Nature’s Hidden Surprises: an interview with Environmental Educator Judith Gratz

Julie Slavet
Apr 11, 2016

Judith Gratz 1
Judith Gratz – photo by Allison Ostertag

Judith Gratz leads “Nature’s Hidden Surprises”, TTF’s monthly nature walks. She received her Master of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from Arcadia University (then known as Beaver College) and has been in the field for over 30 years. She wanted to become an environmental educator the day she went on her first guided walk led by a naturalist and he pointed out a plant named “butter and eggs”.

TTF: What was your favorite Nature’s Hidden Surprises walk so far, and why?

JG: I love presenting all of them, but each one has a different surprise in it for me as well as for the participants. So that makes each activity special. One real highlight actually has two parts to it: in March 2015 the group released hundreds, maybe thousands, of common milkweed seeds and orange milkweed seeds on the plateau above the trail. When we returned there in spring the fields were lush with milkweed plants. How gratifying because monarch butterflies depend on milkweed for food for both larva and adults, and as the only place they lay their eggs. Loss of habitat and decline in milkweed has reduced the monarch population by 90%. So we did something really important, and I hope to repeat this year after year.

Milkweed in Tacony Creek Park. Photo by Allison Ostertag
Milkweed in Tacony Creek Park – photo by Allison Ostertag.

TTF: Do you have a favorite story about a Nature’s Hidden Surprises walk? Perhaps something special that you found, or an interaction with someone in particular?

JG: Many stories. On one walk, a husband, wife, and little boy found a great many different things to share with the group. They could not speak English, but their enthusiasm and eagerness to share was contagious, and pretty soon everyone was scouting out more “hidden surprises” wherever we walked. We found a bird’s egg, feathers, a snake and its home, a skull, and other things. We always have surprises, but when participants get so totally involved, any teacher should be thrilled. I am.

TTF: What is your favorite time for exploring the outdoors, and why?

JG: There is only one season that I do not enjoy as much as the others, and that’s summer. I hate the heat. But if I am exploring while walking in a creek in the shade, then I’m happy.

I love fall for the leaves changing colors, and dropping to reveal nests, and other surprises that were hidden for months. And I love the cooler weather.

I love winter; it’s a great time to bundle up and go for walks. I also love to go snowshoeing in undisturbed places and see animal tracks and the stories they can tell. And for the quiet in the woods. And for the sea birds that come south from the Arctic to spend the season in the ocean and bays. It’s been my only chance to see them.

I love the end of winter when I can tap the maple trees and collect sap to cook into syrup.

I love spring for all the obvious reasons: the flowers, aromas, colors, and birds singing and going about their business.

So I guess one could say I love life, especially the outdoor life!

Judith Gratz at our 2016 Maple Syrup Festival - photo by Akire Bubar
Judith Gratz at our 2016 Maple Syrup Festival – photo by Akire Bubar

TTF: If there was one thing you could teach everyone you encounter, what would it be? What would you most want people to understand?

JG: Climate change is real. It is important to realize that climate change deniers are either being paid to say so, or are people who believe those who are being paid, or are people unschooled in science. The earth cooled by just 4 degrees and that was enough to bring on an ice age with 2-mile deep glaciers. The earth has now heated to close to 2 degrees, and we see climate chaos everywhere. So I think people need to elect leaders who know there is climate change and will fight to reverse it, and not put it off to the future.  Everyone has a responsibility to protect the environment through the choices she or he makes. We can choose to take public transportation or walk instead of driving, or choose to buy organic foods (at least some of the time), or choose not to use pesticides or herbicides but to learn what to plant to attract the beneficial insects that will control pests, etc. We need to learn which are the best choices we can make.

TTF: What are some important things in your life outside of your work with TTF? What are your favorite things to do in your spare time?

JG: Outside of work my family is the most important part of my life. My adult offspring (my “kids”), mean the world to me; I really enjoy talking with them and getting together with them. My husband Mitch, always supportive and by my side, is my rock. He’s gotten into bird watching as a photographer, which makes birding even more fun. And he’s an avid long-distance bike rider, so we call each other “surf” and “turf” for my kayaking and his bicycling. I practice T’ai Chi regularly (it’s a form of moving meditation), and am now learning how to meditate sitting still. Travel is an important part of my life too.

Please join us for our next Nature’s Hidden Surprises walk! You can find dates and times here. We look forward to seeing you in Tacony Creek Park!

Judith Gratz - photo by Allison Ostertag
Judith Gratz – photo by Allison Ostertag

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