Students, Buffleheads remind us to savor our time in nature

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 10:53 PM

At Durango Nature Studies, we’ve already wrapped up our winter education program, “Surviving and Thriving in Winter,” and educators are preparing for our spring programs at the Nature Center.

I’m still savoring the remaining elements of our meager winter, however, and thinking back to some of the more memorable moments over the past couple of months.

I don’t have the opportunity to attend many of our field programs, but when I do, the excitement and enthusiasm from the students is palpable and contagious. This is particularly true of our winter programs, which are geared primarily to fourth- and sixth-grade students. Fourth-graders focus on thermal energy, particularly heat transfer in cold weather, and sixth-graders learn about the importance of snow to our watersheds and how to calculate water content from our snowpack.

The unique element to our winter programs is that students navigate on snowshoes – weather permitting. While each program has a clear scientific purpose, a secondary but equally important outcome of these field trips is to provide students an opportunity to connect to nature. Most of the children I watched this winter easily connected to their snowy environment, taking advantage of moments to flop into the snow and linger there for a few minutes.

The students’ antics and enthusiasm reminded me of some of the migratory waterfowl I’ve watched along the Animas River this winter. The Buffleheads have been my favorite. These ducks are pretty easy to spot – the males are predominantly white, they have oversized heads, and they sound like a squealing automotive belt as they fly.

These small sea ducks spend their summers along the coast in Canada and Alaska. While most field guides I consulted indicate that wintering in our region is not common, it is possible. The Animas River served as a temporary home for quite a large flock through the end of February.

If you watch Buffleheads for any length of time, you get the sense that they love life. I often watched them swim repeatedly through a section of rapids, looking like they were having the time of their lives despite the icy cold water. I imagine there is some perfectly rational, scientific explanation for their behavior, but I prefer to think they simply enjoyed their whitewater action.

The Buffleheads are not so unlike the sixth-graders. Many of the students will recall aspects of their snow science experiments, but I expect most of them will remember tromping through the snow because it was fun. Sometimes, it is just that simple.

I’ve used the term “fruliftsliv” in a previous column. It’s a Norwegian term that describes the human-nature connection. Our connection to nature leads to joy and happiness – even in places where winters are darker and longer than ours.

As spring takes hold and we can capitalize on more daylight, I encourage you to linger on your next outing and, like the sixth-graders and the Buffleheads, take a moment – or several – to savor the world around you.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at