When I think about teachers in the Elk Valley, numerous people come to mind but one is omnipresent - Nature Bob. A fixture of our community, especially when it comes to the outdoors, Bob has been sharing his love and passion with our community for the past 19 years, ever since he arrived in the Elk Valley. So, just how did it all begin?
Bob was living in Ontario, where he was teaching both downhill and Nordic skiing. “I taught for 58 years,” he tells me over coffee. “I’ve been on boards a long time.” He had a nephew who was teaching snowboarding at Fernie Alpine Resort who called him and said, “You better come out here, they need you!”
“I enjoyed teaching skiing so much, and had a wonderful time in the ski industry,” he says. “But I never got rich,” we both laugh. They made the move across the country in 2000, Bob as a ski instructor ands wife Linda as the “den” mother at the ski school. “She would make sure they had their bibs on, that the lunch program was running smoothly.” A few years in, Bob started taking the kids who were at summer camp at the hill out on adventures. “Twice a week, I would take the day care kids out on adventures.”
Bob admits that he has been intrigued with nature since he was five years old, having grown up beside the Royal Botanical Gardens, Cootes Paradise. From there he works with the department of Lands and Forest, and eventually started his own landscaping business which he ran for 30 years. “It worked well with ski instructing,” he says. When Bob started to run the snowshoe tours and hiking/nature adventures at FAR, a friend and fellow staff member Lu Ferber said, “We should cal you Nature Bob,” and it stuck. “All the kids started calling me that. Many of them are 17 or 18 now, but they still call me Nature Bob.”
When Bob talks about teaching kids, his eyes light up and he can’t stop smiling. “The young ones, they have really good eyes and all of the stuff in nature that is really important is the small stuff,” he says, then he immediately starts looking for his magnifying glass. “I always carry it around, so they can see it even closer. Kids are so responsive, even now that I’m in the Nature Centre it’s the same. I teach by guided discovery… leading them to discover what I want them to see.” The Nature Centre was created with all of Bob’s “stuff” he had collected over the years. “They told me, we’re going to open up this centre in the yurt, use your stuff, and make it pretty. It’s like at tiny museum! Everything in there allows me to share little stories.”
His passion and knowledge goes far beyond fossils and rocks and flora. Bob is an active bird watcher, and has been documenting every bird he has seen since 1951. Using a program called e-bird, Bob shows me how he has seen 719 species and completed 1807 checklists. “The first bird I ever remember recording was a barn owl in Ontario in 1951. I started with that one, somehow I was able to keep track of all of them in my head. Memory has served me well, it has been an interesting journey.”
In recent years, Bob has struggled with his health and can no longer run the Fernie Nature Club, which he started in 2006, or the hiking adventures at FAR. “Three days a week at the Nature Centre is enough for me right now,” he tells me. “It’s tough though to not to be able to lead the hiking.”
While Bob has accepted these changes, he plans to continue to be a steward and teacher of nature. “The Natural History of Fernie is something I have been involved with since I got here,” Bob says. “Recently, I’ve been keeping my eyes on things like the Heron nests and beaver dams and try to ensure people are aware of these sensitive areas. Natural history needs to be considered and respected.”
Tough to not be able to do the hiking, and having to count on someone else to do ti. Everyday I deal with people coming up to the nature centre… the old guy, not like the younger ones… when they come up, they’ll go ask the guy running the snack bar where to go hiking. They never come ask the people who made the trails, cut the trails, understand them, set them up… you learn to live with it. That’s going to happen, because people want to help. As much as anything, go see Nature Bob in the Yurt! I’m trying to give the guests a wonderful experience… an appreciation of the natural history, what’s there and why.
This month, Bob turns 80. “I can’t predict what will happen health wise, but for as long as I can, I’ll be a steward and a teacher. I love having visitors at the Nature Centre, giving guests a wonderful experience and an appreciation for our natural history. It fills my bucket.”
Happy birthday, Bob. Thank you for continuing to inspire, teach, protect and lead. You fill our buckets, too.
1. When did you first arrive in the Valley and what brought you here? November 2000, powder skiing, soft snow, less humidity! I skied on ice for years.
2. Who did you first meet? When I first came to town? I guess Wendy Reed as I already knew John!
3. Do you remember your first general impression of Fernie? Driving from Sparwood to Fernie Alpine Resort, my first impression was… how will I ever ski that steep son of a bitch facing me? We saw the three fingers, and we skied them all. Decline is my favourite.
4. What keeps you here? Right now, the love of the job. I still get a great deal of satisfaction in having the kids there, playing around and getting really dirty in the “fossil box.” My passion for teaching children and adults… it is very satisfying to have more curious adults!
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory or pastime? I think it probably recurs everyday because no matter where I go, I have people who I’ve taught who remember me and remember hiking or skiing with me.
6. What time of the year do you love most in Fernie, and why? I love the summer, because of what I just said… you can communicate with not just our neighbours but everyone in town. Every Wednesday at the Social, half the town is there.
7. Where do you see or hope to see Fernie in five years? I can’t really honestly say I hope for growth, I want it to stay similar to what it is now. The closeness and friendliness of the people. But progress is going to happen, we know that. It is going to grow.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? Wish I could say I start like I did for years… I don’t jump out of bed in the morning anymore! I start my day, if it’s warm enough sitting out on the back porch and listening to birds. If I can do that with my dressing gown on, then that’s great.
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. I was called Ranger Bob at a golf course I worked at in Ontario for years!
10. Quote to live by: The five precepts - be honest, don’t steal, be sexually proper (don’t cheap on your lovely wife), don’t use intoxicants (I’ve been with AA for 43 years), and be kind!