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01 June . 2022

Tehaleh Critters: An Interview with Bob “The Slug Man” Brown

Whether it’s the love and respect for nature, yearning for a close-knit community, or the desire to live nearer to family – Tehaleh is imbued with a sense of purpose and unparalleled beauty. Among your human neighbors you’ll also find a profound habitat home to wildlife you may not expect. One Tehaleh resident has gained a moniker that you may have heard in passing. Bob “The Slug Man” Brown is a lifelong naturalist who has traded stories about great trees, exceptional birds, animals, and Tehaleh critters in hopes that he will inspire a spark of appreciation toward nature’s complex and rewarding presence.

First off, where did that name ‘The Slug Man’ come from?

“When I first showed up here and I did work at the first Harvest Festival I set up a table to help encourage people to go out on the trails. So I took a number of cuttings for the different trees so I could help people identify what was out there. And in addition to that, I wandered out and I found two banana slugs and put them in a terrarium and let the kids see them and taught them the banana slug song,” Bob says, “So the next thing, I get an email from Jennifer who was working at the Post and she goes ‘hey slug man.’ So I’m the Slug Man of Tehaleh.”

The name stuck.

Teaching and learning about nature.

Bob volunteered for the California State Parks for 29 years before moving to Tehaleh. For 25 years, he and his friend Mel would spend countless hours together on their 1.5 hour commute. Drawing inspiration from John Muir (the famed steward of the Yosemite Valley and America’s forefather of the national park system) Mel and Bob took a creative approach to sharing their knowledge. “We were looking to light a spark in that next person that could come behind us and continue doing things like that. And hopefully, we hit a spark and somebody would continue on through their life and do it.“

Together they’d lead groups on nature walks, do campfires, and even perform songs together. One particular song by the Banana Slug String Band called (you guessed it) – the Banana Slug song – would become a great teaching tool for the two. “One of the things that was featured there in the park were the banana slugs and we learned the Banana Slug song. The kids were just fascinated by them. So I got up here, I tried to use that as a step to get kids interested in going and all.”

Mel and Bob were a team. “It’s so funny how people would click together…Mel was an Eagle Scout, I'm an Eagle Scout. Liked John Muir, same as me, and we love nature. The two of us just meshed together…I picked up The Slug Man up here, but we were known as the Mel & Bob Show.” He says, “A lot of it was just having a good time. And when we tried to involve songs, skits, plus education with the campfire programs…I think it helped me immensely. I've enjoyed it so much. So that's what I do.”

Tehaleh’s Wildlife.

Bob will go on daily walks around Tehaleh’s parks and trails with his dog. Along the way they’ll see everything from elk, eagles, porcupines, deer and if the timing is right: beavers. “We've recently had two beavers move in at the pond up at the top and I've been able to catch a glimpse of one of them in the water one morning, but you know, they're nocturnal.”

Seeking out the many Tehaleh critters can be as simple as taking a walk. “We go out and walk about two hours every morning…and we're out early so somewhere between 6-6:30am we usually take off. We probably get a little better chance to see some of the animals and all that are up here because of the time that we spend outside and at that time of day.”

Getting out to see Tehaleh’s wildlife has gotten Bob some attention from his neighbors. People will say: “’You’re the slug man aren’t you?’ Or somebody comes around the corner and six-foot-five Bob is laying across the trail on his belly ‘Are you okay?’” He laughs, “I’ve met a number of people up in Tehaleh that way.”

Creating that spark of inspiration in others.

 When Bob and his wife, Sallie moved up to Tehaleh to be closer to family, the exploration of a new environment helped draw connection to nature through the eyes of their granddaughter. An app on his phone, iNaturalist, has introduced a new way to identify and learn about all the varied species they find.

He had the most fun with [the iNaturalist app] up here…it will identify birds, fungus, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, mollusks – I mean, anything…and I've got over 500 species identified on my phone. It’s such a trip. It's gotten me into learning about mosses, lichens, things that you see out there.”

Utilizing an interactive way to teach kids about the natural surroundings has been similarly impactful as those earlier songs, skits, and programs for Bob. “It gives them a little scavenger hunt because I found that's really good with kids in developing my programs. We set up a bingo game for them. ‘Go down the trail and see if you can find a bingo.’” He says, “Another nice one is just an alphabet walk it gets them looking for everything, trying to find something for every letter of the alphabet. Again, anything to make them look instead of just walking by and glance, you know what I mean?”

When Bob is writing or creating new programs, he gives credit to Sallie and her 30 years as a school teacher. “A big thing with me is my wife, Sallie. With my writing…she's my editor and when I'm working, she goes: ‘you may not want to do it that way with kids.’ She just keeps me in line a little bit. She makes it so I do it right. And we've been you know, it'll be 50 years next year,” he says, “…you can’t do it on your own, you have to have help.”

Alongside his work within Tehaleh, Bob has also been volunteering with the Seattle Aquarium as well. He’ll lead beach walks and continue his and Mel’s tradition by integrating funny stories and jokes into a hands-on curriculum. “I get a big kick just getting out and meeting people and talking to them and seeing them and watching kids get excited about something that they've seen. So it's very fulfilling for me in that regard.”

Being a naturalist.

“I’ll walk out first thing in the morning, walk down the street, and I can look up and there's Mount Rainier greeting me. And then we'll head off and into the trails. And you just don't know what you'll find. For May, I wrote about the trillium. That is a flower in the forest. So when I first see trillium, I know it's officially spring. And it's such a beautiful plant. The way that it’s propagated is that they put out a seed and the seed is encased in a little fruity covering. Ants collect the seeds, they eat the fruit, but they discard the seeds and they’ll throw them in their garbage pile, which is almost like a compost pile. And the ants are the ones that are spreading the seeds around and getting the plants to grow.”

The way information about our natural world is carried forward is comparable to the trillium. Naturalists like Bob have devoted their time and energy to learning about and providing a deep insight to nature’s peculiarities. When it ‘clicks’ with someone, when a child picks up on these shared stories, that element of a fun and interactive lesson plants a seed which can have an innate ability to develop into a fondness for the natural world.

Looking forward to the next steps.

As the summer opens up, Bob and Sallie are looking forward to taking their trailer out to explore the great outdoors.

“[Sallie] and I are trying to get ourselves back out and doing more things. Over the next two months, we scheduled ourselves a trailer trip… a couple weeks ago we went down to Bend, Oregon. With that [iNaturalist] app, I was able to discover some stuff that I had no clue what they were. And some of the names they come up with. One I found out was called a ‘brown eyed wolf.’ Sometimes it's just worth the name that they've attached to something.”

There’s an exuberance in his voice for this seemingly endless way to uncover the world around: “oh, this is so cool.”

Explore your natural world.

 If you want to meet fascinating neighbors like Bob and would love to discover the critters and wildlife in Tehaleh, get in touch with us at The Post. We’d love to show you around.