Appreciation and Wonder for All Life
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. ~John Muir
Lifelong learning, curiosity and enthusiasm begin in childhood. Kristen Marshall Mattson, an environmental educator at the Low Country Institute on Spring Island, loves nature and loves spreading the word of environmental values to the children of the Lowcountry and anyone else that asks for her expertise and passion.
Ecologists and environmentalists typically grow up with strong ecological values because they have spent much of their youth immersed in the outdoors, experiencing nature at ground level and, importantly, also had an adult who modeled respect for nature. Kristen is no exception. She spent much of her childhood taking family vacations to state and national parks, going up to the mountains or down to the Keys, camping out under the stars surrounded by nature-it's smells and sounds and beauty. "I grew up on the St. John's River in Florida and my parents definitely modeled respect for nature. I was also in the Girl Scouts where you always left the place cleaner than you found it." Her parents placed strong emphasis on education and learning. Her mother pushed reading and observation, encouraging her children to read the signs along the roadways and in the parks. Her father used the hands-on approach by teaching his three children how to build fires, chop wood and set-up camp. This deep connection to nature throughout Kristen's childhood promoted a respect for our Mother Earth stimulating a desire to help protect and preserve our planet.
Kristen's family's love for learning permeated into her education. She graduated from the International Baccalaureate program in high school, focusing on environmental chemistry, which introduced her to environmental toxins. However, when she got to college she took biology and never went back to chemistry. She double majored in Environmental Science and Spanish with a minor in Biology-all in only four years! Her graduate studies at the University of Florida covered Interdisciplinary Ecology and today she stays fresh with independent study courses. She taught biology and zoology at Coastal Carolina Community College in North Carolina near Camp Lejeune where her husband was stationed. Here she realized her love for teaching.
In 2008, her husband reenlisted in the Marines and was posted to Parris Island. Serendipitously, Kristen found her job in paradise. She spent nine months prior to moving scouring the professional journals, environmental websites and contacting the Coastal Conservation League. She was directed to the Low Country Institute and on the last day of its posting, a job for an environmental educator appeared before her happy eyes. "The stars aligned and I was prepared for the job with the skills and the desire." She teaches children and tries to excite their interest in nature. Children need time to connect with nature and love the earth so they can become future stewards. This bonding creates respect for the environment, however, there is a continuing disconnection between children and nature. The Lowcountry's salt marshes are one of the most productive places on earth for the development and procreation of wild life. Beaufort County is fifty percent salt marshes, so the immersion of our children into the outdoor environment is paramount for its future productivity.
Kristen's favorite activity at the Low Country Institute is co-teaching the Master Naturalist program. "We teach how to identify fish, birds, mammals, amphibians-the basics. We also explain the processes of nature and about the unique aspects of the Lowcountry. People that take the course are really interested in nature and they get really excited too and that's fun to see." Kristen gets excited about all kinds of animals and when she speaks about seeing the turtles in the creeks or dolphins or Painted Buntings, she gets a giddy sound in her voice and her eyes light up. She exudes pure joy.
Kristen relishes solitude to restore her balance and likes to be alone in nature. "I like being around people and teaching, but I'm also pretty shy and introverted, so I like to be out and alone and just hear nature sounds." She bonded with the earth years ago, and those connections have brought her appreciation, wonder and awe that keep her grounded and protective of all life.
How long in the Lowcountry: Kristen, Chris, her husband of seven years, and their beautiful chocolate lab, Lilly, moved here in 2008.
Hidden talent: Has played the flute for 17 years and plays occasionally with the Beaufort orchestra. Lilly loves to howl along with the music.
Future travel wishes: "I have tons of them but Costa Rica and Glacier National Park in Montana are my current choices."
People would be interested to know: Kristen's husband proudly announced after the interview that his wife has had three papers published in science journals.
Favorite atmosphere and lifestyle: On the coast "people are very laid back and I like that. Dressing up is when you wear your best bathing suit cover-up to dinner."