Ringtail and Girl Scout Story

A girl holding a tree cookie with a ringtail drawn on it.

When you think a child is not listening they are. When you think kids are not paying attention that is when you will be in the shock of a lifetime like I was recently.

I was telling the story of the ringtail. Little did I know this one girl hung onto the words as I shared about the ringtail.

From the inception of my research at 3RF Jeff always said he’d seen ringtail cats. He would be driving down the Farm to Market road either from the campus or to the campus and he was emphatically certain a ringtail crossed the road in front of him. Deep down with every single camera trap, I set I was wanting to prove that ringtails actually existed in Foard County. None of the 600,000 plus camera trap images ever proved their existence. Not one. Disappointment reigned over that non-discovery.

In sharing this story with the Wichita Falls regional Girl Scouts earlier in November, I was holding my stuffed ringtail cat that a dear friend, Emily gave to me as a gift during a trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico. She presented the cat to me during a splendid pasta dinner.

Pasta dinner aside, there is a bigger background story behind this gift.

It started one December night when my friend, Melany and I were leaving Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Driving with caution we were approaching a bridge and about to cross it when I saw the ringtail at the end of the bridge and it scampered across the road in front of the Jeeps headlights. I screamed bloody murder scaring the s*^t out of Melany. Then it happened again at almost the same spot in a different month. With me screaming again.

Why the screams? It is so rare to see ringtails in the wild. So seeing one is like the rarest opportunity where you’ve been blessed by the nature Gods.

The ringtail cat story became super special because of shared screams of excitement and scaring the holy hell out of my friend more than once. The stories of screams were shared more than once with Emily and others. That’s when my stuffed ringtail became a teaching tool.  

In trying something new to help these Girl Scouts start seeing that stuffed animals represent real creatures I had the girls try to identify what the stuffed animals ate to survive.

After this lesson was over I gave the girls a tree cookie activity. I told them they could draw anything on their cookies that they liked. This one girl drew the ringtail. It brought tears to my eyes for many reasons.

A mixture of everything in meaning – seeing this drawn ringtail on a tree cookie.

She was listening and it represented the last time I would teach at the campus.

Most of all it meant the world to me that she was listening to me. She paid attention to the story about how cool ringtails are and how rare they are to see in the wild. At that moment I made a difference and that is what outdoor education is all about.