My favorite moment on television happens every Sunday morning around 10:30. The CBS “Moment of Nature,” a network fixture since 1979, invites viewers to slow down.
I personally wish they’d make a 24-hour “Moment of Nature” channel. (I think many of you have found one in Savannah’s recent “Owl Cam” phenomenon.)
But until then, I can set my DVR for reruns of NatureScene, the half-hour South Carolina public television program that began the year before the Sunday Morning segment.
“Most people today don’t realize how wonderful it is not to be in a hurry,” says naturalist Rudy Mancke, NatureScene’s affable host and a beloved Palmetto State institution.
“When we did that show, I wanted it to be a walk in the woods and to have the camera as the third person,” he says. “I wanted it to be a field trip experience.”
Leisurely and Zen-like, Mancke strolled outdoors on television for 25 years, including a nationally syndicated stint on PBS in the 1980’s. He recorded shows in every state.
More importantly to him, he filmed programs in all the nation’s “biotic provinces,” a fancy term that means “ecoregion.” (We’re in the Southeast Coastal Plain, by the way.)
His unbound enthusiasm for plants and animals shone on camera. He was satisfying his own wonderment. “I think that curiosity about the world is innate in everyone,” he says.
“The biggest thrill in the world is doing what you love to do. The icing on the cake is having other people enjoy it, too, and being able to say, I think I’ve made a difference.”
NatureScene ran fresh episodes until 2002. (Not even PBS stands that slow pace anymore.) But Mancke’s nature walks continue, as do his blog and 60-second radio spots.
Snakes, birds, trees, turtles and spiders all crawl into his daily “Nature Notes.” Whatever his medium, he still seems like a little kid finding a backyard critter for the first time.
When I met him at his office in Columbia, he was positively giddy about freshwater jellyfish. There’s only one species. I had no idea such a thing existed!
“I’ve seen it maybe eight times in my life,” Mancke says. “If you ever see them, call me. I don’t care where you are. Let me know because I’d like to come and see them.”
For a man whose desk is covered with the shells, bones, skins and other artifacts of a long and distinguished career in nature, this kind of “joy in seeking” fits my style.
There’s always something new to learn, new connections to make. I’m comfortable with some mystery. And so is he. But that’s about as far as we delve into matters of religion.
“I’m not going to stand up and preach,” Mancke says, noting that he also never crossed over into politics. “Except I sneak up on people by simply taking walks in the woods.”
Yes, our planet faces huge challenges. And some might question whether outdoor strolls, slow-ass nature programs and jellyfish giddiness is doing any good.
For you, there’s the anger and fear channel. Engorge like a tick! Mancke and I will be doing things differently. He still teaches. He’s slowing down but has no plans to retire.
The septuagenarian started working at the University of South Carolina as its first natural history museum curator in 1975. His respect for nature comes from his parents.
“I was taught often that I’m supposed to leave this world in as good a shape as I found it,” Mancke says. “Then they’d say, ‘Or if you can make it better, make it better.’”
That’s your Sunday morning sermon. Face the Nation is next.