Fierce Green Fire: Emerging from hibernation with renewed vigor, sharp pencil
By Jonathan Hicks
I am unconventional. At least that is what I would expect those around me to say. With that in mind, while animals around us are beginning their hibernation, I am coming out of my self-imposed spring/summer sleep. I haven’t published a Fierce Green Fire column in many months, but as creatures around us settle into slumber, I find myself with renewed vigor and a sharp pencil.
Of all the hibernating species, easily the most well-known is the bear. Early journals tell of days long past in which black bears would have roamed the Rock River Valley, resting in and near huge oak and hickory trees during the summer months before settling into their winter dens.
Truth be told, while I would love to be able to liken myself to a bear, we all know that bears don’t last long inside the Illinois border. Besides, I don’t have big teeth, cannot catch fish to save my life, and am not much of a tree climber. So, I suppose that would make me more of a groundhog—which is to say I don’t eat meat, have a habit of digging holes for myself, and no one would likely be surprised if I were startled by my own shadow.
While there are actually few true hibernators in the prairie state, the woodchuck is one of the few…and I expect I would fit in quite nicely with the little rodents snuggled up below the snow and leaves.
Then again, though I may be inclined to daydream about some strange reverse anthropomorphism, one look gives me away as anything but a cute, fuzzy whistle pig. Since it has been many months since Fierce Green Fire has appeared in print, let me reintroduce myself.
I was born and raised in Rockford and have spent much of my life navigating the hills and trails of the area. While my undergraduate degree was in journalism, my heart was elsewhere—I taught outdoor education for the better part of a decade at the Atwood Environmental Center.
When it came time to explore new places, the path led me to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I am working on my master’s thesis. Studying in the departments of Recreation, Sport and Tourism and Natural Resources and Environmental Science, my research involves the values people place on natural areas and human emotional responses to their interactions for wildlife. In other words, what are people thinking and feeling when they see animals, and (most importantly)—why do they think and feel those things?
While that is a topic I still have much to learn about, perhaps the subject I am most familiar with is me. I am a social scientist who is not as social or as scientific as I would like. I am an environmentalist who is not always as environmental as I could be. I am an activist, but rarely as active as I think I should be. I am a lot of things, and I am unraveling new layers every day.
Mostly, however, I am just another naturalist attempting to navigate a well-weathered road map. I am fortunate to have a public forum with which to share my ideas. It is a privilege I do not take for granted.
Indeed, my reasons for conducting research and writing this column are the same: I want to create something that makes people think and feel; I want to understand what people feel about the natural world and why; I want to find a deeper understanding of myself in the process.
My hibernation has ended. It is so good to see you again. Thank you so much for having me.
From the December 2-8, 2009 issue
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