By Cindy Hardin, Director of Outdoor Education


May 1972, Cindy Rosene Hardin with brother Mike, Crystal Cove State Park

I like to think of myself as a California Girl. However, like many of our state’s residents, I too am a transplant from another place. In 1967, when I was five years old, our family re-located to Huntington Beach from St. Paul, Minnesota. My early childhood in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” had a profound impact on my world view and relationship with wild places. In actuality, there are 11,842 lakes in Minnesota. Open space and rivers, ponds and freshwater wetlands are everywhere, and often abut or are contained within city limits, including the St. Paul/Minneapolis metropolitan area. Our home was on a half acre lot, and the back property line was delineated by a thick stand of woods. The centerpiece of these woods was a pond, and our cul-de-sac terminated at a lake. The house was a ten-minute drive from the heart of downtown St. Paul.
The neighborhood was a child’s paradise. None of the homes were fenced, and we kids were welcome to roam through all of the neighbor’s yards in the course of our daily activities and missions. Not surprisingly, two of our favored destinations were the pond and the lake, and the adults in our lives were frequently pestered to take us to these spots. My younger brother, Mike, and I, were always exploring the woods and its wonders. Summertime meant looking for blackberries and pollywogs. Fall saw great movements of yellow spotted salamanders, searching for warm places to burrow near our basement as they waited out the winter. As the days grew colder and shorter, the lake would ice over, and ice-skating would replace swimming. The Spring thaw would find us poking sticks into the muddy shore, trying to wake up the worms and other invertebrates that had spent the winter in a subterranean hunker down. The backyard bird feeder was kept full, and suet was put out in the colder months for Cardinals, Blue Jays and Nuthatches and other year-round avian residents. My mother and I would spend many winter mornings at our kitchen table, watching these birds flock to the feeder, showing up brilliant red and blue against the snow. When the family would leave town for our annual January sojourns to warmer climes, my father would be sure to have a neighbor replenish the feeder and the hanging suet. “They come to depend upon this” my dad would say. “We want them to have an easy winter”. By the time I was five I was able to identify twelve species of birds!
Our move to California was couched with tales of warm sunny winters and easy access to Disneyland. Although this was accurate, Mike and I were not prepared for the brand new subdivision where our parents had purchased a home. If there were any trees at all, they were puny Oleanders plunked down in the parking strips between sidewalk and street. The yards were considerably smaller, and strangest of all (to us) was the fact that each home was surrounded by fences on all sides. We were hemmed in. The spontaneous interaction we enjoyed in Minnesota as we found other neighborhood playmates in the connected backyards was no longer an option. Worse, there was no nearby natural attractant like a lake or a pond where other kids might be found. We learned to ring doorbells and ask if someone could come out to play, or wait patiently for one of the neighbors with a pool to invite us over for an afternoon swim. My parents did make commendable efforts to get us outside. There were many days spent at the beach, trips to the tidepools in Laguna, afternoon surf-fishing expeditions with my father, and evening hibachi cook-outs at what is now Crystal Cove State Park. The catch was that all of these excursions required cooperation and transportation provided by adults, meaning that all nature time was not at our whim and was supervised.
A few years later, freedom arrived in the form of two Schwinn Stingray bicycles. Equipped with two wheeled, independent transportation, my brother and I were now able to roam further afield, and on our own. To our delight, we could now get across the main road that led into our neighborhood and access a vast tract of nearby open land. At the time there were big plans for this parcel. Developers wanted to create a boat marina and build large homes on the site. Mike and I were oblivious to these plans; to us it was merely open fields and mesas, bordered on the west side with a marsh and then the ocean. This land was eventually to become the ecological reserve known as the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. We spent many afternoons exploring this place, looking for lizards, jumping our bikes off of hills and gazing at the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
A few years later the ocean became our favored hangout. My brother started surfing, and we could both be found at the beach whenever we had a free moment. If the waves were not suitable for surfing and bodysurfing, we were digging sandcrabs for bait to use for surf fishing. When the Santa Ana winds hit in the fall, we would hustle out of school and head directly to the beach to enjoy the warm afternoons and the offshore breezes. The outdoors and nature were an almost daily part of our routines.
The outdoors continues to be a constant factor in both our lives. My work for Los Angeles Audubon include overseeing two outdoor education programs, one at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, and the other at the Ballona Wetlands. I spend a lot of my free time swimming in the ocean or visiting nature spots, including my old stomping grounds, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. My brother, who now lives in San Francisco, continues to surf, fish from shore and from his kayak, free dive for abalone, and forage for wild mushrooms in the winter months. I have no doubt that our early and frequent forays into nature had a huge impact on our interest and understanding of the natural world.
As you know, some of the children that live in the Los Angeles area are not as lucky as we were when it comes to access to outdoor space. Many live in the urban core, with little green space, and few nearby parks. Los Angeles Audubon’s various education programs are an attempt to remedy this situation for these youngsters. Each year over 4,000 elementary and middle school students participate in field trips at Ballona and Kenneth Hahn. For some of these students, it is one of the few times they have the chance to experience nature first-hand. Each program is primarily staffed by volunteer docents and college interns. Docent training for Ballona will commence on September 10th, and we will begin training at Kenneth Hahn on October 2nd . We are always looking for new volunteers, and welcome anyone who has a love of nature and the willingness to share this enthusiasm with the young people of Los Angeles. If you are interested in helping out, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or give me a call at (310) 301-0050.
Oh, and that pond and lake in beautiful Minnesota that started it all: they are now federally protected wetlands! So wetlands have been a huge part of my entire life, including my current professional situation. Let’s work together to inspire the future nature lovers right here in Los Angeles.

“My brother, Mike Rosene, enjoying the great outdoors, for 50 plus years. This Halibut was caught just off Crissy Field in San Francisco”.

“My brother, Mike Rosene, enjoying the great outdoors, for 50 plus years. This Halibut was caught just off Crissy Field in San Francisco”.

Published Western Tanager Vol. 82 No. 1 Sep/Oct 2015