My Journey from MD to Retiree to Naturalist

December 15, 2021
Bob and his dog, Cuppie, hiking at Avey's Run
Bob and his dog, Cuppie, hiking at Avey's Run

by Bob Buring, Naturalist

My default activity as a child was playing in the woods, which ensured I was usually outside.

As a young adult my passion for the outdoors evolved into backpacking with my children, teaching them wonder and respect for nature.

In my undergraduate years, studying Biology as a pre-med student, I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool to teach Biology”?

Enter medical school—then fast forward 40 years. It was fall 2018, and I was retired and bored. With the itch to go hiking, I suggested to my wife we go to the Cincinnati Nature Center. We loved it.

Procuring a membership, I received an email about one week later, advertising an upcoming Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist course. Being the perpetual student, I jumped at the opportunity.

And that changed everything…

My cohort, the fourth offered at the Nature Center, met twice weekly for four weeks. Initially I was a bit nervous, suspecting I would have a disadvantage being out of school for so many years. Before long, I realized my classmates were from many walks of life.

Some had interests in the natural world, such as gardening or birding. Others wanted to learn as much as possible so they might put it to good use in their lives and work. There were even some peers who sought out the education for personal enhancement, but chose not to pursue certification.

I had chosen well. The core material was comprehensive, but not overwhelming. Our instructors were both Nature Center Staff naturalists and teachers from outside institutions, all engaging and informative.

While my favorite topics were Geology, Soils, Watersheds, and Forests, nothing was boring—they are all intertwined. The concept of an “Ecosystem” is aptly named.

Our days were spent both indoors and in the forest—what a fun way to learn. It was rewarding to meet such interesting people and build community. I did not want it to end.

But it was only the beginning….

Following the course, for certification, I had to volunteer 40 hours at an organization or event that promotes appreciation of and action to sustain our natural world. By the summer of 2019, I had sampled so many jobs at the Nature Center I accumulated 268 hours.

I began my volunteering with the Thursday Gang, a group that does light construction work—I was welcomed with open arms. Next, I helped with seed processing for native plant propagation.

Then it was January and I discovered Maple Season. I was training to interpret the Native American Log station, and helped with Sap collection, syrup processing and bottling. In Spring, I was asked to join the School Team and help with Playscape programs.

Bob teaching about maple syrup making
Bob teaching about maple syrup making

At this point my experiences led me deeper into work and life at the Nature Center, including helping Connie O’Connor, Director of Education, manage future OCVN sessions.

The OCVN program is dear to my heart. It was the seed I watered with work, study, and friendship that became the sapling I am today.

Each year I grow more, and by being a part of the program I can cast seeds to others. I love to watch our students’ eyes light up or hear their excitement as they connect the dots to construct their picture of our natural world. My naturalist journey has enabled me to speak confidently to others, sharing my passion and knowledge in an interpretive manner. I currently teach both adults and children, my primary role at the Nature Center.

Fortune has smiled on me in a big way. Between medicine and my work at the Nature Center, I’ve had two career opportunities that touch the world in meaningful ways.

My OCVN journey has been a subtle epiphany. Despite an early love of everything “outside”, I did not know why. As a young man I saw nature’s components like notes on a scale—now I hear the entire symphony.

Want to learn more about how to become an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist or how to get involved at Cincinnati Nature Center? Click below!

Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist Program

Volunteer at Cincinnati Nature Center