When I moved to San Antonio 10 years ago for family reasons, I wasn’t planning on staying here for the long-term. I thought this might just be a stop along the way to my final destination, Hawaii, where I have always dreamed of living.
Then, a couple years ago, as I was figuring out my next big move, the pandemic hit and I, like many people, re-evaluated. In those uncertain times early in the pandemic, I came to appreciate the value of having family close by like I do in San Antonio. So, instead of heading out to a place where I had no family and would need to build a community from scratch, I set out trying to figure out if San Antonio was a place where I could stay and feel at home.
At that time, however, lots of places remained closed due to the pandemic, and in-person gatherings were still quite rare. It wasn’t that easy to connect with people and find community. Yet, thanks to all those new cloud-based video conferencing apps, I was able to plug into a host of on-line offerings and found myself connecting with meditation groups, alumni reunions, language classes, social justice initiatives, native plant societies, and birding enthusiasts—just to name a few.
It was through on-line meetings with a couple of these groups—specifically the Native Plant Society and the Bexar Audubon Society—that I first encountered the Alamo Area Master Naturalists and its awesome corps of volunteers doing hands-on work to conserve our local lands, waters, flora, fauna, and cultures.
I was sold, applied right away and was really pleased (and relieved) to be accepted into the 2021 training class. Going into training, I knew I was going to gain a lot of knowledge about our natural world and, in particular, the unique features of the Alamo area.
What I didn’t expect, and what I have come to value the most, is the incredible community I’ve gained by becoming a certified Texas Master Naturalist. Ours is a wonderfully diverse network of hundreds of passionate, committed and active people doing good work all around San Antonio and often beyond our city into the wilds of Texas.
So far, I’ve met folks who deploy the knowledge, tools, and networks they have gained through the Master Naturalist program to run their own eco-businesses, write blogs about native plant gardening, participate in city planning initiatives around sustainability and climate resilience, rescue and transport wildlife to safety, work with children to develop conservation mindsets at an early age, propagate and save rare plants, lead trail talks about our very special local geology and hydrology, build coalitions for change with like-minded people and organizations, and lots of other impactful conservation-minded work.
As for me, Talat Shah, Master Naturalist, I am a born generalist who loves to have her hands in a lot of different pots. So far, I’ve manned the mulch pile at the Hardberger Wildscape Demonstration Garden, built trails and removed dead wood at the Bulverde Oaks Nature Preserve, interpreted the natural world for kids learning to photograph nature, documented flora and fauna at Bracken Bat Cave for the City Nature Challenge, signed up for early morning shifts documenting bird strikes in downtown San Antonio during peak fall migration, picked up trash along area nature trails, adopted the Walker Ranch Loop of the Great Texas Wildlife Trails Project, coordinated outreach events for our chapter and, coming full circle, joined the team delivering the training for the next class of Alamo Area Master Naturalists.
The Master Naturalist program, more than anything else I have connected with these past few years, has shown me that there is a lot to wonder at about life in San Antonio, a lot of work to do, and an incredible community to do it with. So, for now, I think I’ll stick around, get out there, do some good work, and enjoy getting to know more and more of you along the way.
See you out there good people!
Talat Shah is currently the Community Outreach Coordinator for the Alamo Area Chapter. Anyone who is interested in volunteering opportunities that interface with the public can get in touch with her at email@example.com.