Stewardship: Where Science Meets the Heart


By Leslie Ashman

“I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” (John Muir, 1896) 1

In this, the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, it feels appropriate to quote one of its earliest advocates.2  And this quote feels particularly poignant as I’ve been ruminating on our collective human relationship with Nature, what it means to steward, and the emotional connection that drives us to do so.

In our Interpretation class, we were taught the process that takes us from Awareness through Understanding and Caring ultimately leading to Stewardship, and that, according to Freeman Tilden, “Any interpretation that does not somehow relate… to something within the personality or experience… will be sterile,” that is – in order to garner action and commitment, we need to reach beyond the intellectual to connect with people emotionally.  Otherwise, the message is ineffective in soliciting active response.

I would submit that even the Education and Citizen Science pillars of the Naturalist program are in themselves forms of Stewardship (our third pillar), for whether we’re birders, beekeepers, goat-tenders, tree-huggers or inveterate counters of the creepy-crawlers, we’re in action because we care for various aspects of Nature.  We have learned that that the warp and weft of Nature weaves an integrated whole that includes us as its participants and its stewards.

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) photo by Allison G

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) photo by Allison G

More and more, I’m looking at my own stewardship endeavors as finding ways to connect others with the personal experience of Nature.  Getting children, family and friends outdoors to see how they can touch and are in return touched by their surroundings.  Drawing parallels between the new and captivating perception with the old, known and familiar; and expressing those perceptions in terms of how they make us feel and memories they evoke.  By sharing a personal story; others will listen and be inspired.  It wasn’t until I realized that the Dutchman’s Breeches I was introduced to in Botany class reminded me of Dutch dolls I had as a child and walks in a nearby Nature Preserve with my mother back then, that I understood so clearly why those flowers instantly made me smile and want to plant my own next Spring.  Stewardship might work through our words and our hands, but it comes from the heart.  This Autumn, think about ways to share those connections, memories and experiences as ways of offering the gift of Stewardship – and the wonders of Nature — to others.


Newsletter article and Facebook submission guidelines


By Leslie Ashman / Someone asked me recently about article submission guidelines.  I thought it might be helpful to share how the Communications Committee, VMN Banshee Reeks Chapter views its current three media outlets.

First, just want to note how we view the distinction between posts to our Facebook group and newsletter content, about half of which is drawn from submissions to our website.  We view Facebook, as the platform is intended, as sort of up-to-the minute grab-and-go content on nature news, volunteer activities, Continuing Education opportunities, personal pic sharing and other timely information pertinent to VMNers – a format to create community.  No one’s writing content and one can simply post an article from elsewhere without even commenting, if so inclined.  (And yes, it’s monitored. 🙂 )

For the website and the newsletter, we’re actually writing articles from various source materials that relate to Virginia and surrounding areas (e.g., the Piedmont or Chesapeake Bay watershed) and whose subjects can be generally categorized within the ‘three pillars’ of the VMN program – Education, Citizen Science and Stewardship.  Our latest edition is a great example of that – Sheila’s article about the Ovenbird is educational, Bryan’s about the Breeding Bird Atlas covers a great Citizen Science project, and his and his wife Allison’s Stream Buffer Planting is a wonderful example of Stewardship.  I include my own article on Nature and the brain as falling within the Stewardship category, since I believe that simply getting more people outdoors fosters a deeper sense of stewardship within them, hopefully moving them toward action.  If you’re interested in contributing an article to the website, please email Bryan Henson at  Bryan can set you up as a contributor and also includes those articles in each newsletter’s first draft, some of which may be cut or edited for length.

Each issue also contains a Member Spotlight, Committee Corner and President’s message, and we try to include topical info on what’s going on at Banshee Reeks, since it’s our home base; but articles on relevant activities at any local park are welcome.

We welcome content on any of the topics in the program, which run from geology and ecology to Interpretation skills and the full biological taxonomy.  If it helps, the topics in our Class Schedule are a great guideline, in addition to what the Commonwealth’s site provides.

We publish quarterly, trying to pull each edition’s first draft together in the first week of the first month of the quarter, targeting publication around the 15th.  Things like vacations and volunteers’ schedules can impact that.  Because the dates vary, we like using website contributions as a great way to funnel content to the newsletter.  People can post to the website as the inspiration strikes them…and certainly we can accept newsletter articles at any time.  As mentioned, email Bryan to get set up to contribute to the website; you can email newsletter contributions to me directly at

And last, but not least, everything published must be within the volunteer program guidelines:

How May The [Certified Master Naturalist] Title Be Used?

…  The Virginia Master Naturalist program is a public service program operated by the State Program Sponsors to provide accurate, unbiased natural resources information.  The Virginia Master Naturalist title may not be identified with any particular political viewpoint and may not be used by groups or individuals as they participate in political advocacy.  The title is to be used only when doing unpaid volunteer work associated and approved by the program.  Any implied commercial endorsement resulting from use of the VMN title is improper. Therefore, the title may not be used for commercial publicity or private business. Participating in a commercial activity, association with commercial products, or giving implied VMN endorsements to any product or place of business is a violation of VMN policies. VMNs may only identify themselves as such while volunteering in conjunction with official/approved VMN programs or activities, NOT for business or personal gain.

For any new class members (and interested current ones), we’ll be making a pitch in the first class for interested individuals to join our committee, and offering an invitation to our monthly meetings to test the waters (meet us, see how we operate, etc.) without actually making a commitment.  (New recruits won’t officially be asked to choose a committee until December.)  Anyone is welcome to check us out.  We do more than these publications – as events are scheduled, we can provide press releases and promotional materials as well.

Remember…research and writing articles can be counted as volunteer hours!