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Remembering Pleasures of an Outdoor Career

By Scott Shalaway

It has been more than nine months since my last column, so I owe my readers an explanation. Back in February I had major back surgery and was told my recovery and rehab would take at least 10 months. My progress has been steady, but very slow.

Between the surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had lots of time to think. I’ve decided that this will be my final column. I can no longer resist the urge to retire.

After eight years in academia, 33 years writing more than 2,000 columns, several hundred magazine articles, seven books, and 22 years hosting two live weekly radio shows, I’m tired.

Traveling is not currently an option. But I have had some amazing birding trips over the years — upon which some of you have accompanied me.

I have led 13 birding tours to Mexico, and 11 more to Ecuador and the Galapagos, Maine, the Everglades, southern Arizona, Hawk Mountain, and Cape May. My writing career has taken me to Canada, Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, New York, New Jersey, and Maine.

And, of course, I have visited and written about numerous locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Along the way, I have made lots of friends, interviewed more than 500 people, and enjoyed hearing from thousands of readers and radio listeners. I’ve never tired of the work, but I look forward to a deadline-free retirement.

Highlights of my life on the wild side are too many to list here, but three stand out: I will always treasure that Christmas Eve family walk in the woods when we stumbled upon a family of flying squirrels. My daughters and I once shared a peek into the blowhole of a massive finback whale off the coast of Maine. And on a river on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, I caught so many salmon I had to stop because my arms ached and cramped.

In this, my last column, I would like to acknowledge and thank the many teachers and mentors who pointed me in the right direction. Roland Roth, Paul Catts, Con Slobodchikoff, Gary Batemen, Leslie Gysel, Don Beaver, Ron Tyrl, Helen Miller, Howard McCarley, and the Baumgartners (Fred and Marguerite) are just a few of the naturalists who influenced my ecological approach to understanding nature. From them I’ve come to realize that old teachers never die; they endure, like ghosts, in the minds of their students.

I look forward to someday getting back on my feet and into the woods. If you’d like to keep in touch, please friend me on Facebook. I will post timely “best of” columns and even some new material as the spirit strikes.

Finally, thank you all for reading and listening all these years. Thanks to the editors who have encouraged me.

And most of all, thanks to Linda, Nora, and Emma for rolling with my unconventional lifestyle.

One last thought: to paraphrase Aldo Leopold, when you tinker with nature, remember to keep all the pieces.

My new e-mail address is scottshalaway@gmail.com.

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