ARMN: Getting to Know Emily Ferguson

ARMN’s Membership Committee posts occasional profiles of our members, including how they came to be master naturalists, which parts of nature they most enjoy, and how they affect their environment. This latest biography features ARMN Member Emily Ferguson, who graduated from our training class in Spring 2010. Many of our members already know her because she currently teaches tree identification as part of the Basic Training class. If you know someone else in ARMN with an interesting story and think others might be interested, please contact Bill Browning (browningwh@gmail.com) or Alison Sheahan (ab.sheahan@verizon.net).

Tell us about the ARMN projects you spend time on.

Besides teaching the basic tree ID section for the ARMN training class, I’m involved with stream monitoring at Lubber Run and Barcroft parks as well as the salamander patrols at Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers. I have a lot of fun with the patrols as I think vernal pools are really cool. I also have helped with tree inventories at Fort Meyer and at Columbia Gardens Cemetery on Route 50 (http://www.columbiagardenscemetery.org/).

This year teaching the incoming ARMN class, I was surprised and honored to teach the Tree ID and Botany sections.  I learn something from the students in the class every time I teach, which makes the experience even more rewarding.

Photo of ARMN Member Emily Ferguson teaching tree ID

Emily explaining features of tree bark during March 19, 2018 Basic Training field trip. Photo courtesy of Oliver Torres.

What brought you to ARMN?

When I moved to Northern Virginia, I was starting a job with the EPA to work on the “superfund” program and I knew I would be stepping away from nature. I knew I needed another connection to nature. So, I went looking for something like ARMN and I was glad to find it. Walking around Arlington, the trees looked so different to me. They were all street trees or had been planted out of their natural environment. Rod Simmons, the Alexandria City Natural Resource Manager and Plant Ecologist, taught the tree ID section when I took the Basic Training and confirmed that the trees weren’t different or new. I needed to re-calibrate my eyes because the trees weren’t in the mountain habitats I knew.

What do you like most about ARMN and what has surprised you?

I like the number of activities you can get involved in. There are bird walks, seed cleanings, plant sales, and invasive pulls. I think what I like most is that people are very open to sharing their knowledge. ARMN is so broad. You can find a walk or lecture to learn or explore about almost any aspect of nature that you’re interested in.

 

Photo 2

Emily leading tree ID field trip in Riverbend Park in January 2017. Photo courtesy of Toni Genberg.

Tell us something about your experiences that shaped your perspective on nature?

When I was 15 and attending high school in Bermuda, I dropped biology. Soon after that, my mother took a class to become a tour guide at the local botanical gardens. She taught me about pencil trees (Euphorbia tirucalli) and I challenged myself to identify them when we were driving around. Much to my parents’ horror, these trees were scattered around the island and I pointed them out on every drive we took around the island, which was probably really annoying. I even got my brother to play along.

Since I graduated from the Bermuda High School at the age of sixteen, my parents decided to send me to boarding school in New Jersey for two years. There, I enrolled in ”baby bio” followed by Advanced Placement biology so that I could load up on biology before heading to college because I loved this tree stuff. For the first time, biology made sense and I helped classmates prep for tests.

What is your background?

I attended Rhodes College (http://www.rhodes.edu/) in Memphis, TN where I earned a BS in biology. I also earned my master’s degree in biology (botany and trees) from the University of South Florida in Tampa (http://www.usf.edu/). My mentor and advisor for my thesis wrote the Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida (http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/) and I used to pester him with my irritation at the way he characterized some of the plants.

My parents were not outdoorsy. They sent me to a summer camp in Vermont each year for a month where I first saw the “white dark” (or fog) and hiked in a deciduous forest. I was captivated, but it was not all smooth. One summer my parents sent me to an expedition camp in Pennsylvania, we set out on a weeklong hiking and camping trip. I wanted to dump the 45-pound pack, ditch the other campers, and hitchhike to my uncle’s house in New Jersey where I knew he lived. I didn’t. I stuck it out and ended up having a great time.

What would people find interesting about the non-ARMN parts of your life?

My husband is an ultrarunner. When I started running with him, I learned if you can’t see the top of the hill you can walk up to prevent yourself from overdoing it and focus running the downhill and flat portions of the runs. This approach works great for me. The one thing I like more than running is looking at plants. So, when I run with him, I run downhill and look at plants on the uphill. I’m always walking off the sides of the trail to check out the plants or break off a piece to look at later, much to his surprise.

I’m also my brother’s favorite snorkeling or diving partner. He wants to see the rays and sharks, while I like to drift along just looking at variety of color and beauty under the ocean. Recently, we swam with a manta ray, some white tipped reef sharks, a school of mobula rays, and a school of hammerhead sharks while on a trip through the Galapagos Islands.

Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I always carry a hand lens. Recently, I set up my boom microscope and immediately had to run outside to grab some twigs. I brought them inside to check out under my scope and got lost looking at the delicate beauty of the bud scales and flowers.

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