Thursday, May 23, 2013

Rambling Naturalists teach the secrets of nature and a good life

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
May 23, 2013


Whether in character or as themselves, Wil and Sarah Reding have a lot of wisdom to share about the natural world around us. Zinta Aistars talked to them about their business Rent A Rambling Naturalist that's more than telling a good yarn.

A friend of William and Sarah Reding leaned into the window of the truck, right across Wil, and said to Sarah Reding: "Sarah, will you give my best to Wil?"
Wil Reding hoots with laughter to recall it. The friend didn't recognize Reding in costume, or in persona. Wil and Sarah Reding had just finished one of their outdoor performances of Prairie Pete and Miss Sarah. They were dressed in the clothing of the 1800s, and had reenacted the experiences of a couple entering the Midwest Territory from New York to establish a homestead. Encouraging audience participation, they demonstrated various tools and artifacts from the time period, and always within the context of nature. 
"I guess I was pretty convincing." Reding grins into his long white beard. He and wife Sarah have more than 72 years of combined experience in environmental and historical education, he says with pride. The two have a show-on-the-road they call Rent a Rambling Naturalist. The couple shares their knowledge about history and nature with all age groups, from schools to nature centers to senior centers through the voices of a range of characters.       

Yas Ennya Oyaka is a woodsman who shares his knowledge about Midwest ecosystems. Marsh Mallow Man knows a lot about the Great Lakes wetlands. A.E. Claus is a Father Christmas of the 1890s who knows no greater gifts than the ones we receive from Mother Earth and teaches his listeners how to protect them. Sometimes, however, Wil Reding is just himself--an educator and a naturalist on a stroll through the woods. Sarah does most of the marketing, he says, and he usually does the presentations.
Reding will be himself, an interpretive naturalist, on an excursion called "Walk Toward 100 Miles," beginning at Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC) on July 26, and ending, with a progression of daily 16-mile or 6.5-hour segments, at Lake Michigan on July 31. The public (18 years and older) is invited to walk with him and learn about the environment along the way. They  will be transported back to the Kalamazoo Nature Center each evening. Cost is $200 for KNC members, $240 for non-members.   
"I'm going to be 67 this summer," Reding says cheerily, "and I've had a heart attack, several back surgeries, a mechanical hip, hammer toe and bunions--but I'm still walking." He shrugs. "You just put one foot in front of the other."
Reding started Rent a Rambling Naturalist in 1988, initially as a sideline to his more traditional teaching jobs. With a bachelor's degree in biology from Eastern Michigan University, and a master's in environmental education from Michigan State University, he lived in the village of Ortonville and worked at a camp as an outdoor education consultant. His wife, Sarah, worked there as well, but when the camp acted in what the Redings felt was disregard for the environment, logging trees on the acreage, they ...

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