For the past few summers, I have volunteered at the Little Nature Museum, where Sandra Martin is the founder and director. The museum had its beginning in Martin's bedroom 50 years ago when Martin was a teenager and has been located in a barn at Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook since 2001. It is open to the public on weekends until Oct. 28.
When I first walked into the museum, I wondered how so much nature could be gathered into such a small area. There are glass display cases containing magnificent collections of minerals, fossils, insects, sea life and Native American artifacts along with mounted birds and mammals. The barn walls are covered with maps and pictures of nature. When I tour the museum, each exhibit invites me to linger and examine closely one little slice of nature. I like to read the interpretive notes written by Martin. Yet, with all the diverse forms in the natural world, I am astonished by how everything seems to be connected together.
Martin told me that in her travels, she is always looking for items to bring back to the museum. Recently, we discussed her recent visit to Canada's Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. She mentioned that national parks do not allow people to take nature specimens home. But, she explained, while in the park she saw something along the trail that she just had to have and she brought it back. She pointed to it hanging on the museum wall.
With a B.S. in botany and a M.S. in zoology, Martin is an experienced public school science teacher and she has served as a nature counselor in children's summer camps. Over the past 50 years, Martin's love for nature has been highlighted in a variety of newspaper articles and featured on radio and television. She has been cited by the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in their Nature Educator Awards and in 2002 she received the New Hampshire Environmental Educator of the Year Award. In 2007, she was presented the Howard I. Wagner Award by the New Hampshire Science Teachers' Association for her outstanding contribution to science education in New Hampshire.
Martin's souvenir from Fundy National Park was a quotation by John Muir. Martin told me how she walked through the park and saw along the trail statements by prominent naturalists. When she came to Muir's quotation, she got out her pen and copied the words. After she arrived home, she neatly printed the quotation on a poster that is now on the wall at the museum. Muir's quotation reads: "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world."
The Little Nature Museum has hands-on activities for children and is open on weekdays by appointment for groups. On Sept. 8-9, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the museum will hold its annual Nature Fest at the Beech Hill Farm in Hopkinton. During the off-season the museum sponsors educational nature programs at the Hopkinton library. Staffed by volunteers, the museum is supported through donations, nature shop sales and museum memberships and is a federally registered nonprofit organization. Persons interested in becoming a volunteer at the museum can contact Martin at email@example.com.