by Linda Jo Conn
On Tuesdays for the past month, several El Camino Real Texas Master Naturalist members have met to explore nature in several public locations in Milam County. The sites have ranged from a roadside historical marker to a manicured downtown lot. We’ve been careful to follow current guidelines, by wearing masks when we are closer than six feet apart, and not gathering in numbers over ten.
We have not made an earth-shaking discovery, but we have seen some interesting organisms. The past week, we observed at four Rockdale locations: Veterans’ Park, Skate Plaza, George Hill Patterson Civic Center, and the Fair Park.
On a large “spineless” cactus, we found dozens of cactus bugs (Hesperolabops gelastops). A large Chinese tallow tree had a leaf-footed bug (Leptoglossus sp.) resting on its bark. An elusive beetle had to be ferreted out from the vegetation to which it had escaped during a photo session. It turned out that Catherine Johnson is a tenacious and successful bug hunter.
Several in the group are interested rocks and geology. Debra Sorenson noted the iconic petrified rock and sandstone pillars at the Fair Park entrance.
Farther into the park, I observed my first gomphrena weed (Gomphrena serrata) and Spanish gold (Grindelia ciliata) in Milam County.
However, our park investigations are not just about nature. It is not just about recording and sharing the species we see. Our gatherings during the past month have been bright spots: Time I spent outdoors with other folks who find joy in learning and exploring new and old places.
We shared our time, thoughts, and experiences with each other. My most memorable moment of our last park survey session was not a bug or a plant, but was when we paused at the new recently dedicated granite markers installed at Veterans’ park next to the city swimming pool.
Our thoughts turned to those who had served in wars. One shared their father’s experiences during the D-day invasion. Another shared their father’s thoughts about the atomic bomb. My own father never spoke of the war. The time we spent at the site was solemn and memorable. That semi-circle of granite markers fulfilled its purpose. We had paused and honored our veterans.
So, I repeat. It is not just about nature. It is also the social (yet physically distanced) sharing of thoughts and experiences among a community of folks who appreciate the wonder and glory of our world. It is a reason I am a Texas Master Naturalist.