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Not Just for Kids

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Open House givea us all a taste of the pleasures of camp life

Now I hardly go out there, but I’ve spent a lot of time on the Bay.
    You won’t read those words, the nostalgic second clause of Tuck Hines’ description of his early days as a marine ecologist at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, in the senior scientist’s conversation with Bay Weekly this week. There you’ll read the serious stuff, like whether we’re doing ourselves in on this planet. But, as Hines’ words suggest, there is more to being a scientist than the lessons you learn.
    Being a scientist can mean you get to spend a lot of time outdoors doing what kids go to camp to do. Playing in the water. Catching crabs and fish. Creating clever tools from what nature puts in your way. Stuff that’s called fun.
    Viewed in that way, the coincidence of Bay Weekly’s conversation with Hines and our Last-Minute Camp Guide this week isn’t so much coincidental and serendipitous. Serendipity is what we call it when things come together in a way that makes opportunity. In this case, serendipity brings me a cure for the envy that always hits when I read about all the fun awaiting kids at summer camp.
    Nature, water, creativity and creatures: The things kids find at camp, while getting out and active, are the things many scientists spend a lifetime doing. Unless, like Hines, you climb the ladder into administration, which means staying indoors and leaving much of the fun behind.
    I sure hope you help your kids make that connection, as it opens the door to a lifetime of summer fun.
    It’s too late for me, I sigh, imagining how different a life I might have had had it occurred to me to be in nature rather than writing about it.
    But it’s not too late. Not for you or me. All of us, all ages including the kids, will find an open door to science at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s 50th Anniversary Open House this Saturday, May 16.
    From 10am to 3pm that promising May day — a high of 78 is predicted, with some cloud shelter from the sun — all of us can act like scientists. We can roam woods and fields, ride and wade the water, try to pull up a catch, climb a giant tower, all in the company of people who look at nature in a way to make sense of it while enjoying it.
    In such a place and in such company, kids might find a career to keep them playful and happy their whole lives long.
    Even us already grownups can swerve into a new avocation. Citizen scientists are welcomed to the Smithsonian team.
    “We’ve had dozens of citizen scientists over the years. We’ve been very blessed to have a great group,” Hines told me. “Much of our mapping and measuring has been done by scientists along with volunteer scientists. We’re now building citizen scientists into a program so it’s not just one project but a collection of programmatic approaches to use volunteers who are not scientists most effectively.”
    If you, like me, are nostalgic for the pleasures of camp, you might rediscover them at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Use May 16’s Open House as your tryout; reservations give you free parking and tickets for river cruises: www.serc.si.edu.
    Sunscreen and your hat, closed shoes, a water bottle and a bug bracelet would be good companions for your day at camp.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com