April 4, 2015

Perennial Delight

Most young people find botany a dull study. So it is, as taught from the text-books in the schools; but study it yourself in the fields and woods, and you will find it a source of perennial delight.  --John Burroughs

Slender Speedwell (Veronica filiformis)

I've begun a personal project that will most likely involve months and months of casual study. Turning my attention to the 2,500+ images I've uploaded to Flickr, I hope to title every photograph of a plant, animal, fungus, insect, tree...well, you get the idea...labeling it with its common name as well as its Latin name.  

I began this project a couple of weeks ago -- when I had the idea to use my own photographs for our Grade Five botany study.  Using my photographs, I planned to create a personalized field guide of our favorite haunts.  I began with my Plants and Flowers album -- researching and labeling images using Mrs. William Starr Dana's wonderful guide, How to Know the Wild Flowers, first published in 1893.  One evening I sat down at the computer, Dana's book by my side, and began looking closely at my flower photographs.  Soon, I was not only identifying blooms, but also feeling closer and closer to the individuals associated with my second-hand book.

Mrs. William Starr Dana wrote the book in 1893 -- the first printing sold out in only five days and was quite popular with many high profile individuals including Theodore Roosevelt.  Mrs. Dana - Frances Theodora Parsons -- was not only a botanist and author but also an advocate of women's suffrage.  And it was a woman named Ruth Sumner, who gifted my copy of Dana's book to a gentleman named Theron H. Butterworth, with the inscription: Christmas 1981 Hershey Summit, PA.

As I use Dr. Butterworth's copy of How to Know the Wild Flowers, I am privy to his personal notes like this one next to a description of Coltsfoot:  

The Alpine
23rd March 1982

The Alpine, one of the names given to a nursing facility in my hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania, was the final residence of Dr. Theron H. Butterworth.  It turns out Dr. Butterworth is as famous as Mrs. Dana's book.  He was not only a world traveler (working as a milk sanitarian with the World Health Organization), but he also published an adaptation (with Frederick Warne & Co. of London) of Beatrix Potter's famed story The Roly-Poly Pudding. I discovered all of this only just this evening -- when I wanted to learn more about the man who wrote notes in the margin of my his book.  Dr. Butterworth passed away in 1996, the year before I was married, the year I earned my teacher's certificate.  Isn't it neat to think I am married almost 20 years and using his book to teach my Beatrix-Potter-loving, ten-year-old son about the wild flowers?

Well, the attention I've given to the wild flowers over the past few weeks has brought about a sense of calm to my day-to-day dealings.  I've even taken a few moments to sit in my backyard sketching the misplaced plant you see above -- it is a spring weed, Slender Speedwell.  I've always loved it.  Its small blooms look like tiny pansies.  It, among other spring weeds, captured my attentions these past couple of days.  The air is feeling warmer, we've almost completed our school year and...I'm simplifying our days.  After months of focusing on the needs of individuals in my homeschooling community, I am turning my attention back to the people and places I love - limiting the amount of work I accept and making time for my family.  Spring is in the air!

How are you finding the change of seasons?