Leaving early in the morning the day after the fabulous immersion into the history and scenic wonders of Pikes Peak (read about it here), I drove through Raton Pass, entering New Mexico. No stops had been scheduled, but in previous travels through New Mexico, I had been drawn to both the dramatic dynamics of history, the geology of which I knew little, and the natural habitat for animals, in particular the wildlife refuges. Back in 1962, I was only four years away from my studies on a doctoral degree in wildlife management. Responding to the invitation of President Harold Case of Boston University to attend B.U. and focus on the humanities, I had not left behind my commitment for conservation.
Here was a chance to visit both historical sites and national wildlife refuges. New Mexico did not disappoint!
Soon after entering New Mexico I observed a sign, “Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge.” Turning off the highway, I drove about four miles and came upon a group of buildings in the middle of nowhere. But nowhere is an amazing place for wildlife, in particular, this refuge served as a place for migrating birds, especially birds requiring extensive water environments. Ducks, sandpipers, gulls, terns, and cranes use the Maxwell Refuge as a place for rest and feeding. I recalled the paper I wrote on the whooping crane, when their population was down to 38. Somehow, for some reasons I had become enamored, fascinated and challenged by the need for Conservation.
When I arrived, there was no one present. Being alone in the midst of this precious place filled me with a sense of awe and thankfulness. Much was being done. After about 20 minutes, a van pulled up with three people. One with a professional camera for capturing pictures with detail and the other two with binoculars. One was in uniform. I introduced myself, and after about an hour of conversation, how impressed I was with Leanne Wilkins. She was supervising director at Maxwell and was highly knowledgeable and deeply committed. After three years, she was moving onto a refuge in Wisconsin, where whooping cranes now breed! She had started with the intent of studying sea turtles, seeking ways for preservation of a threatened species. However, the grand open spaces of the west and northern central states now grasped her being and commitment.
The dedication, a sense of “duty” which is the word that Lincoln and Olmsted used often in times of crisis, comes to mind as I reflect on our conversation, which included Betty a volunteer. And once again, I was grasped by the commitment of volunteers, without whom the work of so many conservation programs would not be successful. Leaving the refuge, I stopped at places suggested as good viewing places. At one stop, I looked out at a group of White Pelicans, appearing to belong to this exquisite environment for many more years before Europeans had first crossed the plains and the mountains. Now off to another immersion in Nature’s miracles.