Doves in the Wild: Sierra and her Zeta Sisters Take a Breath of Fresh Air
An Open Spaces Blog

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Sierra Snyder is an intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She is a recent graduate of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, and a proud member of the Gamma Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Doves in the Wild is a blog series providing her perspectives, and those of her Sorority sisters, on conservation and experiencing nature.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” - Walt Disney 

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. members Kelsey Burks and Sierra Snyder. Photo by USFWS

“Sooo we are going fishing? Ok, …that’s different.” That was one of the messages I received from my sorority sisters Kelsey Burks and Cynthia Ofosu after I invited them to go to Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland with me.

We are all recent graduates of Morgan State University in Baltimore,  and fishing has never been on our to-do list. Just going to a national wildlife refuge national wildlife refuge
A national wildlife refuge is typically a contiguous area of land and water managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  for the conservation and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

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did not seem like a priority.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. members Kelsey Burks, Sierra Snyder and Cynthia Ofosu. Photo by USFWS

My time with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had sparked my curiosity about nature and wildlife conservation, so this new experience for all of us would be perfect.

We were definitely trying something “different,” as one of my sisters had said. We usually don’t do things like hiking and fishing. If we are outside together for extended periods of time, we are most likely at a cookout or some sort or outdoor community service. We have never really spent time outside solely to enjoy nature. So this was outside the box for all of us!

Despite their slight hesitation, they agreed to meet me on Saturday morning for a day of nature-filled fun!

We started our day by fishing at Cache Lake (at left: Sierra Snyder). After a brief tutorial and coming to terms with touching live slimy worms, we cast our fishing rods in hopes of catching a fish. After the first few failed attempts, we finally got it down and we were casting pretty far!

It turns out, though, that the fish in Cache Lake are intelligent! They were playing us like a game. They knew how to eat the bait off the hooks without getting caught. They would swim away quickly and we would pull up hooks absent of bait and fish. Even after trying to switch up our strategy and use smaller hooks for the smaller fish, they still outsmarted us. Time after time they got free meals off our hooks. We learned that much of fishing is a waiting game.

While we stood by hoping to pull up a fish, we couldn't help but notice the feeling of tranquility that came with being at the lake. The fresh air, the breeze, the stillness of the water with the occasional ripples from the life that lies beneath the surface, it was beautifully serene. It felt like a break from the busy and stressful life of a college graduate; it was a breath of fresh air -- literally. So much so that we want to organize a trip there for  the rest of our  sisters initiated along with us; it's the perfect getaway. Teaching the rest of them to fish would be an interesting and amusing bonding activity. Unfortunately, we didn't catch any fish but we still gained a lot from the experience. We learned something completely new and are excited to bring the rest of our sisters and show them what we learned.

After a quick snack, we headed inside to the visitor center to learn about screech owls (at right). We all agreed that the owl was cute and led an interesting life, but honestly, I have a small fear of birds. Nothing too irrational, but when they fly over the top of me the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up and I get chills down my spine. My relationship with birds hasn’t been the same since a bird pooped in my hair. My sorority sister Kelsey, on the other hand, LOVES animals. She has two gigantic dogs and she is always stopping to look at animals or pet other people’s dogs. So I knew she would love this. I was concerned about me, birds usually make me nervous. Nevertheless, today was about stepping outside of comfort zones and creating new experiences, so I took a deep breath and went for it.

We learned that these owls actually led a privileged life in the wild. They can easily camouflage among trees, making it easy to swoop in and snatch their prey with their long sharp talons. It is a very adorable bird but still can be a ferocious predator. At first, I was a little apprehensive to be around a bird, but it actually melted my heart! Its big eyes and its calm demeanor was different from any bird I’ve ever encountered. I was even comfortable enough to snap some close-up pictures.

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., members Cynthia Ofosu, Sierra Snyder and Kelsey Burks with a screech owl and its handler. Photo by USFWS

The final activity of the day would be the tram ride. The tram took us on a tour of the refuge and was the cherry on top of our day at Patuxent. It was so refreshing to just ride through the woods and embrace the nature we so often forget. The different trees, plants, and flowers it was like a ride through a magnificent garden. Riding through the woods showed my sisters and I the beauty in a habitat that is mostly untouched by man. We can get so preoccupied with the routine of our everyday lives, that we forget to sit back and marvel at the natural beauty around us.

We so often take it for granted but it’s about more than enjoying nature and admiring its beauty. It’s about ensuring that wild places continue to exist into the future so that your children and their children can have the same connections with nature that we have, inspiring them to continue to conserve nature for more generations to come. It's about doing your part for the environment and setting an example for others. Nature conservation is a group effort.

It is also important to realize that if we don’t do our part in conserving our environment, we will lose it. It is important for everyone to contribute and encourage others to do their part. Visiting a wildlife refuge is a start. After our girls trip to the refuge, my sisters and I have gained such a greater appreciation for wildlife and the natural habitats around us. We didn’t know we would enjoy the activities at the refuge so much, or that we would find the stillness of nature so captivating. But now that we do know we are glad that we took that step outside our box.

“There’s something about this place that I find so alluring,” Cynthia said. “I want to make this my new spot, whenever I need a break from reality or to clear my mind. This is a gem.”

This internship has helped me realize how I have been ignoring this planet’s natural beauty. After seven weeks with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, my appreciation for the natural habitats around us grown has significantly. Not only are they all around us but they are easily accessible and free of charge.

After just one visit to a refuge, that initial reluctance that we felt to engage in nature is gone. Visiting the refuge inspired us to encourage others to go as well! The lessons that I have learned here I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

This story is from our Open Spaces blog.

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