Sunday, December 05, 2010

Russ Pittman Park & Nature Discovery Center

Earlier this year I was contacted by the Nature Discovery Center here in Houston to see if I'd give a talk about wild edibles plants. "Heck, yeah!", as normal, was my answer. So last Wednesday I and my beautiful assistant Miniwether spent half a day exploring their land and giving what I have been told was (and I have to swallow my normal modesty to repeat these words) "the best talk they ever had there!".

Nature Discover Center - 1
This is a very cool place.

Russ Pittman Park is four acres of wonderful wilds in the heart of Bellaire, just inside 610. Wooded trails weave past fountains, pools, a wounded bird sanctuary, reclaimed prairie, a playground, an herb garden, and assorted surprises. Above you scamper playful squirrels, butterflies flutter by, goldfish flash in the pond, and birds flock a'plenty. On one edge sits the original Henshaw House. Once a beautiful estate home built in 1925 by the president of the Sealy Mattress Company, it now houses the Hana and Arthur Ginzbarg Nature Discovery Center. What were once stately (and stuffy, I mean it was owned by a mattress maker, what would you expect?) rooms are now filled with gobs of hands-on activities designed to teach nature stuff to kids without them realizing it.

Rooms of cool stuff!

Lizards and microscopes, it's almost as good a combination as gin and tonic!

more stuff2
Many live things in cages and every science book ever published!


Bearded Lizard
Bearded lizard!

It was surprisingly soft.

A slimy, wriggly thing.

Warm, fuzzy things. Is it just me though or does that bunny have an evil look in its eye?

Turtle jenga
Turtle Jenga!! Sidenote: don't actually play Jenga with the turtles, they bite.

Sargasso Sea
Sargasso sea stuff!

Mini under the sea
My lovely assistant...

...who likes dead things.

More Stuff
There were several naturalists on hand to talk about all the living and dead things.

A little over a month ago Misseswether discovered that Miniwether had been teaching wild edible plant classes to the other kids at their weekly meetings in the park. Misseswether was terrified that Mini may accidentally poison one of her friends and when I got home from work that night she had Miniwether show me all the plants which had been pointed out to friends. Turns out Miniwether was perfectly accurate in every case, both identifying the plant and explaining how to eat it. So now she's my assistant when I give plant lectures. The class at the Nature Discovery Center was her first official presentation as my helper and she did very well. Her main job was to hold up the plants as I talked, pass them around the room, and collect any uneaten plants. Unfortunately since I was doing the talking I wasn't able to take pictures of her helping. I've really been wanting her to do this as I think it's a great way to get her used to being in front of crowds. The ability to speak to crowds is an amazingly useful skill that I want both my daughters to inherit.

The audience was wonderfully attentive and asked many questions. I was scheduled to speak for about an hour and when I finished talking about the last plant I was sad because I had been having so much fun. The listeners felt the same way and so at their urging I continued on into edible landscaping plants, food security, being a 10-percenter, hunting deer, why vineyards in France are covered with dandelions, and many other topics brought forth by the adults and kids.

It ended up being a late night but Miniwether was still thrilled with the excitement of being my assistant and spent a lot of the ride home recounting the evening. Alas, the Nature Discovery Center is rather far from home and even as pumped up as she was, sleep pulled her down. The last 20 minutes of the drive home was mostly just Led Zeppelin tunes coupled with her snores. An excellent combination if you ask me.

Adventure! Excitement! Discovery!


Bramble said...

I had no idea this place even with many little Houston treasures! I shall have to take Beanstalk and Squib to see it. It sounds as though they'd love it. It would make a nice addition to one of our manditory Texas Children's visits (yuck). A great way to make the trip oh so much better.

Christina Rodriguez said...

Mini looks adorable in her outfit! Bunnies don't normally have evil looks in their eyes, usually they are just very disapproving:

Merriwether said...

Bramble, I think you'll love that place. Heck, you might even end up working there!

Christina, yep, Misseswether made Mini's dress. The jacket is Mambo's, but Miniwether keeps stealing it!