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Thomas Potter: fight and flight

July 11, 2013
By CALEB COMBS - Special to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise

In a recent interview, Tupper Lake resident Thomas Potter spoke of the future: "I imagine it will be covered in plastics and garbage. The problem is, however, that that's not something I am willing to accept."

Potter is a naturalist at the Wild Center museum of Tupper Lake. He was born and raised in Lake Placid and now attends Stony Brook University. He's 20 years old and is currently studying environmental science.

Potter has a very distinctive passion for preserving the Adirondacks. He grew up learning from nature in the Boy Scouts of America, and now he is applying his passion to making sure people know of the paradise we live in.

Article Photos

Thomas Potter stands outside of the Wild Center natural history museum in Tupper Lake.
(Photo — Caleb Combs)

"It is too easy for people to forget about their impact on the environment," he explained. "I would like to know my children will be able to experience the Earth for what it really is, not the concrete facade we've built over top of the reality."

Working for the Wild Center has given Potter an opportunity to make his dream of maintaining and preserving the Adirondack Park a reality. Extensive training and a membership with the National Association of Interpreters is required to work at the center to become a certified interpretive guide. The NAI is a nonprofit professional organization that certifies employees, volunteers, historians, naturalists and more on the ability to impart knowledge of a given subject in a manner that appeals to any demographic by igniting and enduring passion between people and nature.

"It means a lot to me, working here at the Wild Center, knowing that I'm making a difference to educate people about protecting the environment" said Potter.

Potter is adamant about spending as much time outdoors as he possibly can. That's partly for experiences like one he and a few other Wild Center interns had recently while canoeing down the Raquette, the third largest river in New York.

"It was just another beautiful day on the river, but what we saw was just so surreal that I couldn't believe it," Potter said. "It's just so intense to see nature for what it is. The life-and-death of survival and interaction between man, creature and the environment -?it's enough to make you cry."

A full-grown bald eagle with a wingspan of approximately 6 feet, according to Potter, emerged from behind the trees into a clearing. The large and majestic bird accompanied Potter and the other interns for some time, displaying its aerial acrobatics and skimming the waters. The experience was one in a million, the kind of thing an environmentalist dreams about.

A strange breeze blew over Potter's canoe as a conspiracy of ravens swooped after the eagle, playing in the sun. Ravens are known to drive away larger predatory birds in a specific area, lush with prey, as an attempt to deduct competition. The 12 or 13 ravens took formation behind the eagle for a moment and then flurried around it with a barrage of pecks and beak snaps.

"Thinking that you are about to see an eagle die is so real, so intense, that we were speechless" Potter said, with eyes as large as apricots.

The eagle dipped and flew through the density of the trees, throwing some of the ravens off its tail, but they continued to attack in the open air. The defensive tactics of the eagle seemed to be failing, so the bird dove toward the water, picking up speed, and then rose as high in the sky as its velocity would allow. The eagle turned toward the ravens and looked them eye to eye, with 3-foot wings expanding into the air, creating a strobe of the sunlight that beamed from behind the bird into Potter's vision.

"It took a stand," Potter explained excitedly. "The ravens split around the bird and disappeared into the trees. That's why eagles are the apex predator. A whole slew of ravens couldn't even shake it."

Experiences in nature that teach us important lessons about life and death happen every day.

"You've just got to go out and see it," Potter said. The trees and rivers of the Adirondacks are as mystifying as an eagle, but there are several factors that can affect and hurt those trees and rivers - like a conspiracy of ravens can do to an eagle.

Potter plans to maintain and preserve nature across the globe so stories like this aren't uncommon.

"It is so very important that people know how they impact the environment and are able to experience nature for the sake of the memory that keeps them from hurting this place," he said.



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