From the time I was just a little guy I apparently had the heart of a naturalist. My mother told stories of how as a youngster I would sit quietly for hours and watch ants do their work. During the early summers of my youth there were turtles, frogs, or some other form of wildlife in the old wash tub on the back porch. Once I found a cocoon that held my interest. I put the mysterious cocoon in a Mason jar, punched nail holes in the lid, and placed it in the house in an out of the way place. A while later, thousands of tiny Praying Mantis, small enough to escape through the holes in the lid, invaded our home. In spite of such episodes (and there were many), my parents did not discourage the naturalist tendency within me. Indeed, my father, our neighbors and friends encouraged it. My father even brought home a little black snake for me to observe once. Neighbors brought baby groundhogs, squirrels, birds, and turtles for my summer menageries.
When I was in the sixth or seventh grade I found a book, “The Thrills of a Naturalist’s Quest,” by Raymond L. Ditmars in the school library. Written in 1934, the book described the author’s experience as a naturalist. Reading the book flamed my interest and over the next several years I became an avid herpetologist (dealing with reptiles and amphibians). I spent several summers as a counselor in the Nature Department at a Boy Scout Camp primarily catching snakes of all kinds.
Other interests took over as I entered high school, but the thrill of the naturalist’s quest never left me completely. That thrill was re-awakened recently as I walked through the rainforest of Costa Rica where the Fer-De-Lance snake makes its home. I remembered Ditmars describing his experience with this very aggressive reptile. I looked for one all along the pathways we trod through the jungle. Unfortunately, I did not spy one. However, we did see the poisonous brown viper. What a thrill! The guide became quite uncomfortable as I tried to get in close to the snake for a photo. He did not know that within me still, there was “The Thrill of a Naturalist’s Quest.”