By Margie M. Palmer
Mission Valley resident Linda Gallo Hawley may not be a San Diego native, but the New York transplant and lifelong educator can school most San Diegans on the region’s native flora, fauna and even cultural history.
In addition to making her own mark on the culture of the region through her monthly “Nature Adventures!” programs at Mission Trails Regional Park, where she guides primary school children through the park’s many trails, she’s also the proud author of a recently published, child-centric guidebook by the same name.
“Nature Adventures!,” the book, Hawley said, is one that children of all ages can enjoy; it includes facts about the habitats and wildlife of this region and features animals big and small from spiders to shrews, bats to big cats, and even smelly skunks.
“When I moved to San Diego in 2001, I knew nothing about the plants in my backyard and I wanted to learn about them,” she said. “I signed up to be a volunteer trail guide because to me, it sounded like a wonderful way to learn about the flora and fauna and animals of San Diego.”
Hawley admits she was quick to fall in love with the experience.
“After I completed the trail guide training, I immediately signed up for most of the children’s tours. I’m an elementary teacher by training and it was easy to love taking children out on the trails.”
She eventually began working with a program geared toward preschoolers, called Ant-Sized Adventures. Hawley said there was so much interest in the preschool program that she decided to write a curriculum.
It was so successful, she said, that the volunteer work eventually turned into a paid position.
“I changed the name of the program from Ant-Sized Adventures to Nature Adventures! and I sketched a rough copy of a [guide] book and took it to Kinkos to make copies. The parents and kids loved it so much that the parents kept asking when I was going to make it available [for sale],” Hawley said.
In 2015, she decided to take a two-year hiatus to finish the self-published rough draft in hopes of signing with a publisher.
Hawley eventually signed on with El Cajon-based Sunbelt Publications, which works with authors who write books that celebrate California and Baja Mexico through natural science, outdoor guides, cultural histories, and regional references.
“Sunbelt encompassed everything that my book was about,” she said. “After I approached them, they took a look at it and said yes.”
Sunbelt Publications has been publishing outdoor guidebooks and books that celebrate the natural and cultural histories of the Californias and southwest deserts since 1984.
“When the opportunity arose to publish a book using songs to engage young children and educate them about the natural world, we were thrilled, especially because it was coming from a writer so dedicated to teaching youth outdoor appreciation,” said Sunbelt marketing coordinator Kara Murphy. “Linda has a gift for drawing children in to the topics she teaches about.”
In 2016, Sunbelt released “Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors,” which Murphy said introduced adults to San Diego’s natural wonders.
“And now we’re happy to do the same for children. Few San Diegans are aware that they live in a region recognized as one of the most biodiverse in the world, and we’re happy to help spread the word.”
Nature Adventures! went into print in April of this year; it’s currently available for purchase for $12.95 at Mission Trails Park, the Torrey Pines State Reserve and Amazon.com.
“What’s nice about the book is that each page gives information about a specific animal or topic. It has illustrations, which were drawn by another tour guide, of the animal and their tracks so children can identify them on the hikes,” Hawley said. “On the facing page is a song I wrote about the animal. All my songs are set to nursery rhymes, so you get the animal facts, a black-and-white drawing of the animal, their tracks and their scat and a song about the animal. It gives children factual information in a fun way.”
And since the drawings are done in black and white, children can color the artwork themselves.
“It’s an encompassing book. It’s a wonderful guidebook for teachers who want to teach about San Diego’s animals, flora and fauna. It’s something for everyone,” Hawley said.
Those who are interested in signing their children up for one of Hawley’s hikes are in luck — she will resume teaching a monthly, two-hour class at Mission Trails Park later this year. The program will run from September through May; the hikes will take place on Tuesday mornings between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and will include a lesson, an easy trail walk and a take-home craft.
Class size is limited, she said. Those who are interested in registering can access registration forms at bit.ly/2sGC7oo. Children must be accompanied by an adult; with advance registration and pre-payment the cost per class for ages 4 and up is $10 per child or $80 for all nine classes.
“I love working with children and the reason I created this program is because there is no other like it in San Diego.” Hawley said. “I’m grandma age but I’m not a grandma yet, so the children are my grandma fix. They’re the reason why I wrote this book.”
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of publications for over a decade. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.