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Life Lesson From a Little Green Heron

A Nature Based Leadership Essay

 Little Green Heron

©2016 (SJones)

Steve Jones; 2.28.16

My list of lifetime regrets stands at 49. No, not every “I should not have said, did, acted, or behaved the way I did.” Instead, these are the ones of significance that have traveled with me, some for four decades and more. Ones that hurt someone, or something; not those that simply made me look dumb or feel stupid. I started the list probably twenty years ago. I lost it once and rewrote it. When I found the one I had lost, the new one matched perfectly. These regrets are deeply etched, as are their lessons.

Not to worry, I am not about to recite all 49. Just one of the regrets and corresponding lessons relevant to my thinking about nature based leadership and the Nature Based Leadership Institute we are creating here at Antioch University New England.

I grew up in Cumberland, Maryland at the western terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, constructed in the mid-19th Century, its eastern terminus in Georgetown near Washington D.C. Dad maintained an entire menu of fishing holes within an hour or so of home. Battie Mixon, a restored and re-watered section of the canal just 18 miles away, offered sunfish, bass, catfish, and a few other species. We fished there 5-10 times every summer. Dad could fish and allow me the freedom to wander the shoreline staying in sight. Once I reached adolescence he no longer insisted I stay within view. Steve little green heron 1

I was perhaps 12 or 13 one day when the fish weren’t biting enough to command my full attention. Just to the right (south) of the towpath (see photo) a linear depression (where canal construction engineers took additional fill for the elevated towpath and the next lock a half-mile from the photo point) also held water, but shallower than the fishing hole and being reclaimed by sediment and emerging vegetation. I often watched that wetland for turtles, snakes, and birds. This day I saw a wading bird that I can identify today from the remembered image as a little green heron. I did not know its identity at the time. I did know that at 100 plus feet distance from me the bird offered a tempting rock target to the adolescent Steve. I found the perfect rock and without considering the consequences, aimed and threw at the impossibly small target.

I hit the beautiful little green heron in the head; the bird toppled. I waited for it to regain its footing, or rise and fly. It did neither. I did not celebrate my accuracy nor congratulate my “lucky” throw. I stood stunned, suffering silently for the foolish act I had just completed. I close my eyes today, fifty years later, and I can see the image clearly, and I feel the regret as though I had just this moment slung the rock.

I did not tell Dad; in fact I told no one until this writing. Yes, I’ve killed birds since then, upland game birds as a licensed hunter: woodcock, pheasant, ruffed grouse, quail, and turkey. But no more errant rocks. Such birds as the little green heron are protected by law, and now safe by virtue of my own awareness of unintended consequences. My guilt and shame live on, fueling a palpable regret, unabated by time.

The shallow, warm-water slough surface was green in spots with filamentous algae that day; I still see the bird’s floating, delicate corpse as I walked closer, hoping against hope that my missile had done less than mortal harm. Not so. I suppose my lament relates more to the symbol of the bird than of the actual death. I brought to an end the life of a creature that brings magic to an otherwise dismal setting – not dismal to me, yet few people see the beauty and wonder in the stagnant, algae-coated warm water he fished. I found magic in the setting even then, the sunning turtles aligned on fallen logs, the dragon flies darting just above the green surface, the muskrat tracing a ‘V’ through the still water. The little green had stood there fixed, and transfixed, watching for edible life, waiting patiently, fearing nothing. Steve little green heron 2

My projectile came without warning. Evolution had not alerted his nerves, sensors, and reflexes to adolescent-heaved stones. I robbed a vibrant ecosystem of a precious participant for no purpose other than to test my arm. Perhaps I am further saddened because that selfish act of violence and waste symbolizes my own species’ careless disregard for so much that is nature and natural. We tend too often to ask of other life, “Does it add material value?” If not, then go ahead, toss a rock its way. So much of what we do is blind to the intrinsic values that economics ignore. Isn’t it time we gain awareness, learn to attribute real value, and stop throwing rocks to test an arm?

I ache for that individual little green heron, and always will. I paid the deep price of guilt, humility, and shame to learn and accept a life-lasting lesson. Every action yields consequences. Nothing should be done for which consequences are not apparent.

I also now know that a conscience doesn’t develop from reading a manual. I learned that late summer afternoon the power of recognized guilt and responsibility as soon as the heron fell. I’ve held myself accountable for fifty years. A cog in the wheel of life is connected to the whole. No little green heron stands alone, separate from all else. How can our Nature Based Leadership Institute open many more eyes to such lessons of interconnectivity, responsibility, and consequences? How can we discourage rock-slinging in all its metaphorical dimensions? How can we illuminate the consequences of every decision? Perhaps most importantly, how do we instill an Earth Ethic (a disciplined self-awareness and conscience) in every business, NGO, organization, and individual? How do we successfully encourage, develop, and instill an obligation to be responsible Earth stewards?

Perhaps most importantly, how do we apply nature’s lessons to living, learning, serving, and leading? That afternoon years ago I looked at the little green heron. Blindly, I looked, yet did not see. I did not see the life and its place in the wetlands ecosystem, nor the wetlands and its place on the landscape. I saw only a target to serve me in a brief moment of self-absorption and shameful entertainment – a contest of sorts to, again, test my arm. Only after I exacted the toll of death to the bird did I both see and feel. I saw the act for what it was and I felt the consequence and harm from my foolish throw. I could not undo the deed. Instead, I decided to learn from that day, and to apply the lesson time and time again.

Now, I am embedding the lesson in the fabric of our Nature Based Leadership Institute, and sharing this tale for the benefit of those engaged and for the many we hope to touch. All lessons distill to stories. I will take the little green heron to the end of my life’s journey, telling and retelling my story and the fateful role he played.

About the Author: Steve’s PhD is in Natural Resources Management (1987). He practiced forestry in the southern forest products industry for a dozen years prior to pursuing his doctorate. He has since served eight universities, including three as CEO (2004-present). He is currently President, Antioch University New England (AUNE). He also chaired the Governing Board of the University of the Arctic 2005-08. Steve believes that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or inspired compellingly by nature. Steve co-created AUNE’s Nature Based Leadership Institute in 2015 (http://www.antiochne.edu/community/nature-based-leadership-institute/). Reach Steve at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

SustainAbility Newsletter Archive Article (random)

Ron Dodson receives the 2009 ASGCAs Donald Ross Award

Ron DodsonRon Dodson, Sustainability Advisor for Audubon Lifestyles, and president of the International Sustainability Council was chosen to receive the 2009 Donald Ross Award  during the 63nd ASGCA Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington.

Dodson serves on numerous environmentally-focused committees. He is a prolific writer, and a frequent presenter to state and federal agencies on the topics of water quality, ecological studies, restoration planning, and community planning.

The entire Audubon Lifestyles team would like to congratulate Ron on this tremendous achievement.

Mr. Dodson made an eloquent case for golf to embrace sustainable design during his Ross Award acceptance speech at the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) 63rd Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington.  “Golf is among the best forms of sustainable development,” said Dodson. “Sustainable projects need to be as profitable as possible so that they are economically viable. Add to that environmentally sensible and socially positive and you have a very good definition of sustainability. Well-designed and well-maintained golf courses fit that definition.”

Also included in the sustainability definition is the responsible stewardship of water. Dodson said that golf should be promoted as part of the infrastructure of the watershed and that when water supplies become even more restrictive that golf courses will “stand out like a sore thumb.” He encouraged golf to be more proactive in positioning itself as the good steward it is so that it can get its fair share of water.  “Golf can be a catalyst for sustainable communities,” Dodson explained. “I think golf course architects have a great opportunity to further the golf industry as courses seek ways to become more sustainable. When the focus of golf is beyond the game and people understand the ways it can positively impact the environment and economy, it will help the game with the challenges it is currently facing.”

The Donald Ross Award is given annually by ASGCA to a person who has positively influenced the game of golf and golf course architecture. Dodson is the 34th recipient of the award, which was given for the first time in 1976 to Robert Trent Jones.

ASGCA Background
Founded in 1946 by 14 leading architects, the American Society of Golf Course Architects is a non-profit organization comprised of experienced golf course designers located throughout the United States and Canada. Members have completed a rigorous two-year long application process that includes the peer review of four representative golf courses. ASGCA members are experienced golf course architects, able to counsel in all aspects of golf course design and remodeling.

Sidebar: Donald Ross Award Recipients

 YEAR   RECIPIENT  OCCUPATION
 2009 Ron Dodson  Sustainable Golf Advocate
 2008 George Peper  Golf Writer and Publisher
 2007 Dr. Michael Hurdzan  Golf Course Architect ASGCA
 2006 Jim Awtrey CEO  PGA of America
 2005 John Singleton  Irrigation Pioneer
 2004 Thomas Cousins Philanthropist  Urban Golf Developer
 2003 Bill Campbell  President, USGA, Captain, Royal & Ancient Golf Club
 2002 Byron Nelson  Professional Golfer
 2001 Jack Nicklaus  ASGCA Professional Golfer, Golf Course Architect
 2000 Jaime Ortiz-Patiño  Owner, President, Valderrama Golf Club
 1999 Arnold Palmer  ASGCA Professional Golfer Fellow
 1998 Judy Bell  President, USGA
 1997 Gene Sarazen  Professional Golfer
 1996 Ron Whitten  Golf Writer
 1995 Pete Dye  ASGCA Fellow Golf Course Architect
 1994 James R. Watson  Agronomist
 1993 Brent Wadsworth  Golf Course Builder
 1992 Paul Fullmer  ASGCA Executive Secretary
 1991 Michael Bonallack  Secretary, Royal and Ancient (St. Andrews)
 1990 John Zoller  Former Executive Director, No. California Golf Association
 1989 Dick Taylor  Editor, Golf World Magazine
 1988 Frank Hannigan  USGA Executive Director
 1987 Charles Price  Golf Writer, Author
 1986 Deane Beman  PGA Tour Commissioner
 1985 Peter Dobereiner  London Observer Columnist, Author
 1984 Dinah Shore  Sponsor of Women's Golf Tournaments
 1983 Al Radko Former  Director, USGA Green Section
 1982 Geoffrey Cornish  ASGCA Golf Course Architect, Historian Fellow
 1981 James Rhodes  Governor of Ohio
 1980 Gerald Micklem  Former Captain, Royal and Ancient
 1979 Joe Dey  Former Executive Director of the USGA
 1978 Herb and Joe Graffis  Founders, National Golf Foundation
 1977 Herbert Warren Wind  Golf Digest Columnist, Author
 1976 Robert Trent Jones  ASGCA Founding Member of ASGCA

For More information Contact: 

Aileen Smith
125 N. Executive Drive
Brookfield, WI 53005

(262) 786-5960
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Web site: www.asgca.org


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References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon Lifestyles
www.audubonlifestyles.com
 
The International Sustainability Council
www.thesustainabilitycouncil.org

O'Connor Signature at the Oaks
www.theoakslakecity.com

The City of Franklin, Tennessee
www.franklin-gov.com

LandDesign
www.landdesign.com

American Society of Golf Course Architects
www.asgca.org

Sustainability Campaign
sustainabilitycampaign.blogspot.com

Green Living Tips

www.greenlivingtips.com

The Daily Green
www.thedailygreen.com

Energy Star
www.energystar.gov 

Bird City, Kansas
www.birdcity.com

Urbana University
www.urbana.edu

 

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