Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Letters to the Birds

Getting kids to enjoy nature is one of my great joys in life. Whether it’s taking them on our field trips, working with them on our junior naturalist programs or bringing environmental education into our local schools, working with young people is an unforgettable experience that I will always cherish and treasure.

One of our favorite days of the year for myself and all of our Bergen Audubon volunteers is joining with the Saddle Brook Middle school and Teacher Gayle Dunlap for the “Great Backyard Bird Count.” For almost 10 years BCAS has been working with these wonderful students on teaching them about the birds and helping them with their beautiful Schoolyard Wildlife habitat.

One of the great rewards we receive from all the students besides the pleasure of spending the day with them is a bag full of thank you cards they send over to us each year acknowledging us for coming to their school and teaching them about the birds.

I have to admit I get excited and just can’t wait to look through all the wonderful homemade cards that we receive. Some with beautiful colored drawings, others in pencil, some with a few lines of thanks, others with much more to say. All of which are special, heartwarming, funny and which at times make it hard for me to keep a dry eye.

Of course there are those that are the humorous, like one young man who wrote, “thank you so much for coming to our school and counting the birds with us … Although I didn’t see any birds it was fun, maybe next year it will be better.” ( that’s what happens when there is a Coopers hawk in the schoolyard at count time). Then there was the young lady who found out there are birds around her house also. “I now enjoy watching birds pass by my house but I really want to thank you for teaching me the difference between a Junco and a Crow, Who knew!”

For many other students it was an introduction to a whole new wonderful world: “It makes me feel good that I get to be a scientist for a day! Thank you for teaching us about migration and all the different birds we can see.” And then of course there is the very serious student: “This day was necessary! Now I understand the importance of watching and counting birds. Thank you all.”

Sometimes there is the card that touches the heart and helps you understand how important it is for all of us to reach out to young people. The letter starts out, “Dear Bird Watchers, I am very happy you came to Saddle Brook Middle school to help us learn about birds.

“I find much joy in nature, most of all I love learning about animals and plants. There is so much to find in nature, we just have to look for it. Birds are a gift to have. I learned a lot about the environment when you came…I want to give you a big thank you for coming to our school.”

At the bottom of the page was a quote from Helen Keller, “Alone We Can Do Little, together we can do so much,” signed Arleen. Thank you Arleen, for allowing us the honor of visiting with you and all the other amazing students that counted the birds with us.

Today as environmental groups gear up to protect endangered species, fight climate change and preserve wildlife habitat please don’t forget that working with young people is our most important job and is far more vital than any rally, petition or social media post ever could be.

Ultimately, unless we can find ways to introduce the next generation to nature eventually there will be no nature left to protect. And as Arleen so eloquently reminded us, together we can accomplish anything.

A big thank you from all of us to the teachers and students at Saddle Brook Middle School for making a difference in their students’ lives by giving them the love and knowledge of nature.

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