Diary of a naturalist, Helena Arroyo

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These days of spring, I’ve been going to work at the Botanical Garden by bicycle and as a result; it gave me enough time to think about what I would write about next.

I was thinking about how my lifelong dream was to be a biologist and how, in the end, due to academic issues, I ended up studying environmental geography, which was similar but not exactly the same. But in reality, more importantly than any degree, I think that my true dream was to be able to be considered a naturalist. And that’s my reflection of the day: Am I a naturalist?

Many people get confused when I say that I work as a naturalist, they think I’m a naturist; that I take walks naked on beaches… no, that’s not it! Being a naturalist is to dedicate oneself to nature, have knowledge on a little bit of everything, and spend hours in a camp, in the mountains, at the beach…

And I’ve done all that… the fact that I’ve always been living in a city, be it Córdoba or Montreal, never have I missed the chance to spend some time at the camp, whether it was one-day trips or for several months.

I was known to always be ready to go on a little trip. My friends would just start saying: “Let’s go to…” that I would immediately answer “Yes!”.

To me, being a naturalist is knowing a little bit of everything, being able to differentiate animals, whether in nature or on pictures, and being able to answer questions from visitors in different places where I’ve been working as a guide. And to be able to do that, I also have to stay updated on the latest news and events in the world in general and the environmental world as well.

Since 2005, I’ve been working in Montreal as an environmental guide, a work very suitable for me and that has allowed me to expand my knowledge on a large number of subjects and meet a lot of people. Since I’m quite restless, I’ve changed physical location several times, without losing sight of my main goal, which has always been environmental education.

I started working at the Tohu and the environmental complex of Saint-Michel.

My work consisted in explaining the process of recycling materials and waste management, in addition to explaining what is environmental architecture and how a landfill is turned into a park. All that was done is French and English, when I just started feeling comfortable talking in those two languages.

When I turned into nearly an expert into those subjects in 2007, I wanted to look for a change and I was lucky to start working for the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals founded by people from Tadoussac, in Quebec. That region is the best places in the world to see whales. I worked as a guide all summer of that year, one of the best I’ve had.

In the afternoons, after work, I would still read about the whales while sitting on the rocks on the coast of the St-Lawrence River as I watched the belugas and the minke whales that were coming closer. As the season passed and the others naturalists were going back to the city, I was also asked to be a guide on the whale-watching boats. And so, I was seeing them every day, including humpback whales and fin whales that I was able see from the boat.

After that experience, during the year 2008, I started working at my current location, the natural museums, called today “Space for Life”: the Montreal Biodome, the Montreal Botanical Garden and the Montreal Insectarium, all located close to my home in Montreal. Here I continued to learn a lot, and improve my skills as a scientific guide.

In a sense, this job was meant for me, since I was a little girl and was myself a visitor in museums and zoos, I’ve always devoted myself to explaining to people what they were seeing.

I remember my friend Carina telling me in 1992 that I should become a guide! And in fact, the first time in my life that I got paid for a job was when I was a guide at the Dique la Quebrada Park en Córdoba.

Being and naturalist is also being ready to work on the field, whether I was lending a hand to searchers or taking care of living creatures from all species.

And I was not only doing that in my country but also in many of the countries I visited. Surely those experiences will have their place in my stories.

Am I a naturalist? I don’t know if I can even deserve the title that so many people I admire carry: writers, travelers, researchers, conservationists… but one thing I know is that every day and in every possible way, I do work to deserve that title.

Author: Helena Arroyo

Translation: Noëlla Moussa 

Amelie Delobel

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