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Ellen Greenblatt: What Happens at Point Reyes Stays at Point Reyes

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The best teachers are lifelong students. Ellen Greenblatt brings us this Perspective.

As I saw the young man hiking towards me, I immediately noticed (how could I miss it?) a huge, perfect whale vertebra strapped to his backpack.

In my volunteer job as a Trail Rover at Point Reyes National Seashore, I rarely encounter an unhappy hiker; he was no exception. Thrilled with his whalebone, he said, “I am a science teacher and I want to teach my students about the carbon cycle.”

Most of the people I interact with as a Trail Rover also share their excitement or ask my help in identifying a flower or animal. I offer maps and carry naturalist guidebooks along with a radio and first aid kit. The patches on my shirt and cap clearly identify me as a Park volunteer.


I had learned from professional National Park Service Park Rangers, and I began to engage the vertebra-carrying visitor.

“Aha,” I said, “so great you are teaching your students about the carbon cycle. But that’s why we need to leave the skeleton where it is! Anyway, in a national park,” I added gently, “visitors are not permitted to remove anything. You know the old saying, ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.’”

“Why not bring your students to the Seashore to see the vertebra –the whole skeleton—in its natural state?”

Surprised and contrite, he promised not to remove the vertebra from the park. And at the end of the day, I was delighted to discover that he had, as I had requested, left the vertebra with the Rangers at the Visitors Center.

In a spectacular sequel, another Trail Rover volunteer carried the vertebra back to the beach where it belonged, allowing it to continue to be part of the carbon cycle.

So what happened at Point Reyes—a whale died and decomposed on the beach—stayed at Point Reyes, just where it belonged. But the learning and good will of the visitor who returned what he clearly saw as a treasure—spread far beyond.

With a Perspective, I am Ellen Greenblatt.

Ellen Greenblatt is a Bay Area college advisor and writing coach and Point Reyes National Seashore volunteer.

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