Your Stories: Stephen Lyn Bales

4:42 PM, May 8, 2013   |    comments
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  • The phrase "he is one with nature" truly applies for one local man. He is always outside. He writes about the outdoors and there are few things that make him happier than a singing bird.

    Frogs, trees, insects, budding flowers, birds, it is springtime in East Tennessee and in the middle of it all is Stephen Lyn Bales.

    "I love this time of year. It's just like wow, it's all alive again," says Bales.

    Stephen Lyn grew up in the Smokies, literally smack dab in the middle of the park.

    "That's the warmest memory is growing up in that beautiful national park there and being able to explore any time I want to," says Bales. "Around the foot of Mt. LeConte there's two log cabins that are maintained by the park and one of the first you encounter is the Jim Bales cabin and that would be great-grandfather."

    The other cabin belonged to his great-great uncle.

    "I'm rooted deep into the Smoky Mountains. I am a hillbilly, they do require I wear shoes when I come in to work, but that's the first thing I take off," says Bales.

    He moved to the city when he graduated college for work, but he longed for his home.

    "I clearly remember being so homesick for the mountains that every weekend, as soon as Friday afternoon arrived, would throw camping gear into the back of the car and go back," says Bales.

    It wasn't until he discovered Ijams Nature Center that he felt whole again.

    "Back then I was just visiting Ijams when Ijams was just 20 acres and would come here after a long day of work and just come here and just chill out on the trails," says Bales.

    Then he started volunteering his time and sharing his nature knowledge.

    "I used to volunteer practically every Saturday for a couple of hours and would lead walks and talks about birds and wildflowers or whatever," says Bales.

    Finally, 13 years ago he became a full time educator and is now a senior naturalist.

    "Some days you'll find me sitting with a group of kindergarten kids all around me around a pond and we're looking for tadpoles and frog eggs and I love that," says Bales. "Or if I'm leading a group of adults like yesterday morning in the rain looking for birds down a long the river trail."

    He also likes to get out on the water and canoe and lead tours through the quarries on Ijams land.

    "When I first discovered Ijams it was 20 acres, the home site where H.P. and Alice Ijams bought the first 20 acres in 1910. They raised their four daughters and essentially raised them outside," says Bales.

    It's now 300 acres and it's Stephen Lyn's playground.

    "To get to be outside and get paid for it, that's just amazing," says Bales.

    He is an expert on the outdoors. Over time, he's written a nature blog, he wrote more than 500 columns, The neighborhood Naturalist, for the Farragut Press.

    And of course he's written books, too.

    "I really became interested in books when I was about eight or nine years old and living in Gatlinburg and my mother Mary Helen set up a bird feeder," says Bales. "In time I was lucky enough to write two books for UT Press. The first one is called Natural Histories and the second one is called Ghost Birds.

    Its wasn't easy and he's already working on his third.

    "It's like putting together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle except the pieces don't come in a box," says Bales.

    No, they don't. Those pieces are beautiful wide open spaces.

    "That's the one beauty of the Great Smokies is the lush green," says Bales.

    And it's right where Stephen Lyn belongs.

    "It's absolutely beautiful. I mean look at this today! This is such a prefect day to be outside," says Bales.

    One of Your Stories. There's no place like this one.

    Info on Stephen Lyn Bales workshops:

    Saturday, May 11, 9 a.m.

    Morning Canoe Cruise: Enjoy the delightful spring air as you explore Mead's Quarry Lake with storyteller and naturalist, Stephen Lyn Bales. Intertwined with the sounds of today's wildlife are the distant echoes of industry past. Although human activity resulted in formation of the lake, there is abundant wildlife that makes this water their home today. The fee for this program is $15 per person for members and $17.50 per person for non-members. Pre-registration is required; please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 119 to register.

    Saturday, May 11, 2 p.m.

    Nature Writing and Journaling Workshop(Recommended for Adults) Itching to write? Join Ijams senior naturalist, Stephen Lyn Bales - author of two books: Natural Histories and Ghost Birds published by UT Press - for this fun nature-writing workshop. To loosen the creative juices, activities will take place outside at various thought-provoking locations around the 300-acre park. The "Perils of Publishing" will also be discussed. Bring a notebook and your favorite writing implement. The fee for this program is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. Please call (865) 577-4717, ext. 110 to register.


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