Name: Valerie Blaine
Alma Mater: University of Illinois
Hometown: Currently, St. Charles
Years worked at the Forest Preserve District: Just a few days shy of 25 years
How and when did you become interested in being a naturalist?
I think I was born a naturalist. It’s just in me. When I was a kid, I played a lot in a forest preserve near our house in Northbrook. My mom instilled in me a great love and respect for plants and critters. I loved biology in high school, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in botany and a master’s degree in forestry. As for my interest in becoming a naturalist as a profession, I think I first became interested when I attended a naturalist-led night hike with my parents, at Turkey Run State Park, when I was in college. I was amazed by the naturalist guide. The light bulb went on in my head. “You mean I can get paid for doing what this person does?” It took a lot of work to become a professional naturalist (it’s much more than walking in the woods), but eventually I did and it was so worth it.
What is your favorite part about being a naturalist?
Knowing that I have helped foster a connection between people and the natural world.
What is the most important skill you have acquired through your career?
There are different aspects to my career. There’s the naturalist part, and the supervisor/manager part. In regards to the former, observation is the most important skill. As for the latter, I hope the skill I have honed is keeping sight of our mission and guiding the staff accordingly.
What will you miss most about being a naturalist?
My avocation and my vocation are one in the same, so I will never not be a naturalist. (Paul McCartney said it best when asked when he’ll retire. He replied, “Retire from what?”) I will stop being a manager when I retire, and honestly there’s not much I’ll miss about that!
If you could take a hike anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Am I restricted one answer? The Smokies, the Chiricahua Mountains, Konza Prairie, and Infinitum.
What is one item you can’t live without?
Do you have any hobbies outside of work?
Hunting, raising bird dogs, studying French, playing guitar, working out, reading.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Live as if every step on earth is a prayer.
Do you have a favorite animal and/or plant species?
There are so many that I love that I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one!
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
Oooh, boy! I don’t think there’s one moment. Being part of the very successful Kane County Certified Naturalist program makes me proud, and my column in the Daily Herald.
What is your favorite event at the Forest Preserve District?
What are your plans for retirement? (ex. traveling, volunteering, new hobby, etc.)
I’m going to do a lot of stuff. … Seriously, there are so many things on the bucket list that the bucket is overflowing. Training our GSP pup, hunting, working in my woods, getting together with friends a lot more, continuing to study the French language, playing guitar, reading a ton, wood carving, a lot of working out with my trainer, swimming, hiking, birding, writing. You know, stuff.
What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring naturalist?
Spend as much time in the real world woods and prairie as you can, and avoid the screen (computer, phone, tablet) as much as you can. Be insatiably curious. Share your passion. Don’t be discouraged by [those who don’t support conservation]. Fight the good fight.
View the slideshow for examples of her nature photography…