On the Trail, at Home with Maryland Public Television

Autumn is quickly sliding into winter, and we at Special Collections and University Archives are hunkering down, already reminiscing about summer days spent in the sunshine. For coping with quarantine, Maryland Public Televison’s (MPT) program On Nature’s Trail is a true delight. University of Maryland (UMD)  alumni Jean and Elmer Worthley take viewers on an exploratory trip into the woods. Jean, the author of The Complete Family Nature Guide,  studied human development and childhood studies at UMD, and was the host of the beloved MPT children’s show Hodgepodge Lodge. A noted botanist who received his PhD from UMD, Elmer grew plant specimens under the sponsorship of the UMD School of Pharmacy. These two approach nature with a conversational tone reminiscent of a science class field trip. Each one of On Nature’s Trail’s 26 episodes focuses on a specific environment or landscape, from summertime woods to railroad tracks and hedgerows. 

gif of a spiny-bellied spider crawling over a woman's left hand
Jean Worthley wrangles a spiny-bellied spider on MPT’s On Nature’s Trail

The real joy of this show, besides how adorable and informative Jean and Elmer are, is their close examination of Maryland’s natural environment. The Worthleys passion for science is evident, both in their precise observations and meandering conversations. In episode 15, “ Woods of the Summer,” the Worthleys teach viewers to approach the woods methodically, encouraging close examination at all levels and through the engagement of multiple senses. Through looking, touching and even smelling, Jean and Elmer illuminate the finer points of woodland life, inspecting azaleas, ferns, insects and birds. Common and Latin names spill from their tongues, as do facts, background information and fun tidbits. Did you know, for example, that the Acadaian flycatcher likes to nest in beech trees along streams, and builds its nests of spent oak and beech flowers? Have you heard of ticklegrass, rattlesnake orchids, or a spiny-bellied spider? Jean and Elmer are here to tell you about all that and more. In just 30 minutes, viewers get the full flora and fauna experience  without even needing to put on their boots — a welcome diversion if you’re feeling chilly and already missing summer!

Color photographic postcard of a horticultural hall filled with ferns. A curved, glass roof covers an interior packed with green and brown ferns that line a boardwalk.
The Fern House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, circa 1907-1914. National Trust Library Historic Postcard Collection, University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/11404.

Be sure to check out more On Nature’s Trail here to get through those winter and pandemic blues. Once you’ve gotten your fill of the show, check out The Geometry of Trees, a text praised by Elmer and available at UMD. Whatever your covid-coping looks like, we’re sure to have a MPT show to fit the bill

This post is the last installment of a series promoting the Maryland Public Television collection in celebration of MPT’s 50th anniversary. Please check the #MPTatHome and #MPTturns50 tags on the Special Collections and University Archives blog for more MPT content!


Emily Moore is a second year MLIS student with a background in art and theory. In addition to her role as a student assistant at Special Collections and University Archives, she works as the Archival Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

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