How a Nature Interpreter Knows it’s Spring

…Because it’s busy as a beehive! If you’ve been with me on this journey for the last few years, you know I crave feeling attuned to the seasons, and want my job to reflect seasonality.

And it does. Spring is when suddenly everyone (“and their dog” as locals say) becomes aware that there are things to see and do outside of those climate-controlled spaces. The phone rings off the hook with questions about programs and trails (and sometimes found baby animals), program numbers sky rocket, and down time is a thing of the past and won’t be part of the present again till sometime in July, when the heat beats even hardy outdoor-folk into retreat (or at least into siesta schedule, a good adaptation in Texas).
Add to the Spring busy-ness a little El Niño weather-related excitement (like the most rain we’ve seen in 5 years), and trail conditions and mosquito populations and river levels and potential program cancellations and rescheduling make for one busy nature-centered job.

And I love it all. I love the rain. I love the highly seasonal level of activity. I love the uncertainty of whether the weather will favor a program at a particular time. I love people remembering that there’s a whole world outside their doors. As a sweet young person said on one of my recent guided hikes, “This is like the real, REAL world!”

Yes, these flowers and leaves and bugs and mud and tracks and that breeze – this is all the REAL real world. Nobody filmed it or animated it or coded it or photoshopped it to impress you more. It’s just beautiful and wonderful, and I’m so glad to have the occasional person like you who is open to it, aware of it.

Of course I didn’t tell her all that. I just let her soak it in, and I soaked in her wonder.

This is what it’s all about.

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Field Notes Friday 00??: Shooting Star of the Prairie

This month I’ve shared a few Field Notes Fridays on other social media and not via my blog, so I’m not quite sure what number I’m on. I plan to rectify that soon. 

In the meantime, here is the lates FNF I’ve shared via Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Please also join me on those venues! And I welcome you to join in the field notes fun. You’ll be glad you did. 

Dodecatheon meadia, the shooting star of the prairie. Held one in my hand at a Native Plant Society meeting this week. I’ve never seen one in person till now, and still haven’t seen one growing in the wild. They’re pollinated by bees with sonication.

#NPSOT #prairielove
#FieldNotesFriday #nofilter 

  

Field Notes Friday 0025: Patterns in Your Nature Collections

I’m totally into thigmotropism. I bet you are, too.

Into what?? Yeah, I hadn’t heard that word until recently. Very recently. But after learning the word, lots of things make sense.

Like collecting sticks like this…

and this… Thigmotropism_credit_HappyNaturalist

and this…Thigmotropism_credit_HappyNaturalist

and writing a post about this:

Snake or plant?

Snake or plant?

…and being called “Twisted Sister” by one of my botanist friends (Bob O’Kennon, one of the editors of the Flora of North Central Texas). Why does he call me Twisted Sister? Because I LOVE thigmotropism! I just didn’t know it, until a friend (Suzanne Barnard of the LISD Outdoor Learning Area) shared this worksheet (look at definition “c”):Thigmotropism

I knew about gravitropism and phototropism, but I’ve been a fan of thigmotropism for a long time without even knowing the name. I realize not everyone is a word nerd like I am, but isn’t it fun to learn there’s a word to describe something you’ve been enjoying for a long time? I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere about the human brain and how we learn.

At first it was hard to remember the strange word, but then I thought about the definition: plant growth in response to contact with another thing… thigmotropism… it’s like you’re saying “thing” but with a stuffy nose. (In other words, say “thing” without the ‘n’.) That’s my mnemonic device, anyway.

So, years ago, as these various trees and vines grew together in dappled shade, and touched each other and began an epic battle-dance for height and sunshine and space, I was developing an affinity for all things twisty, winding, and coiled. As these plants responded, each to the presence of the other, and allocated resources to the tussle, I was collecting sticks and stones and shells. And I started to refine my collections of sticks, leaning toward the twisted, the mangled, the beautifully bent. Some of these plants, or parts of them, died, and fell upon my future path, where I found them and treasured them and took them home. These events made a perfect nest in my mind for the word (and the concept of) thigmotropism.

I can understand why some people ascribe to synchronicity – some series of events seem laid out just for us!

Lessons I take from this turn of events (see what I did there?):

  • There’s always something unexpected to be learned.
  • Generous teacher friends are the best.
  • Encourage people to collect natural items (ethically and sustainably, of course). Patterns will emerge, and there are  wonderful lessons to be learned.

What patterns do you see in your collections?

Happiness and Heroes

This week, nature has benefitted from the actions of an organization full of happy naturalists. And by “happy”, I mean people who exercise the choice to be positive and proactive. Texas Parks and Wildlife recently exemplified real positivity in response to a negative ad.

If you haven’t already heard from Children and Nature Network or Adventure Journal or your friends in the nature biz, here’s the low-down: Toys R Us recently produced an ad that paints nature field trips in a very unflattering light, and uses under-served kids as their pawns to do it. What’s the company’s suggested alternative to visiting a boring ol’ forest or spending time in the icky outdoors? Acquiring lots of (new shiny expensive breakable plastic made-in-sweatshops) toys, of course. (I’m loathe to encourage more Youtube views but if you want to see the commercial, click here.)

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with gift-giving, with toys, children’s joy, or philanthropy (well, highly publicized philanthropy is questionable). But among the more despicable claims about this commercial, the film crew purportedly took underprivileged kids who were actually excited to go on a field trip to a forest, trapped them on a bus, drove them around for an obscene amount of time, and exposed them to a terrible mock-up of nature interpretation, all for the purpose of a grand switcheroo – a surprise trip to a toy store for a free toy. A very emotionally charged, well-paced, exciting commercial, which unintentionally(???) stabs at less expensive, more meaningful experiences in nature.

I actually wasn’t going to respond to the commercial at all, since I couldn’t think of anything helpful to say. But Texas Parks and Wildlife did something wonderful. Did they moan? Did they write a nasty letter? Did they even deign to mention the offending commercial? No. They created a positive counter-message which stands on its own merit.

I want to shout this example to the mountains. I want us to take a page from TPWD’s book. Let’s tip our hats and hashtags to these brave and thoughtful harbingers of happiness. And in honor of them, let’s enjoy the outdoors, and inspire others to do so.