A Little Nash Ramble

The guy running the front loader couldn’t have been nicer. “Look at this,” he said to his wife as she wandered up, shovel in hand, trying to shush the dogs. “She’s got the same danged map as that other guy.” Handing the map to the woman, he gave me a look generally reserved for well-intentioned but slightly dim folk. “Around here, we don’t call it a prairie. We call it a hay field.” 

“Well,” I said, “whatever you call it, I can’t find it. That map says it’s supposed to be twenty-six miles north of Highway 35. When I got to County Road 18 I knew I’d gone too far, but I sure hadn’t gone twenty-six miles. I decided I’d better stop and ask somebody who’d know.”

That made him smile. It made his wife smile, too. We stood around for a bit, grinning at one another while the dogs snuffled around my ankles and bumblebees trundled through the rising heat. Finally, he pushed back his hat and said, “Tell you what. Go on back down the road a piece, past the old Gibson place. Pass by the goat on the right and keep a-goin’. If you get to the substation, you’ve gone too far.”

Deciphering directions in Texas can take some skill, but there was no questioning the importance of “goat” and “substation” if I wanted to find the prairie. “Down the road a piece” and “over yonder” never translate into miles. If I’d asked enough times about the old Gibson place, I might have discovered it’s the Kutchka place now, or that the columns out front that made it recognizable aren’t there any longer since the Gibsons tore them out when they bought it. But, I might not have discovered any of that, so “goat” and “substation” it would have to be.

“That ought to do it,” I said, taking back the map. “Thank you kindly.”  Heading back to the car, I heard the front loader start and then stop. “When you get there?” I turned around. “When you get there,” he said, “don’t go drivin’ in. It’s too wet for one thing, and I don’t know as they want people doing that, anyhow. Pull up next to one’a them metal posts and you’ll be fine.” Thanking him again, I headed off down the road, ready to use my new GPS – my Goat Positioning System – to locate 400 acres of virgin prairie.

As it turned out, the goat was at home. After a few minutes of letting him mug for the camera, I got back on the road and discovered myself nearly at the substation. Even so, between the substation and the goat I had to look twice and turn around once before I was certain I’d I’d found the prairie. Unfenced, ungated, unmown and unplowed, it appeared unremarkable from the road. Hidden in plain sight, lacking even a sign to mark its presence, Nash Prairie could fool anyone into mistaking it for just another hay field instead of recognizing it for what it is – a gem is its own right, a link to our past and a sign of hope for the future.

Texans do love their wildflowers, and the spring ritual called “going to see the bluebonnets” is deeply ingrained. Even state government does what it can to encourage the flowers. As early as 1934, the Texas Department of Transportation began to delay mowing until the end of the spring and early summer wildflower seasons. Today, adjusted mowing practices encourage native grasses, and about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed are purchased and sown each year.

In years when the weather cooperates, such attentiveness can lead to breath-taking vistas. On the other hand, there’s a growing tendency to define “good wildflowers” solely in terms of vibrant and accessible color patches, like the stands of bluebonnets that line so many roads.

Nash Prairie is different. It’s subtle, not spectacular. Nearly invisible to someone traveling by car, it demands to be taken in at a walking pace and absorbed with all of the senses. The fragrance of the land is indescribable. More than an absence of pollutants or the sweetness of flowers, its aroma is at once rich and spicy, tanged with salt and redolent of growth, the essence of grass, sedge, soil and flower combined into one unexpected scent.

Unlike the more vibrantly-framed roads, Nash Prairie is a mixed bouquet. No human hand scattered these seeds. No master planner decreed “blue here, yellow there”.  The land itself determines which life will flourish, and where.  In the sandy, well-draining soil of the raised pimple mounds, sunflowers, Texas toad-flax, cone flowers and Indian paintbrush are flourishing among the grasses.

Near the base of the mounds, paintbrush and toad-flax mix with prairie parsley and sensitive briar while in shallow, barely visible meanders prairie nymph, a tiny member of the iris family, spreads and flows, a river of lavender petals.

That Nash Prairie survives at all is something of a miracle.  According to The Nature Conservancy, the 400-acre tract is one of the last remaining segments of the Great Coastal Prairie, six million acres that stretched from Lafayette, Louisiana to Corpus Christi, Texas. Less than one percent of the prairie still exists, and barely a fraction of that is virgin prairie like Nash.

Once part of the historic 15,000 acre KNG Ranch, the land was willed jointly by owner Kittie Nash Groce to a cousin, to West Columbia’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and to the West Columbia Hospital District in 1957.  Thanks to the farming practices of German and Czech settlers who used it as a hay meadow, the land never has been plowed. Occasional cattle were grazed and hay cuttings were taken once or twice a year, but the land always was allowed to regenerate, helping to maintain its rich diversity. The value of the management practices is clear. Hundreds of species thrive at Nash Prairie. Just across the road, in a pasture used to graze cattle, only a dozen species are found.

In 2003, Susan Conaty, wife of the Reverend Peter Conaty, Rector of St. Mary’s in West Columbia, happened to hear a Houston Audubon society representative mention the importance of the hay meadow as one of the last remnants of coastal prairie. “I had never knowingly seen this prairie, even though I had driven by it for years,” she said. Her new awareness began a long and complicated struggle to preserve the land – a process which culminated in its recent sale to The Nature Conservancy for $1.8 million.

Also in 2003, Dr. David Rosen, then botanist and plant taxonomist with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, began a survey of the Nash Prairie. Now Professor of Biology at Lee College in Baytown, he’s identified more than 300 plant species on the prairie. One extraordinarily rare plant discovered there – the buttonbush flatsedge (Cyperus cephalanthus) – first was described in 1843.  Considered a reliable indicator of undisturbed Coastal Prairie, it was thought to have disappeared from Texas. Rosen says its discovery represented the “biggest surprise” of his work.

Grasses represent the bulk of the species found on the prairie. Among the most common are big and little bluestem, Indiangrass, brownsee paspalum and switchgrass. By 2008,  Rosen had catalogued 52 species of native grasses, remarkably close to the total of 63 species reported at the Konza Prairie Biological Station in Kansas.

Grasses and flowers aren’t the only prairie joys, of course.  Birds abound on every prairie, and at Nash, 120 resident or migratory species have been identified. During my early afternoon visit, few birds were visible, but I did see my first scissortail flycatchers of the spring, and smiled to hear the call of a meadowlark.

Nearly back at the road, I noticed a bit of bright red very near the ground. Bending down, I discovered a ripening dewberry, surrounded by blossoms and just-forming fruit. No ripened berries were visible on the surface. No doubt they’d provided a tasty snack to some bird or creature. But underneath the leaves, the plump, black berries were waiting, another bit of prairie life to experience.

Laying my camera on the ground, I reached into the brambles and began to pick. One, two, a dozen berries. I found myself wishing for a basket, but my hand would have to do. As I picked, I smiled to hear my mother’s voice chiding me in memory. You’re not going to eat those without washing them, are you?

Indeed, I was. No pesticide had sullied this land, no chemical residue would spoil taste or pleasure. As for dirt, the berries sparkled. Rains that had turned the earth spongy and left it unfit for driving had washed the berries clean. Plumped by rain, ripened by the sun, their sweet warmth was a delight. Gazing across the acres of prairie, tasting the bits of sunlight and rain, I imagined sweeps of flowers to come, the rising up of grasses and the flowing down of winds. Looking beyond the grasses, I sensed the tangled bracts of time, the seeds of history and the vining of seasons through an unbroken land.

Next time, I thought, I’ll stay longer.  Next time, I won’t need a map.


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83 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oh my, manna for the soul! This is my chosen life with the land and all the blessed gifts it offers. I wouldn’t trade it to live in all the cities of the world! Thank you, thank you, thank you…

    • June,

      I’ve lived in the cities, and I’ve lived in the small towns, and I’ve spent nearly as much time in the country as on the water. They all have their good points – but when I think about where I’d like to spend the rest of my days? Let’s just say inside the Houston Loop doesn’t quite do it for me.

      I can just see you in the middle of that prairie with your easel! You’d have such fun!

      Linda

  2. Linda, Your writing of your experience makes me wish that I were there to enjoy it too. Thank you for sharing. Lovely! ~ Lynda

    • Lynda,

      I wish you could have been there too. I even would have shared my dewberries with you!

      It will be fun to go back and see the changes as the seasons pass by, particularly if the rains continue as they have. I’m learning to appreciate grassses as well as flowers, and their time is coming!

      Linda

  3. Linda,
    While reading this I was listening to your words to visualize this beautiful place. What a wonderful thing that Texas has this piece of natural beauty.
    So glad you got to go and see it and take photos and tell us about it.
    Loved this essay and photos!
    Patti

    • Patti,

      There are so many special places, all beautiful in their own way. I remember how surprised I was to learn about the palm and hardwood hammocks in Florida – as far as I knew, hammocks were those things you put up between trees!

      The photos aren’t so good – next time, I’ll do better. For one thing, I was so entranced by everything I was seeing, I didn’t concentrate as I should have. And did I mention I hadn’t thought about things like chiggers? Next time I’ll be better prepared in a couple of ways!

      Thanks so much for stopping by – I just love finding things like this to share with you.

      Linda

  4. I smiled as I visualized your journey…Well I know the substation and the goat. My favorite windmill is just up the road. I am happy you managed to get across the river before the summer heat sets in.

    This spring the rains have done great things for the wildflowers. Unfortunately for those of us who love to view them, it has also done great things for the grasses growing up with them. The vistas that are usually blue and red and yellow are pastel versiond of themselves in fields of spring green.

    A great telling of your journey.

    • Gary,

      I’m so glad you mentioned the goat! I was accused of photoshopping that picture. – obviously, by someone who doesn’t
      know a lot about the habits of goats!

      I missed your windmill, although I must have gone by it. I made it all the way up to 1462 before I figured things out and headed south again. It made me feel better to read that Susan Conaty used to drive past it all the time and didn’t know it was there.

      I’m just so glad I found your photos – otherwise I never would have gone looking. I’m anxious now to see it a couple of months down the road. Maybe I’ll even learn to recognize a few grasses!

      Linda

      • I was wandering into Washington County last Friday looking for wildflowers and started to swing by the Nash on my way home. But long trip and few vistas led me to drive on by…I need to get back as it’s been almost a month since my last trip.

        • I’ll be keeping an eye out for photos!

  5. While I am thinking of it, did you take a minute when you were down on 35 to explore East Columbia? Some of the nicest example of early Texas houses outside of Galveston.

    • Gary,

      I didn’t – in fact, it wasn’t until I came home and started studying up on Nash Prairie that I realized East Columbia is more than a bend in the road, or that there’s so much history there to be explored. I intend to get back down there soon – that would be a good trip for a rainy day when I can’t work.

      I didn’t know about the Columbia Bottomlands, either. Now, Columbia Lakes makes more sense. Exploration is called for.

      One of my great frustrations is that, as my remaining years decrease, my want-to-do list increases. I’d better get busy!

      Linda

  6. You’re likely to be the first person in the history of the English language to use the phrases “the tangled bracts of time” and “the vining of seasons.” The words are well chosen.

    • Steve,

      I’m not much with a camera, but I do love my words. It’s funny-strange – “tangled bracts of time” came to me as a fully formed phrase, while I was making a sandwich. I liked it so much, I had to find a couple of friends for it to play with. They ended up playing well together – I’m glad you liked them.

      Linda

  7. Beautiful, Linda! That first bit about the goat and the Gibson home could have just as easily taken place in Minnesota. :) Discoveries and walks like these are my absolute favorite; there is simply something about just putting yourself in the middle of a landscape and opening your eyes.

    Thanks for the share. One more place (the list is long!) to visit in my lifetime.

    • Emily,

      Ah, that list. See my comment to Gary, above. It’s a bit of a struggle to figure out how all this is going to get done – when I decided to limit myself to travel in this country, it was going to get easier. It isn’t.

      You’re right about the goat – it could have taken place in Minnesota, or Iowa, or Louisiana. There’s a commonality to rural and small town life that has little to do with locale, and a whole lot to do with people. Some day, when I get really courageous (read: ready to be really laughed at) I’ll tell a few stories from my early days in rural south Texas. The goat is nothing.

      Have you read Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”? I suspect you have. I re-read her chapter on “Seeing” regularly. Maybe every couple of months. It reminds me that sometimes we’re the photographer, and sometimes we’re the film. And exposure time counts.

      Linda

  8. So glad you made the trip and shared it with us. I bet the sounds there are simply enchanting. Must have felt like emerging from a time machine. (and the goat is perfect)

    • phil,

      I love that goat. I’ve been going around and around with a friend in Kansas about compass vs map vs gps vs ipad. Now I can tell him I finally upgraded.

      And I swear to you – the birds there sounded happier. I’d be pretty happy, too, if I was looking for a place to nest and found Nash Prairie.

      Linda

  9. Hi Linda:

    I’ll use Spanish for this comment if you don’t mind. Este artículo es muy lindo, como la escritora que lo escribió. Su nombre es Linda.

    Abrazos,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      Me hace feliz al disfrutar de mis palabras. Muchas gracias!
      Y, por supuesto – Feliz Pascua!

      Linda

  10. what a wonderful place, and so good that it’s being looked after! Wild places full of flowers are so special.

    • Juliet,

      I thought of you on my drive home, actually. You’ve shared such wonderful rambles with us, and finally I have a lovely one to share
      with you!

      The Nature Conservancy has done some wonderful work, and I know they will care for the prairie as it deserves. And the Rev. and Mrs. Conaty deserve so much credit – they worked diligently to see that the land was preserved, and that the complexities of the legal situation were worked out satisfactorily.

      I think my next stop will have to be another Nature Conservancy site I pass regularly – a piece of coastal prairie fronting Galveston Bay, where one of only two groups of the endangered Attwater Prairie Chicken exists. I don’t even need a goat to get me to that site!

      Linda

  11. With a goat positioning system, who needs a map?

    This was a fantastic diversion from the drudgery of DC. Thank you, Linda.

    • Hippie Cahier,

      Happy to bring you a little breath of fresh air from the prairies – not to mention a little birdsong and some pretty flowers. Your cherry blossoms are really nice, but the prairie’s not as crowded.

      So nice to have you stop by, particularly right smack in the middle of the alphabet!

      Linda

  12. Thank you for another adventure in words, place and culture. I will have to figure out where this prairie is.

    I can’t help but think when one walks through these pastures of thick wildflowers in the spring, one’s feet get damp from the moisture these lovely plants and blooms drink.

    And the dewberries! Your photograph captures the ones I remember. I remember a wonderful patch of dewberries in the field behind our home in Tyler. Dewberry pie. Dewberries on ice cream and cereal. So many dewberries we picked filling my mother’s pots and pans. Back in the day we had to eat them up as we didn’t have a freezer, only an “icebox”. Today I love going to Moorehead’s Blueberry Farms just south of Conroe, pick a bucket or two and freeze them in a proper freezer to enjoy all year round.

    You certainly gave new meaning to GPS!

    • Georgette,

      Now that I know where the prairie is, I can tell you – it’s straight south of Brazos Bend on CR25. Or, you can take CR25 north from Texas 35. It’s the road that goes up into Columbia Lakes. CR 255 (Orozimbo Road) comes in from the east and deadends at the prairie. With all of that, you shouldn’t have to look for the goat. ;)

      I’ve been to Mr. Moorehead’s several times – berry picking is such a delight. I need to get in touch with a woman who used to come to our farmers’ market, too – she always went to a place somewhere around Yoakum and picked blackberries. They were the fattest, sweetest berries in the world. Now, it’s strawberry time, and Froberg’s farm in Alvin is the place to pick. The cobblers and dumplings are wonderful, but a good fresh strawberry pie has to happen at least once during the season!

      Did you ever make trips to the icehouse? Long before I knew about Texas “icehouses” as good places to shoot pool and drink beer, I have memories of the icehouse in my grandparents’ town. I was very young and don’t remember much, but I do remember sawdust packed around the ice blocks. Isn’t it amazing that we experienced such things? It was a different world, in so many respects.

      And yet, that world still exists – on the prairie, in the berry fields and orchards. It’s well worth the effort to keep all of it alive.

      Linda

  13. Part of my heart will always be in the prairie, or at least what passed for one where I grew up in Illinois I remember going across the highway to the undeveloped land, climbing a tree and watching for pheasants. Now, there’s a huge shopping center there, I’m told. My grandparents lived in West Texas for their last (many) years. Once I visited in springtime when the prairies were blazing with wildflowers–both the vast planted tracts, but also more natural ones, and those were the ones I loved the best. But nothing I saw compares to what you show here. I hope to get there someday. Some kind of heaven, surely.

    And, as for Texas wildflowers, I think you must know this site, but just in case, beautiful photographs of Texas wildflowers are reliably to be found here, a new one virtually every day.

    (Since I’ve seen you last over my way, I’ve done two music posts–I promise this won’t be incessant, but if you do drop by and can face only one, it’s the “dazzling air” one that means most to me. I’m going down to NYC expressly for the big concert tomorrow, and I feel like a nervous grandma watching over her chicks.)

    • Susan,

      Weren’t the pheasants wonderful? Such pretty feathers, and such tasty meat. My dad and his friends didn’t hunt much, but they always enjoyed late autumn trips into the corn to bring back a brace or two of birds.

      It’s amazing how things have changed. A friend used to hunt quail where Houston’s Galleria now stands. Only a few decades ago, the most densely populated part of Houston was land with enough cover for quail and no restrictions on hunting. Today, the issues are slightly different. I don’t mind purposeful development, but there’s so much commercial building taking place on spec it’s distressing. (At least there was. Things may be different in today’s economy – but we certainly have been left with enough empty strip malls to last us a while.)

      You must have enjoyed your times in West Texas so much. It’s unusual country, with its own kind of beauty. I brought a tumbleweed home with me from New Mexico once – tucked it in the back seat. I got a few looks when I stopped for gas and such, but those fellows just didn’t know how good that tumbleweed was going to look in my big clay pot.

      I do know Steve’s site. There’s no question he helped move me along from my reflexive preference for bluebonnets to a point where I was willing to give a few other flowers a chance. After all, Texas Toad-Flax needs love, too!

      I’ll be by shortly to see what’s up in the musical world. I’ve had a hard two weeks of work, and consequently a bit of a hard time keeping up with things – how excited you must be for them!

      Linda

  14. I enjoyed reading this very much.

    • ellen,

      It hadn’t occurred to me – you’re relatively close to the prairie yourself. Of course you have your own bit of heaven, but if you’ve not seen Nash, I think you’d enjoy it. I’m particularly interested in exploring some of the early human history in the area. What a rich state we have!

      Linda

  15. I don’t know why, but this made me tear up a bit – what a jewel! It’s exactly the kind of place that Mike & I would love to visit…

    • Bug,

      Well, come on down! I’ll even throw in a little barbeque and introduce you to the goat!

      Seriously, I know what you mean about the tearing up. There are times when beauty does that to me, too. It’s as natural and unforced a response as a good laugh. Thank goodness we still have beauty around capable of touching us.

      Linda

  16. It would have been perfect if you had arrived in a little Nash Rambler…

    Nothing is better than the taste of fresh wild berries or other fruit: blueberries picked in Nova Scotia, wild strawberries harvested from Ontario fields, crabapples made into apple sauce or pies sweetened with brown sugar, butter and maple syrup. Bet if you looked closer into that prairie wonderland you would find a myriad of fascinating life forms of insects and plant life hiding under the leaf surfaces. Wild flowers are always amazing, for they often are miniature natural specimens of our cultivated varities.

    An enjoyable blog and I’m sure a more enjoyable excursion.

    • Rick,

      I giggled a good bit over this title, and wondered if anyone would catch it. It was a close race between “A little Nash Ramble” and “Little Goat on the Prairie”. I just love titles…

      I can guarantee there are insects there, and some of them weren’t too happy to have me in their territory. I kept an eye out for fire ant mounds, and never saw a single one. (There’s a curiosity worth exploring, all on its own.) But there were other insects around – big dragonflies that I could see, and little “somethings” whose presence I never noted until I started itching. Some of those grasses leave a mark, too. I’ll be wearing long pants and socks next time, even if it’s warm.

      I was glad that I arrived in a freshly washed car, with clean “city shoes”, but I didn’t understand how important that could be until I got home. A group that’s going there today for a field trip advises folks to “clean their shoes” before going into the prairie. The reason? To reduce the possibility of non-native seeds being carried in. That’s pretty interesting.

      It was enjoyable, and more. I’m glad you enjoyed the tale – I suspect there will be another sometime in the future.

      Linda

  17. This blog post is lovely on so many levels: the photos are stunning, the information both historical and humorous is helpful and enjoyable to read, and the fact of the Nash Prairie’s existence is thrilling and reassuring.

    • Carol,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. It’s hard to find a way to
      communicate an environment that’s so rich and complex – it makes me happy that you found even my photos helpful in telling the story.

      It’s really funny – on a trip to Iowa last fall, I passed within a few miles of the Konza Prairie, and didn’t have a clue. Since I’ve already planned to go back to Kansas some day, I suppose I’d better add it to the itinerary.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the kindness of a comment. You’re always welcome.

      Linda

  18. I had to look for it a bit, but I remembered those prairie blackberries you enjoyed this weekend, — washed clean from the rain, ripe and warm from the sun — from a “forecast” you shared last December. Your words followed on the heel (heal?) of a different road trip, one punctuated by a long, sweet rain that baptized you and your little car as you made your way home, after so many months of drought…

    Remember this? I don’t think I’ll ever forget these lines…

    “It smelled clean, and fresh. It smelled like a new start, and hope and home. It smelled sweet, like the promise of abundance.
    It smelled like next year’s blackberries.”
    — from “Sweet Abundance”

    Your words sound like a description of Easter. How perfect that you found Easter in the sight and sweet taste of abundant blackberries.

    • Janell,

      I’d completely forgotten that post. When I went back and read it, I couldn’t believe it. In a strange way these two posts, taken together, are a perfect example of the “vining of seasons through an unbroken land”.

      There’s a reminder here of something you and I have mused over – the nature of a good “writing blog” as something which becomes more than the sum of its posts. While each entry must be able to stand alone, the passage of time and the accumulation of posts and comments creates something really quite unique – a context for the texts to come.

      As for imagining blackberries in December and tasting the first of those berries in April – what can that be, but the world being true to herself, and caring for us in the process?

      Linda

  19. Fabulous story telling. You took me with you on this trip to the prairie. You also evoked memories of fields, meadows, valleys of my youth full of wildflowers. I can see the colors, I can inhale the scents, taste the berries. At the moment, I am lost in the wild fields of my youth.

    Maria

    • Maria,

      Isn’t it wonderful to go back to those worlds, even if only for a time? I was talking with a friend a few days ago about the Easter and May baskets we used to make. We filled them not with candy, but with flowers. Violets, violas, lily-of-the-valley, flowering almond, spirea – fragrances so intense they almost could make you cry.

      We often took them to the hospitals and nursing homes, and sometimes we saw what we couldn’t understand – the expressions on the faces of old people who suddenly were carried to their own “other places, other times” by the scent of the flowers. As the adults used to say to us, quite wisely, “Some day, you’ll understand…”

      And now we do.

      Linda

  20. Linda,

    Delicate flowers in a wild field beats their sturdy hybrid cousins in a well-manicured bed of mulch every time– this is why I never got the concept of weeding.

    Thanks for creating a wonderful word journey from your wonderful actual journey!

    Claudia (whose first car was a 1965 Rambler Classic 550)

    • Claudia,

      I never would have caught you in that Rambler. I was driving a VW bug at the time. I peeked at the wiki and saw that when they changed the body in ’65, the new marketing campaign slogans focused on the Rambler as “sensible and spectacular”. That’s really funny. Everyone was telling us at the time we had to make a choice between “sensible” or “spectacular”.

      You’d love my friend who managed to outwit her neighborhood association’s yard police. She convinced them she couldn’t mow her yard to their specifications, since she was letting her wildflowers go to seed. The city also considers itself a wildflower haven, so they had to leave her alone. Flower power!

      Linda

  21. Your photos have confirmed that we live in very different worlds. I live on the Prairies, above the 49th parallel, and what you get here, the wild flowers, the green grass, succulent black and red berries… we don’t see them until July/August… and for a short while only.

    One thing about GPS, the ‘real ones’, are that they can’t show you the vegetations, won’t lead you to talk to folks along the way, won’t orienteer you as to the relative geography locations, or help you identify indigenous lives of the land: plants or animals, or humans. We certainly miss a lot by following the machine’s directions which are very ‘short sighted’ and limited in scale instead of exploring the land as you’ve done, Linda. Knowing how to turn left or right certainly doesn’t mean we know our bearing in terms of E, W, N, or S. A huge difference I think.

    • Arti,

      I was thinking about your “avenue of trees” the other day, wondering if they’d begun greening up yet. I suspect not – a friend in Manitoba has a webcam showing part of his yard, and it’s still looking pretty barren there. And of course, there’s that little matter of his temperature range between -5C and 7C!

      Still, I imagine your prairie’s as beautiful as ours in its time. I’ve seen Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but I’m cautious about my memories, now. I’ve always thought I saw “prairies” there, but I may have seen grassland. I’ve recently learned the words aren’t interchangeable.

      I did use a GPS once, on my trip through Kansas last fall. The good news is it showed me the road I was looking for. The bad news was that it didn’t tell me the bridge was washed out.

      And even on land, things can happen. I’ve known people who’ve driven over their GPS, left it in a restaurant, had the batteries (or whatever powers the thing) go dead, and had it simply stop working. When that happens, we need to be able to use a back-up goat!

      With no GPS and an inaccurate map, it took me an extra hour – or more – to find Nash Prairie. On the other hand, if I’d gone there directly, I’d have missed the rancher, the goat, a couple of flower-lined roads, and the experience of coming home, pulling up a map and saying, “Oh! So that’s where I was!”

      In short, I would have less fun, and had less story to tell. So there we are!

      Linda

      • Come see what it’s like… ‘This is My Spring’ :)

  22. Linda,
    Oh my, but you do tell a fabulous tale. Beautiful writing, astonishing subject. How lucky the world is to have people like Susan Conaty in it.

    • Deborah,

      And how lucky we are that when Susan came home and told her husband about it, he became as enthusiastic about it, and an entire congregation began enlisting support to preserve the prairie.

      While I was wandering around trying to find the place, the rancher wasn’t the first person I asked about it. A half-dozen people gave me a blank look and said, “Never heard of the place.” Even with all the publicity around the time of purchase by the Nature Conservancy, it seems to have a pretty low profile in the area. All things considered, that’s probably good.

      Glad you enjoyed the story!

      Linda

  23. We must all do everything we can that these last oases of genuine, unadulterated nature remain for our descendants. There are few enough left here in the UK, and in times of uncaring governments the danger that lands are sold off for development is great.

    I am fortunate to be living in an area where nature conservation is part of the programme; of course, our wild areas are much smaller than yours, but they are at least protected.

    You have written a detailed, amusing and very positive article, which I’ve enjoyed immensely. I sincerely hope that the Nash ramble will be available for many generations to come.

    PS:

    I saw a film on British TV about the Atchafalaya swamps two nights ago. Had you not described your trip I would never have switched the TV on. Thank you so much, it’s a spectacular area.

    • friko,

      The threat of development was a real one for Nash Prairie. Columbia Lakes, just down the road, is an aggressively-marketed golf course and conference center, and lovely, large homes are appearing on lovely, large lots. From a certain perspective, those four hundred acres, flat and nearly treeless, would be just perfect for a little more suburban sprawl.

      Educating people about the value of these lands, so that they want them preserved, is the best approach. But education takes time, and that means that groups like the Nature Conservancy play an important role – stopping the development and buying time for education to take place.

      I’m glad to see you found the piece positive. There’s so much negativity in the world these days, so much carping and haranguing, so much moralistic preaching (both inside and outside religious communities – I’ve known a few insufferable environmentalists!), it’s no wonder people turn away. I’m optimistic by nature, and prefer highlighting the good I find in the world.

      I’m thrilled you got to see a program about the Atchafalaya! It’s such a wonderful area – I can’t wait to go back, myself!

      Linda

  24. LOL “GPS – my Goat Positioning System” Oh, I love that and the goat photo. Wonderful storytelling and a right fine read as well as great photos.

    I haven’t seen bluebonnets in….doing the math…. about 34 years, since I was last in Texas. 300 plant species?! That is something and wonderful. I sure would enjoy this native and natural prairie! By the way, I love the Konza prairie and its grasses, as well as seeing and hearing the meadowlark. If I could write a piece as well as this one about the Kansas prairie and the plants and grasses, I would. Wonderful, Linda. :)

    • Anna,

      Every time I look at that goat, I laugh. I’ve loved goats since childhood, when I’d shriek with laughter at the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. I’m glad you enjoyed my little story – you could plunk it into the middle of Kansas with not much problem!

      There have been a lot of happy people in Texas this spring, and a lot who’ve learned that wildflowers recover from drought more easily than some of their “domestic” plants. With luck, some of them have taken the opportunity to stop and look, instead of whizzing by them at 70 mph. If you’ve not seen Steve Schwartzman’s site, Portraits of Wildflowers, I know you’d enjoy it. There’s lots of information, and beautiful photography.

      I do wish I could just hop in the car and go – there are more remnant prairies around than I ever imagined. When I stop and think about it, there are prairies all through my family’s history – a camp outside Melissa, Texas, a “soddie” in Nebraska, a homestead in Saskatchewan. I’ve got a photo of some of those folks with a steam-powered sod-buster. Another story to tell.

      Here’s what I imagine – your photos and my writing, telling some story of a prairie. Wouldn’t that be fun!?

      Linda

  25. Linda, if only I could write like you. You are so good at describing in words what you see, a person doesn’t need photographes to get the picture. This is one of the best stories I’ve ever read.

    Don Chase
    MNTornado

    • Don,

      Gosh, that’s such wonderful praise – thank you so much. You know, your state played a big role in shaping my love of nature. Our vacations at Leech Lake when I was a kid, and my later travels through the northern part of the state, often left me speechless at the beauty.

      I see there’s a little pause in spring’s progress for you – snow on Monday?! I do hope you get that wet week – we’ve had an amazing lesson down here in just what some badly-needed rain can do.

      Thanks so much for stopping by – you’re always welcome!

      Linda

  26. Are bluebonnets and bluebells same sorta thing?

    Drove across the Conner Prairie in Kansas back about 30 years ago.

    I’ll have to catch up on your blog soon.

    • blufloyd,

      Actually, no – on those bluebonnets and bluebells . It’s funny – I see bluebells as purplish, and their flowers as more bonnet-like than the bluebonnets. Oh, well!

      Here’s something else I’ve never thought about – there must not be very much good fishing on the prairie!

      Linda

  27. You found dewberries! What a treat. Finding fruit growing in the wild is ever so much more exciting than the grocery aisle. I don’t know, but it’s true. When I was a kid, I found a huckleberry bush in the woods and they were more delicious than any berries you could buy. When I lived in Maryland, I used to walk three miles a day in our neighborhood and there were wild cherry trees and blackberry bushes along the way. I always picked a few.

    • Bella,

      It is exciting. There’s the surprise factor, of course, and of course the fruit is always better than in the store. I know they have to pick early for shipping purposes, but that doesn’t help the taste.

      I never buy peaches in a store these days – I keep getting tempted, but I’ve finally readjusted to eating peaches in season, and going to the orchards to get them. It’s the same with strawberries. I’m sure the people in California are very nice, and do their best, but strawberries are in season here now, and there’s no comparison.

      It’s hard finding dewberries these days. They used to be easy to find along the railroad tracks, but the railroads started spraying them. It’s just too dangerous to have folks picking berries so close to where the trains run, don’t you know? They might be so intent on their berries they wouldn’t notice a locomotive bearing down on them. ;)

      Linda

  28. Goat Positioning System – Great!

    I’ve never seen the Blue Bonnets but the photo reminded me a bit of driving around in the back country around Grasse in France. Grasse can rightfully claim to be the “Perfume Capitol of the World.” It’s an old village nestled in the mountains of the Alpes-Maritime, an easy drive from Antibes where I lived.

    Driving around the area is spectacular, especially coming DOWN onto the town from above with a view of the Mediterranean in the distance. What makes the drive spectacular is coming around a corner and seeing immense fields of lavender and roses spread out in all their glory.

    • Richard,

      There’s something so appealing – breathtaking, really – about fields of flowers. When I was a kid, we enjoyed the tulip fields around Pella, Iowa, an area settled by the Dutch. Of course it was nothing like Holland, Michigan, and such other places, but we thought they were splendid.

      Fields of sunflowers are marvelous, too. I’ve been told they don’t grow sunflowers in Kansas like they used to, but there’s nothing like millions of sunflowers to bring a smile.

      There was a lavender farm in the Hill Country that’s gone out of business, but I had the chance to see it once. Just beautiful – but nothing like what you had the chance to enjoy. Perfume-making is something I’ve never thought much about, but you have to get those piles of petals from somewhere! When her own roses would fade, Mom used to collect the petals and keep them in a cut glass bowl while they dried. The scent wasn’t strong, but it was “there”. When I smell roses, that’s what I think of.

      Linda

  29. Linda, I think I may have said this before, but I love how you write.

    I’m a nature lover. Where I live in Nova Scotia (where I always gather and freeze a good supply of lucious blueberries to last me the year for their anti-oxidant properties) I can enjoy the beauty of Nature – from the old forests, to the fragrant open grassy fields and flowers, to the rhymic ocean surf. My favourites are the flowers, birds, ocean and huge elegant trees. Okay, so that covers almost everything. :)

    Thanks, Linda, for sharing your love of what’s around you and writing about it.

    • Lynn,

      Those are kind words – thank you!

      You certainly live in a place filled with more than the average amount of natural beauty. I really don’t know much about Nova Scotia, ecept for some wonderful music and the Bay of Fundy, so I look a look at the map. Interesting to compare the two long coasts! And I found Falcon Henge – another wonderful example of humans engaging the natural world in a creative rather than destructive way.

      Man (and woman) doesn’t live by flowers and birds, of course, so I looked for some info on your insects, and discovered the black flies are coming out early! Not only that, warmer temps mean a couple extra hatchings of moquitoes – a lesson that we’ve learned, too.

      There’s a teacher I know who has this sign in her classroom: “Don’t envy someone else’s world. Share yours”. Isn’t it wonderful we can do that here?

      Linda

  30. What a wonderful story! Just knowing that such a place exists there today makes me feel very good indeed!

    • montucky,

      It’s not quite as easy to find as the Grand Canyon, but it’s just as wonderful. And it’s so heart-warming to find people who have dedicated such large chunks of their life to preserving it. It’s a lesson we have a hard time learning in this disposable culture we live in. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t just run down to Ye Olde Heritage Boxxe Store and pick up a foreign-made replacement.

      Linda

  31. I started reading this post the day you wrote it. Phone rang, business day started and although the tab stayed open at the top of my screen, I am just now getting back to finishing it.

    Now, having read about the dewberries you found, I know why I never finished before now–because I had written a berry-picking-memory post last weekend and just finally posted it this morning. We are on the almost exact same page right now. About the prairie, though, it is uniquely fabulous! I love the colors of the flowers and the variety of the grasses. Just amazing information, Linda! Thanks so much!

    Wendy / BW

    • Wendy,

      I just emerged from a thicket of information about blackberries and dewberries. There are several varieties of each. I thought this article was especially interesting, and it has the advantage of a few photos.

      Since moving to Texas, I’ve heard the phrase “coastal prairie”, and confess I thought of it as – well, as the same sort of prairie I saw in Iowa, only on the coast. Far from it! There are some similarities, especially in grasses. Some of the same birds sing, like the meadowlark. But there are real differences, too. Exploring them is going to be fun.

      It’s interesting, too, that one link between your marshes and prairies as far north as Alberta are the salt grasses. We get impressed about our internet web, but it’s nothing compared to the complex weavings of the world!

      One thing’s for sure – I’m going to have to do something with three flats of strawberries before I tackle your dumplings!

      Linda

  32. Beautiful writing for a magnificent area ! As I read you and looked at your colourful pictures I had the feeling of being there, in this unique prairie. If I ever go back to Texas, I would love to visit this natural site. Thank you Linda for sharing your fabulous trip, I really enjoyed it.

    • Isa,

      I think your meadows and our prairies have much in common. There’s something about the lovely, accidental mixes of flowers and grasses that reminds me of a quilt – everything different, and yet everything fitting in “just so”.

      I remember so well the days when we thought it was important for everything to match – or at least coordinate closely. The dress, the shoes, hat, gloves, shawl – even dying shoes to match for special occasions! Thank goodness nature is far braver, more willing to give her creatures a little freedom to “mix and match” as they will!

      Oh, you would like this place so much. If you ever come, I’ll give you a guided tour!

      Linda

  33. Linda I have to repeat what almost every person before me has said i.e. that you are a marvelous story teller. I found myself saying saying “Wow” at almost every sentence and I had to interrupt Mr F to read several lines out loud to him.

    I love this paragraph:
    “Nash Prairie is different. It’s subtle, not spectacular. Nearly invisible to someone traveling by car, it demands to be taken in at a walking pace and absorbed with all of the senses. The fragrance of the land is indescribable. More than an absence of pollutants or the sweetness of flowers, its aroma is at once rich and spicy, tanged with salt and redolent of growth, the essence of grass, sedge, soil and flower combined into one unexpected scent.”

    Thank goodness German and Czech settlers knew how to respect the land so it’s never has been plowed, and thanks to Susan Conaty and The Nature Conservancy we have a place like this to pass onto our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

    • Rosie,

      When I read something like that paragraph a few days after I’ve written it, I sometimes wonder where it came from. I’ve finally decided the key is writing from “inside” the experience, rather than the outside. There’s nothing wrong with writing “about” something, but that hints at distance – seeing the prairie as an object, rather than experiencing it.

      That may not make much sense, so I’ll put it this way: I tend to fall in love with my subjects. Once something catches my attention, I get a little obsessed. I read, I study, I think about – and then I write.
      Without even going back into my archives, I can think about similar subjects I’ve fallen in love with: a steam locomotive, rain, the Atchafalya basin, Galveston’s wood carvings and so on.

      I think that’s one reason I’ve not experienced the dreaded “blogger burnout”. There’s always something new in the world to love – and I’m always on the lookout.

      I’m really honored that you found some lines here worth sharing. And like you, I’m thrilled that we have this place. It is a treasure, and treasures are meant to be passed on.

      Linda

  34. I had to smile at the man’s directions, Linda. I get the same kind of information here, where everyone knows everyone else. The lifelong residents sometimes forget that newcomers have no clue where the old general store used to be. Any idea why Mann Lake (on the map) seems to be subdivided?

    • bronxboy,

      Yep. And sometimes those old-timers will have a little fun with the newcomers, just to keep the division clear. It’s not meant to be mean or nasty, it’s just a way of helping to preserve order and traditions – as important as the prairie, now that I think of it.

      Mann Lake is a reservoir, and there’s a dam there. I think the largest “line” across it is the dam – there seems to be a road on it. It is public access, but it may be that portions are associated with different communities. It’s part of the Columbia Lakes development – there’s a golf course, resort, conference center and so on. In short, it may very well be “subdivided” – but at least there’s public access.

      Thanks as always for the visit – that makes me smile!

      Linda

    • Mann Lake belongs to the Brazos River Club, a private fishing club. The subdivisions are enhancements to the fish raising environment. The main lake appears to be about 500 acres, which makes it bigger than the Nash Prairie.

      • And there it is! The “local knowledge” that we needed! I didn’t even have to send you an email to ask. Thanks so much! I did see that the anglers seem to consider it a pretty good place!

        Thanks for the information.

        Linda

  35. I came for a visit last week to your site, read the first paragraph, and had a wonderful laugh about the “around here we don’t call it a prairie…” The pressures of daily life took over and so it is I find myself enjoying my 2nd cuppa and your words.

    From a child I’ve associated wildflowers with Lady Bird Johnson, but did not know the extent of the rich history Texas holds for wildflowers as you’ve described here. What thrill it must have been to stand there with the scents, sounds, and ability to touch a petal, a leaf, a berry.

    It’s a joy to know the prairie is being preserved although shocking to know it was such a small percentage of the original. I can’t imagine that much land being untouched and not overgrown with brambles or brush as large as trees.

    I’m always amazed when something as simple as picking a berry triggers the memory of a parental warning or phrase. I have to wonder if they said it so many times that it stuck or if it made an impression on our minds the first time for whatever reason.

    What a delight to have a glimpse of this place through your pix n werds.

    “Around here we don’t call it a prairie, we call it a hay field.” Yeh, that’s the important part…. lol

    • sherri,

      From what I’ve gleaned, calling it a hay field – and using it as a hay field – really was important. It kept it from being plowed – as I understand it, breaking the prairie makes it more vulnerable to invasive species. I found some information about what keeps the trees and brambles from taking over, but I can’t find the article now. I’ll have to go back and refind all those links.

      I did find a comment in Dr. Rosen’s article to the effect that non-native species are more common along the road bordering the prairie and the entrances for farm equipement. It’s funny – once I found it and saw it, I knew there should be no driving into it. I was thinking only about the beauty – it never occurred to me that I could carry the outside world into that environment on my tires. It’s why they advise clean shoes and clothes, too, for anyone who’s going in.

      As for my Proustian moment – the involuntary memories associated with the dewberry – I can guarantee you my mother uttered that phrase a thousand times during my growing up years. Maybe more. Perhaps she felt she had to keep repeating it, since I had a school chum who earned candy money by eating spoonsful of dirt for a nickel.

      Glad you enjoyed the piece. I can only imagine how it would look, seen through your lens.

      Linda

  36. Linda, you’ve infused the story with your sense of discovery with your local set of directions and prairie expanse before you. The photos are a joy. The words make me want to inhale all that sunshine and breeze… and then sigh.

    • nikkipolani,

      Isn’t it wonderful we have sighs for those times when words fail us? Even the wind sighs at times – perhaps because it’s happy to be just drifting along, making its friends, the grasses and flowers and trees, happy to be alive, too.

      There are places and times that surprise us with their beauty. This was one.

      Linda

  37. I just found out about another prairie remnant in your vicinity, one that various people and groups are attempting to preserve:

    http://savecollegeparkprairie.ning.com/

    • Steve,

      I tried and failed to get into the site this morning. All of the prairie partnership links I found tonight seem to be down. I did find a google doc of the May field trips, and a plant list at the Houston Wildflower Society. I’ll keep an eye on it and see if the site doesn’t come up eventually. If nothing else, I’ll call one of the wildflower groups and find out more.

      It’s a little hard to imagine a prairie remnant in Deer Park. Thanks for passing on the information!

      Linda

  38. Hi Linda,

    I’m so glad you found the Nash Prairie and you didn’t drive in it but respectfully enjoyed it. The Nash prairie is my favorite place in the world to be. I admire your ability to describe the experience in writing. I am not very good at writing but I am so excited about this article on the Nash that I have to introduce myself.

    I am Susan Conaty, the wife of Peter Conaty. I would love to take anyone who would like out to the Nash Prairie. We just live up the road, ironicaly in Columbia Lakes where I have managed to get a wildlife certification for my yard inspite of the home owners association. (It helps to have members of Peter’s Church on the HOA, they wouldn’t dare complain about my “weed patch”.) Peter and I have tried to convince The Nature Conservancy not to put a fence on the Nash. Fences become wind breaks and places for birds to poop which becomes a place for trees and invasive species to take a hold. It is much easier to manage the edge of the prairie without a fence. Haying and fire management are easier. Also, as you discovered, doesn’t draw attention to itself- not that we don’t want people to see it .

    I wish everyone in the world could experience the Nash. That is the reason that Peter and I are willing to take anybody out to the Prairie that wants to go- all you have to do is call us 979 345-3285. It is funny you mentioned no fire ants – that is because the native grasses and forbs are so thick and the biomass underneath is so thick that fire ants do not like to dig in it. Prairies are described as upside down rainforest because there is more biomass underneath the ground than what you see- some roots of the grasses go down 12 to 15 feet. The real story of the prairie we can’t even see! This is why prairies and grasslands can filter and clean water and hold carbon. I have gotten over the bluebonnet thing since i discovered the Nash . If you noticed, there were no bluebonnets in the Nash; that is because bluebonnets are not native to this part of the Texas Gulf Coast- that is how pristine the Nash is!

    The deer park prairie is smaller than the Nash but just as impressive with its plant list. I urge all who are interested in saving this remnant museum piece to become a member of “save college park prairie”. You don’t have to give a lot of info or donate- just become a member. Big companies who have money to give will see that there is a public interest and are more willing to support the effort because it payes off in good PR. We found this out working with the Nash. It truly was a grass-roots effort. Every person’s effort, no matter how small, counted. I have so much more to say but I’ve written too much already. The Fall is a wonderful time to see the Prairie so call us and we will be more than happy to lead a tour Thanks Susan Conaty

    • Susan,

      I’m just thrilled to have you stop by! About the time I wrote this, I was going to get in touch with you, but I saw (perhaps on the church website) that you were on vacation or traveling, and then it slipped my mind.

      I’ve been thinking about making another trip over there, but have been dallying a bit, waiting for the season to turn. I’ve assumed that a cool down will be good not only for human visitors to the prairie, but also for the plant life there.

      I laughed at your description of your “weed patch”. I have a dear friend in Bellaire who’s managed to stand off the Pretty Yard Police in that city. They have a built-in conflict since they also call themselves a wildflower preserve – that’s the weapon she used to avoid having to mow until reseeding had taken place.

      And how interesting about the fire ants. Your explanation makes perfect sense, and anything that helps make our area less attractive those those little devils is fine by me. I can’t even imagine grasses 12 or 15 feet deep – no wonder sod-breaking was so hard.

      I’ve been spreading the word about the Deer Park prairie, and will continue to do so. It’s completely amazing to me that it still exists. It certainly isn’t what I think of when I hear someone mention Deer Park.

      I actually became interested in these prairie remnants when I learned my great-great-grandmother camped on the prairie outside Melissa, Texas, c.1885. The family went on from there to Iowa, but her best friend went to Kansas, and I have some correspondence written between the women. Very interesting.

      Especially interesting is the blackland prairie remnant just east of Melissa – Parkhill Prairie. I’ve been there once, and will be going back. It’s not impossible to imagine I’m seeing land that gr-gr-grandma saw. Of course, before my gr-gr-grandfather married her, he fought in Texas in the Civil War, and his regiment came very close to East and West Columbia on their way to Houston. Maybe gramps got to Nash before I did!

      Again, many thanks for stopping by, and for the wonderful response. I’ll be in touch.

      Linda

  39. Hi Linda,
    I’m so glad you liked my response. We just got back from Dallas. it is amazing how many towns in Texas have the word Prairie in them, but don’t look like prairies anymore. My Mother loved Texas History and I was never into it until I moved to West Columbia 12 years ago. Now I love it . And because of the NashPrairie I connect the land (prairie) to the people.

    Jaimie Gonzalez of the Katy Prairie Conservancy says Houston owes its existance to the Prairie, and it is time to help the prairies . In the 1800’s people ate prairie chickens all the time. The Battle of San Jacinto was partly won by Sam Houston because the prairie grass was so high that Sam Houston’s army could sneak up on Santa Anna. And later after the battle when Santa Anna’s troops were going to meet and regroup, they got bogged down “un Mar de Lodo”, a sea of mud, ruining any chance of a counter attack.

    Santa Anna was actually brought here to West Columbia after the battle for safe keeping, he was held at what is now the Varner Hogg Plantation. Later after a failed attempt to free Santa Anna, he was moved to The Orozimbo Plantation on the Brazos river just down the road from The Nash Prairie . There are accounts of the moving of Santa Anna in the rain through ‘the prairie”. Peter’s fantasy is that Santa Anna came through the Nash prairie and one day hopes to find a mexican button in the prairie. All the famous Texans came by to visit Santa Anna, so they had to have come through the present day Nash Prairie. For me, the Prairie is just as much a charactor of Texas History as Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and Santa Anna. We don’t have them any more but we still have some of the original prairies left that we can still ask questions of and get answers from.

    I have emigrant guides written in the 1840’s describing the texas landscape. One of my favorite descriptions is the description of the area around the present day Nash prairie. ” Orozimbo is beautifully situated, surrounded by a high, beautifully undulating praire country.” Another is, “Between each timbered water-course the savannas present one unvaried surface, much resembling a vast bowling-green, except in the summer season, when they might be more properly likened to a wilderness of flowers.” ( Texas 1840 Bonnell and Texas 1841 Ikie Texian Press)

    Looking Forward to meeting you on the Prairie soon.

    Susan Conaty

  40. […] Nash Prairie, colonies of delicate Prairie Nymph (Herbertia lahue) overspread the open fields. Tiny members of […]


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