Turning a Love of Nature Into a Livelihood
Pinau Merlin is living proof that any passion can be turned
into a source of income. Merlin has one of the more, well, unusual interests...
she studies holes. According to a recent article in National Wildlife magazine,
the naturalist turned author spent months "trying to figure out exactly which
fly, bee, beetle, or rodent made which holes, and how the animal uses
subterranean habitat to live in the desert's brutal environment."
Figuring there must be others out there who share her sense
of curiosity, Merlin took what she'd learned and turned it into a book. A
Field to Desert Holes was one of the top four selling books on Arizona at
Amazon.com and a book signing at a Tucson Barnes & Noble was standing room only.
Her guide is now in its fourth printing. I was intrigued by Pinau and her
passion, so I decided to do a little digging.
In an earlier interview for Smithsonian
magazine, Merlin explained her interest in holes this way.
you know about what you see, the more you come to appreciate the intricacies of
life, and the fantastic ways that animals have evolved to live in specific
Merlin says. "And
looking at holes is a great way to get to know the neighbors. You see rabbit fur
by the kit fox hole, and it's
like reading the morning paper. Who was out last night? What were they doing?"
This got me wondering about what it takes to
become a naturalist. Come to find out, anyone can be a naturalist. Although some
naturalists have scientific backgrounds in botany or environmental science, the
National Park Service defines a naturalist simply as a specialist who studies and/or teaches about
nature. Professional canoeist, kayaker, and writer, Tamia Nelson, defines a
naturalist simply as someone who takes an interest in the natural world.
"Imagine," she says, "telling a roomful of
casual acquaintances that you've decided to become a naturalist. They'd probably
laugh. Ours is a world of specialists, after all. Anyone who's curious about the
natural world is expected to have a narrow focus of interest – to concern
herself only with comets, say, or birds, or mushrooms. And ours is also a world
of professionals. If we're not being paid to do something, it's ‘just a hobby,'
on a par with watching daytime television or collecting postcards."
Nelson goes on to cite numerous famous
nineteenth century "amateur" naturalists. People like Charles Darwin, career
civil servant turned naturalist Alexander von Humboldt who put the put the
Orinoco, Rio Negro, and the headwaters of the Amazon on the map, Henry David
Thoreau (a surveyor by profession), and children's book writer Ernest Thompson
Seton. "Except for Humboldt, who worked for a time as a mining engineer," says
Nelson, "none was ever a professional scientist. Yet each left his mark on
biology, geology, and anthropology."
Not everything you love to do has to be a paying gig. If
you have a love of the whales and a flexible schedule consider signing on for
the Cabrillo Whale Watch Program in San Pedro, California (CabrilloWhaleWatch.com).
This comprehensive training runs Tuesday evenings starting October 2005 through
March 2006. After completing a three month training course and passing a final
exam, naturalists serve as volunteer guides on whale watching boats, give
lectures in classrooms prior to their fieldtrip, and give presentations in the
But what if you do want to get paid for your knowledge and
passion for nature? As a naturalist you can work for the park service, at nature
centers, and as trip guides. You can always go for some kind of college degree.
For example, degrees earned by the staff at Durango Nature Studies in Durango,
Colorado range from English to Biology to Environmental Biology (DurangoNatureStudies.com).
That's where I learned about the Wolf Ridge Environmental
Learning Center in Finland, Minnesota (Wolf-Ridge.org).
If you love the idea of teaching kids, the center offers a Certificate in
Environmental Education with 18 credits toward a Masters of Education degree at
Center for Environmental Education at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Like the Wolf Ridge program, the
Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center also offers paid internships. This
private, non-profit, accredited school dedicated to "fostering awareness,
enhancing respect, and promoting personal responsibility for the natural world"
in Lanesboro, Minnesota is currently seeking interns for paid participants for
the Professional Naturalist Fellowship program. As one of 12 participants in the
fellowship, you'll develop teaching, interpretive, and public relations
techniques, plus many other skills related to residential environmental
education. Learn more at
If you want to work in a
beautiful place, but not necessarily as a naturalist, there are a number of
sites that specialize in outdoor jobs.
CoolWorks.com can point you toward over 75,000 seasonal job or careers
including summer jobs in Yellowstone, Yosemite, or another national parks, jobs
as camp counselors, and a range of opportunities at ski resorts, ranches, theme
parks, tour companies and more.
ColoradoGuide.com you can search under categories like executive,
administrative, computer/technical support, conservation, travel/hospitality and
more. For example when I clicked on the category "Guide Services," I discovered
a company in Snow Mass, Colorado with an opening for a fly fishing guide/right
hand man or woman. Qualifications include knowledge of entomology, great people
skills, die hard fly fisher.
If, like Pinau Merlin, you're a nature lover who also
enjoys writing, why not build on Merlin's success by writing about holes in
Maine, Hawaii, Kansas, Alaska, England, Spain, Nigeria, Pakistan or wherever you
live or visit? But what if you'd love to write a book but nature just isn't your
thing. If Merlin's success has taught us anything, it's that if there's a market
for a book on animal holes in Arizona then there's simply no end to the
possibilities. Just ask Kendall Crolius. Crolius is the author of a wonderfully
off-the-beaten path how to book called Knitting With Dog Hair: Better a Sweater
from a Dog You Know and Love Than From a Sheep You'll Never Meet.
Learn how you can Fast Track Your Dream of working at
what you love on your own terms.
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About the Author
"Profiting From Your Passions®" expert Valerie Young abandoned her corporate cubicle to become the Dreamer in Residence at ChangingCourse.com offering resources to help you discover your life mission and live it. Her career change tips have been cited in Kiplinger's, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today Weekend, Woman's Day, and elsewhere and on-line at MSN, CareerBuilder, and iVillage.com. An expert on the Impostor Syndrome, Valerie has spoken on the topic of How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are to such diverse organizations as Daimler Chrysler, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Harvard, and American Women in Radio and Television.
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