skills like canoeing and archery. They participate in team-building experiences. They are taught the rudiments of nature photography. In short, a population of children who may spend a good part of their free time indoors in front of screens is learning about the joys of nature and humans’ responsibility to take good care of it. And, as icing on the cake, teachers report that classroom experience is enhanced by this infusion of nature education.

wild javelinas spotted at Camp RIO

Camp Rio at Lula Sams is a former Girl Scout camp, now an 85-acre nature preserve comprised of rare and native Rio Grande Valley habitat and used for educational purposes. From Camp RIO’s website: "IDEA vowed to bring stewardship and vitality to the plants and animals that thrived among the old Sabal Palms, and our bright, curious scholars would be enriched by the treasured ecology found at the campsite."

I am proud that my son is doing something that has positive impact on children’s relationship with our beautiful planet. I am pleased that his teaching career is starting off in such an unexpected way. When he got his teaching certificate, he began the requisite subbing jobs and kept his eyes open for a permanent classroom. He loved substitute teaching in IDEA Public Schools and hoped that he would find a job in one of their many charter schools in the Rio Grande Valley. What came up instead was a position at Camp RIO. It appears to be a match made in heaven, taking Ryan’s love of teaching and communicating with kids and meshing it with his love of nature. He is now a Texas Master Naturalist and regales me with arcane facts about plants and animals when he takes me to his favorite nature preserves. He is happier than I have ever seen him. Which of course makes Mom happy.

But there is more behind my sharing here than a mother’s contentment at her son having found his niche. I love the example of how life purpose can take so many different forms, often not the ones we’d expected. Ryan set out to teach history. And some day he may do that too. But the point is that something else he was not specifically looking for came his way and right now that is so much better than anything he would have set out to look for. So many of the “manifest your destiny” teachings tell us to have great specificity about our desires, or else we may not get what we really want. But maybe that’s a limiting idea. Sometimes we may have a calling that we don’t even know we have. Maybe we can just set an intention, keep our eyes open for the opportunities that arise, and trust something greater to move us into a place that is a better fit than what we could have imagined.

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