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Woman known as 'Nature Girl' appreciates outdoors - and even the bugs

April 01, 2007|By KATE COLEMMAN

"Bye, Nature Girl," was my sister Patti's goodbye in a recent e-mail.

When I talked to her a couple of days later, I asked if she remembered the source of that moniker, a nickname I think only she called me.

She figures it came about because I was the older sister who would rescue her and her twin from bugs when we were kids. I do recall a 3- or 4-year-old Patti leaping into my 7- or 8-year-old arms at the sight of an Eastern tent caterpillar inching along our front stoop.

I was the go-to kid in the family when an insect was sighted and our dad was at work.

My mother once actually said, "I'm sorry, I hate nature."

What she meant, of course, and since has clarified, is that she is bug-phobic. She has a can of insecticide within easy reach in several rooms of her house.

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I, on the other hand, have virtually mastered the scoop-'em-in-a-cup-with-a-piece-of-paper-and-throw-'em-out-the-window technique to remove stink bugs and box elder beetles.

I don't freak about bugs. I even managed to stay fairly cool when I saw a snake or two in my Keedysville farmhouse years ago. I'd prefer they'd stay outside, but I figure critters have every bit as much of a right as I to territory their ancestors probably crept and crawled long before mine set foot on the planet. We can all get along.

But make no mistake. The nickname is laughable even to me.

I am not an outdoors woman by even the most generous stretch of the imagination.

I've been in a canoe exactly two times in my life. On the first excursion, my boat mates and I managed to float backward through one of the few moving portions of a very shallow Shenandoah River.

My second adventure in paddling was marred by my mid-stream realization that I had locked the keys to the car my friend and I had left waiting at journey's end in the glove compartment of the car we had parked where our outing had begun.

As long as I'm humiliating myself, I'll confess something else: I've never been camping or slept under the stars.

I grew up near the New Jersey shore. My family didn't travel for summer vacations. We didn't have to; we went to the beach nearly every day.

My neighborhood was the quintessence of 1960s suburbia: square lots, ranch or split-level houses, lawns fathers mowed on Saturday afternoons or summer evenings after work.

My sisters, my cousin and neighborhood friends spent hours lolling on those lawns - watching clouds, hunting four-leaf clovers. After dark, we'd chase fireflies. Of course, fireflies were OK.

A small woods and a creek lined the edge of our backyard. As wilderness goes, it was paltry, but it offered ample opportunity for a little girl's explorations and fort building.

My joys in the natural world were not dramatic but deeply felt. Still are.

A few weeks ago a cluster of crocuses welcomed me to a late morning yoga class. So happy to see their yellow and purple brightness, I felt like kissing them.

The calendar tells me spring began March 20, but a look out the window each morning this week announces it's finally here. Even my unfertilized grass is greener. The neighborhood rabbits and the old married duck couple are back. The sprouting daffodils and tulips in the garden strip between my friend's driveway and mine are at least an inch taller every day. Really.

I was a college student among the reported 20 million people who celebrated the first Earth Day in 1970. I recently found my tin event logo pin in an old jewelry box.

"Nature Girl" will wear it again April 22 - Earth Day 2007.

And she'll wear it when she finally goes camping - one of my goals for this year.

Kate Coleman writes a monthly Lifestyle column and covers the Maryland Symphony Orchestra for The Herald-Mail.

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