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Arbo Paths: Nature’s delights are lying in wait

A visitor to the Arboretum remarked last week that they remembered hearing people say, during the early years of the Arboretum’s development, “Why would I want to visit a place that looks just like my back yard?” That comment has stuck with me throughout the week, and has returned a time or two for pondering.

At the time that the planning for the Arboretum began, and for years afterward, this 64 acre site did in fact appear to be – and was – just a typical pine savanna. Now, thirty-five years later, a young forest is emerging and its meadows regularly undergo prescribed fire, causing them to grow more diverse each year and result in colorful tapestries of wildflowers. The land today has a much different appearance than it did decades ago.

I think back to my youth, and of what a joy it was to learn about the plants that lived “in my backyard”. I listened raptly to those who knew the secrets of the plants that grew in the forest and field, and told tales that gave them each a context and purpose, by describing how early pioneers or Native Americans may have used a certain plant.

If you were to spy a plant called club moss (Lycopodium) growing in our Savanna Exhibit, or on the recently excavated shores of our new Gum Pond, you might simply think that it had an interesting appearance. This plant looks much like fuzzy reindeer horns. 

But if someone were to tell you a story about this plant, just like getting to know a person, it would open up a new dimension. The spores of club moss are highly flammable when mixed with air, and Lycopodium powder is still used for special “flash” effects by stage magicians. It was used in early flash photography, among other uses. Imagine!

Those who may venture out to the Arboretum for the first time, perhaps enticed by a program on hummingbirds or edible plants, are steadily making similar comments on their visit, which are music to our ears. “We never knew this was here”, they say. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never visited the Arboretum. I wish I had starting coming here years ago.” More and more, we are delighted that the local community has begun to discover us.

I believe that it is possible even for us grown-ups to receive the same type of pleasure from being immersed in the nature world that children experience during their field trips to the Arboretum. The urge for discovery is what keeps propelling them around the next bend in the trail.

This past week, I had my own rewarding encounter on a quick trip to our Hillside Bog natural area, when I decided to stop in and check on whether a plant we had seen in bud during early August, LeConte’s thistle (Cirsium lecontei) had begun to bloom. The excitement I experienced as I ventured down the path as I wondering what I might, the joy of finding that the blooms were exploding, and the added bonus of learning there were many more plants than what I had expected to see, this was a pleasure beyond description!

How can one’s perspective be changed? How can a “common” native plant capture one’s attention so completely? Much like a fine art painting might possess an ability to capture the observer’s attention through its expert design, the lovely “bowl and doily” spider webs laden with sparkling diamonds of dew drops, entwined in grass plumes and branches, possess a similar ability to stir the heart and mind, offering themselves up for our appreciation, and I most thoroughly enjoy a morning drive down our service road to work on a foggy day.

I would propose that through education it is possible to awaken others – our visitors – to the subtle enchantments of our natural world that can go unnoticed by those who are immersed in the rush of a typical day. Some writers strive to inspire us to remain young by never losing the ability to take childlike delight in our observations, so that we may always recognize those small moments that will cause us to stop in our tracks because of the beauty of a flower, an insect, or a natural scene is so enchanting that we must absorb it with every fiber of our proverbial being. And it only takes – a moment.

Come be inspired by nature this Saturday, September 6, on a visit the Crosby Arboretum gallery to celebrate the opening of our fall exhibit featuring work by artists Robin Veerkamp and Janet Schlauderaff.Veerkamp, of Picayune, specializes in color pencil and pen and ink drawings of landscapes, plants and animals. Schlauderaff, from Lumberton, grows and crafts gourds into baskets, bowls, and decorative display items.The event is from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. and is free to members and non-members. Light refreshments will be served.

Enjoy an early morning run through the Crosby Arboretum’s beautiful exhibits on September 13! The Run Baby Run 5 K Trail Run will be conducted by Teen Challenge of Poplarville, a non-profit organization that reaches out to men and woman of all ages who suffer from addictions. Registration opens at 7:00 a.m. and the run will begin at 8:00 a.m. Register on-line at www.ACTIVE.com. Enter “Run Baby Run” and “Picayune, MS”. The cost is $25.00 and includes site admission.

Mark your calendars for a buggy good time at our annual BugFest event on September 27 and 28, (Friday and Saturday). Events include a Buggy Midway, a visit from the New Orleans Audubon Institute’s Bugmobile, night insect collecting, and much more. See the program calendar on the arboretum website at www.crosbyarboretum.msstate.edu for details.

Admission to the Arboretum is free for members and $5 for non-members, and $2 for children under 12. Call 601-799-2311 for more information. The Arboretum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and located in Picayune, off I-59, Exit 4, at 370 Ridge Road (south of Walmart and adjacent to I-59).

FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION: Throughout history, man has been fascinated, and moved by, the patterns and structure of nature. Enter the keywords, “patterns in nature” and “art forms in nature” into an Internet search engine, to enjoy the visual delight of the images you will find.

By Pat Drackett