By Charlie Grindstaff
Last year I received news that the Texas Master Naturalists were starting a chapter in Ellis County. I knew I liked being outdoors in nature, and I was aware of how little I knew about Texas nature since I grew up in Minnesota. So I thought, why not take the 40 hours of classes, agree to volunteer another 40 hours within a year and take 8 hours of advanced training in a subject that interested me. That sounded pretty good. I thought I would be able to effect changes for the good of us all. Maybe I could become an “expert” on wildflowers or birds.
A week before the class I got my manual. Whoa! That puppy weighed seven pounds (yes, I did weigh it). There were chapters on Texas naturalists prior to WWII, ecological regions of Texas, mammalogy, entomology (bugs hold a strange fascination for me, but I don’t really like them so I approached this with a little trepidation), plants and how they are named, ornithology (I love watching birds, so I thought this will be good), herpetology (reptiles and yuck, snakes), forest, wetland and rangeland ecologies and their management.
I dutifully read the chapters assigned each week and learned all over again how very interconnected and dependent all living things are. Just as importantly, I learned that I wasn’t going to learn or remember everything, and thankfully no one expected that. Our instructors were incredible sources of information and encouragement. I can’t think of one who wasn’t enthusiastic about not just their topic, but also the Master Naturalist program. I looked at some beautiful bugs and have even collected a few. I still won’t touch a tarantula but I don’t freak out when I see them now. “”Try to learn one wildflower a day” is great advice, and I am not close to becoming an expert; but I learned what to look for and where to look to identify them.
Many of the instructors were our guides on related field trips which reinforced what we learned in class and gave the lessons practical value. The students were a diverse group and we learned from each other as well as from the instructors and the manual.
When classes were over, the task of organizing the Indian Trail Chapter became our focus. We brainstormed about what projects the Chapter had the resources and knowledge to begin.
There were Chapter-wide projects like helping to develop Midlothian’s Mockingbird Nature Park including plant and tree identification, Girl Scout bluebird nest box trail and planting a butterfly garden; Growing Up Wild (introducing children to nature) and trail building at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center. There were individual projects like Stream Team (water quality monitoring), Amphibian Watch, Texas Turtle Watch, and CoCoRaHS (rainfall monitoring…yes, we know that is just wishful thinking right now).
The plentiful advanced training opportunities come from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Trinity River Audubon Center, North Texas Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, Botanical Research Institute of Texas and many other nature-focused organizations.
I find that the biggest change I have made is within myself and how I view my place in nature, no longer just an observer, but a caretaker. Oh…did I mention that our group has a great time working and laughing together. My husband and I know we made good decisions to become Indian Trail Master Naturalists. Come join us.
The Indian Trail Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists will be holding classes with related field trips beginning Thursday, September 8. If you would like to become an active citizen volunteer who thinks nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends please contact the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Waxahachie at 972-825-5175 or visit https://txmn.org/indiantrail/. Applications must be received by August 15. Texas Master Naturalist program is sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas AgriLife Extension Service.