Naturalist loves sharing outdoors

Kathie Livingston, the owner of Nature Adventure Outfitters, is shown in this 2013 file photo.

Her business is on Shem Creek, but her office is the great outdoors of the Lowcountry.

Kathie Livingston, owner and founder of Nature Adventures, has spent more than 27 years as a naturalist sharing what can be seen every day in our creeks, swamps, marshes and trees.

Her biggest desire is to see more and more people “get unplugged.” Nobody wants to get caught without their devices. We’re so preoccupied with our digital connections that we totally forget to connect with nature.

Livingston came to South Carolina fresh out of the University of Michigan. She lived with a sister in Summerville and took a job with the Audubon Society at the Francis Beidler Forest. She’s been paddling and guiding ever since.

Shem Creek is not quite how she found it almost 30 years ago. Then, there were 15 shrimp boats at the docks; now there are five.

It’s still a beautiful little gateway to a world of wonder.

It’s also become a safe harbor for paddlers. Kayaks and paddleboards ease up and down the creek all day long. During her tours, she constantly warns her paddlers to stay “right going out, and right coming in.”

The only time she worries for their safety is when a power boat doesn’t slow down enough to pay attention to its wake. Boaters beware: You don’t mess with Mother Nature and you should not upset a naturalist who carries a paddle.

If nothing else, Livingston is passionate about respecting each other’s space.

She also respects the creatures that are often points of interest along her tours.

There’s a particular fondness for the dolphins that play and feed in the creek. They have distinct personalities and the family pods return year after year. Right now, there’s one baby constantly escorted by three females.

There’s room in the creek for everybody.

But again, only if there’s respect for everybody.

Livingston has decided to branch out with her business. If kayaks, canoes and paddle boards can be so popular in creeks, swamps and rivers, why not try the lakes?

Her latest venture now involves offering guided tours and nature encounters at Santee State Park. There are 600 visitors a day to the park and this naturalist wants them to engage with nature.

While walking through a campground recently, she noticed children on cell phones and digital tablets. They were totally unaware that a few feet away scampered a fox squirrel and that overhead flew an osprey with a fish in its beak.

Does that frustrate? No, it motivates.

Whether sliding a kayak into a creek or keeping a canoe clear of knobby stumps in a blackwater swamp, there are encounters in nature just waiting for the taking.

Artists often try to duplicate some of our orange and purple sunsets or the puffy clouds against a powder-blue sky.

There’s the distinctive squawking of seagulls behind a shrimp boat.

Or my personal favorite Lowcountry sound: the exhale of a dolphin as it breaks the glassy surface of the water.

Some of this is available every day around here if time is taken to disconnect from the rest of what we’re doing.

In 2014, Livingston was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women for excellence and dedication to her profession.

She hopes to retire in five years and let her son, Tillman, 22, take over the business. He was raised in a kayak while attached to a baby bottle and a life jacket.

On those days when Livingston is trapped in the office doing paperwork, she gets lonely. Not for the company of people but for the thrill of seeing what nature is offering.

Usually, that longing can be easily remedied by grabbing a paddle and slipping into the creek with her kayak.

That’s a guide who really knows where she’s going.

Reach Warren Peper at peperwarren@gmail.com.