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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

Beyond the Range of Sight

Prairie Notes: #54
June 1, 2011

1) Beyond the Range of Sight
2) In the Eyes of a Child
3) Field Report
4) Wildflowers of the Moment
5) Pocket Prairie Discovery
6) Prairie Plant Puzzler
7) Tandy Hills For Sale. LAST CALL!
8) Prairie Proverb

1) Beyond the Range of Sight

In a previous Prairie Notes I wrote of, "Looking Deeper into Tandy Hills." In retrospect, I should have titled it SEEing Deeper... To "see" rather than "look", to "hear" rather than "listen" is not a game of semantics but a fundamental shift in how we engage our senses. By doing so, our appreciation tends to expand and the big picture gets even bigger and more inclusive. With any luck, SEEing will illuminate us.

I'm not referring to some mumbo-jumbo, quasi-religious kind of "seeing" but to seeing nature as it is, intuitively, its essence and, especially, our place in it. Sounds easy doesn't it? But if it were easy, 99.5% of the native prairie would not be buried under concrete and cornfields and Henry David Thoreau's raggedy mug would be on every $1. bill.

Somewhere along the line while blindly following their Manifest Destiny our ancestors forgot how to SEE. Intellect overshadowed intuition. As a result, many generations later we are largely estranged from the natural world. Most of the native landscape around Fort Worth that once inspired settlers to move to, Queen City of the Prairie, has been sliced, diced and reduced to a handful of tiny parcels. Most of those remain threatened.

Thoreau addressed the topic of SEEing in his Journals and poetry. In a moment of self-criticism he once wrote, "I fear the character of my knowledge is, from year to year, becoming more distinct and scientific. I see details, not wholes nor the shadow of the whole. (1851) Elsewhere, he wrote, "I suspect the child plucks its first flower with an insight into its beauty and significance which the subsequent botanist never retains." "Surely I might take wider views." (1852)

Henry was, of course, being too hard on himself. He had the heart of a nature mystic and the mind of a scientist. (He has been described as a Saunterer-Scientist.) Such a combination allowed him to see beyond the range of sight.

What I'm laboring to express to you is this: Before one can fully appreciate something and therefore learn to love and protect it, one has to learn to SEE deeper. To SEE with the eyes of the soul. Places like Tandy Hills are never out of danger and depend on our ability to SEE for their survival. LOOKing, alone, is not enough.

The 4th graders on field trips today will be the landowners, politicians and voters of tomorrow. They will decide if Tandy Hills and other green space deserve to remain protected or become soccer fields, gas well pad-sites and parking lot wastelands. We have a duty to help them learn to SEE.

Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) makes an appropriate symbol of how to SEE deeper at Tandy Hills.

I hear beyond the range of sound,
I see beyond the range of sight,
New earths and skies and seas around,
And in my day the sun doth pale his light.

-- from, Inspiration, (c. 1841) by Henry David Thoreau


PS: The Tree of Life, a challenging new film by Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven) touches on the larger themes presented above. It arrives in the Metroplex on June 3 at the Angelika in Dallas.

2) In the Eyes of a Child

Despite high humidity, heat, mud, steep hills and a brief rain shower, the inaugural, FOTHNA-sponsored field trips for FWISD students took place at Tandy Hills on May 11 and 12. Enthusiasm for learning and smiles of understanding were prevalent.

More than 140 Meadowbrook Elementary School 4th graders and their teachers got off the bus at Tandy Hills and were met by a group of volunteer Master Naturalists who led them in groups of 10 on a three hour, Field Investigation. Science, math, creative writing, art, fossil hunting and critical thinking were part of the curriculum. Vigorous exercise in a natural setting came at no extra charge.

The botanical time-machine that is Tandy Hills Natural Area is the perfect place to teach children how to SEE. Using funds raised at Prairie Fest and other donations, FOTHNA is committed to continuing these field trips indefinitely. We are working with FWISD Exploratory Learning Investigation Specialist, Kathy Cash, and Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge Manager, Suzanne Tuttle, to improve and expand the program. Our goal is to have every school child in Fort Worth participate.

> > > The FWISD website has posted a nice document of the event HERE. < < <

photos by Louise Moreno

3) Field Report

-Heavy rains, high humidity and cooler temps throughout May rejuvenated the wildflowers and grasses. At press time, the prairie hills are a thick and tangled mass of both. Prairie Bishop's Weed and Prairie Bluets are currently predominant but new wildflowers are blooming every other week.

-Wildlife is on the move at Tandy Hills. On May 8, I spotted a pair of Roadrunners. This is a hopeful sign that a nesting pair has taken up residence which begs the question: What is a baby Roadrunner called? Answer: A fledge. Other critters recently observed include, Cotton-tail Rabbits, Fox and a great variety of butterflies and birds.

-Another pleasant side-effect of rain on the prairie is the heavy aroma of le parfum du prairie. Alas, the divine blend of damp limestone, Mock Pennyroyal, earth, Juniper, Sumac, Sage and a hundred other secret ingredients cannot be photographed. Come on in and "SEE" it with your own nose.

-Jim Varnum's Wildflower Extravaganza on May 14, drew more than 50 people including a group of 25 inner-city kids from an after-school photography club. OMG!

-Purple Leatherflower (Clemantis pitcheri) is possibly the rarest wildflower at Tandy Hills. I have seen only two plants across the entire park both of which withered in the heat of last summer. Things are looking up in 2011. I spotted one of the distinctive climbing vines in a new place this year. With a little luck we might have some blooms this year.

Sylvilagus floridanus is a cheerful and common sight at Tandy Hills this year.

Rubbing the fragrant leaves in their hands, a group of 4th grade field-trippers learned to SEE with their noses on Pennyroyal Hill.

The distinctive leafed yet hard to spot vines of Purple Leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri).

The rarest wildflower at THNA, coming in late June, if conditions are just right.

4) Wildflowers of the Moment

I practice SEEing when taking my photos. My aim is to capture the essence of the subject or whatever suits my fancy. They are not necessarily meant to be standard field guide image. Here are a few examples of what I SAW in the month of May:

Sweet-smelling, Grassleaf Barbara's Buttons (Marshallia graminifolia) were plentiful in May.

The latest pic from my ongoing affair with Prairie Indian Plaintain (Arnoglossum plantagineum)

Yellow Basin Sneezeweed (Helenium amarum var. amarum) is a cheerful addition to the Spring-Summer palette.

Uncommon at THNA, Lance-leaf Loosetrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum) has dime-sized flowers.

A picture-perfect patch of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia.)

Muggy conditions beget some bizarre mushrooms in the dark shadows of the prairie.
Say hello to, Mutinus caninus, aka: Dog Stinkhorn. No kidding.

5) Pocket Prairie Discovery

Hidden in plain sight is how I would describe this little 7-acre secret garden in southwest Fort Worth. Just one block west of heavily developed, S. Hulen Street, this lovely pocket prairie is all that's left of what was once a grand prairie landscape. It is now surrounded by office buildings and a school. An insurance/real estate company holds the deed so it's ultimate fate is predictable. Still, on a lovely day in mid-May as the wildflowers were peaking, I had to stop my car and interface with this unexpected treasure encircled by "progress." I observed many of the same plants found at Tandy Hills surrounding a little copse of Mesquite trees.

If you go: The address is approximately 4070 Kingsridge, one block west of Hulen and one block north of S. Loop 820. There is a cable surrounding the property with Keep Out signs posted. Enter carefully, at your own risk.

An anonymous, pocket prairie in SW Fort Worth can have a magnetic attraction on some people.

6) Prairie Plant Puzzler

Do you know me? I have a split personality. Despite my royal nickname, I'm a Texan at heart and a common sight at Tandy Hills in late Spring and early Summer. I may not be the showiest plant on the prairie but I'm VERY thrifty with H2O. Some might say I look grotesque up close but beetles, butterflies and bees find my milky sap irresistible. I urge YOU to touch me at your own risk. That's all the clues you get. What's my name?

Grotesque or beautiful?

7) Tandy Hills For Sale. LAST CALL!

Seventeen talented artists participated in the 2011 Prairie Fest Plein Air Paint-out and auction. Unfortunately, time ran out before all the artworks could be auctioned. They are now being offered for sale at the Opening Bid price. What a deal!

View the paintings HERE. This is a first come first served sale. All sales are shared between the artists and FOTHNA. Sale ends June 30.

Contact Don Young for details on payment and pick up.

> > > Also... LAST CALL for the "May 2011 - April 2012" Tandy Hills Calendars. Only 3 left. Go HERE for details.

Cactus Prickly Pear. Watercolor by Tina Bohlman.

8) Prairie Proverb

We are stardust
Billion year-old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden

-- from Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell

Tree of Life: An inch-long, days-old Texas Walkingstick posing on my granddaughters' hand, at THNA.