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Taking the First Step

Posted on Jun 3, 2019 in Conservation Voices, WA Wild Blog

By Trina Hahn

Growing up in Western Washington, I was no stranger to coming home with wet feet. Every summer, my family would pack our car with unhealthy snacks and drive to Westport, a small fishing town about two and a half hours from Seattle. As soon as our car would pull in, I would run straight for the beach and my mother would shout after me “Don’t go in the water!” Pretending not to hear her, I’d disappear into the sea grass. Eventually, my parents would catch up to me. My mother would monitor me as I danced with the waves, squealing when one would tiptoe up to my feet. I quickly raced away so I wouldn’t get into trouble. Sometimes, I’d risk my mother’s wrath and jump into a wave just enough to get my feet wet.

Westport, WA. Photo courtesy of Trina Hahn.

My earliest memories of Westport are of pushing every rule my mother made. My dad often added fuel to my troublemaking and would take part encouraging me to know (and often push) my limits. He would take my hand and hold onto it tightly as I walked out to meet a wave and let it crash over my head. Although he would let me play in deeper water, my dad always made sure that I was safe. He taught me to watch the tides and to never turn my back on the ocean.

It is crucial for children to experience nature at a young age. Making connections that are deep and personal with nature impact the way children develop.

We had a small book in the beach cabin which listed the tides, and I would always look forward to low tide every day. When it was time, I would drag my parents down to the beach so I could explore and splash in the tidepools. Being daredevils, my dad and I would build large bridges out of driftwood over the tidepools and climb onto them to watch the tide come in. My mom would bury her toes in the sand as she watched and waited patiently for the tide to shift the driftwood out from under us and collapse into the water. These moments were perfect.

Tidepools, to me, were magical. When I wasn’t splashing around and building bridges, I was exploring and discovering an entirely unknown world. I realized that there were small living creatures trapped in them and I was fascinated. I was so eager to inspect every pool to see what I could find! Until then, I hadn’t realized that sand dollars were alive. I was horrified looking back to all the times I had used white sand dollar skeletons to skip on the water! From that moment on, I was much more conscious of the natural world around me.

Once I exhausted myself playing in the frigid waters of the Pacific, my tired legs would take me up the beach where my mother was laying in the sand. I would stretch out in the sun next to her and watch her weave pieces of beach grass into chains. My mom’s creativity amazes me. I would follow along trying to replicate her technique, always too impatient and frustrated to get it right. Watching my mother weave a grass chain was the first time I realized that sea grass could be used in so many different ways. I didn’t understand why more people weren’t using natural materials. After that, I never stopped trying to be resourceful, even trying to make toys out of twigs and beach grass. The memories I have playing with these unique creations are clearer in my mind and bring me much more joy than any memory with a plastic toy.

My early experiences finding comfort in nature were extremely important in developing a desire to be near water. When I was in elementary school, I had the opportunity to spend my summer kayaking the Puget Sound with Camp Seymour. Camp Seymour was one of my favorite places to be! I had learned so much about the Puget Sound and was mesmerized by the creatures in the estuary surrounding the camp. Excited at the chance to learn even more, I asked my parents to sign me up.

Kayaking Hope Island, Shelton WA. Photo courtesy of Trina Hahn.

Sitting in a kayak felt right. Being in a small boat can be uncomfortable the first time, but it made sense to me. I was ready for the freedom and wonder of experiencing deep water in such a personal way. Exploring the Puget Sound by kayak for the first time was extremely powerful. We paddled from island to island, carrying our tents and sleeping bags with us in our boats. Until then, all previous experience camping had been in comfortable campers with running water. Falling asleep to the gentle sound of the water meeting the shore while tucked into a mildewy sleeping bag opened my eyes of what it meant to connect with nature. Watching jellies float by and seeing miles of water ahead with no concrete in sight stuck with me. Salt water brought me peace. The longer I was on the water, the stronger my desire was to stay there. And now I wasn’t experiencing the water only from the beach.

My early experiences finding comfort in nature were extremely important in developing a desire to be near water.

After I returned from camp, I spent less time thinking about the Puget Sound. My family still spent summers in Westport, and I knew that I found happiness near the ocean, but my kayaking was postponed.

My family always supported science education and encouraged me to take steps to do more. It was through family that I learned about a youth volunteer program at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. This volunteer program was designed to influence local youth, expand their knowledge of animals, and how to make sustainable choices through participation in educating visitors and members of the community. The summers I spent volunteering at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium taught me how to speak up. I became more outgoing and open minded. I wanted to share my knowledge with anyone who would listen. More importantly, I wanted to inspire others to do the same.

Being at the Zoo also brought me back to the Puget Sound. I took an interest in local marine life and above all else, I wanted to expand on what I learned previously. I spent as much time possible learning about the creatures in the touch tanks and local water exhibits. Many volunteers would make their way to Owen Beach to take breaks or explore low tide. Learning from professionals provided a greater hands-on experience with organisms I thought I already knew. I started learning about the devastation that was causing these creatures to waste away. This was when I started to realize more needed to be done to protect the environment and the species we share the planet with us.

I moved to Tacoma from Puyallup to be closer to the Puget Sound. I took a job at Owen Beach to work at a kayak rental and spent my summers on the water. I’ve since completed an internship with a local nonprofit organization in Gig Harbor and I spend every day working towards a better future for the Puget Sound and greater Salish Sea. I wasn’t born with this passion. The feelings I have towards our local waters stemmed from personal connection and education as a child. The experiences I had as a child brought me to where I am in life today. Having a family who prioritized taking me to explore the outdoors as a child was critical in developing me into the person I am.

My passion for the environment started as a child jumping in tidepools. It is crucial for children to experience nature at a young age. Making connections that are deep and personal with nature impact the way children develop. Not once in Westport did I miss watching television. I didn’t miss a cellphone while kayaking at camp. It seems bizarre now to think that a child would prefer the moments spent without technology. Children need to be outdoors. The simple moments exploring our own backyards can make the difference. My experiences led me to a future outside working to protect the environment. My parents taking the time to teach me what was important influenced the rest of my life and I will continue to promote conservation education.

When I was very young, my father taught me to never turn my back on the ocean. A lesson that should be taught to everyone.  

Trina Hahn is a proud Washington State native and grew up in Puyallup, WA. 
She currently works at United Way of Pierce County, but on weekends can be found kayaking the Puget Sound. Trina is a strong advocate for environmental education for youth and promotes stewardship for the Salish Sea.  


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