Sunday, April 6, 2014

Caroline Dormon's Legacy: A Return to Briarwood

(You can click on any photo to enlarge for better viewing)

A sense of peace and tranquility surrounds Briarwood, the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve, near Saline, Louisiana, even when my husband and I arrived for the annual picnic to find cars parked up and down the road.

A trip to Briarwood Nature Preserve takes you to a place where one woman's values and principles are evidenced in everything seen.  

detail from a brochure about Briarwood
“Miss Carrie,” as Caroline Dormon was known to friends and family, was a cousin of my husband’s grandfather so we try to attend the annual picnics. An added bonus is getting to visit with some of the other Edgertons who attend this event. My husband met Caroline Dormon when he was young and the family visited Briarwood for a family reunion.

Ricky is boy in forefront right and
Miss Carrie is standing in the shadows
(With appreciation for photo provided by Ricky's cousin Edwin Edgerton III)

Briarwood was the summer home of the Dormon family, and Caroline was born here in July 1888.  She returned to Brairwood as an adult to live here full time.  As I've been reading about Caroline Dormon, I found glimpses of her life story depicted in some snippets from national and regional magazines (as quoted in Briarwood brochures). 

“During her lifetime at Briarwood, Caroline built a log house, carved trails through the woods, scooped out a ‘reflection’ pond and planted hundreds of wildflowers, trees and shrubs collected during her travels throughout the South."
Southern Living Magazine, July 1992

 Caroline was a scholar all her life and taught school briefly in her early years after attending college in Alabama.  The following family photo shows a sign near one rural school where Miss Carrie taught.

“The unpretentious unconventional woman lived most of her 83 years in a log house set amongst secluded woodlands in a remote area of northeasternmost Natchitoches Parish.  Often beset by financial stress, she resorted to such humble and mostly unsuccessful ventures as offering summer camps for girls or selling home-canned products.  Yet she gained world renown as a conservationist, naturalist, botanist, artist, historian, author, student of Indian lore and collector of native plants.  Louisiana State University awarded her an honorary Doctor of Science Degree.”    
Forest and People Magazine, 3rd Quarter, 1990

Caroline Dormon devoted her life to preserving the flora and fauna found at Briarwood and planted many more species on the land.  Today over 7,000 species of plants have been recorded at Briarwood, and it's not surprising that one goal of the non-profit group that oversees this nature preserve is to teach the value of native plants in the landscape and their potential for medical use.
 As Ricky and I wandered the trails around Briarwood, we took photos to help remember this day.
path through the wildflower meadow
lily (still trying to remember which one)
Native Azalea
The aroma of the white native azalea filled the path
Illicium floridanum (also known as purple anise, Florida anise, stink-bush, or star-anise)
an evergreen shrub native to the south-eastern United States
especially Florida and Louisiana. Smells like a wet dog!

Sign at the pond

Old sign identifying tree
Love the texture of this bark

There's a writer's cabin on the premises for people doing research related to Briarwood.
A friend David Snell vividly described Caroline Dormon in Smithsonian Magazine, February 1972:  “I can see her now, calling to [her sister]Virginia, the indoor Dormon, whooping and prancing about like some bamboo-stemmed marsh bird, and swinging her arms high over her head, with palms aloft and fingertips pointing backwards, in delight and disbelief that Heaven should have chosen to so bless this day.”

I felt the same way--experiencing delight and disbelief-- at the natural wonders that Briarwood provides to visitors.

Briarwood is managed by a non-profit organization, The Foundation for the Preservation of the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve, Inc. whose goals include protecting Briarwood’s old growth forest, as well as the protection of Dormon’s botanical collection of native plants and rare and endangered plants at Briarwood.  Briarwood also seeks to provide a safe habitat for wildlife and strives to educate adults and children in the importance of biodiversity and the preservation of the ecosystem.

For more information, please refer to these books related to Caroline Dormon, as well as the Facebook page, Briarwood Nature Preserve.
  • Flowers Native to the Deep South, Dormon’s book of wildflowers  (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing Division, 1958; 2nd printing, 1999)
  • The Gift of the Wild Things: The Life of Caroline Dormon, by Fran Holman. (Lafayette, La: The Center for Louisiana Studies, 1990)
  • Adventures in Wild Flowers: The Timeless Writings of Caroline Dormon, editor Fran Holman (Catawba Publishing, 2010)
You may also want to read my earlier blog post about a previous Briarwood visit.