April 2019, by Fiona Gillogly, age 15
Environmental Volunteers (EV) is a San Francisco Bay Area nonprofit dedicated to promoting the understanding of and responsibility for the environment through hands-on science education. In April 2019, EV invited Fiona Gillogly, age 15, to be the keynote speaker for its annual Wake Up to Nature, a fundraising breakfast featuring delicious food and inspiring stories.
Fiona is an avid artist, birder, nature journaler, and a passionate advocate for nature.
“I want to start by saying thank you all so much for having me here today. I am so honored to be speaking to you about something that is incredibly important to me: Nature.”
“My name is Fiona Gillogly and I am 15 years old. I am not what you would consider your “typical teenager”: I don’t have a phone. I don’t want one. I don’t watch TV, and I rarely use a computer. I attend Waldorf school and I have since I was 3. Nature is a huge part of the curriculum there. I don’t know if some of you are familiar with Waldorf. It is a wonderful line of education.
I also love art. I have loved drawing ever since I could hold a pencil, and I also love nature. My family is really blessed to live very near the American River, with hundreds of miles of trails right out our back door. That has been a really big blessing for me to be introduced to nature from a very early age.
When I was 13, I had the incredible blessing of a chance meeting with John Muir Laws, and that moment completely changed my life—he’s here today. We became best friends and sketching buddies, and we have had lots of fun nature experiences together.
Through Jack, I learned about nature journaling, which I realized is this amazing combination of two things that I love that go great together: art and nature. Since then, I have completed more than 1000 nature journal pages. Here are some examples: https://www.fionasongbird.com/naturejournal.html
Also, Jack shared with me the Mary Oliver poem, the Summer Day. It asks the question at the end: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It is this really searching, really profound question. I heard a statistic a few years ago that young people spend 30,000 hours on some kind of screen between the ages of 0 and 18. Just imagine all the incredible things they could be doing with their life instead—they could be learning to speak German, they could be mastering viola, practicing ballet, exploring the redwoods, learning to journal.
I definitely know what I want to do with my one wild and precious life: I want to spend my life observing, wondering about, and standing in awe of nature and all it has to offer.
Nature journaling has helped me connect more deeply with nature. Through the pages of my journal, I can explore and I can express the wonders and the beauties of nature.
Nature journaling has also taught me the joy of curiosity. I love to intentionally look for mysteries, and intentionally look for cool things that I can wonder about. For example, on this spider page: my mom and I went for walk to the river to go swim. It was a really busy trail—lots of people, lots of dogs—and I was looking in this big blackberry bush, and I happened to notice this big, huge web, and this big, huge yellow garden spider in it. So of course I sat right down and started journaling about it. I was wondering what it was eating, so I looked below the web and there were some dead bug bodies, so I got to look at them, and I taped one of them in my journal. I found that this spider ate other spiders, and it was eating wasps, which I thought was crazy. I was intentionally looking for something cool, and something cool showed up.
Nature journaling also takes me right back to where I was on that day. Even if I didn’t draw everything, I can still remember: “Oh yeah—I was right there on the edge of the lake and the frog was over here and there was a dragonfly was over there.” It is such a great tool to remember where I was and to be able to go right back to that place and have that experience again.
I think it is incredibly important to stay connected to nature because being in nature makes me feel so calm and so happy—I feel so lucky to be alive when I am out in the world and looking at all the beauties and wonder.
Nature is also such an incredible resource—there is so much to wonder about, so much to see, and so much to stand in awe of. There is so much beauty in the world if we stop to look, if we stop and smell the flowers, and draw the flowers while we are at it.
Not only is nature amazing, it is also our life source. All of these phenomena, all of these mysteries make up this beautiful web that is allowing us to live, and understating that is a really key part of being alive on this planet.
It is important for everyone to stay connected to nature because when we are connected to nature through real, first-hand experiences with nature, we are way more likely to protect it.
There is a common saying in conversations about the environment: “We protect what we love.” And in order to really love something we need to truly know it. But what does it necessarily mean to know something? Can you know something by watching a video, watching a nature documentary, having a nature poster in a classroom? Is that really knowing nature?
I believe that in order for someone to truly know nature in a very profound way, they need to have the knowing that comes from being in nature themselves: getting dirty, climbing trees, watching birds, drawing in their journal, watching ants carry things back and forth.
I feel very blessed to have had a childhood with a lot of real nature experiences like this, going out in the world and seeing nature for myself. I also feel very blessed to have had many nature mentors who have shared their passion and love for nature with me and opened my eyes to the beauty of the world. I can confidently say that these experiences with these mentors have completely altered the course of my life. These first-hand experiences with mentors have cultivated a life-long love of nature in me, and that is what all children need, not only because it brings them joy, but so that they can become stewards of our planet. And this is where all of you come in. As Environmental Volunteers and donors, your continued support helps make these kinds of real nature experiences possible for thousands of Bay Area schoolchildren, many of whom would never have the access or opportunity otherwise.
By giving these children these up-close, personal experiences with nature, you are enabling them to truly know nature, learn to love it, and therefore want to fight to protect it.
Thank you so much for all the amazing things your organization has done, and thank you for having me here today.”