Written by Jose Sandoval
I’ve always had quite an intense personality on me, and I’ve always been driven by passion. Growing up I would bounce around from being obsessed about space and the cosmos to obsessing about snakes and reptiles to obsessing about rocks minerals and geology. Then puberty hit and all I could think about girls and I was an awkward mess of hormones.
The rise of internet culture and cellular phones (this was back in 2007 or so) didn’t help either. I was a wall punching, shock site browsing, edged weaponed loving kind of middle schooler. Also I was incredibly awkward around people, especially girls.
The summer between middle school and high school I figured I might as well disappear. I had read a story involving a recently captured outlaw by the name of Colton Harris Moore- survivalist, airplane jacker, and animal lover. My kind of role model. I had gear lists and plans, but I was lacking funds and those ever important survivalist skills.
In order to aquire those survivalist skills I figured I would have to go and take some kind of survivalist class. Nothing came up online when I looked up “survivalist class”, so I tried other key words/phrases. Eventually something came up for “nature walk”- the nature walk was free and it was nearby. I thought I had scored.
Come Sunday, I show up to the nature walk expecting to learn about edible berries and useful medicinal plants, but it’s actually a bunch of old Audubon folks doing their monthly bird walk. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them. I stuck around for the walk and actually fell in love with bird watching. Not immediately, but It grew on me! I was so out of place, but so welcome that I felt right at home.
I actually became quite the conservationist and active community member once I started rolling with the Audubon crowd. I had some fantastic mentors/friends and they really steered me in the right direction. Just all around great role models. I was still a punk though, but that just made things all the better.
As soon as I left high school I got involved in all the groovy fun things- working on an eco-farm, backpacking solo in the Sierra, landing under the table biology work in the great basin, using said money to go on pelagic birding trips with Debbie Shearwater….Fun Stuff. Not bad for an 18 year old straight out of high school.
I had applied for Humboldt State University, but honestly my mindset was all wrong and I lacked the maturity and social skills to deal with a University setting. Also I got thrown into some classes that were above my skill level and I wasn’t having any of that. I dropped out and wandered the country for a couple of years watching birds, enjoying nature, and having all sorts of random adventures.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was back in college trying to get my bachelors degree in Wildlife (applied vertebrate ecology). Life wasn’t easy though-the rent was too damn high, bio-statistics were draining the life from me, and then there was my actual depression that I was dealing with.
Eventually I couldn’t afford housing and I decided to try being a homeless student for a year. HA! Malnutrition, exposure, isolation, social rejection, and being constantly in survival mode was what I got out of that experience. That and getting a couple more units closer to my degree. Then the pandemic hit, students left town, and I actually managed to find affordable housing. A blessing in disguise? I guess I still feel isolated and I’m still trying to recover from my homelessness experience.
I don’t feel alone when I’m outside though, I never have. Birds, plants, insects, and even the night sky make for great company. Although when it comes to hope for the future I have my doubts- I’m not sure how much I trust humanity to conserve the planet’s ecosystems for future generations. Hell I’m not even sure how much I trust the University system these days. I’m glad I took the time to enjoy North America’s nature while I had the energy and blind drive to do so, but these days it’s really starting to dawn on me just how much work we as a collective have ahead of us. It’s going to take cooperation, collaboration and radical action to make sure future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the same species and landscapes that our generation has enjoyed/is enjoying. You tug at one thing in nature and you’ll find that it’s connected to a whole big system- making sense of it all is where the real challenge lies.
For more of Jose, check out @josethewanderingjay on Instagram