A small victim of the COVD-19 pandemic quarantines and restrictions are the missed opportunities of spring. So many of our Master Naturalist volunteer service projects literally take bloom during these spring months each year – we have a new crop of trainees joining in some chapters, plant sales and plantings of native butterfly gardens, youth education programs as Texas students cycle into earth sciences, bird and butterfly migrations, and so much more that isn’t able to happen in its traditional form right now!
In this time of anxiety and thoughts of those things missed – we also have the chance to pause and consider our connections to our natural resources a bit deeper. We take stock in the lessons learned from the Master Naturalist Program, the fascination with life in bloom, the connections to green spaces as a form of relaxation and health, the stewardship of those spaces for the enjoyment of others whose stress may be greater than ours. With this extra pause we’ve each been given – have we taken a chance to look closer? To study the small things in our backyards, in our local parks or just outside our windows?
To that end, we asked our Master Naturalists to respond to this statement:
“In this unprecedented moment of pandemic, reflect upon what nature means to you and what benefits it provides you, especially in times like these.”
To submit your Nature Reflections “video diary” video, please visit our project page – https://txmn.tamu.edu/nature-reflections-project/
As I gaze out of my window, I see them wave out there
And I think back on all the time, I tended them with care
Preparing soil, pulling weeds, trying to get it right
To give those seeds the best start I could so they wouldn’t have to fight
You spread the seeds, and water then you have to wait
All the while watching, hoping you didn’t start too late
Then one day you see those buds, and just can’t help but smile
Those tiny seeds are blooming, it just took a while
You watch them bloom in rainbow hues, unique their own way
Some grow tall, some bunch up, and others dance and sway
You worry when the storms come, and hope they won’t be bent
Or when the sun scorches down, you pray they won’t be spent
The rain makes for fun showers, the sun sees that they’re grown
And they take off and start spreading seeds of their very own
Now growing well outside the bounds of that first fertile bed
With roots well set, and sights beyond, they’ve charged on ahead
As I gaze out my window, here’s a question for you to ponder
Am I talking about my garden, or my children playing yonder?
Being a Master Naturalist, it’s more than just the hours
It’s planting seeds with passion, and raising Wild Flowers!
-Andrea Howard, Brazos Valley Chapter
A Mother’s Day Poem by Charla Ingalls, Mid-Coast Chapter
Always an Adventure
There’s always an adventure
Whether quarantined or not
Just take a deep breath in
And look at what you’ve got
Your backyard is so so busy
With critters all around
Look above and look beyond
Pay attention to the ground
The spider carries her egg sac
The lizard soaks the sun
And nature carries onward
New life always begun
The butterflies are busy
The bees are buzzing round
The birds are happy singing
They make a joyous sound
So there’s no real need to travel
To hurry out the door
Cause all around you nature
Is something to explore
-Linda Esco, Gideon Lincecum
|I have taken the time recently to spend more time watching nature in my back yard. I sit in the screen-enclosed little area on my back porch. I have seen house sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, European starlings, woodpeckers, and doves, among many others. This morning a little squirrel decided to relax on a limb on his stomach, with all 4 legs hanging down. He was so cute. I’m not sure if he saw me or not, but he didn’t stay long so maybe he did.|
Also, I recently put up a screech owl nesting box in a tree. So far, I haven’t seen an owl, but I think a squirrel may be using it for a nest. I haven’t looked in it yet; I don’t want to disturb the squirrel if he/she is in there.
Everything is so green now, and the wind is keeping things relatively cool.
I have seen a few lizards also. They are fun to watch.
I did the observations for the Citizen Science project the other weekend. I learned a lot just by observing. I looked up more plants than usual–ones I saw out in the country. I couldn’t figure out how to transfer my phone photos to my computer, so I didn’t make any entries on iNaturalist; however, just doing the observation part was a lot of fun. I saw what I think was a narrow-mouthed pointy-headed tiny frog when I undid the winter wrapping on a faucet. He seemed to be a happy camper since he was surrounded by many pill bugs.
I also unhappily noticed many big tiger-striped snails. They are sucking my aloe vera plant dry. And I hate it that I don’t see any more of our native snails.
|-Leona Urban, Good Water Chapter|
|I’ve always enjoyed nature and the outdoors in general, but sad to say I did not fully appreciate the natural world in my youth. My father tried his best to instill in me his own love for natural places and wild things with trips to interesting places both near and far; I liked these outings well enough but my immature mind was easily and often distracted by thoughts that surely must have seemed important to me at the time but now I know must have been nonsense like boys or whatever tv show or movie I was currently obsessed with… plus I was into the big, dramatic sightings while dad only seemed interested in little things like birds. My favorites were coyotes and wolves and wild mustangs, majestic creatures with powerful presence– why would I care about looking at a bunch of birds, that’s so lame, ugh come on dad let’s go I’m bored… if only I knew! One memory in particular stands out: waiting in line for some ride at Disney World (of all places), in among the rocks and planted area bordering the line area was some little lizard attempting to sun itself while a guy up ahead of us tossed pebbles at it to try and make it move and I assume impress his girlfriend. A few seconds of this and my dad barks at him, “Hey man, why don’t you just let it live?” It did the trick, the guy left the lizard in peace and the line moved along without argument or altercation… and the memory of that moment has stuck with me over the years, as vivid as the day it happened. Now as an adult, through the knowledge gained via volunteering with the Katy Prairie Conservancy and the training provided by the Texas Master Naturalist program I feel like I’ve finally gained that honest, deep appreciation for nature I regrettably lacked as a child. I wish dad was still alive to see that I realize birds are far from boring, that I thoroughly enjoy seeking out the little things as well as the big and bold, and most of all that I’m the first to speak up in defense of any and all lizards being subjected to undue harassment! Thanks to KPC and the Coastal Prairie Chapter for putting me on the right path, and thanks to my dad for all the memories!|
|– Isabel Retiz, Coastal Prairie Chapter|
|Nature and spending time in nature has long been a priority for me. It allows me to slow down, reconnect on the things that matter most, reflect on life, and feel more grounded. In the midst of this pandemic, however, nature has now, more than ever, become a necessity, but given the current circumstances, it does not seem as accessible. What these circumstances have taught me is to find appreciation in something as small as a colorful sunset, to observe more closely the species in my neighborhood, to listen more intently to the birds in the evening, and to reflect more on what I can do to lessen my footprint. This pandemic has forced me to be more attentive and to appreciate even the smallest morsel of nature in the most unexpected places.|
|-Ashleigh Acevedo, Gulf Coast Chapter|
|Spring is here. Not by the calendar, but on the wings of barn swallows and phoebes swooping past the kitchen window.|
It’s the annual aerial avian intimidation to decide which species wins the coveted nesting spot atop the porch light. The swirling, squabbling, ongoing confrontation is a far less annoying echo of the humans on the TV indoors.
This is the phoebe’s year.
Last year’s nest base is finally remodeled to phoebe house flipping specs, just about the time their human neighbors make a last shopping run into the grocery store. It’s the final Thursday in February.
A swift peek with an auto inspection mirror in March reveals the first white egg. More will come in the weeks ahead, as phoebe settles in to incubate and we humans hunker down for the unknown.
Nature helps me through these times of uncertainty as I take reassurance in the progression of life.
On April 13, eggshell halves appear on the far side of the lawn from the nest. By April 15, four fuzzy wobbly beaks are clamoring for protein.
Meanwhile, humans clamor for PPE, for answers, for a vaccine.
Stay safe and stay home, humans. Count the days till quarantine ends.
Every April morning, the view from the kitchen window is a welcome comfort and distraction from COVID-19 case updates.
Nestlings eat and grow, stretch and preen their new feathers. Adult phoebes flaunt all kinds of fat juicy insects in their beaks, as the meal shuttle flights to the nest are at their peak tempo.
I watch them carefully, longingly, as they will leave the nest soon. My quarantine coping helpers will soon be gone, as is nature’s natural order.
The nestlings are snuggled in for the night, barely fitting into the available nest space as they wiggle and thump on top of their siblings.
The morning of May 1 brings human happiness as the nestlings are noisy, ravenous and SAFE despite the owl I heard last night. Nature granted my quarantine wish!
After breakfast, another look to check on the squabbling reveals…a totally empty nest! FIRST FLIGHT! FIRST FLIGHT! For ALL the new fledglings on the same day at the same time! I am only sorry I missed their group exit as I imagine they dragged each other off the nest like a formation of uncoordinated skydivers.
Be safe wherever you roam, little phoebes and thank you for sharing the comfort found in Nature.
Wishing good health to all.
|-Valerie Taber, Rio Brazos Chapter|