OAEC is a non-profit education center in Sonoma County that works to promote ecologically and culturally resilient communities. Learn more.
Why I became a California Naturalist
by David Berman, principal instructor of our upcoming California Naturalist Certification Program (August 15 - 22)
My journey of becoming a California Naturalist is deeply connected to so many significant places. A few places and scenes have stayed with me for a long time, like images burned into the landscape of my mind.
An encounter with a family of bears at Cathedral Lake in the Sierra Nevada is one of those images.
When I was 19, my younger brother and I set off into the mountains for 5 days, completely oblivious to bear habitat best practices. Soon into our adventure, we saw a car ripped apart like a tin can by a hungry bear, so we decided to obey a park sign instructing visitors to hang food in a tree. It seemed like a simple enough thing to throw a rope over a branch and haul our food up...
The only problem was, we slept under that branch that night.
Sometime past midnight, we were startled awake by 2 bear cubs passing within inches of our heads. We could have reached out to pet them, and almost did—until Mama Bear let out a fierce growl from the branch just 10 feet above our heads.
Before we had time to think, we scrambled to find our camera in the dark. As the camera flashed, Mama Bear let out a second threatening growl, and we suddenly realized it would be best to find somewhere else to sleep.
Mama and cubs spent the next few hours ripping open our backpacks and (unsuccessfully) trying to get our food.
At 4:00am came the final showdown. We heard Mama Bear lumbering over to our new camping spot and we immediately froze, playing dead as the enormous creature sniffed and slobbered all over us. To our relief, when her curiousity was finally satisfied, she slowly meandered away. I will never forget the image of her silhouetted against the moon as she wandered away from us.
This experience was one of the many moments that have inspired my ongoing exploration of California's natural history—and my desire to share this passion with others. As a Certified California Naturalist, I've helped thousands of young people develop the awareness and observance of nature I lacked as a 19-year-old!
You too can become a Certified California Naturalist through OAEC and the University of California. Learn more.
David Berman has 30 years of Environmental Education experience. He was the Environmental Education Director at Westminster Woods for 16 years, serving over 75,000 students. He was also a founder of the Dutch Bill Creek Watershed Group and has worked with many agencies on restoration in the watershed. David created the Watershed Education Map Project distributed to over 900 classrooms in the Lower Russian River Watershed. He currently works with the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods at the Armstrong Woods State Reserve and the Sonoma Coast State Parks. He lives at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.