Jane Tillman and I are the only active members of the class of 2001. Recently I had the pleasure of volunteering with her son who applied for the CAMN class of 2022. Back in the olden days, in addition to walking both ways up hill in the snow…..CAMN trainings consisted of eight consecutive Saturdays of training with one weekend off in the middle so folks could attend the annual meeting. Nine weeks start to finish. Ours was the last of the twice-a-year training classes. That’s right the curriculum committee presented a spring AND a fall training class. Melissa Macdougall was primarily responsible for our training and I considered her my den mother, and she became a dear friend. I loved the training and felt my focus should be to use that training on the ground and in the field, so I studiously avoided any service to the organization until 2014 when I yielded to a call for help with the curriculum committee. Melissa laughed at me and told me it was about time I realized I could do both. Prior to joining CAMN I had been recruited to volunteer at Wild Basin by Mike Powers, and I’ve continued to volunteer there through all the ups and downs over the past twenty years. During the first couple years with CAMN, I planted trees with Tree Folks and it’s fun now to drive around Austin and see saplings grown into shade trees. Another memorable project was helping folks at the COA rehab an area along a newly acquired section of Barton Creek that had for years been a favorite haunt of “pot-heads”. Not smokers, the other kind–those who dig for indigenous artifacts. We mostly filled holes over a large area that looked like a B52 bombing range before we started, but several archaeologists dug a small sample area of previously undisturbed soil and allowed us to observe.
Back in the day, although we submitted an application, basically the first thirty submissions were accepted. I’m told that all changed when one applicant was deemed inappropriate. Since then, I’ve watched the application and admission process become more and more complex in the laudable effort to increase the diversity of the training classes. I have to admit that one constant from back in the day until today is attrition. Some folks go through the training and then fail to ever volunteer. Some others who do initially volunteer tire of the reporting process and they keep volunteering, but just stop submitting hours!
So why do I keep with it? The most important thing becoming a Texas Master Naturalist taught me was to ask questions and get out there on the ground to answer them. For example, where does your water go? Where does the rain go once it falls in your yard? Answering that question several years ago led me to a beautiful grotto on Red Bud Trail on the west side of Lady Bird lake. On that initial excursion, I discovered my first native orchid Bletia (Hexalectris) spicata. But my training also told me to look closer at the ground of my yard and I found a karst feature. Having volunteered at COA properties, I knew how to clear and protect the feature. Staying in the CAMN program requires that I keep learning and at a recent Sierra Club meeting, I learned that my karst feature has another name: a swallet. Just saying the word swallet is fun! Swallet!!!! And I owe it all to the Texas Master Naturalist program.
Of course, most importantly, I’ve met some of the kindest, most sharing, and knowledgeable folks I could ever imagine.
Words and photos by John Barr, CAMN Class of 2001