New Year: Top 10 Things I Learned about Nature in 2014

Candice Gaukel Andrews December 30, 2014 20

As I watched the sunset in Greenland, I realized we all require wilderness, whether that’s a place on a map or a region of the mind. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

The year 2014 is now in its final hours.Traditionally, during these last, waning days, we look back on what kind of year we just had, what we accomplished and what we could have done better.

If this type of annual reflection is stereotypical, it seems to me it is and always will be a valuable exercise. There is a certain peace and a comforting closure that comes from enumerating the things we’ve learned over the past 365 days and how we’ve grown from that knowledge in spirit and soul.

So, here’s my list of the top 10 things I learned in 2014 and will carry forward with me as we move into the New Year:

Just when you think there is nothing more we could possibly document about the lives of animals, we find something astounding. ©Nicole Hickey

1) There’s still a lot we don’t know about nature. Just when you think we have camera-trapped, radio-collared and GPS-followed every species of wildlife until there is nothing more we could possibly document about their lives, we find that nature still holds astounding surprises.

So, we should be careful to treasure and protect what we have since…

2) Some losses are forever. We are losing plants and animals at a staggering rate. But they are not the only things we’ve lost. Some places, through our lack of guardianship, have disappeared altogether. Therefore…

3) We should be thoughtful when speaking about “the others” with whom we share this world; it’s a future indicator for how they will be treated. Wolves are often described as “vicious” and “ravenous,” and stories such as Peter and the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood perpetuate that myth. Yet, children hear tales about cute and cuddly Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear and Little Bear every night.

However, from 1900 to 1980 in North America, black bears caused 23 human fatalities, yet only two human deaths on the continent have been attributed to wolves in the past 100-plus years. Statistically, our dogs are far more dangerous than wolves: dogs kill about 30 Americans each year. And while we’ve never attempted to eradicate all bears from the country, we have once eradicated and still have campaigns to wipe out Canis lupus. Our choices of words have consequences for animals.

The words we put in animals’ mouths can also have consequences for us, as evidenced by the fact that…

When speaking about “the others,” we should be kind and choose our words carefully.

4) Our future forests could be treeless. Recent fires in our forests and in our national parks are a lot different from those of the past. These sprawling, raging infernos have been blamed on two factors: Smokey Bear and climate change.

While Smokey is a good bear who may have said one bad thing…

5) There are some really bad guys out there. Wildlife poaching isn’t the only form of illegal take that there is. Some of the most deadly attacks are made on coastal redwoods.

The good news, though, is that…

6) People can change. In April 2014, Ohio Congressman Pat Tiberi, who is listed among the climate change deniers in Congress, met with the Chasing Ice team to talk about climate change science. It’s a start.

That gives me hope that others will see that…

7) Wilderness has meaning. Whether for you wilderness is a tonic, a place of solace, a blank spot on the map or a region of the mind, it is certain that we all require wilderness.

While such places themselves are important, sometimes…

8) The journey “there” can be just as significant as the destination. From a long, slow train ride to an overpass for antelope, the means of travel not only can transport us but transform us at the same time.

On your next trip, challenge yourself. Try going someplace cold. ©Eric Rock

When you reshape yourself, you then need to rethink your typical style of travel and…

9) Look for ways to challenge yourself. When you let go of your preconceived notions of what a certain experience is going to be like and try a different kind of trip, you just might fire up a passion you never thought you had.

Then, prepare to be awed, because…

10) Nature-travel can truly change your life. Travel has a way of affecting our lives in profound ways that are far more subtle and long-lasting than we often initially realize.

What did you discover in 2014? Let me know in the comments section, below.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats in 2015,



  1. Abhilasha Trivedi February 8, 2015 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Dear Candice,
    How do you manage to draw your readers into the thinking-pool after reading your blogs? I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog and more so, I’m planning to borrow some of these profound thoughts of yours and start planting them in me for a brighter and greener future!

  2. Melania Padilla January 14, 2015 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    Love this post, thank you Candice

  3. Sheryn Pitman (Ph.D) January 12, 2015 at 6:52 am - Reply

    This is a particularly interesting topic to me – I have recently completed a PhD in Ecological Literacy, looking at how much do we know about nature, and who is it that knows? Every day each of us makes countless decisions that affect the natural world, and yet in our increasingly urbanised societies it is possible that we are also more disconnected from the workings of nature than ever before. For a community to make informed decisions about how to manage land and water, where and how to develop, what to protect etc, we need informed citizens, leaders and governments. We really need whole communities to know and understand nature if we are to achieve a sustainable future.

  4. Don Hansen January 4, 2015 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    Hello…. Found your list to be interesting. Curious about #4?

    What did Smokey say?? Where and when was it said?

  5. Maureen Kershaw January 3, 2015 at 9:40 am - Reply

    Very interesting list although I suspect that some items on your list are what others can learn – items that you have long known. Many are “truisms” that we need to keep close to remind us that nature will always be more complex than we will ever fully understand (and the human mind as well), that we should always be thoughtful and precautionary in our interactions with nature as we build a world that supports both humans and wildlife, that a portion of society will be looking for a short-cut, a fast dollar that may cause harm (and others may procrastinate or pontificate so long and not contribute thus causing harm through neglect) , and that life as a journey is always more significant than the destination.
    thanks for your great summary of thoughts for 2014

  6. Jalil S.M. January 3, 2015 at 9:40 am - Reply

    It is good to see you are a great lover of nature. Your profession is noble. Time is running out to save help the nature. There is global warming, deforstation, sea level rise, climate change and global warning. The man kind is in agony! Ignorance to the nature by mankind led us to this adverse situation of today. Let us all togather including our leader, lover of nature CGA put all our efforts to salvage the loss, repair the damage of our part and parcel the nature, the mother nature.

  7. Eusebio Manuel Pecurto January 3, 2015 at 9:29 am - Reply

    awaraness about the wild, natural world helps improve confidence, socialization of people

  8. Mary Martin Weyand January 3, 2015 at 9:26 am - Reply

    As always, thank you Candice for your leadership. Without the gifts of nature, I’m sure our daily inspiration would shrivel to something dank and dark. Whether the coyote’s call in nearby hills, or the sight of grazing grizzly in Denali, I live in awe and pray that all creatures large and small thrive.

  9. Diann Sheldon January 2, 2015 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Enjoyed your year-end article Candy. I would say my greatest discovery of 2014 is that Nature is multilingual and there is no substitute for “WOW”. I am blessed to be able to share one of our beautiful National Parks with folks from all around the World. To experience Nature through their eyes and joy is life-changing.

    Happy exploring ~

  10. Antonio Rico January 2, 2015 at 6:58 am - Reply

    A great struggle is to find, justifications or arguments to keep what we have: is an economic issue, moral, scientific ??? and also ensure that this becomes operational. The role of private enterprise owns land reserves, containing important biodiversity hotspots is decisive … there is a strong private conservation movement already mentioned, but that is not yet rooted …. COP 21 must be crucial to ensure that the private operator and the indigenous, are key to promote sustainable conservation ..

  11. Roy Sinclair January 2, 2015 at 6:54 am - Reply

    Nature, even when preserved in a so-called protected National Park is not safe from developers who want to mine it or dig it up for short-term profits and, ultimately, desecration.
    Nature in New Zealand is a precarious commodity.

  12. Len Rosen January 2, 2015 at 6:52 am - Reply

    I enjoyed reading your 10 things learned in 2014. I continue to wonder how we selectively choose which animals we think deserve extinction – culling of wolves, the systematic decimation of shark populations (post-Jaws), the continued scientific harvesting of whales by the Japanese (amazing how much of that science ends up on dinner plates in Japan), and of course the ongoing clear cutting and burning of forests. We are poor stewards of this planet.

  13. David Richards January 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm - Reply

    Research Ecologist/Photographer

    I learned that it is all magic. All a miracle, however, not in the organized religious interpretation. From the Higgs Boson Field and for better or worse to the 4 billion years of life’s evolution and the so called pinnacle of species evolution, humans. All life, every last species, and all of nature and the entire universe for that matter could have easily not happened. Almost a flip of the coin: existence/no existence. Magic/miracle both.

  14. Richard H. Stafursky December 31, 2014 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    In 2014 the biggest thing we learned about nature is that AUHM (animals under human management) has been destroying nature right under our noses. I recommend “Cowspiracy” the film which says that there are some really bad guys and gals out there. The good news is that world UN agriculturists are now looking for more ways to grow food for people and not animals. In 2015 more ethical conservationists will look to this vegan food. Vegans are the most respectful of the Rights of Nature and in 2015. “Orangutan in Argentina zoo recognized by court as ‘non-human person'” announces a new dawn in nature conservation ethics.

  15. louise seager December 30, 2014 at 10:19 am - Reply


  16. Phillip Tureck - FRGS December 30, 2014 at 8:46 am - Reply

    A wonderful round up Candice for 2014, I have more than ever championed causes actively, direct and indirect and for 2015 my challenge is to reach new achievable places and support of good causes.

    If there was a one stand out in all that I have seen this year in wildlife it was to be with a mother puma and her 3 cubs at a week old in their enclosure and share the start of their new life in a changing world. Then to be with them again a few weeks later as we let them out into the big wide world for the very first time.

    Most inspired place visited in 2014, a tough call but it must be Machu Pichu, followed by the snow capped mountains in Altipiano, Chile. Most fun place, Nashville and interesting place, the Kremlin, Moscow.

    My best wishes to all wildlife enthusiasts, conservationists and most of all people who want like me to ‘make a difference’

    2015, Yellowstone in winter starts the year.

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews December 30, 2014 at 8:49 am - Reply

      Thanks, Phillip. I really appreciate and like your goal! Your experience with the mother puma and her cubs must have been amazing. I know you will love Yellowstone in winter. I’m dreaming of going back next winter. It gets to be addictive. —C.G.A.

  17. Janet Sitas December 30, 2014 at 5:45 am - Reply

    In 2014 I saw first hand how Alaska brown bears can exist with humans in their presence. My Katmai NatHab trip was amazing. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be able to be so close to these giants. Each species showing respect for the other’s space. Wow!

    • Candice Gaukel Andrews December 30, 2014 at 8:27 am - Reply


      That sounds like an absolutely life-changing travel experience. I hope to follow in your steps one day and go on that trip myself. Thanks for letting us know what that was like! —C.G.A.

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