I first met Kimberlee Leroux on a rare, rainy day on the beautiful Central Coast of California. We had both enrolled in a weeklong intensive course known as the California Naturalist Program.
After dinner on the first night, all of the students, assorted ages and backgrounds, crowded around for introductions. As the circle made it’s way around, people had expressed interest in this training for a variety of reasons, yet each person seemed equally vehement about nature and it’s explorations. Kimberlee, a mom with a degree in Sports Medicine, stated in a quiet demeanor that she was passionate about Monarch Butterflies and the protection and return of Gray Wolves to California. She concluded her verbal foreword with her reasoning for being here – to learn more about the natural world in that she might better educate her 11 year-old Genevieve. Walking away from the circle that night, little did I know how big of an impact Mrs. Leroux and her daughter, who I came to know as “G,” would have on me.
Throughout the short span of the training, I had the privilege of engaging Kimberlee in several enlightening conversations. I learned that she was a volunteer for the California Wolf Project and firmly believed in science informed management decisions to monitor and safeguard these keystone predators.
We talked extensively about science and technology and how it might be best implemented to engage the next generation of environmental stewards. She told me how she shares her passion for birds and raptors with her daughter’s class and how the kids are beyond excited when they find inhabited nests through her spotting scope. In talking with her later about why she was interested in nature based volunteering and citizen science, she says, “In part, I feel it is important for everyone of us to champion some cause that has the potential to make this planet we call home better than we found it.”
Coasting down highway 101, she showed me on her phone how to submit a Monarch Butterfly sighting that we had seen briefly off the freeway. Researchers use this data to track the butterfly population numbers and migration routes. Kimberlee’s enthusiasm for these black and orange beauties is as admirable as the efforts she has gone to provide them good habitat. Alongside her daughter G, they transformed their backyard garden into a Certified Wildlife Habitat sanctioned by the National Wildlife Federation. This project stemmed from G’s Roots and Shoots project (an initiative of the Jane Goodall Institute). During their two year endeavor, Genevieve germinated native milkweed from seed, grew it until it was a good size for replanting, then gave it all away to friends and family interested in helping the Monarch Butterfly increase west coast migration numbers. This mother-daughter duo was so successful in this endeavor that their backyard garden became part of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Monarch Alert Research Program. Under the guidance of Dr. Francis Xavier Villablanca, G and Kimberlee tag and collect data on butterflies, chrysalis and caterpillars that visit and/or live in their backyard pollinator garden. In asking G what she had discovered through her investigations she told me that watching a caterpillar change into a chrysalis was one of the most amazing things she had ever seen and that her little backyard garden could do big things to help the Monarch Butterfly.
In a word, I was inspired. Inspired by Genevieve’s passion and understanding at such a young age and inspired by Kimberlee’s dedication to fostering her daughter’s interest in science and the natural world. Over the course of the week, Kimberlee continued to show me various texts she had received from G, one wishing that she was at the course with us, a picture of the newly acquired specimens of her rock collection, another updating her mother on the progress of her butterflies.
Kimberlee later conveyed to me something I will never forget, “I wanted to teach my daughter that science is all around us and if we pay close attention, it has the ability to amaze, inspire, and add beauty to our lives. From that point on I have done my best to share my own curiosity and wonderment of nature with her, and then sit back and watch her make her own discoveries…My goal is for her is to have a clear understanding that she is connected to everything and everything is connected to her. Science is what provides us all with the answers as to how this actually happens and how our individual actions play a role in what that information will tell us. I am raising a free thinker and I want my daughter to understand that science provides us with answers. We just need to ask the right questions.”