The Dallas Morning News
Finding help in the weeds and wildflowers
Springtime is made for families. Neighborhood walks and sidewalk gatherings. Picnics and festivals. Long, drawn-out capstone projects that require togetherness.
Katie and I recently hit the highway for a daytrip to Waco — a welcome change of scenery as we both steel ourselves for the final weeks of the school year.
The Interstate 35 drive was predictable in the most frustrating ways — ubiquitous construction, poorly marked lane changes and narrow shoulders that make traveling next to 18wheelers a formidable task. At the same time, the farther south we ventured, the more often we were rewarded with lovely views of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush.
In between podcasts and our typical road-trip music (the Avett Brothers and the Beatles), I shared with Katie my memories of the big sixthgrade science project at Belton Junior High.
We were given a few weeks to gather, press, mount and label 25 wildflowers found in Central Texas. My family lived out in the country that year, but Mom worked long hours, and it was difficult for her to drive me to fields during daylight. Gramma to the rescue!
She took the project seriously, not a surprise if you knew Kathryn Thomas. She was an all-or-nothing sort and a gifted gardener. She owned an illustrated guide to wildflowers, making my research a little easier. Just as essential, she and Grandpa owned a set of encyclopedias that usually offered hours of entertainment but for this project served as the temporary home for all
those flowers pressed between sheets of waxed paper.
My sister and I would climb into the brown Grand Am, Gramma behind the wheel with a lit Virginia Slim. She’d ferry us to fields and ditches around Bell County, and I’d pop out, eager to claim another
flower for the list. Gramma didn’t believe in doing the work for me, but she provided plenty of guidance, encouraging me to identify the flower on my own and pointing out variations and adaptations of each plant.
We found them all, including pink evening primrose, brown-eyed Susan, Indian blanket, winecup and Texas thistle (a very thick bloom that was tough to wrestle into submission for drying). Neither Gramma nor I was willing to give up until the list was conquered.
It’s been almost 40 years since that project, but I can still feel the sap from some of those cuttings. And I’ll never forget the pride in finally finishing.
Linda Baird was my science teacher back then, and though she’s now retired, she says that former students still reminisce with her about the wildflower collection. This was long before Google, she recalls, and students had to conduct some hard-fought research to name all the plants.
“It was a highlight of science,” Mrs. Baird wrote me after I reached out to her to ask about the project. “The kids always got super excited, and the thing I remember most is their families joining them in finding and identifying the flowers. Many parents told me through the years what a great activity it was to work together and make the project as a family.”
When I spy a smattering of bluebonnets in April, I always recall that sixth-grade spring — learning to scout for ant piles before walking into a patch of untamed land, our excitement in discovering a hidden treasure among weeds, the bonus hours with my natureloving grandmother.
And I’m reminded that while there’s value in kids taking responsibility for their own learning, it’s also crucial that families provide a little support when needed. In our house this season, that means side-byside sessions studying for the AP World History exam. Reconciling the differences among the Safavid, Mughal and Ottoman empires may not be as picturesque as hunting for flowers, but perhaps the experience will be just as memorable decades from now.