I expected the wildflower class at SMU-in-Taos to be a combination of Girl Scout camp, Little House on the Prairie and the park ranger campfire talks I remember from vacations in national parks.

After just one day of class I know I was wrong. This class is better than all three combined.

Professor John Ubelaker and classmates

SMU Biology Professor John Ubelaker already has taught me and my 13 classmates about climate zones, Ponderosa pines, Junipers and Pinon pines, and their incredible and miraculous adaptations to their environments. We’ve learned how to press flowers in a way that will preserve their vibrant colors for several hundred years. We wear small hand lens around our necks to observe the beauty of the tiny blossoms that make up an ordinary clover, which (who knew?) is an incredibly important plant for sustaining life.

And we haven’t even left the SMU-in-Taos campus. Who would want to?

Our casita, a pueblo house that is home to nine of my classmates, is quiet and cozy. We follow a winding trail and cross a footbridge to get to the dining hall, where we’ve feasted on homemade meals. Today’s highlights were green chile posole soup, roasted beets with meat loaf and mashed potatoes, and this wonderful herbal iced tea that we all carry around and sip on while Dr. Ubelaker lectures.

From the dining hall we followed a nature trail to the restored fort where we met in a classroom, checked out the library and practiced pressing plants. The nature trail passes a beaver pond where, if we return in the evening, we may see the beavers and their kits at work. This is what they call night life here, and I love it. Tonight we chose another option, observing about 60 hummingbirds feasting at Dr. Ubelaker’s feeders.

Here are my facts of the day:

  • The bird the Virginia warbler is not named for the state of Virginia; it is named for the wife of the surgeon who was posted at Ft. Burgwin. Dr. W.W. Anderson discovered the species and named it for Virginia Anderson.
  • The conditions for a Ponderosa pine seedling to germinate are so specific that a tree  produces only one seedling every 300 to 400 years.
  • What I have all my life incorrectly called petals on flowers in the aster family, like zinnias and sunflowers, are actually individual flowers with fused petals. Yes, a petal is actually a flower.