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Alabama Adventures: Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest

After hearing about Pinus palustris from several southern botanist friends, I had to see the trees for myself! I had the great pleasure of ...

04 January 2017

Happy New Year! Reflections on the Past Year & Hopes for 2017

I'm finally getting around to this post! Typing this up four days into the new year wasn't what I planned, but we don't have internet currently for another week. So, I'm at the library!

If you've been following me on Instagram (or if you check on the sidebar for the Instagram widget), you saw me post many photos from January 2016 to August 2016. I skipped September onward since it was only a few months ago, and I didn't want people to feel spammed with too many photos.

I honestly didn't mean to post so many, but I couldn't just pick a few from each month. Each photo contains beautiful memories and I wanted to share the best of them with everyone. I generally don't post too many pictures from each adventure as it is, so I went a little crazy for the year-end journey down memory lane.

Anyways, in 2016 I noticed that I went to public gardens quite a bit less than the previous year. Part of this is because I didn't get a membership that year (it expired around January). I also didn't volunteer as much in ecological restoration, and another reason for both of these things is because we're down to one vehicle and I don't like to drive as much (thanks, anxiety).

I concentrated mostly on hiking and botanising in natural areas, with occasional visits to public gardens. When I did volunteer, it was mainly at the local library and at Illinois Beach State Park. So, for this year, I'd like to get a CBG membership again and visit gardens again. I'd also like to swing by Cook County volunteer workdays again and see my Chicago volunteer buddies. I'd like to get back into helping LCFPD because, aside from IBSP and the library, I didn't volunteer as much in the local area. I guess to most people I volunteer quite a bit, but I feel I could do more. It is good for me and the local communities to dedicate my time doing volunteer work as much as I am able to.

Hiking at Sun Lake Forest Preserve in Lake County, IL

I want the kids to interact more with nature when we go for walks and hikes. Sometimes they're excited, other times they roll their eyes and can't wait until we go home. I get so preoccupied with my own experiences with plants and critters that I forget how important it is to talk about what I'm thinking with the kids, in kid-friendly terms of course. They will only roll their eyes harder if I try to teach them Latin names.

Ari & Sandy looking out at Lake Carina in Lake County, IL

Another task I need to work on is improving my mental health. I've talked about that a little bit on this blog and on Instagram. I try not to talk about it *all the time* (especially since this blog is centred around nature) but I still feel like its good to share my story and my experiences, in case it helps others out, whether they're going through something similar or are a "regular" person trying to empathise with people like me. Also I don't want generally talking about mental illness to be something taboo; if I speak out about it, that helps even if a little bit. Nature and volunteering is really helpful in managing my mental health, but it is going to take so much more to make enough meaningful progress this year. I'm looking more into self-help books, specifically those that focus on PTSD, anxiety, depression, and childhood physical/mental abuse. I hope to get into a therapy within the next couple of years, and I'm working on getting into a mental health specialist instead of going to a gp, so I can look into better options as far as medicine goes. I also want to make sure my diagnoses are super accurate since my mental health is crazy complicated. Sometimes many different things can layer over each other and look like something else entirely. Diagnosing mental health isn't an exact science, for as much progress as we've made thus far. Things change, symptoms can mimic others, and sometimes people are wrong. It happens.

So, back to thinking about the past year... What are the most exciting experiences I had? What did I learn?

I had an incredibly fun time volunteering at the Peggy Notebaert Museum for WeDigBio. I was blowing through plant label transcriptions, visually eating up the herbarium specimens. Through that program, I learned about Notes from Nature, where I've been transcribing from my laptop. How cool is that?! I've actually done many transcriptions where I forgot to log in to record my progress, but as far as what was recorded on my account, I've done 100 transcriptions. There are even cool badges you earn for transcribing a certain amount of records and such.

Rudbeckia hirta herbarium specimen with label at Peggy Notebaert Museum in Chicago

I met two awesome friends from Instagram in person, and we went on a fun hike in Somme Woods. I can't express in words how awesome it was to connect with them like that. I really enjoy interacting with people on Instagram, but this was on a whole new level, and I'm grateful for that experience.

Michelle and Theresa checking out Arisaema spp.

Another neat adventure from 2016 was FINALLY visiting Lincoln Park Conservatory! My next post will be about that. What a charming place.

Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Formal Garden

There were many plants I met for the first time and plants that I visited for the millionth time. Both are equally fantastic. There were so many small, wonderful moments in nature that comprised my year. From the accomplished feeling of successfully identifying wild plants, to humbly learning from mistakes in id, I'm very grateful to be so aware of the beauty of nature. 

I met Gentianopsis crinita (greater fringed gentian) for the first time in 2016!
...and then I greeted Opuntia humifusa again...with my hand. It said hi back with several glochids.

I've been moving along on my quest to teach myself more about nature, especially when it comes to botany. I've learned that for as much as I know, I don't know so much more! And that's okay. I feel that I can only teach myself so much, and have to observe others and ask for help sometimes. Also okay. I learn Latin names by reading, then find out that I'm horribly mangling the pronunciation when a more seasoned plant nerd says it aloud. Reading about how to identify plants with various technical definitions of plant parts is great, but it is the hands-on learning during hikes that this information sticks.

Look at the petiole and glands of Viburnum opulus! Wow, such botany! Very plant! Much science!

I couldn't talk about plants the way a horticulturist or botanist with years of experience and a 4-year-degree (or more) could, but I guarantee you I talk about plants with just as much passion as that horticulturist or botanist does. I've learned that is probably the most important part because it is that passion that drives my journey to learn more. Another important aspect is not to second guess myself all the time; being confident (within reason) and willing to be wrong will get me further than shying away ever could. Even the most educated professional with several degrees under their belt still doesn't know it all. I also realised these past few years as I learn more and more, that I also shouldn't let my knowledge get the best of me. If I'm not careful I could very well end up being a know-it-all. It's about balance. I don't need to be too hard on myself for what I don't know -- but I also don't need to be too full of myself for what I do know. For now I am a botanist at heart; I am a plant enthusiast. And one day I very well be a botanist as a profession. It's all part of a big adventure!

All that being said, I really hope I'm not being obnoxious with how I talk about plants, or for sharing photos of "basic" plants. I don't mean to sound like I know it all, and I don't mean to act like posting a photo of a dandelion with information about it is some great feat. I am just really fascinated by plants! That includes weedy, common plants. You'll often see me hashtag stuff like #asterids, #rosids, #[insertfamilynamehere], etc on Instagram. That's partially to organise the post into those hashtags if other people are interested in looking at photos of such things, but mainly because it helps me learn. If I use the #Adoxaceae on Viburnum spp. photos or #Bignoniaceae on Catalpa speciosa pics every time, I'll more easily remember which families each belongs to.

Anyways, I could probably ramble more and make up more "resolutions". Alas it is time to go home and wait for Ari to get off the bus, and I don't have internet at home as I've mentioned. I'm sure that, after all this rambling, none of you will mind. :)

I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and a fantastic start to 2017!