A Walk on the Wildflower Side

weekend I drove with some friends to the Red River Gorge of eastern Kentucky
for a wildflower walk organized by Father John Rausch, a Glenmary priest and
ecological advocate. He arranged for Dr. Tom Barnes to lead us,
the wildlife extension specialist from the University of Kentucky’s Department
of Forestry and an accomplished naturewriter and photographer. GO TO HIS WEBSITE! You’ll get lost in the beauty there! 

turned out to be much richer than we imagined. I’ve enjoyed many wildlife walks
at national parks, seeing three times more than I would have seen on my own,
taking home information that makes the forest vivid with specificity—no longer
“tree, tree, tree” but “poplar,
pin oak.”
The tiny wildflowers, so easily

overlooked, reward their viewers even more,
especially since there are some we have often seen without remarking. If humans
find it challenging to get to know other people without learning their names,
it is all the more so for us with trees and plants.

were nine of us. It rained all morning, but we circled the narrow roads,
jumping out in ponchos and hiking boots to gaze at yellow
and pink lady’s
slippers (native orchids–the yellow is featured on the cover above), Solomon’s
seal (picture to left–not mine), valerian,
ginger, and a host of other flowers that in a couple weeks will disappear
into the next stage in their plants’ annual cycles, while some other flower shows
its stuff. Mute and mostly still, they nevertheless announce, to any audience
and no audience, in their intricacy, variety, and beauty, their maker’s glory.

I know so little, each such outing doubles my memory bank, while reinforcing details
from previous walks. To travel with a group small enough to ask, “What’s this?”
yet large enough to share infectious zeal, made the day more festive still. We
stayed in the moment: no one cared that it rained, and no one dampened our
spirits by rehearsing their week’s troubles, many and varied as they were. The
day’s sensory richness will long linger, cultivating affection for nature and
commitment to its flourishing.

by this walk, I took my tree guide to a familiar meadow Sunday evening to

catalog some specimens I often pass by. A farmhouse once stood here, and a
floorless summer kitchen and outhouse still stand on the field edge next to
some stray Stars of Bethlehem that someone may once have tended. It’s easy to imagine
a clapboard home framed by youthful trees, which are now doddering past their
prime: catalpas
scantily clothed in last year’s seedpods and tentative spring leaves; sugar
branching past their neighbors to hoard the sunlight; senescent slippery
; black locusts,
not yet blooming; white
past their bloom; an adolescent buckeye; a tulip magnolia someone
left behind decades ago; a ghostly sycamore
by the frog pond.

It’s hard to protect what we do not
love. It’s hard to love what we do not know. And it’s hard to know what we do
not stop to observe firsthand. The more we relearn nature, the more we’ll
adjust our habits to assure its continuity. This is a sacred endeavor. As Sir
Thomas Browne said (and I got this from Tom Barnes): “Nature is the art of

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