Answering Nature’s Call
March 2021 Issue
by Edwina Hoyle
Photography by T.R. Love
To say that Debby Boots is a nature lover is a grave understatement. She is in absolute awe of nature and gives every tree, flower, plant, sea creature, animal, bird and weed her respect and reverence. At 85 years young, Debby is still doing everything she can to educate people about the world around them and the importance of preserving our ecosystems. She is a dedicated advocate of the Coastal Discovery Museum and its programs, especially their children’s programs, and as a nature guide, she provides 2-hour tours of both Mitchellville Beach and Pinckney Island.
“Every place you live and every place you go, you can learn so much about total creation. It’s miraculous the number of species there are – millions that God, or the Great Creator, made. We know so little,” Debby said. “Man is concerned too much about ourselves. We fight nature around us. I cringe when I hear ‘get rid of these weeds or the pine cones in my driveway.’ They never ask what the purpose is…everything in nature has a purpose. Landscapers seem to own the land. They spray pesticides and kill the weeds I love, and they’re also killing the insects and therefore the butterflies.”
So where did her passion come from? At 27 years of age, Debby and her husband purchased a farm in Syracuse to transform it into a golf course. “An Italian girl chastised me and said I didn’t know anything about farming, or what’s on the land. So I asked her to show me, and what I learned from her blew me away. I became addicted to weeds. I learned to ask, ‘What’s your name, what are you doing here, and what’s your purpose?’”
Those three little questions have been asked by Debby to every plant, tree, weed and creature she has encountered for the last six decades—everywhere she has lived. While in Syracuse she taught nature classes on edible weeds. Then she earned her teaching degree and landed a job on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. “I lived and learned about native vegetation, and that made me happy. I learned a lot from the Native Americans, certainly more than they learned from me,” Debby said.
Her next pit stop in the journey of life was in Montana, where she lived alone in a log cabin high in the mountains and off the grid. She discovered other like-minded individuals who shared her philosophies, and together, they started a nature center. “In Montana the thing I learned was how lucky we are to have national forests that belong to all Americans. It was wonderful to experience Montana,” Debby said.
She then decided it was time to learn about the beach ecosystem, so she moved to Sanibel Island on Florida’s Gulf Coast where she guided environmental tours and taught classes on edible plants. It’s a barrier island like Hilton Head, she explained, but the local government really encouraged proper behavior toward the environment. They created a very different atmosphere about protecting the environment that came from the top down to help tourism. It was a vast contrast to her next home in New Smyrna Beach, where Debby fought for three years to stop cars from driving on the beach. “They’re still driving on the sand, killing everything that’s poking their tiny heads from the sand and disrupting birds that rely on this as a food source and the plankton,” she said.
So she moved to Franklin, NC, in the Great Smokies near the Appalachian Trail. Debby participated in a many programs, hiking and teaching about nature and giving classes on her beloved weeds. Here, she also learned from the Cherokee natives in that region. “All cultures have their creation stories, and they have a story about the origin of medicine. In their story all things talk to one another—plants, trees, animals, and man—and live in cooperation and harmony. The animals got mad because man started taking over and killing too many animals, so the council met to discuss it. The grub worm said they should create diseases to destroy man. The plants responded, saying that for every disease they created, we will make cures for all diseases when man asks us. But we haven’t asked. We should study plants, leaves, roots, seeds; they all have curative properties and medicinal qualities.”
“The plants want to give, and animals do, too,” Debby said. “We’ve got to ask. What’s your name and what do you do? After you ask and learn, then kill it if you still want to, but be courteous first. The ‘clean up my property’ mentality is sad. God made the world a messy jungle. I just read an article that said what humans have replaced with concrete, steel and plastic now exceeds the entire mass of the earth’s bio-mass. So I ask…who is the most invasive species?”
Debby’s wish is that all residents need to learn what’s in their own backyards. “If you don’t know, you can’t care. If you don’t care, you can’t save,” she challenged. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Find Your Inner Child: Debby’s advice is to go back to our childhoods, when we were more inquisitive and creative and weren’t taking over the world. Sit and observe, and keep learning.
Must Reads: She recommends that every adult read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to learn about ourselves.
Power of the Pen: Debby wrote a book called Cattail Cakes and Chickweed Snakes. Cattails can be made into a type of flour, and chickweed can be used to make veggie noodles. You can even make aspirin from a willow tree!
Never Stop Learning: Debby completed the Master Naturalist course offered through Clemson University at Spring Island.