Learning the Plants and Animals by Name

A Steward’s Story

By Heide Keeble – Pepperwood Steward

What’s someone to do who loves the outdoors? Why not take a Naturalist Certification course? And then, why not become a steward at your favorite park or preserve? I became a Pepperwood Steward because I love the outdoors, and I want to contribute to Pepperwood’s mission to inspire conservation through science. I love the fact that their classes stretch across science and art (always my two favorite subjects), and that they have programs for students in elementary school and up. It’s never too early to get kids excited about science!

I was born and raised in Sonoma County, and remember spending a lot of time outdoors as a kid. Starting at the age of four, I was given a corner of the family garden as my own. I planted zinnias and okra and loved watching the bugs and butterflies that would visit. I used to wander off on my own when my family went camping in Mendocino County a couple of times a year, and find wildflowers. I went on walks with my grandfather in South Lake Tahoe during many summers, and would find amazing flowers there, too. At some point in my pre-teen years, I decided that I wanted to learn the names for all of the flowers that I was finding. I collected and pressed some of the flowers I found, and then got some field guides from the downtown library, and tried to ID my flowers from photos and drawings in the books. I still have the little book I made in middle school where I glued and attempted to ID all of my pressed flowers. When I got to the Santa Rosa Junior College, I took field botany from the wonderful Steve Barnhart, and I met my friend Michelle Halbur (Pepperwood’s Preserve Ecologist) in one of his classes that took us to Plumas County. Thanks to Steve, I learned how to key plants. And thanks to Michelle, I ended up volunteering at Pepperwood not long after she started working at there!

The first year I came up to Pepperwood was 2012, when Michelle convinced me to lead a wildflower hike during the wildflower festival. I have been leading wildflower hikes ever since that first hike in 2012, but I just recently became a steward and started volunteering on more projects. My current project that brings me to the preserve at least once every other weekend is the coverboard monitoring project, which is headed by Steven Hammerich. Volunteering on this project is like having Christmas morning every time I come out – you never know what you will get! We check under the plywood cover boards to see who is hiding underneath, and then document it on paper for the project. Poor Steven then has to decipher what I mean when I write on the sheet that we found an armored tank bug (pictured below at right), and I think I have forced him to learn what a Titiotus is (it’s a genus of spiders, pictured below in the middle).

I also take photos, which I upload onto iNaturalist.  Since December, I have already learned a few new insects by working on this project (including the armored tank, which is actually a beetle larva in the Carabidae family, possibly in the Scaphinotus genus). I have also had a chance to get to know one of the other stewards better by working on this project with him: George Jackson. I don’t know when or if I will ever catch George on the Pepperwood iNaturalist observation list, but it has been fun getting to know him better!

Pepperwood is my happy place, and I’d love for it to be your happy place, too. If you have yet to visit, please find a class that sounds interesting and come up! If you’ve been to Pepperwood before, you probably understand what a gem it is, and I hope you keep coming to visit!

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