The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!
After a period of vaguely okay weather, with some rainy days and nice things like that, it is now extra-July here in the middle of Texas.
Combine that heat with all that Saharan dust, and people are staying indoors in droves. In fact, if I had a Gratitude Journal, my only entry this week would say, “Air Conditioning!” I’ve been dealing with most annoying asthma symptoms all week.
Mandi was trying to paint the inside of the house she’s remodeling this week, but it doesn’t have air conditioning yet. She now has heat exhaustion.
I’m being careful and plan to feed horses and chickens at sunset, and will probably drive over there rather than walk.
After learning all about foraging from Sean Wall in our Master Naturalist training, I’ve been pretty excited to see what we can find around the Hermits’ Rest that we can eat or turn into something useful.
I know I could have done a lot more with all those dewberries besides make cobbler. I just need to be brave enough to try canning. Maybe next year!
The midsummer bounty that magically appears every year are mustang grapes, which are native to the area and a great food source for animals. We have two trees that are completely covered in grape vines, plus a lot across the road from the gate.
In fact, I thought the grape vines were dying, they looked so black last week. Nope, it was all grapes.
Now, I knew my Master Naturalist friend Burt likes to make wine, mead, applejack, and other tasty beverages. And I’d been looking for a reason to invite him and his wife, Jenecia (and their daughter to be), over to see the ranch. So, I announced that I have all the free mustang grapes a vintner could want, for free. (A couple of other folks had lots, too; it’s a great year for the mustang grape.)
They said they’d come by over the weekend, and so they did.
A while back, I shared photos of a big hawk nest on the building next to my Austin work, and later I found another nest in a large oak tree in front of the building.
I thought you might like to see how those babies are doing. I guess at least one clutch of them hasn’t completely fledged yet, since I keep seeing small hawks flying around the building.
The resident birds are not happy, especially the mockingbirds, who, as we know, are busy raising their babes right now. There were actually two birds going after this poor youth.
I’ve seen at least two others flying around in the past week. I’m pretty sure these are the ones from the big tree, and the ones from the building have long since flown off to establish their own territories. (I do see birds by the nest still, but apparently they usually have just one clutch a year).
Nature sure helps when there’s chaos around you. I’m really glad to have birds and trees and random animals to enjoy wherever I am. We even have some wrens and tufted titmice coming to our bird bath at the Bobcat Lair house in Austin (I will try to get some photos). Remember, when times are tough, breathe, and notice what’s around you. It helps to see the big picture.
Tomorrow I’ll write about picking wild grapes. Adventures in foraging!
There has been a series of African dust storms coming over our area during the last few weeks. Right now, we’re in the middle of another one. They flow across the Atlantic, then up the Gulf of Mexico and into the middle of the US.
The good news is the dust makes mornings sort of cloudy and it stays cool just a little longer. The bad news is that if you are like me, and your lungs aren’t your strongest feature, you really should stay inside. Well, I did NOT stay inside all weekend, as you could tell from the photos of saddled up horses and such. I also spent a lot of time doing outdoor activities that I’ll cover in another post, and I sat on the porch a lot.
That has led me to unpleasant asthma symptoms, which I don’t get very often. It’s annoying. I don’t have bad asthma, but it will show up if I vacuum a lot or hang out where there’s a lot of sawdust in the air.
Seeing warnings about the dust danger really makes you think that these Saharan dust storms are pretty bad things. They send people fleeing indoors! They make our cars all dusty! The sky is sad!
But, I found the silver lining in the cloud of dust: supposedly the will significantly lower the chance of a big ole hurricane hitting the Houston area! Well, that’s not bad at all. I like rain, but I don’t like people I know getting flooded over and over again.
The dust is supposed to hang around for another month, so I guess I’ll just keep coughing if I go outdoors a lot. At least it usually isn’t this dusty when the storms come, which is actually every year!
One of the things we do here at the Hermits’ Rest (and our “sister” ranches, the Wild Hermits and Wild Type ranches) is hang out with our equine friends. My neighbor, Sara, has had horses most of her life, and is a great rider. I always wanted a horse, but didn’t get the chance to own one until Sara gave me Apache, my Quarter Horse/Arabian cross, since she needed a more spirited horse to ride. I was in my late 50s, but my childhood dream came true!
We’ve been to clinics together, but recently we have just been riding around the ranch whenever Sara is in town on the weekends. We work on new skills and explore the area. I’ve been working with Apache “at liberty” in the round pen, and we’re making great progress trying new things on trail rides, too.
Sara’s horse has a lot more training, so she works on opening gates, cantering, and doing complex maneuvers at liberty.
We each have the “right” horse for our skills and inclinations. I just love riding around the ranch with a friendly and kind horse, so Apache is great for me.
Nope, this isn’t about the shrooms Michael Pollan talks about in his incredibly excellent new book How to Change Your Mind (read it now!). Today I’m talking about the most common poisonous mushroom in the US, the green-spored parasol mushroom Chlorophyllum molybdites. They are coming up all over the ranch right now, so I decided to learn more about them.
We have these every year around this time, which means there are some happy underground fungi networks (mycelia) here. This year, a lot of them fruited this week. Interestingly, it’s right after a nearby lightning strike (in which our gate got knocked out and I got tingles running through my body). I was interested to read this in the Wikipedia article on mushrooms:
It has been suggested the electrical stimulus of a lightning bolt striking mycelia in logs accelerates the production of mushrooms.
I’ll be paying attention the next time we get a lot of mushrooms mushrooming up, and see if it follows a storm. By the way, in this same storm, a limb was knocked off a nearby tree.
So, what about it?
I had trouble identifying this, because I really don’t know much about mushrooms. But a kind person in iNaturalist set me straight, which led me to read all about the green-spored parasol. It turns out it is very common, and loves to pop up on suburban lawns.
It won’t kill you, but it sure will make you sick. One of its many other common names is the “vomiter” mushroom. “The nature of the poisoning is predominantly gastrointestinal,” dryly notes the Wikipedia article on this one.
Hmm, Brody the cattle dog sure has had the runs the past day or two. I think perhaps we’ll remove all those lovely mushrooms in their prime playing area.
As you can see, these things can get big! Of course, they are often even bigger underground:
Though mushroom fruiting bodies are short-lived, the underlying mycelium can itself be long-lived and massive. A colony of Armillaria solidipes (formerly known as Armillaria ostoyae) in Malheur National Forest in the United States is estimated to be 2,400 years old, possibly older, and spans an estimated 2,200 acres (8.9 km2). Most of the fungus is underground and in decaying wood or dying tree roots in the form of white mycelia combined with black shoelace-like rhizomorphs that bridge colonized separated woody substrates.
I still have more to learn about this simple, but not-very-tasy fungus. I’ve never seen the green spores, so I’ll be looking for them.
I do know that if I get hungry, the similar-looking parasol mushroom would be a better choice. It’s cap looks more like there is snakeskin on it. Who am I kidding? I’m not going to eat a wild mushroom. I can do without gastric distress. As a great Huffington Post article on the “vomiter” points out:
Whatever you do, don’t eat that big white mushroom in your yard, just because it looks good.
Yesterday, I shared some information on Carlton the puppy’s “weird eyes.” Today I’d like to document some of the things I learned about how he got to be “the world’s whitest dog.” (And, FYI he weighs 31 pounds now, which makes me think he will probably end up the size of his companions Brody and Harvey, though perhaps less bulky.)
I think that he has a whammo combination of THREE genes that make him pale. I learned a lot, thanks to a great collection of information on dog color genetics by Jess Chappell for a lot of this, along with the doggie eye problem reading I did from the veterinary opthalmomogist’s textbook (see references).
Carlton is not an albino
Nope, he is not an albino. Albinism is not found often in dogs like it is in bunnies, rats, and humans. There are a LOT of genes that can make a dog white, though. I won’t go into detail (you can read it in the links below), but I’ll share some ideas.
Is he a double merle?
At least two veterinarians who have examined Carlton have posited that his coloring is due to being a double merle. What’s that, you ask?
First, merle is a beautiful pattern that occurs in a number of dog breeds (I list some at the end of this article). The base color of the coat is beautifully dappled, and people like it a lot. It will show up if just one parent has the gene (it’s dominant).
My lovely puppy, Carlton, is 6.5 months old, as far as we can tell. He weigs 31 pounds, and is all legs and teeth at this point. He loves other dogs, warms up to people, and is generally the best puppy ever. He also has “weird eyes,” as one of our veterinarians put it. She advised that we check with a veterinary opthalmologist as soon as possible.
That visit came on Tuesday, and it’s sent me down a long path of figuring out exactly how Carlton got to be who he is, and why. I wrote up some of this on Facebook, but since then I’ve been doing a lot more research, and as a person who once considered majoring in biology, I found it really fascinating. In fact, writing up my findings is so complex that I am going to break it into more than one post.
Vet visit findings
The regular vet had diagnosed Carlton as having some kind of eye abnormality, in addition to being blue, so she sent me to the veterinary ophthalmologist to see what’s up. This is the same woman, Dr. Yu-Speight, I went to when my corgi, Gwynneth’s eyes went bad (she ended up having them removed and lived 4 more years). We had a wonderful visit.
First of all, Carlton was quite the little man through the whole appointment. He even jumped into the car on command, finally! I am so proud of this dog. He was incredibly well behaved until we got back home, when he went bonkers.
There was a great deal of eye prodding and dropping involved, but they tested everything from tears, to pressure in the eye to the insides. So, he dealt with many substances and implements. I was amazed at his patience, even though he was obviously not enjoying the process.
Sure enough, his eyes are not “normal,” which we knew. But he CAN see, better in darker light, which we also knew.
Hi folks. Sorry for the inadvertent hiatus; I had some technical and scheduling difficulties, but I am back now. I’ve been thinking a lot about birds, so I’ll just share a bit about what’s going on with them here, and write more later! More posts! Yay!
Nests, Part 1
This week I came across more bird nests, including the one in the photo above. It’s a very small nest, though you can’t tell that in the photo, with such pretty little eggs in it. I spotted it while riding my horse, Apache, around a hay pasture we usually don’t ride in.
It was really easy to see the nest, which had me confused. Don’t birds who nest on the ground usually hide the nests? As “Patchy” plodded around the field one more time, I realized what had happened: our ranch helper had mowed a path around the edges of the pasture so my neighbor and I could ride. The mower probably went over the nest, didn’t harm it, but DID reveal it. The rest of the pasture has lush grass about a foot high.
Anyway, I am sad that these eggs probably won’t make it, but I know we have plenty of sparrows here, so plenty of nests. By the way, I’m pretty sure these are lark sparrow eggs. We have plenty of those, plus savannah sparrows, and house sparrows (around the houses).
We had a big surprise rain event yesterday. No one was expecting it, but they were happy nonetheless. I hit some really hard rain in southern Milam County and was very glad for the rain mode in the car. There were waves on the road.
But the real topic today is rain lilies. Rain lilies (white ones) are a common plant around here. They pop up some time in summer, usually, in large masses after a good rain. I found it interesting that the Wildflower Center has two Latin names for rain lilies: Cooperia pedunculata and Zephyranthes drummondii. Apparently, the ones that bloom in the spring are different from the ones that bloom in the fall (no clue what the summer ones are). It has some cool alternate names, too: Hill Country rain lily, Prairie lily, Rain lily, and Flor de mayo.
Here at the ranch, we have always had these really pretty yellow “rain lilies” that pop up around the same time as the white ones.
When they came up this year, of course the first thing I did was look them up on iNaturalist, which is how I found out they were called copper lilies or Rio Grande copper lilies (Habranthus tubispathus). It says they are escaped ornamental plants from Central America that have naturalized. I can’t imagine anyone planted them in our pasture, but who knows? They definitely seem to appear most often in Texas.