Sunday, April 19, 2009

Wrapping up CAMN

It hit 90 degrees today, which was my cue to stop gardening and get inside to some iced-tea, air conditioning and write. It's been several weeks and three classes since I wrote and that wraps up the 2009 Capital Area Master Naturalist program, which ended...not in volunteer hours and duty, but in classes on Saturday. 3 weeks ago we had our class at LCRA's Redbud Center which is a lovely work of architecture, with beautifully planned grounds and stunning lighting. My "nursery crawl" partner Randy and I took the city of Austin's first "Green Gardener Certification Course" there, meeting each Wednesday for a few months so I was familiar with the property, it's something to see if you find yourself on Lake Austin Boulevard, west of Mopac, it's an LEED Sustainable Designed Green Building...Gold Stamp Certified.

View of Tom Miller Dam from the walkway at LCRA Redbud center

The coolest part of the building as far as I'm concerned are the models of all the dams on the Colorado River, and they can turn the water on and watch them run through the models and if I had a kiddo interested in "how things work" a little engineer...I'd have them there as quick as you can snap. My little brother would have loved this place when he was small...probably still would.

Isn't this just awesome?

Anyway, you get the point...I didn't include them'll just have to go there yourself. So the class was on water, hydrology and aquatic ecology. We had several speakers, of which I thoroughly enjoyed the herpetologist who loved snakes, Dr. Travis J. LaDuc. He was wonderful and spoke so fast I hardly had time to take notes. He brought tons of slides and wonderful taping of frogs singing and it was baffling how one could train their ears to identify species in such a fashion. If you're interested you can get a Frog Call CD for $5 from the Texas Amphibian Watch at

He also showed up with several live snakes, I didn't include any of the photos of the snakes because when I saw them, they made me sad. I don't think there is anything sadder than seeing an animal in a cage than seeing one in an aquarium or plastic jar...those snakes were not happy.

He went on to explain about the various poisonous and non poisonous snakes, apparently we have only 4 poisonous species in Travis County...but lots of cool salamanders, frogs, turtles and other aquatic animals and insects. The class was interesting, the models of the wells and pollution were depressing, the lack of public knowledge astounding and I left wishing I'd savored the fresh glacial mountain lakes of Alaska more when I was a kid...and wondered why we couldn't just take better care of the earth...for our own sake.

This is Patty, our class president :) She's marvelous and I'm so happy to have met her in this class! One of the best parts of the CAMN program is the camaraderie and the awesome people you get to know, spend a whole lot of time hiking, learning, eating and just having new experiences with like minded souls. I don't know if I have what it takes to hike the AT, but she's done it twice...and that is just utterly amazing to me.

Baker Sanctuary is another brand new location for most of us in the class. It's an Audubon Society site, the first local chapter to purchase land for a species habitat, that species would be our very own...Golden Cheeked Warbler.

Sometimes you just come across an experience that your not likely to forget and this is one of them. Mike Quinn is an Entomologist, the second one we had...the first class was an Introduction to Insects taught by Dr. Al Hood at St. Ed's U, Dr. Quinn is a freelance bug guy fascinated with beetles and is currently doing a study here in Texas. He showed us what you get when you knock a tree...all these critters came falling down onto the catch sheet and he was grabbing 'em up and putting 'em in bottles and talking all the while and I'll never forget the frenzy and excitement. I can't see myself doing a backyard insect survey anytime soon but I will take my time before rushing past the little guys from now on.

Baker Homestead

The front porch...I snuck off from the crowd to peek inside the house to find just one room with an old iron stove inside, apparently the Bakers were a brother and sister who wanted their land left alone. According to the survey, the land looks pretty much as it did in the 50's...same trees and such...just a lovely outdoor pavilion has been added.

This is the spider guy...Joe Lapp, who is curiously looking at a Pirate Spider he picked out of my hair! I was glad to have been up front:)

A centipede they found on the first hike! Yikes!

Okay, here's the mystery...what the heck is growing on this plant? Any disease experts out there...please don't be shy, leave me a comment so I can learn something! It was fuzzy, but dry and looked like raspberries.

Prairie Verbena was growing all over the fields, as was Blackfoot Daisy and milkweeds.

One of the many spiders found on Joe's hike...I can't remember the name but I remember the story...the gob of stuff to the right is to fool the birds. A study was done on GCWarbler stomachs and they found that they mostly ate do many small birds.

This was a fun class and the location was so remote and quiet, you could hear the birds singing and I so hoped to catch site of the Golden Cheeked Warbler...that's on my list!
Our last class was at Shield Ranch, and covered Conservation and Restoration.

Kevin Thuesen was our energetic speaker and the tone was clear...get out there and do something...anything to help clean, restore, educate, inform...whatever your calling. Just do it.

After his lecture we took a hike through the fields to have a look at the Ranch, which is working and beautiful. I loved the hikes...all of them and it made me realize that that's what was missing in my life. I grew up hiking as a kid in New Mexico, Germany, Alaska...anyplace we went, we saw it on foot and my life has gotten just too busy. On the few classes where weather didn't permit or the speakers took their time, I felt jipped. The information was phenomenal, the resources invaluable but putting me back in touch with my inner spirit...I can't go there...oh well, priceless.

Here's my people...amazed by an empty dwellers, craving nature. After lunch, which was lovely, Thank you :) we all had to do a presentation and more than once my eyes welled up.

Purple Milkweed Flower blooming on the trail.

Antelope Horn milkweed...we kept coming across the buds and then finally the blossoms!

Pearl Vine elegant. By the last few classes it was obvious who the flower hounds were and I found myself navigating toward in hand I needed someone who was quick with the field guide and passionate about the beauty of wildflowers.

Mike and Debbie opened up their lovely home for the graduation party and class project later that afternoon. Beer and Bee Habitats...we were all happy! I take classes all the time...each year I end up racking up a few certifications and learning some new stuff. Sometimes it's good riddance, some good stuff and some of it... just a hoop you have to jump through...this class was different and I chose to write about it from the beginning because I could tell that it was going to stick with me forever. I'm not sure how I's something in the genuine spirit of one who has reverence for the outdoor cathedral...there's a particular glint in the eye, well worn crows feet from squinting in the full sun and smiling unconditionally...a deep satisfaction that cannot be explained only experienced.

This is my last post about the CAMN class. I'm sad to say it's over, I will miss each and every teacher and new found kindred spirit, but know I'll bump into you again someday...yanking out invasive species, clearing trails and hopefully 'round a campfire looking at the stars.

Our final for our teachers and Preserves that graciously allowed our class space and time to learn. On Sunday we made Screech Owl Houses that will go to yet other locations and some are for sale. I encourage anyone out there who understood this endeavor to research and consider taking the class and or volunteering your time. New applications will be available online August 1st and I encourage you to get it in on time, though that's not the only requirement and the class size is limited to 30 so not everyone makes it. I didn't make it in the first year I applied. Also, I have to mention Noah, the 14 year old home school student and budding Eagle Scout who added such spark and delight to our group...teens you are welcome! It's been a joy writing about this class and now...I must get out and do something!
Happy Gardening!


sweet bay said...

Great post!! Very interesting.

jewel said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed your CAMN classes. CAMN is so much fun for me and really fills my spirit. The 2009 group seems to be full of great folks who will do lots of good.
That raspberry looking stuff is some kind of gall. I did vegetation survey training at the WFC last week and the guide talked about it. (I kept thinking it might make a neat dye.) He didn't know what caused that particular gall but most are caused by insects; others by bacteria or viruses.
Now you can blog about your CAMN volunteering!

ConsciousGardener said...

Cool! Thank you so much Julia:) Now I have a place to start researching:) Happy Earth Day!

Bob said...

Wow, what a great time you had. I bet you are sorry it had to end.

If you ever want to go hiking you are more than welcome to come to the house and go hiking around Lake Georgetown. The trail starts at my back gate. The Williamson County chapter of NPSOT has been out and is coming again. The wild flowers are every where.

ConsciousGardener said...

I'd love to see your garden and go hiking Bob! Thanks!