Lauren Bendiksen, 2019
I am a born and bred Texan, having grown up in Dallas. I only moved away from the area for college at Texas A&M-College Station. I have always loved nature. As a child, I would swing in our backyard for what seemed like hours. I loved to climb our home’s trees. I loved exploring the local creek. I have always adored animals so loved looking for toads, butterflies, caterpillars, birds… anything could keep me engaged outdoors. My very favorite item from nature was (and and probably still is) seashells. Anytime we ventured to South Padre for family vacation, I could spend hours collecting various shells. Back home I’d spend hours just looking at them, cleaning them, categorizing them, identifying and labeling them. The only time I cried dealing with nature was learning about asps firsthand while climbing a tree, and when my parents paid my brothers and I (pennies per caterpillar?) to pluck and squish bagworms from some kind of evergreen we had in the yard. I hated killing those.
I suppose I never really grew up. I am still fascinated by everything in nature. I love to hike and run on local trails where I can be among the trees and off the streets. I love walking my dog before the sun rises for the chance at hearing the local neighborhood barred owl hooting at the end of the street. I now volunteer at the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, and absolutely love the learning opportunities it’s provided. There is no better feeling than releasing a raptor back to the wild that had once been injured. I’ve learned I love the medical side of rehab, and have been shocked that some conditions that really used to gross me out or freak me out no longer bother me (though I’m not sure anyone ever “gets over” maggots…).
I also have a job as an Outdoor Education Instructor at Holifield Science Learning Center in Plano ISD. I love the opportunity to share lessons with the students on their field trips. Seeing their faces light up with some new discovery in the animal room or on the trails can make my week. I’ve had a couple of students demonstrate breakthroughs to their teachers while at Holifield: for example a very reluctant reader that was easily distracted and really struggled in school was intensely interested in some of the animals and asked really great questions. I assumed he was a top student since he was so fully engaged. The teacher was amazed at his transformation in environment Holifield provided, and she told me later she had ideas for getting through to this student in the classroom, too, all thanks to the field trip. Nature at work! The knowledge gained through TMN AT really enhances ability to answer questions when kids ask. We follow a lesson plan, but I love being able to throw in tidbits as kids notice things as we go through our day there.
I still love finding seashells when I am on a beach, birding, taking hikes, finding fossils, camping, gardening for wildlife, appreciating geology, and volunteering in various capacities through TMN. I love the learning opportunities TMN provides. I plan to earn many more hours of VH in the coming years!