The first plant I was ever able to identify was poison ivy. I had several run ins with it as a child, and then, in my teens, I would get such a severe rash on my face that I would wake up in the morning with one or both of my eyes swollen shut. After having to go on my first date in this state, I was highly motivated to learn what this plant looked like so I could avoid it.
Fortunately, I had a camp counselor who went to great lengths to describe it and show it to all his campers. I wish I could thank him today!
After that, I learned how to identify many plants in the forest. I began with the wildflowers and used to photograph them to no end.
When my children began to accompany me in the woods, I would show them the Jack-in-the pulpits, the wood anemones, the buttercups, and, of course, they could all identify poison ivy by the time they were three.
Summer projects became tree identification and entomology. I can’t explain why I had to put names on things, but it gives a certain satisfaction. One summer, we collected and studied mushrooms, but once I realized there were more than 500,000 kinds of mushrooms, I gave up on that one.
One day about two years ago, I was walking with my mother in the woods on her property when she quoted the little rhyme, “Sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses are hollow right up from the ground.” What was that!? I didn’t even know what a sedge was! I had to know more about that. And like many things in my life, I go from zero to sixty in no time. I was immediately taken with collecting, photographing, and identifying all the grasses in the United States. Since there are only 10,000, I have half a chance.
Why grass? Maybe because it’s the underdog and so under-appreciated, but I think it’s something else. I love to explore new places and would love to travel to the ends of the world, but because of the circumstances that I find myself in, it is impossible. Now, wherever I find myself: driving down the same old roads or walking the same old paths, I can see something new every day. It’s like being an explorer in my own back yard.