Congratulations to the Graduates!

by Sue Ann Kendall, chapter secretary

May 28 was a fun day for the El Camino Real chapter! We welcomed the new graduates from our ten-week training class that went on all spring. There was a LOT of hard work involved by the organizers, the support team from our chapter, the presenters at the classes, and of course, the students. We had a wonderful evening at Julio’s Restaurant in Rockdale to celebrate and have some fun.

group photo
Our new members and the team who supported them on their journey.

First, I want to share the thanks that all us members extend to Kathy Lester, who organized the class, planned field trips, arranged for speakers, got shirts for the new members, and so much more. What would we do without her perseverance and hard work?

Kathy did such a great job! Here she’s getting ready to thank Don.

We also want to thank Don Travis, who came to all the meetings to provide media support. That is not an easy task, but he handled all the challenges with aplomb. He deserves so much credit for adding to the success of the class.

Well deserved, Don! Chapter President Carolyn Henderson agrees.

Another volunteer we want to thank is Lisa Milewski, who helped the students track their hours so they’d get credit where credit was due. What a happy accomplishment it is that all the students made it through the entire course!

So happy for Lisa’s help

The party part of the event was a welcome relief after so many years of not being able to just hang out with each other and become better acquainted. Many thanks to Liz Lewis, Pamela Neeley, and Catherine Johnson for their hard work planning it. Everyone at my table remarked about how nice it was to learn more about each other (when we weren’t laughing and laughing at the great stories some of the long-time residents told us newer folks.

But the best part was seeing the smiles on the faces of the new Master Naturalists as they got their certificates. Each of them made new friends and learned a lot, as Linda Burgess pointed out. I agree with her that it’s a great way to meet folks in the community, since it worked out that way for me, too!

I enjoyed meeting spouses and children of our members, as well. I’d heard so much about Michelle Lopez’s husband that I felt like he was already an old friend. And it’s so cool that one of our members, Victoria Everitt, is related to another member by marriage.

Two of the students also achieved their initial certification as well. Gene and Cindy Rek did so much work at the wildscape getting ready for that video filming that they got in all their volunteer hours!

One student was unable to make the party, but he’ll get his certificate soon. We are so proud of all our new members. I can’t wait to see their contributions and blog posts in the future!

A Long Overdue Chapter Event

by Sue Ann Kendall

Our Texas Master Naturalist chapter is finally getting back into the swing of things since the pandemic has given our county a bit of a break. We have held a class with in-person meetings and have enjoyed hybrid Chapter Meetings all this year as well.

One thing we’ve really missed for the past few years is celebrating our milestones. At our Chapter Meeting on April 14, however, we remedied that, and it sure felt good. Those of us who persevered for the past year got a second pin like we got last year for sticking with our volunteer duties and getting things done, in spite of COVID. Those in attendance all got to stand near each other and pose. It was good.

Chapter members grateful to be together and to have contributed our time and effort in service to the nature of Milam County.

We also celebrated milestones in our work. Eric Neubauer reached 500 volunteer hours (that’s a lot of spider observations!) and our current President, Carolyn Henderson, reached 250 hours. In addition, a number of us have re-certified as Texas Master Naturalists for the year 2022 by completing ten hours of advanced training and 40 hours of volunteer time. All we applauded and lauded, as well they should have been.

It’s been nice hearing speakers like Dr. Frank Summers speak to us in person, but it’s also great that those of us unable to attend for whatever reason can attend via Zoom as well. What great things technology has brought us!

We’ve also been able to have visitors again and getting to meet new people has been a highlight for this year, too. At our meeting we got to visit with Patricia Coombs, sister to one of our meeting hosts, Catherine Johnson. We also got to hang around with a fellow Master Naturalist, Mary Ann Melton, of the Goodwater Chapter in Williamson County. Many of us have seen or spoken with her before at conferences. Ah, conferences. Master Naturalists around the state and country are hoping to be able to attend our annual meetings this year.

Greetings to all of you out there enjoying your own volunteering, meeting, Zooming, and interacting with each other. It’s wonderful how nature and our love of learning brings us all together.

Chapter Meeting Presentation on Sustainable Agriculture

by Carolyn Henderson and Sue Ann Kendall

Dr. Jim Richardson, DVM and Milam County regenerative farmer and rancher, explained to the El Camino Real chapter of Texas Master Naturalist about the process he has developed to farm and ranch without chemicals or plowing. The procedure restores overworked dirt into a fertile, moisture-retaining soil that he uses to grow crops that he uses to both sell and feed his animals.

Soil restoration is a growing farming format across the nation. For any members interested in the process, Dr. Richardson recommends the book Dirt to Soil, by Gabe Brown. It is believed that if the process were used across the country, it would reduce the drought problem for farmers significantly. 

Dr. Richardson explained that using a no-till disturbs soil much less, which allows water to soak in and not run off. Running heavy equipment across soil to till and fertilize makes the soil compacted. It turns out that the less you disturb soil the more it can soak up, because the spaces between particles of soil can remain (caused by earthworms and other living creatures in the soil).

He pointed out that mulch is another thing that helps—this can be achieved by allowing leftovers from the previous crop to remain, as well as some native vegetation, which can get incorporated into the soil via animal impact. Animal impact also kills off some plant material and incorporates it into the soil to provide additional nutrients. That’s a big reason to allow cattle or other animals to graze harvested fields.

Chapter members enjoy the question-and-answer part of the presentation.

Another practice Richardson recommended is that after you harvest one crop, get another one in there as soon as possible, so it can capture the benefits of sunlight and take them into the soil.

It was good to be meeting in person. Our hospitality team did a great job with tablecloths and paper flower decorations.

By carefully managing the land to regenerate its nutrients and remain uncompacted, effective rainfall will be able to stores water for use during the drought periods. Mulch is what helps the water stay until it is needed.

The more diverse population on the land the better equipped it will be to deal with whatever comes its way and stay productive, he added.

At the end of his presentation, he shared his philosophy:

If you want to make small changes, change the way you do things. If you want to make big changes, change the way you see things.

Jim Richardson, DVM

Time for 2020 Blog Statistics

By Sue Ann Kendall

The start of a new year always seems to inspire folks to look back and analyze things. I got to thinking that last year was a hard year for our Chapter, since we had to stop meeting in person, couldn’t do a lot of the activities we’d planned, and only had a virtual conference to attend (nice as it was, it wasn’t full of hugs and chats). We certainly got more visitors in 2020 than in 2019 (granted, we didn’t start until February 2019).

We had 3700 visitors last year, not bad for a little chapter!

Our blog, though, provided us with a way to communicate with each other and to share what was going on in our own little slices of the natural world. I was really grateful to see how our contributions grew and grew, as the blog transitioned from reports on our chapter meetings to contributions from our members. We have a nice group of regular contributors now, as well as some Chapter members who contribute whenever they can.

In fact, there were 12 different Chapter members who contributed last year: me, Donna Lewis (winner of the “most contributions” award), Catherine Johnson, Eric Neubauer, Linda Jo Conn, Carolyn Henderson, Debra Sorensen, Joyce Conner, Cindy Travis, Larry Kocian, Ann Collins, and Sherri Sweet. What? Don’t see your name on the list? You can fix it by sending me some words and/or pictures (my email address is in the member area of our website).

Blog hits by month.

You can see from the previous graphic that our hits went up and down. There were two big months. Last February, someone went through and read every single article, twice, which explains the jump. But, last month, December 2020, really spiked. Did we suddenly become fascinating?

Hmm, December 23 was a bonanza of visits.

When I look at a month’s stats, I can always tell when a blog post came out, because we get a spike in visitors. But, that was a BIG spike! The next day was pretty big, too. I was very curious to find out what the heck got published on December 23 that was so darned fascinating. A look at the most popular posts of the year gave me the answer to “what” but not to “why.”

All Time Blog Post Stats. Hmm. Two of those got a LOT more hits.

I only figured out yesterday why Donna’s sweet post about being nice to a snake was so popular. Because of all those flags people are flying these days, the phrase, “Don’t Tread on Me” has become popular. Donna’s post must have come up in searches!

The other really popular post, Let the Tours Begin, by Lisa Milewski, was from October 2019, and was about the big event we held with the Rancheria Grande Chapter of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association. That link got sent out to a lot of places and shared often, so no wonder people looked at it. (Sharing posts is how you get people to look at them; you could do that, too).

How You Can Help Our Blog Grow

We’d like for more people to be able to find and enjoy the writing and beautiful photos from our chapter members. It’s great that we are getting more posts from a variety of members, but it would be good for them to be seen! People clicking on our blog links and sharing them are what gets our blog promoted more by search engines and WordPress (blog site). So, here are some things YOU can do:

  • Contribute. Send me (Sue Ann/Suna) your nature observations, research, fun projects, or reports of activities. You can type them in an email, put them in Word, write them on a piece of paper…whatever works! I can make them into fun blog posts, even if you aren’t a professional writer.
  • Read. When you see a blog post announcement on our Facebook page (or in email if you are one of our 37 subscribers), click on it. See what fellow Chapter members have to say! You might learn something. Or laugh.
  • Comment. Do you have something to add to a post? What about a question for the author? You can comment on our blog posts. Just put your name in there and start commenting! That’s how blog readers converse and build communities.
We’ve only had 79 “real” comments. Help us out!
  • Share. Did you find a post interesting? Copy the URL (the web link, at the top of the page) and paste it in an email, Facebook post, or message to a friend. Or, click the Share button on a Facebook post. Maybe someone you know will enjoy reading what you or another member wrote.
  • Talk. Mention reading the blog in conversations, when you’re explaining to a potential new class member what fun it is to be a Texas Master Naturalist, or if you’re asked what exactly we do. The blog is a good record of that!

This can help you, too! Writing a blog post gets you precious volunteer hours. Taking the photos and doing the research for an article also counts. It’s under Chapter Administration > Website and Social Media. This is something fun, interesting, and helpful that we can do while maintaining our pandemic protocols.

Oh yes, thanks for reading! Y’all are all the best!

We’ll Be Staying Home for a While

by Sue Ann Kendall, Chapter President

As you’re no doubt aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in Texas. The Texas Master Naturalist program’s advisors and administrators are concerned for the safety of the members of our program, so they have had to come to some difficult decisions this month.

I attended the monthly meeting for Chapter Presidents yesterday, and it was a hard one. Mary Pearl Meuth and Michelle Haggerty patiently shared with us the data they have put together about COVID risks in the counties where there are Master Naturalist chapters. It didn’t look good. They divided the counties into red, yellow, and green, by relative risk, and there were only two counties with chapters that were green, and four yellow as of last Friday.

The yellow and red counties as of December 12, 2020. Map from the TMN COVID Response page.

Milam County was yellow as of then, but it’s predicted to be red by next Friday, when they will update the map again. What does that mean? Here’s what Texas Parks and Wildlife says for red counties:

Counties with two of three factors pertaining to positivity rate of greater than 8% or more, OR a rapid rise in cases OR a hot spot:
• No face to face Extension-hosted or Extension-sponsored events.
• No guest speaking or presenting at other entities’ events.
• No overnight events.

TMN COVID Response page follow the link to read more about the guidelines

Many attendees at the meeting asked about whether drive-by events, outdoor activities, or solo activities would be okay. The answer was a reluctant, “No.”

No one was happy about this turn of events, but the current guidelines are set until the end of the year. It sounded doubtful that anything would change after that, but we will keep checking.

Implications for Our Chapter

Last night we held a meeting with some of the El Camino Real board who have worked directly with our recently graduated training class, to figure out how to do the graduation event we’d planned for this Saturday (December 12). After I explained what I’d learned earlier in the day, we had no choice but to conclude that we have to cancel the event, even though it was going to be as safe as we could make it.

Even if Milam County stayed in the yellow, we’d have more than ten attendees, and that’s all allowed in yellow counties. Plus, since we would have Board members living in Bell and Williamson Counties at the meeting, we’d have to abide by red county rules, anyway. Well, that was no fun.

Plan for Graduates

Of course, we want to celebrate our new members! Here’s what we will be doing right now:

I will send certificates out as soon as I can get Floyd Ingram’s signature on the graduation certificates. These go to our fine new members:

  • 1) Connie Anderle
  • 2) Marian Buegeler
  • 3) Carolyn Henderson
  • 4) Samuel Jolly
  • 5) John Montgomery
  • 6) Kaitlyn Montgomery
  • 7) Eric Neubauer
  • 8) Alan Rudd
  • 9) Debra Sorenson

I’ll also sign the certificates for those who have passed their initial certification, which include:

  • 1) Connie Anderle
  • 2) Carolyn Henderson
  • 3) Debra Sorenson

Kathy Lester will send everyone their Chapter t-shirts.

Lisa Milewski will send pins to the new graduates and nametags to those who get them, as well.

We will wait to give new members their gift made by Pamela Neeley later, since the are delicate and expensive to mail.

Plan for Chapter Meetings and Activities

Since we don’t have any idea when we can resume in-person meetings, we will continue with our Zoom Chapter Meetings. Don Travis will send all our members the registration link, which will work for all 2021 meetings. They’ll still be the second Thursday of the month!

We will be sending links to TMN activities that can get us our Advanced Training and volunteer hours virtually, such as TMN Tuesdays and the upcoming Virtual Volunteer Fair. Keep your eyes open for the weekly email!

I just want to thank all of you for sticking with us this year. I know some of us are unable to do virtual meetings, and that means we miss being together. Let’s hope things will turn around with the new year and slowly but surely we will be able to get outdoors and do some community science work together again!