SENIOR MASTER NATURALIST
Areas of Expertise:
Regional Environmental History
“My mother used to take us from my grandparents’ farm in mid-state Illinois to the woods across the road where there were violets, and spring beauties, and bluebells,” said Stephanie Mason, the Senior Naturalist for ANS and Director of Adult Education. “My paternal grandfather was a wholesale florist, so I grew up in a plant world and that’s where, maybe, I come closest to being an expert.”
From a childhood bursting with the wonders of the natural world, Mason found her way to ANS. “When I arrived at ANS in 1989, my naturalist knowledge was pretty slim. But as an intern I could attend all ANS classes for free, so I spent every weekend in the field soaking up both knowledge and teaching styles from experts including botanist Cris Fleming, entomologist Richard Orr, bird-whisperer John Bjerke, butterfly guru Dick Smith, and by shadowing my more experienced co-worker, Senior Naturalist Mark Garland,” Mason said. “I put many miles on my rusting Honda Civic.”
All those miles - bumpy, smooth and flourishing with nature enthusiasts of the highest order -- allowed Mason to blossom as an expert general naturalist in her own right. Today she teaches ANS natural history classes and leads field trips for adults. Mason’s high-energy nature walks are made more memorable because of her jazz-like mimicking of bird songs and colorful commentary on the characteristics of this region’s flora and fauna. Mason also has the enviable task of superintending trips to far away nature paradises, such as Costa Rica, Panama, and the Galapagos Islands.
“It's been satisfying over the years to have field trip participants tell me that I've opened their eyes to the possibilities of wonder in their own backyard. Unlocking secrets of nature is something fun that people can experience, again and again,” Mason said. “But the gratitude goes both ways. Teaching broadens my own understanding of the natural world, and I learn from my students too. They humble me and keep me going back for more.”