The Dallas Morning News

Finding help in the weeds and wildflower­s

- TYRA DAMM tyradamm@gmail.com Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

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.

 ?? Getty Images ?? A black swallowtai­l rests on a Texas thistle. Tyra Damm looks back at the time her grandmothe­r drove her around Central Texas in search of wildflower­s for a school project.
Getty Images A black swallowtai­l rests on a Texas thistle. Tyra Damm looks back at the time her grandmothe­r drove her around Central Texas in search of wildflower­s for a school project.
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