By Mox Moxley, Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Every nature hike has a paramount moment or two. It may be adding a wildflower to the list of those you have already identified, seeing an insect that sparkles like a jewel or hearing a peculiar bird call then spotting its source. A recent experience during a Master Naturalist nature walk at Midlothian’s Nature Park could not have been predicted.
It was a beautiful spring day. We had hiked about half the trail and had examined several types of milkweed plants, four-nerve daises, Indian Paintbrush, Indian Blanket and many other wildflowers. It was then that Mr. Don Happ of Waxahachie asked if I had ever seen Gray’s School and Field Book of Botany. Asa Gray (November 18, 1810 – January 30, 1888) is considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century. He was instrumental in unifying the taxonomic knowledge of plants in North America.
Gray was born in Sauquoit, New York and became an MD when 21. However, he relinquished medicine for botany and at 32 was appointed professor of natural history at Harvard University, a post he retained until he was 63. Gray traveled to the American west on two occasions, the first in 1872 and then five years later with Joseph Dalton Hooker, Charles Darwin’s closest friend and director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Both times his goal was botanical research; he avidly collected plant specimens to bring back to Harvard. On his second trip, he and Hooker reportedly collected over 1000 specimens. Through the donation of an immense book and plant collection numbering in the thousands, Gray effectively created the botany department at Harvard which named the Gray Herbarium after him.
Although I had never seen Gray’s School and Field Book of Botany, I knew about Gray’s early botanical explorations and writings. Mr. Happ related that he had inherited a copy from a relative who used it as a school textbook. He wanted to donate it to a group that would appreciate its historic value. Without hesitation and with tremendous excitement, I said: “Our Master Naturalist Chapter would be delighted to receive it; we’ll handle it with care.”
Within days, the historic book was delivered to the AgriLife Office, where the organization is located. The copyright date is 1868. — It is over 140 years old and in remarkable condition. At a recent Chapter meeting, you could hear the individual ohhhs and ahhhs as the precious book was examined by members. Thanks to Mr. Happ, I’ll remember a paramount moment of one nature hike for a very long time.
What will be the highlight of your next nature walk? The Indian Trail Master Naturalists are sponsoring a rare Night Hike at Mockingbird Nature Park, commencing at 8 p.m., Friday, August 26. A trail which is familiar by day becomes a whole new experience at night. You will be taken on an adventure in which owls hooting, coyotes howling and strange rustlings in the brush are wonderful possibilities. Master Naturalists will lead this fun, family-friendly hike into the nighttime world of animals at Midlothian’s Park located at the corner of Mockingbird and Onward Roads. Come to learn about the sights, smells and sounds of nature at night. Closed-toed shoes, long pants, and bug spray are recommended. Bring a flashlight and a bottle of water. Plan to be outdoors at least two hours. Call 972-291-2868 to sign up. I’ll be there at the end of the walk, asking: “What did you like best?” or “What was your paramount moment?!”