Earlier this spring my kids pointed to a buttercup-yellow wildflower on one of our walks in Baltimore County. They asked me what its name was. I had no idea. "A pretty yellow flower?" I said. "A daisy?" "The flower called Mommy-doesn't-know?"

They looked at me like, "How can you, a middle-aged human, not know anything about the natural landscape of where we live? We're relying on you, Mommy. TEACH US SOME NATURAL HISTORY ALREADY."


What kind of education are we giving our kids if we, the adults in their lives, don't know much and can't share about the natural history of where we live? Or worse, don't care? Nature has so much to teach. But by spending time indoors on video games or outside only on sports fields, we're missing the lessons — and so are our kids. It was my profound lack of knowledge of the biodiversity of our Baltimore-area landscape that inspired me to take up the training to be a Maryland master naturalist. It's a program offered through the University of Maryland's Extension, through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Richard Louv's 2005 book "Last Child in the Wood" was a wake-up call for many to the fact that collectively as a culture Americans are suffering from a lack of access to green space — from Nature Deficit Disorder. To regain our humanity, we must go off the beaten paths. Into the woods. But how? The fairytale woods kind of scared me.

In 2016's "Half-Earth, Our Planet's Fight for Life," the legendary Harvard scientist, ant expert and Pulitzer-prize winning author E.O. Wilson wrote: "History is not a prerogative of the human species, in the living world there are millions of histories. Each species is the inheritor of an ancient lineage."

I thought about that sentence when I was in the Target parking lot in Pikesville, or the parking lot of the Wegmans of Foundry Row hurrying to my car feeling like mistress of all she surveys ticking things off the endless list of suburban mom errands. All the things that were here before me. All the histories. Baltimore County suddenly felt communitarian. All the species alive today in the Baltimore-area, we're all evolutionary survivors, down to the wildflowers whose names I didn't know. It made me less scared. Kind of exhilarated, actually. That sentence put me in my place. Not as the center of the universe, but as a being among many, and I could chose to learn about the rest of the web of life.

To quote from "Half-Earth" again, "And so it has come to pass that we have chosen to learn all we can about the rest of life — all of life, the whole biosphere. To discover every species of organism on Earth and to learn everything possible is one of the most daunting of all tasks. But we will do it, because humanity needs the information for many basic scientific and practical reasons, and more deeply and compellingly because exploration of the unknown is in our genes."

On Mondays through the end of May, my fellow master naturalist trainees and I study all day either at Lake Roland in Mt. Washington or Oregon Ridge in Cockeysville. We are learning our landscapes. We are "teaching a stone to talk," as the famous nature writer Annie Dillard has written. At the end of the program we will fan out across the state, leading nature hikes and nature center programs. I'm a student, again. But, because of this program, I will be a life-long learner of this landscape.

I can now tell my kids that what we were oohing and aah-ing over, that yellow buttercupish flower from our walk, was lesser celandine, a European invasive that out-competes Maryland's native spring wildflowers like blood root, trillium and the candy-striper pink-and-white beauty aptly called spring beauty. Furthermore, when they pick up a rock that catches their eye because the mica in it glints in the sun, I can say, "That's schist." And it's instructive. And they get to say schist. Schist is common to the metamorphic geology of the Piedmont — our physiographic province.

Also gneiss. Baltimore gneiss, the rock that's under my feet where I live in Owings Mills, is 1 billion years old. How's that for a new perspective on the landscape where the Wegmans is?

My kids are used to me talking like this now.

Elizabeth Bastos is a writer based in Baltimore County. Her email is elizabeth.bastos@gmail.com.