Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

I had the opportunity to visit with a couple friends Sunday.

The conversation turned, inevitably, to outdoor pursuits and the environment.

These friends are among the most knowledgeable people I know on a variety of outdoor/environmental subjects. Yet, they shared a common complaint – their own lack of knowledge.

That lament led to a new conversational tangent – how much there is to know, and how little time there is to learn.

Personally, my knowledge of the natural world has increased exponentially over the past generation. Yet, that is more a factor of how little I knew as a young man. I had other priorities – a growing family, golf, softball and an occasional fishing trip.

Like most of us, my priorities have evolved. I hope that field of knowledge remains fertile.

The common denominator in the conversation was the more knowledge we acquire, the more we realize we don’t know.

For instance, while I can identify more bird species today than 5-10 years ago, there is still so much more to learn. For instance, where do the various migrant songbirds winter each year? What is the principal diet of a white-eyed vireo? Where are the mostly likely places in Southern Illinois to see prothonotary warblers?

And, that barely touches the surface.

I love taking nature walks with botanists. My knowledge of trees, flowers and grasses is woefully lacking. There is something inexplicably fulfilling about walking through the woods and being able to identify the trees and wildflowers that make our world unique.

By the same token, learning the names of the plants just creates more questions.

What insect, bird or other critter uses the plant for food or cover? Does the flower bloom in spring, summer or fall? What is the most likely habitat for the plant?

Speaking of insects, that’s an aspect of nature where I’m woefully ignorant. I swat mosquitoes and chase flies away from my food while dining outside, but sadly, that about sums up my expertise.

Yet, the very existence of human beings relies on insects, whether as pollinators, excavators, refuse disposal or being an integral part of the food chain.

If there is one central concern I have about the natural world today, it’s that too few people understand how dependent we are on the delicate balance of nature. I remember a conversation years ago about an obscure critter being on the brink of extinction.

The other person in the conversation was totally apathetic. His argument was the creature in question didn’t directly affect his life, therefore it was unimportant.

That viewpoint is terribly short-sighted. Regrettably, I’ve had the same conversation numerous times since then.

Back to the central premise, there is so much to learn. Fortunately, the hunger for knowledge seems to grow each year.

And, I won’t be deterred by the fact as I learn more it will become increasingly clear that there is so much more to our natural world than meets the eye.

That is a beautiful thing.

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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