By Martie Thompson
It’s really no surprise that AyoLane Halusky is a St. Johns County Naturalist; his parents were both people in the natural world. His father, Joe Halusky, was a Marine Extension Agent for IFAS/UF and his mother, Marilyn, was a Duval County Extension Agent for 4-H. The family was always out in nature. Halusky grew up in Fruit Cove and attended Julington Creek Elementary for kindergarten through sixth grade and then Nease for seventh through 12th grade. He graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a bachelor of fine arts degree specializing in metalsmithing. He said his personal mission is to build kinship with the Earth, which motivates deep connection with the local environment, sensitizing people to take on an active role in creating positive life journeys and communities. He is single and lives in Elkton.
Q: What did you do after you graduated from college?
A: I travelled all around the United States working with kids in trouble with the law as part of a reality therapy program that involved taking the kids out into the wilderness for 31 days. It was not behavior modification, but rather helping kids find and redirect themselves and set their own goals. I did this for seven or eight years as far north as Pennsylvania and as far west as Colorado. Eventually I moved back to Florida to work for the University of North Florida, where I recreated their eco-adventure program and wildlife sanctuary. This included designing and training staff for the Osprey Challenge Course, a high ropes course.
Q: How did you come to be a St. Johns County Naturalist?
A: Our family friend, Beverly Fleming, told me about the county naturalist position and since she knew me since I was very young, she was sure I would be a good fit. She recommended me for the position. I interviewed and got the job in 2013.
Q: What do you like best about being a naturalist?
A: I feel like my duty is to reconnect people to the outside world. My “secret agenda” is to provide the opportunity for people to have emotionally charged, positive experiences in nature so they have a heart anchor for the experience that connects them to nature. I lean towards “kinship” versus “stewardship” when talking about the natural environment and I feel like we need to be in a relationship with our natural world.
Q: Is there a St. Johns County Parks and Rec program that is of particular interest to you?
A: I’ve started a new multi-part program called “904 Naturalist” for the department, which balances the left and right brain as it pertains to nature. When you think about it, most of nature and what is taught in naturalist classes is memorization and science (right brain). I think the arts need to be added (left brain.) For instance, famed naturalist William Bartram was emotionally connected to the environment. He was an artist and a poet. Attendees in the 904 Naturalist program will keep a handwritten journal and go out in nature and sit and watch and listen and experience. The purpose is to be outside. Participants will have work to do on their own, too — both experientially and research.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: It’s hard for me to separate my mission on this earth and my life. I enjoy building kinship with the earth and helping others wake up their senses. So that’s what I do all the time. I just get paid for it 40 hours a week and don’t get paid for the rest.
Photo courtesy Mildre Torres