This past weekend I took my first class at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, a non-profit research and teaching organization located within the national park. I'm determined to make friends with my new surroundings in eastern Tennessee, and as part of this process I've decided to pursue training at the institute to become a certified Southern Appalachian Naturalist.
I kicked things off in this pursuit with an initial offering in Naturalist Skills. It was fun! The core emphasis of the class was the importance of slowing down and taking time to notice and document your observations. As an artist, I'd like to think that I already do this by default. But I learned that I still have more discipline to cultivate in this regard. And along the way I learned some interesting things such as the presence of different micro climates within tenths of a mile along a hiking trail, resulting in very distinct flora and fauna. All of these years that I've been hiking into the woods and painting en plein air and I never appreciated this nuance before.
Later this year I'll take additional classes about mammals and aquatic natural history. I'm so stoked! As someone who's currently pretty ignorant about woodland ecology, I believe that taking these classes will give me greater insight into my new environment and inform my landscape paintings. I'm excited about the year ahead and I look forward to sharing more with you about the interesting tidbits I learn.