Getting Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe (GISS)

Saturday is the big day. You and yours are invited to the 20th Annual celebration of our shrub-steppe heritage here in Central Washington. Between 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. there will be no fewer than seven hour-long field trip choices and a variety of experiences at a dozen or so activity centers. There will be expert-led field trips, educational and hands-on science booths and fun activities for kids of all ages. Included in these adventures are the early morning bird walk, spring wildflowers, snake-sneaking, geology-learning, beaver thinking, kayaking, visualizing those who occupied the Yakima River Canyon long before us, and an obstacle course with prizes.

This all happens at either Helen McCabe State Park (at the north end of the Yakima River Canyon) or the Umtanum Creek Recreation Area (a dozen or so miles down the river). All you bring is your family, water bottles, hiking shoes, binoculars, cameras, and your senses of wonder. See what’s in store: check out, and click on “Keen Events.” On that page, “Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe” will get you the full schedule of events and opportunities.

The earliest fun starts at the Umtanum site – starting point for most excursions. The morning bird walk kicks off there at 7:30 a.m. (Think of the joy your children will relive when – some sweet day – they tell their own children of their Early Bird walk with Jerry Scoville and Deborah Essman – Bird Whisperers of Paradise.) Return from that brief excursion and choose an excursion of beaver tales with Lixing Sun or a wildflower walk with Ian Seilor.

As the morning unfolds, you might learn about ancient and modern cultural landscapes of our amazing Canyon, or hear Nick Zentner as he brings the Canyon’s geology to life. Cap off your morning at the Umtanum site with an hour and a half of “Snake Sneaking” with reptile pro and personal hero Dan Beck (you will have to pre-register for this one).

Meantime, back at Helen McCabe State Park, those activity centers that kicked off at 9 are up and running until 2 p.m. At one booth or activity center or another, you and your whole family may examine and learn about native snakes and reptiles, skulls and bones, native plants, the story of rivers, fish and bugs, and a lot about our insects. Somewhere in that joyful outdoor-oriented community will be an obstacle course (with prizes for various levels of dexterity), a chance to join up with the Junior Ranger Program, and the opportunity to see trained falcons up close and personal. Learn about the work of KEEN’s Stewardship Team and the coming Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center, as well that of the Nature Conservancy, the Wild Horse Wind Facility and the East Cascade Recreation Partnership.

This GISS Day is a few hours of great fun for the whole family – but so much more than that.

This is important to you and me and yours and mine and all theirs to come. We have talked about this before: when push comes to shove (and it will) people with no real connection to nature will not give a rat’s backside about a sustainable outdoor future. The challenge is on our doorstep right now, and becomes more critical with each passing moment.

No doubt you recall our discussions of Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Maybe you sat in on one of my discussions of the concern over what nature writer and author Robert Michael Pyle calls “the extinction of experience.” With such an extinction, an indoor kid will be able to go anywhere, stay “plugged-in,” and remain disconnected from his earth-bound life and roots. Recall that Pulitzer Prize‑winning Harvard biology professor E.O. Wilson coined the word “biophilia” for the innate desire of humans to connect with other life forms. He has long maintained that this connection benefits us both as individuals and as a species of the whole; any individual’s loss of that connection – that sense of belonging to nature – threatens us all and our future.

While I recognize that a growing number of people consider this outdoor connection an antiquity – best left behind so that humanity can grow into its high-tech and dense urban population destiny – I have hope. Every day, I see the importance of outdoor connections to the development of healthy, happy and safe humans.

To lose our connection to nature and other living things we must first have the connection. This is why, this week, it seems so important to focus on these Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe (GISS) activities. Consider this column to be your personal invitation.

In this 20th Anniversary celebration, as always, there are many opportunities to get your family connected to nature, polish your own connections and get yourself caught up on springtime in Paradise.

Whatever adventures you choose, you will find an abundance of kid and family connection opportunity three days hence. Bring yourself and those you treasure into the Yakima River Canyon. Come play.

This is important to a future reaching far beyond those of us enjoying Paradise today. Let us send our young forward with a soul-satisfying connection to the natural world which sustains us all. To slightly paraphrase Jodi Larsen, of our Upper Kittitas County Rotary, Remember that children are the emissaries we send into a time we will not see…


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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