Last night at the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists Spring Gathering, Howard Clifford was presented with an MVFN Champion for Nature Award. The presentation was made by friend and fellow-MMLT board member Mary Vandenhoff.
“Howard is a founding member of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) and has been for the last five years the President, leading that organization to be one of the acknowledged innovators in the Land Trust movement in Ontario. A friendly and thoughtful man, he is highly respected for his deep understanding of the importance of Nature and his passion for sharing his knowledge of it. The head of one of the largest of the Ontario Land Trusts advised that we “wrap him in bubble wrap” – and MMLT members surely wish they could. You could say that like John Muir before him, he is a worthy Voice of Nature.”
l-r: Cliff Bennett, Howard Clifford, Mary Vandenhoff. Photo by Pauline Donaldson
HOWARD CLIFFORD, CHAMPION FOR NATURE NOMINATION WORDS:
Nature has no greater champion than Howard, long time member of MVFN.
Howard is a founding member of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust and has been for the last five years the President, leading that organization to be one of the acknowledged innovators in the Land Trust movement in Ontario. A friendly and thoughtful man, he is highly respected for his deep understanding of the importance of Nature and his passion for sharing his knowledge of it. The head of one of the largest of the Ontario Land Trusts advised that MMLT “wrap him in bubble wrap” – and MMLT members surely wish they could. You could say that like John Muir before him, he is a worthy Voice of Nature.
Howard and his wife Jean and family own cliffLAND, a 1250 acre special wilderness tract of land in North Lavant. This property was the first property formally put under a conservation easement with the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust, in order to ensure that it remains a wilderness sanctuary in perpetuity. This they have done not only from a personal commitment to and love of nature, but for the benefit of the community, now and in the future. The Clifford’s see wilderness areas in our region as an integral part of a healthy community. In that light, they have generously and strategically ensured that this tract will be accessible to future generations.
cliffLAND is home to Blueberry Mountain, which has been identified as one the Seven Wonders of Lanark County. In the past two years, Howard has annually welcomed and engaged (often accompanied personally) over 1000 local, national and international visitors to the top of the mountain, sharing his love of nature and people and making their visits memorable and educational. It is becoming a popular tourist attraction, and an important natural asset in the county.
Howard works to introduce to the wilds special groups for whom wilderness has restorative and health benefits. He has a particular interest in youth and has hosted, on repeated occasions, groups from the local schools and youth centres. He established the Blueberry Mountain Under 6 and Under 12 clubs to recognize with certificates (and sometimes even cakes) those who have walked to the top of Blueberry Mountain. He has a special knack of making children marvel at and appreciate the natural world around them, and they (over 200) are delighted to be members of these clubs. Special recognition is also provided to those at the other end of the age spectrum. His Over 80 Club now numbers 17, demonstrating that in later years, one can still enjoy the walk and absorb the quiet pleasure of sitting on top of the world in Lanark Highlands.
Howard shares his knowledge and affection of nature through inventive theatrical means. Young and old alike have experienced the world and lives of the great naturalists Grey Owl, Thoreau, or John Muir, as Howard, up on top of Blueberry Mountain emerges from the bush to do moving impersonations of these heroes whose passions Howard shares. So impressive are these performances, he has been invited to perform them in several other locations around Ontario.
One example of forward thinking was Howard’s proposal to utilize new approaches and technologies to better understand our natural heritage. Some scientists in the United States had begun to use audio recorders to capture, identify, and archive natural soundscapes. Others have made recordings of the sounds of certain fauna (bats, whales, certain birds of special interest) in the course their research. Learning about these practices, Howard immediately saw the potential to supplement traditional annual monitoring of conserved lands with sound recordings, helping to track changes in habitat health. There can be changes, not notable visually but clearly evident through the changes in sound, especially with the assistance of special software able to deconstruct the recordings made.
An important educational application of audio recorders and amplifiers is to provide the public with an opportunity to listen to the sounds of nature amplified through headphones. Several “soundscaping” opportunities have amply demonstrated how this enhanced listening experience leads to increased attention to sound, whether the frogs, birds, or the wind in the trees (as binoculars enhance bird watching). Howard’s curiosity and initiative has shown that another world surrounds us, waiting to be appreciated and understood.
Well aware of the scientific evidence now proving what we all feel intuitively, that exposure to wilderness and nature have a healing influence on people, this gentle man is working to contribute to community health and well being through nature appreciation. He has generously shared his appreciation of wilderness with groups of children, young people and adults who have visited Land Trust properties, and helped them to learn about and experience nature. Privately, he has provided reassurance to challenged young people and facilitated peaceful final days for the dying. Publicly, he encourages all to experience and take advantage of the powerful mental and spiritual healing benefits of nature, and he has been pursuing new initiatives, to see if partnerships with community health organizations might broaden the range of beneficiaries.
In all these ways, Howard Clifford is a true Champion of Nature.