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An Incurable Curiosity

July 10th, 2019

Sometimes, a chance encounter with a new organism can be simply hypnotic: A hellgrammite prowling beneath a stone in quiet Jacob’s Creek, a pink lady’s slipper, standing in full bloom, begging for the company of a bee, a mink hunting in the floodwater’s of the Stony Brook. As a naturalist, I find each encounter luminous, affirming my place in the grand family of life on this planet.

At the age of eight years, David Tattoni had one such encounter. Almost. On a walk at nature camp, a Northern Harrier made an appearance, fleetingly gracing the skies for everyone to see. Almost. David was the only one who didn’t see the bird and as a result, he contracted an incurable form of bird fever. Life-altering.

The Northern Harrier haunted David’s daydreams leaving him with a sense of longing. This resulted in more visits to the nature center, more time on the trail, more time with the holy field guide in hand, more time in pursuit of shadows. He found an indescribable joy in the company of birds.

David is a keen observer and yes, he eventually did see a northern harrier. Along the way, he discovered that seeing something very clearly can somehow create mystery. He discovered the world of ecology, where everything is not as it seems, where unique and complex relationships may lie hidden.

David joined the staff at the Watershed Nature Camp after graduating high school in 2016 before continuing his education at Stanford University. Lured in part by the opportunity to spend the summer outdoors in the wild on the Watershed Reserve, he found himself surrounded by a fascinating array of plants and animals, day after day. He also found himself surrounded by campers, often energized by the wild world around them, and some, distracted by incurable curiosity.

Watershed Nature Camp is many things. Joy. Discovery. Adventure. Community. Nature. Fellowship. Exploration. It is the kingfisher rattling his way down the length of the Stony Brook. It is the cool embrace of the oak shadow. It is a campfire in the woods.

Camp is a deep immersion into the natural world and David was thrilled to facilitate this. Through each season, campers accumulate a rich collection of observations, of flora, fauna, and phenomena. David was determined to dive just a bit deeper.

Camp is also an incubator for science. Campers are literally wading through data and tripping over phenomena every day. They play in science.

Through his second summer at the Watershed Nature Camp, David implemented a series of investigations with his curious twelve to fourteen year old campers. A simple extension of the traditional camp activities, these investigations gave campers a chance to see the world through a scientific lens.

Fueled by their sense of wonder, campers dove deeper each week: exploring and comparing insect diversity on native and non-native plants; observing slug herbivory while pondering chemical defenses in plants; and investigating the concept of island biogeography as they examined plant diversity on various sized islands in the Stony Brook. All this science, these short sweet investigations, didn’t distract from the magic of camp – they enhanced it.

Throughout the summer, campers inhabit the delight of being outdoors, roaming the wilds, and being a part of nature. They experience an on-your-knees sense of wonder for the natural world. David harnessed this sense of wonder and introduced his campers to the joy of science. In a crazy world where the validity of evidence-based science is actually debated in political arenas, I cannot imagine a more beautiful blossoming.


-Jeff Hoagland, Education Director
“Speaking of Nature, Summer 2019”

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