On Being a Naturalist

Dear Friends,

Gourmet Girl Gail here writing from Santa Barbara. Living on the central coast of California, one doesn’t need to travel far afield to find wonderful campsites, meet new friends, and experience Mother Nature in all her splendor. Less than 25 miles from where I live, there are two state parks and a private campground: El Capitan State Beach, Refugio State Beach, and El Capitan Canyon with the adjacent Ocean Mesa, which has full hookups, a heated pool and spa, laundry facilities, and a convenience store.

I’ve camped numerous times at El Cap State Beach and Ocean Mesa, but only once at Refugio. Frankly, I have a hard time figuring out how to pronounce Refugio. Locally, I’ve heard it pronounced three ways. But that’s not what kept me away from this divine location. I’m not sure what did. But, thanks to my friend and fellow Sister on the Fly, Kathleen Murphy from Buellton, we decided to meet up there a couple of weeks ago. It’s been one of her favorite stomping grounds for a decade or more. And now I know why!

While camping at Refugio, we met Christine Cooper, a naturalist with an immense history in her field. Christine said that naturalists are cross-disciplinary generalists . . . lifelong learners who link common knowledge with scientific method and knowledge to awaken others to reconnect with nature. I love that definition.

Stewardship was a major player in her early years. She was raised by grandparents who were gardeners and they spent a great deal of time outdoors. They summered in the California redwoods near Big Basin State Park. She bought her first sailboat at fourteen years old and sailed the San Francisco Bay. Then she moved to Alaska and provided naturalist activities for Girl Scouts. After that she lived in Japan, a beloved culture based in nature, and practiced Shinrin Yoku (The Art of Forest Bathing). Being connected to nature brings her to life. Perhaps many of us can relate to that connection. “Sharing that sense of wonder in the natural world connects us to each other,” Christine says. So true!

If you’re wondering what that butterfly is on the back of Christine’s sweatshirt at the top of this post, it’s the California Sister (adelpha californica) a species of butterfly in the family Nymphalidae. They are common in California, but can also be found in western Nevada and Oregon, as well as in Northern Baja California.

By the way, the California Naturalist’s motto is Stewardship through Discovery and Action. Christine is all of that and more.

Want to learn more? iNaturalist is an app that naturalists, and anyone who can download it, from around the world can add photos and data. It’s one of the world’s most popular nature apps, and helps you identify the plants and animals around you.

Of course no camping blog post is complete without this nature lover. My dear Abigail! She is forever bringing me to appreciate new smells. LOL!

Here she is on her perch in the Roadtrek. Always looking to engage with whatever is outside. Yes, seagulls, squirrels, rabbits, gophers, duck on the pond, whatever. Did I tell you we’re thinking of writing a book together? Camping from her POV!

Until next time, we hope you’ll venture out into nature soon. For some, like Christine, it’s a way of life. For the rest of us, we can always cradle ourselves in the arms of Mother Nature to rejuvenate our spirits and move forward to making wise use of the natural resources provided by this awesome planet.

Do you have a favorite naturalist story? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.


Gail, Denise, and Lindsey


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