PEEC volunteer urges importance of nature

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By Gina Velasquez

Bob Dryja has been volunteering at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center for the past 12 years, first with some of the children’s programs, and more recently as a board member. He still finds time to help out with field trips.
Many volunteers said that he always has a smile on his face, a joke to tell and he is always willing to lend a hand.
Dryja began his work with PEEC when fellow volunteer, Michele Altherr was looking for people to help with the Living Earth Adventure Program (LEAP) and Nature Odyssey Day Camp Programs.
“I responded because I thought it would be fun to help with Nature Odyssey — it would be cool to be stuck in the Valle Grande for a week!” Dryja said. “I like the idea of getting kids outdoors into the high country of the Valle Grande or the Rio Grande valley for daily field trips. Over time, the programs have evolved and now its with another generation of parents,” he said. He makes frequent trips to the Valles Caldera.
He said he enjoys working with school age children and looks forward to showing them that there is more to life than cell phones, text messaging and video games.
Dryja was born in Ohio and moved to the Panama Canal Zone when he was an infant. He lived there until he went to college. During that time in the Canal Zone, he lived close to the jungle and boa constrictors, poison dart frogs, spider monkeys, macaws and marmosets. “They were among my childhood pets,” he said. “This is how I saw and learned about the natural world.”
Dryja has lived in Los Alamos since 1996. He said it is interesting that Los Alamos is much like the town he lived in while in the Canal Zone.
The town of Balboa was surrounded by rain forest, much as Los Alamos is surrounded by parkland. People who lived there came from all around the United States and the world, similar to Los Alamos. He said just as the Los Alamos National Laboratory is the one major industry, the Panama Canal Company was the one major business there. “Many things are similar and that is surprising,” he said.   
Dryja is very much a part of nature. He enjoys observing and considering all of the interrelationships among plants, animals and mountains of the Pajarito Plateau — “ecology.”  
“I easily can spend a day and night by a creek, watching what comes and goes,” he said. “I once had a frustrated wild burro braying at me in the night while I was camping in Bandelier National Monument. I inadvertently was camping along a game trail that led to a creek for water. The burro was doing its best to have me leave so it could go drink.”
He has many stories to tell of his adventures and surprising incidents with nature in different parts of the country. He told a story of one night with the full moon rising at Big Ben National Park in Texas. “I thought I saw deer, but in fact, they were coyotes. I was on their pathway to water,” he said.
As for his involvement with PEEC, Dryja has been on the board of directors for roughly eight years and is currently planning exhibits for the new nature center, slated to open in 2015.
“PEEC began as an active group of volunteers, and it has evolved into something more “corporate” as we move forward with the plans for the new Nature Center,” he said. “It’s been a transition, but in a good way. It’s something new and improved, but the people involved with PEEC have been able to keep their enthusiasm and can-do attitude from past.”
“I enjoy providing the needed assistance so that people experience, appreciate and learn about nature. I presently am considering an adult bird watching or monitoring program,” Dryja said.
He takes pleasure in accomplishing PEEC’s mission statement, to help people enrich their lives by strengthening their connections with our canyons, mesas, mountains and skies. He follows that philosophy in his own life as well.
He looks forward to drawing in people from other areas of the United States. “For example, my sister is a birder in California. She would be interested in going to the Bosque with New Mexico birders, and then reciprocating by introducing them to birding opportunities in her neck of the woods,” he said. “People come from all around the country to learn about the Jemez, the Native American pueblos, etc. PEEC will also be able to draw these visitors in the future.”
He said he wants to encourage more men to become involved with PEEC.
Dryja lives in Los Alamos with his wife Susan.