Tag Archives: passions

Outdoors in the Midwest – Cuivre River State Park, Missouri – or having time to do what you love

There are nature people and there are people who don’t do nature.  Though I don’t understand the people who don’t do nature, I will forgive them if they want to skip this post, because it is all about my love for nature. 

One of the absolutely best parts of being semi-retired (or fully retired, though I wouldn’t know by first hand experience) is the chance to pursue interests that I wouldn’t otherwise have much time for. Nature/natural history/outdoor and active travel is one of mine.  We don’t live near the mountains or the oceans or large National Parks so we fill this interest on vacations and in less dramatic ways by volunteering with nature organizations and visiting state parks and other more modest but equally delightful outdoor locations. 

This past weekend our Master Naturalist group met for a state conference at Cuivre River State Park in Missouri.  I had never visited this state park on the Eastern side of the state.  In a state with some great state parks, this is one of the best.  Though the park is North of the Missouri River it has a landscape more like the Ozark Hills.  I took mini-classes on insect interactions with plants, invasive diseases and insects that threaten some of our most gorgeous forest trees, and big river ecosystems.  We camped in the state park, popped corn over the campfire with friends, and met lots of other nature nerds.  

October is usually one of the best months in this part of the country.  It is cool enough that mosquitoes and humidity are not a problem but usually warm enough to be comfortable.  The leaves are changing colors.  It could have been cold and rainy.  But it wasn’t.  It was perfect! 

We joined this organization four years ago and I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned.  And how much there is to learn. 

What are we encouraged to do in order to stay healthy and happy as we age?  Exercising, learning new things, and building social networks.  How lucky I am to have an avocation that fills all three.  Exercise doesn’t feel like a chore when you are trooping through the woods looking for interesting mushrooms.  Learning about birds from avid bird watchers is a hoot – especially if it involves owls.  And sharing interests is a great way to make new friends.

What else? – dancing to a blue grass band in the open air – even convincing Bill to join me, walking around camp in the moonlight, the constellation Orion in the early morning, getting to learn from experts who love sharing… 

What passions are you exploring in your retirement?  What new things have you learned?  How do you share it?


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Volunteering – new friends, new ideas, and a lot of free t-shirts

When I switched to part-time work a few years ago, I took advantage of the extra time to explore some interests of mine.  One of these interests is natural history.   Here in the Midwest that generally includes river systems, woods, and especially prairies.  I missed spending time in the outdoors. I also wanted to pay back some of the volunteer time that I had not been able to give when my son was growing up and I worked full time. 



There is an urban nature center near where I work called The Discovery Center.  This nature center has as part of its mission to introduce city children to the outdoors.  On a bleary January day, I stopped in to see what they were about. When I mentioned to the receptionist that I was interested in volunteering, she told me to wait and called the volunteer coordinator.  After a short training course held for several evenings and watching some other volunteers working at a simulated river, helping children make bird houses, and learn about mammals, I was ready to go. 

It has been a lot of fun.  I’ve learned why natural rivers meander, how the Missouri River once looked with flocks of Carolina Parakeets flying overhead and bison roaming the nearby plains.  I’ve learned how to read animal prints and how different kinds of birds use air currents to migrate. 

Even better, the sponsoring agency, the Missouri Department of Conservation, thanks its volunteers by taking us on hikes and short trips to places I would have never known about.  I’ve visited a private research cave, learned where Paw Paws grow in a local woods – and sampled this unusual fruit.  I’ve collected Monarch butterflies for school children to band.  I’ve met more people who share this interest with me than I have in the last 20 years of living in this city.  And did I mention the occasional free t-shirt?  It seems that everytime I volunteer with some organization, I get a free t-shirt.  I’m sure that I have enough to last into my 90’s. 

This nearly free activity has done the following for me:

  •   I’ve been able to explore a passion and get insider information about places to explore.  
  •   I’ve added to my knowledge and been challenged to learn a new skill – working with groups of children – something that any teacher will tell you is not always easy.  I’ve been able to learn from experts.
  •   I’ve met a group of like-minded people.
  •    I’ve been able to contribute to a cause that is important to me.

Talk about a great value!  Have you found a volunteer activity that lets you explore some passion that the work world didn’t fill?  I’d love to hear about it.

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Filed under activities, Natural History