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Becoming a Texas Master Naturalist (TMN) takes time, determination — and time!

Can you commit to Mother Nature?

Lindheimer Chapter (Comal County) of Texas Master Naturalists is recruiting members for the Class of 2018. Orientation begins this October, but registration opens in August.

The class is fun and rewarding, but TMN’s Sarah Riggs says prospective students need to know what they’re getting into before they sign on for a year of exploring Canyon Lake’s great outdoors.

Here’s the second in a series of articles about the master naturalist program. Sara Riggs explains:

“The mission of  TMN. as stated on their website is: To develop a corps of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach, and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within their communities for the State of Texas.”

The local chapter, Lindheimer Master Naturalist (LMN,) encompasses all of Comal County and members volunteer in Bexar, Blanco, Kendall and Comal and other counties.

Darlene Varga

“Darlene Varga, Texas Master Naturalist (TMN),) Lindheimer Chapter, is a retired educator most recently from the Houston area. Darlene, and her husband Doug, moved to Canyon Lake in May of 2013 and Darlene registered for the next possible Master Naturalist class, that of 2014 which begin the November 2013 and ended with graduation in October of 2014. She has been active in the Chapter since joining the class.

Darlene says she joined TMN to learn about the Hill Country and the many differences between this area and Houston and also to meet people in her new community who had similar interests. Darlene is definitely a ‘people person.’ It is rare to go anywhere with her that she doesn’t strike up a conversation with a new acquaintance only to find that she and that person have a place or person in common. She can (and does) talk to anyone, young or old, on any subject. She can make any subject interesting and her sand exhibits (yes, sand as in almost dirt) at local events are fascinating.

With 18 years of teaching experience in Austin and 20 years of experience in Houston, Darlene definitely brings an expertise in working with children to the Lindheimer Chapter. Her experience is mostly in primary education, kindergarten through second or third grade, and her position for the last several years was as a primary science lab teacher.

Although Darlene is a graduate of Southwest Texas State (you tell her it’s Texas State now, she doesn’t believe us—or her nephew, also an alum,) she says she was impressed by summer workshops at the UT Marine Science Institute. That’s where her interest in things having to do with the ocean and beaches began.

For example, she has a large collection of sea beans (also known as drift seeds.) These are the seeds or fruits that are carried to the seas from rivers and streams. These beans do not originate from any sea plant. The key to calling something a sea bean is it has to drift into the ocean and naturally wash ashore. As a sea bean collector and a Sea Bean Conference attendee (in two states), Darlene can tell you quite a lot about sea beans. She also has a few stories to tell about friends thinking she was attending a Seabees’ convention (perhaps to help the Naval Construction Battalions with one of their projects) or a CB convention (Citizen’s Band radio; hey Darlene, what’s your handle?)

Since beginning her volunteering and training with TNM, Darlene has done many things.

When asked which experiences she likes best she said, “I like them all, I can’t really choose just one thing.” Whether working on trails, weeding public gardens, working with children on field trips and workshops, working as docent at the Canyon Lake Gorge or the Bracken Bat Cave, or one of many other things, what she loves is all the “behind the scenes things you get to see and experience. After we pressed her, she finally admitted that she especially likes working at Guadalupe River State Park, and in particular, doing butterfly surveys. She says this is because Ranger Craig Hensley is both extremely knowledgeable and always appreciative of volunteers. “I always learn something when we go on surveys with Craig. No matter how many surveys we do, he always shows us something new or tells us something we didn’t know,” she says.

Darlene is currently the Outreach Chairperson for the Chapter. Part of her job is to keep a list of speakers who are knowledgeable on subjects that might be of interest to local school classes and other groups. Her Outreach Committee is also currently working on a Master Naturalist house to be part of the Christmas Village in December. If the Lindheimer Chapter has a project or a need, you may be sure that you will find Darlene Varga there to help.”

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