Nature Breaks by Phil Shaff

50 Stories for 50 Years

is presented by New Leader Manufacturing

After college I was spending a lot of time working and found myself getting burned out. When I had some unplanned time I began volunteering out in nature with Master Gardeners and Trees Forever. I realized that you can take time in the middle of the day for a nature break and the work will still get done.

I started helping out at the Nature Center due to the Trees Forever tree keepers program. We came out to tap trees for maple syruping. I tapped about 20 trees and froze my fingers in the process. Jean (Director of Land Stewardship) helped organize the group and made the comment that if we liked tapping trees that there was a festival about making maple syrup that we could volunteer for, as well. That got me started at the Nature Center.

Sometimes a nature break means building a snowman with your fellow volunteers.

Since then, I have had many fun memories. One year when it snowed during the first day of the maple festival we built a snowman near the barn. Burning off the prairie with the land team was a rush and I encourage more people to try it.

While teaching kids about nature during a school trip and seeing how they make the connection with nature is another highlight. When they let go of their preconceptions of what nature is like and begin looking at bugs and insects it’s a pleasure to see them enjoying nature.

Other memories as a teacher-naturalist include taking a group across the suspension bridge near the barn and being able to teach a blind person how to tap a maple tree. I will remember the kids that really enjoy their time out at the Nature Center. It’s really neat to get thank-yous at the end of a field trip.

There are challenging moments for volunteers, as well. I think trail building is one of the hardest things I have been a part of. It would be nice to have more volunteers to help out the land team keep up with the invasive plants. Leading large groups from schools can be challenging, as well. I have found that some of the classes could benefit from having more volunteers available to answer questions and help out with the groups.

One take-away from my time as a volunteer is that it is a lot of work to manage the land. It is hard to see some of the woods at the Nature Center decline and get taken over by invasive species when a few more volunteers could help clear out the overgrowth. Having more volunteers, families, and groups come out to the Nature Center to help with the tasks of managing the land would make for easier work for all.

Phil Shaff
Volunteering at ICNC allows one to learn about nature while teaching its joys to the next generation.

I live on an acreage and maintain an orchard with apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, almonds, and grapes as well as a small fish pond and about an acre of restored prairie. I am also a honey beekeeper. Being involved with the Nature Center and other groups gives me resources to learn more about managing the acreage I look after and try out things like burning the prairie before trying to do it myself at home. I think nature is a valuable resource for teaching people what they need to know to maintain the land.

When I spend time at the Nature Center I feel more at peace. Most often the stress of day-to-day life or work can get us down. Taking a break to walk in nature or teach a class to children breaks up the humdrum and allows me to re-center and take a new look at what I was doing after visiting the Nature Center.

When I look back at the time I have spent at the Nature Center, I think I am most proud of the connections made with the kids. I enjoy when a kid truly lets go of the idea that nature is not to be touched and becomes willing to build a fort or hold a frog or get dirty. I am certain that the teachers or parents were not always happy with the messy outcome, but the kids wash clean.

Ready for your nature break? Become a volunteer!
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