Postcards from Real Life: Why?

Today I head off yet again to my home-away-from-home, the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. This trip marks my final class in the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification program so as of Sunday I’ll have officially graduated!

One of the most frequent questions I get about the program is why I chose to do it. Well for one, I’m a nature nerd at heart so learning all of this simply makes me happy and excited. It’s an enriching experience so why not right? But it’s also because this is a captivating place that pulls you in and learning it’s secrets leads only to more questions. It’s the beautiful cycle that happens when you fall in love with a place.

And if you follow along here regularly, you know I cover a lot of ground as I travel the country with Fred and George. We’ve seen a lot of tremendous things in those travels but this particular endeavor has allowed me delve deeper into the Smokies. To get to know this one place on an intimate level is a completely different experience than our more whirlwind adventures. That level of intimacy isn’t achieved without repeated, mindful visits… ones where you challenge your own curiosity to go beyond the surface and see a place from every possible angle, ones where you lose yourself in the enchantment and beauty so much that you ache when you leave.

Beyond those reasons, I do have a long-term vision for all of this immersive exploration. Eventually, Fred and George will be off on their own, leaving me to my own devices. By that time, I’ll have had plenty of time to hone my naturalist skills and hopefully be ready to take on the Smokies as my home and build my next career from that knowledge.

So that’s the long answer…

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. – Henry David Thoreau

Because when you fall in love, you want to know every detail…


  1. Wow, congratulations. I will have to see if something like this is available in my area. I graduated a couple years ago from college and am getting the itch to take courses again.

    1. I know there are naturalist certifications for regions of Georgia and I suspect they exist all across the country. Try checking with local nature and education centers or local units of federal agencies like the National Park Service or Forest Service. Hope you find a program in your area… it’s a fantastic experience. -Val

  2. Congratulations

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