Book Review: The Nature of Texas

A review of a field guide to the nature of Texas, suitable for beginning naturalists

Here’s a new book that some of you who live in Texas might want to order. It’s a field guide called The Nature of Texas: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions, by James Kavanagh and illustrated by Raymond Leung.

The cover of the book, The Nature of Texas
Any book with an armadillo on it is a book I like!

This isn’t one of those huge compendiums of every single living organism in the state; instead, it highlights plants and animals that an average person with an interest in the nature in Texas might run into. The descriptions are brief and in lay terms, and the illustrations are really lovely (good job, Raymond Leung).

It’s a bit too basic of a book for me to carry around, but I could easily imagine giving it to a teenager or older child who’s going camping and wants to know what they might find out there, or someone who just moved to Texas and wants a nice overview. It would be fun to put on the bedside table for your out-of-state visitors, or on the coffee table of your rental property.

an open page of a book, with information about fish
An example of the text and illustrations.

The back of the book has two handy features. One is a brief list of interesting places to go to see the natural wonders of Texas, with clear maps. The other is a series of checklists you can use to mark off wildlife and native plants that you see in your travels. That would be a fun family project (though I’d have to add a bunch of things, like more owls).

I do recommend The Nature of Texas, just for the beautiful illustrations alone. And the introductory essay, “But a Watch in the Night,” written by James Rettie in 1948 is a real treasure, too. It’s a great reminder of how little time humans have actually been present and messing around with our planet.

Texas, Where Almost Everything Bites

Today I have a hodgepodge of stuff to share, but first I want to talk about what’s lurking around the ranch these days. That would be things that bite, and things that jump. Yesterday, I went to sit down on one of the front-porch rocking chairs, when I saw something on the seat.

A member of the widow spider family.

I am very glad she was pre-dead, and that I saw her before I sat. Certainly it confirms my habit of checking for creatures before plopping down anywhere around the Hermits’ Rest! I’m not sure what kind of widow spider she was, but I don’t want any of them biting me. These are the main reason I continue to support having pest control come around the house.

The second reason is scorpions, which I haven’t seen any of, but Lee and Kathleen have killed a few. I love them out in the woods, but not in the house. And I love the spiders, but not ones that could really mess with my health.

I’ve apparently become allergic to mosquito bites, and they make huge welts, so I could do without those right now, too. And biting flies! Argh. There are black flies around here, and horse flies (thankfully not around ME), and deer flies. Whatever. One of them bit me on my FACE this morning. That could have to do with how much poop we have at the ranch

Nonetheless, I am heartily enjoying discussing different kinds of flies and grasshoppers and stuff with Eric in our Master Naturalist class. He not only has good eye for finding them, but he has a good camera, and the patience to work hard to identify them.

Eric wrote me an email today about the coolest thing he saw (a “mystical experience,” in his words), which was he was trying to photograph a large grasshopper:

It jumped off the path into the high grass and when it landed it appeared to turn into at least a dozen tiny projectiles which flew off in all directions like a firework. A closer look uncovered a great concentration of grasshopper nymphs in the area.

Eric N., email 6/6/2020

Of course, he didn’t get a picture, but WOW, what an image!

My grasshopper experience this morning was also something you couldn’t photograph. I was walking back from horse riding (it went well), noticing that it’s definitely grasshopper season. Then I noticed the sound. As I walked, I was disturbing dozens and dozens of them (small ones, since they aren’t adult yet), and my walk seemed to have a rhythm section accompanying it. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap-tap-tap.

I k now a lot of people don’t like grasshoppers (like my sister), and I admit they are annoying in the summers when there are hundreds pelting me as I drive the utility vehicle. At least they don’t bite often or hard. But they are so varied and interesting. I have an AWFUL time photographing them, so I think I’m going to get a good butterfly net soon, so I can get some to hold still.

What Doesn’t Bite?

Roaches. Secretly, I have never been fond of roaches, due to childhood trauma, but I am doing better since I started doing iNaturalist. I recently even found one I thought was interesting to look at. It also lived outdoors, where it should.

Fairly attractive pale-bordered field cockroach

And non-venomous snakes don’t bite humans, often anyway. So, I was sad to see this one in the road this morning. Rat snakes are my buddies as long as they aren’t eating my hens’ eggs.

Poor snakey got hit by a car.

Okay, time to go see what’s outside that will hurt in some other way…

Teeny Tiny Road Trip

Today Kathleen declared it was a ladies’ day. So we did some shopping with safety in mind. We spent a lot of time at Walker’s Honey Farm. I got some honey spreads for bagels and some of their wine. Kathleen got similar things and some mead/beer/wine stuff, too. One is strawberry basil and one is coconut and something. They are refreshing.

The winery and honey place is really nice this time of year. We had frozen mead and sat under a beautiful pergola looking out over wildflowers and vineyards.

Much of our time was spent in the bird-lovers heaven of watching purple martins going in and out of their high-tech nests. What a pleasure!

I enjoyed watching lizards and spiders, and even managed to find a couple more invasive species for my bioblitzing. (I am doing pretty well at it; report coming tomorrow.) If you are in this area, it’s a great place to visit now. They all wear masks and clean a lot. They only serve drinks and snacks outside, so it’s great and socially distant.

We next went to Vis-a-Vis in Rogers. The staff were great but it was a bit crowded to me, so I kept the mask on and sanitized a lot. We got some great stuff for our projects, like an old toothbrush holder Kathleen loves and a box of iron “stuff” that may go into my new desk.

I also got three cute teapots for a collection I have: cauliflower, eggplant, and garlic. I left the garlic one at the office, so no photo. Anyway, I was amazed the ladies there recognized me with blue hair and a mask, but they did.

We dropped by the Bling Box to pick up something of Kathleen’s. Yay, no other customers! They also got in a shipment of masks, so I got one that goes with my hair. Charming, right?

Blue in it for the hair, orange for my glasses. Hmm. I’m an homage to my alma maters. Go Gators. Fight Illini.

Tomorrow Kathleen works, so I’m gonna clean things at the Pope Residence. That should be fun!

Resilience. Can We Do It?

Right about now, lots of folks are finding their resilience tested. It’s another really appropriate word for UU Lent. Every day we try our best to bounce back, face the day, move forward, and support those who need our support. It ain’t easy, especially for my family and friends who’ve lost loved ones, have sick friends, have lost their income, or are trying to teach children AND do the job they still have.

Am I feeling resilient today? Not really.

Some people are born more resilient than others. I’ve read all those studies about how some people will thrive no matter what circumstances they are thrown into. You hear stories of people who have overcome really sad situations in their youth to become amazing contributors to the well-being of others.

Others of us aren’t resilient by nature at all. Still, with support and care, many of these folks can learn coping skills and do very well in life.

The rest of us are somewhere in between, and do better or worse due to our environment and other support systems. It’s the support systems, I think, that matter the most, which is why I’m grateful to all the people around me who are supportive.

I’m pretty sure the hackberry tree will be around long after the rest of us. It has resilience and then some!

Input

My friend Pam shared the types of resilience she’s working on, in a comment that doesn’t show up on the Instagram photo. They are too helpful not to share. Here’s what she said:

8 forms of capital I have been working for quite some time to strengthen my resilience in. Some days are easier than others. Time, social, cultural, emotional, knowledge, material, living and financial are the 8- sending you peace and love and light today Suna💕

Chris Martenson, PhD and Adam Taggart in their 2015 book, Prosper! How to Prepare for the Future and Create a World Worth Inheriting

I love getting helpful feedback with resources to help out, so thanks a lot, Pam!

Nature and Resilience

One of the things we learn about in our Master Naturalist training is how resilient things are out there in nature. We learn how forests recover from fire, how ecosystems can regain their balance once important species are re-introduced (wolves, reindeer), and so on.

I hope the toad makes it. Nice to get comments on a post!

We also learn about the most fragile members of ecosystems, like frogs, who just can’t take all the rapid change. The most resilient plants and animals get to keep going (why we have so many medium-sized mammals and so few giant dinosaurs now).

I guess one day spiders will rule the earth. Phidippus arisonensis.

It’s just hard to watch entire groups of plants and animals going away because of the actions of humans. We have re-shaped the planet in so many ways, with our agriculture, selective breeding of animals, depleting resources like trees, and taxing the ecosystem with our large population.

I once read that plagues happened when there were too many people in a place. Is Nature trying to tell us something? Can we stay strong and get through to better (or at least different) times?

Stay resilient, friends.

Doing Good at Feeling Fine

This whole thing where I work really hard to live in the moment (ruining my previous hobbies of “pre-worrying” and “dwelling on how things could have gone) has really been working out. Little things keep happening and I just look at them as bumps in the road as I sail down my merry path. And, hey, look, today’s tarot card even shows my merry path!

It is always fun to me when I’m subconsciously thinking of something, and my reading literally draws a picture of it. Archetypes amuse me.

My quest to enjoy the moment led to me just sitting at last night’s high school football game and listening to the drama and pageantry, without worrying about winning or losing. It was just pleasant to be around nice people doing small-town things.

In fact, the current plan is to go with the lady who sits next to me at the games and watch the Away game next Friday. She is a whiz at football, so almost as fun to watch a high school game with as my kids’ friend Wes, who analyzed the games from his trombone spot. He’s now a high-school football coach, so his dream came true, even if his parents didn’t want him playing the game. I’m so glad to make new friends.

Football action. Note how many people the other team had in the stands. They were from a LONG way (Katy, Texas). They won State last year, and we were the only team that beat them. I hope it’s that way for them this year, too.

On my way home I got to see a huge owl eating a kill, then flying off when my car approached [hn hn – Vlassic typed that by laying his head on the keyboard]. Then I found a big spider in the garage, but Vlassic scared it off before I could get a picture.

Continue reading “Doing Good at Feeling Fine”

Whirlwind Family Visit

It’s not even noon on Saturday, and we’ve already had a busy and fun weekend. This may be a long post, but it’s just nice to write about something that went right. I’m hoping we were able to be good to others and relieve a bit of stress for them.

Yesterday, Kathleen and Chris came by, with Lee’s brother Jim and Eva, who is usually the caregiver for Jim’s wife, but was along on this trip to help out with Jim. Also among the visitors was 14-year-old Joe, Eva’s son, who gets to do some heavy lifting and helping out.

The gang’s all here.
Rose Gold. It’s subtle.

We all had a nice lunch at Dutchtowne, of course, where I spent a bunch of time taking pictures of my hair, because the light was good. I did also take a picture of the group.

After the business reason for the trip, in which Lee, Jim, and I signed a bunch of papers and Mandi notarized them, the family ran off to do errands in Temple (Vlassic asked to go with them, so he did, that traveling fool), while I tried to work as people took down the ceiling in our offices. I was forced out due to dust. This will be a topic of the Hermit Haus Redevelopment blog shortly.

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Batty Bits

It’s been quite a week with so much work and such that it’s been hard to find time to write. I may perhaps have too many jobs and volunteer positions, but I love them all!

I especially enjoy my Master Naturalist group and its members. I get a lot out of observing their personalities and learning their interests. Sometimes they are a bit quiet, but always in an endearing way.

Last night’s chapter meeting dealt with bats, a topic our speaker, Cindy, is very attached to. I wrote a lot about her talk in the Master Naturalist blog, so here I’ll just say I learned a few bits of information I didn’t know before, and they will stick with me.

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Summer Dead Stuff

Hey again. I’ve got some more deep thinking coming up, but first I have to say it’s hard to get anything at all done this time of year, because there’s always something interesting and deceased laying around.

Our first thing isn’t dead, just empty. That’s the tiny nest the baby finch tried to fall out of yesterday. It’s so small and exposed! But birds successfully fledged.

Awkward photo of awkward bird nest

The next best is bigger and more protected.

There’s still a bird in there.

But at least two fledglings ended up on the porch this morning!

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Chickens Can NOT Catch a Break

I’m beginning to think my poor chickens are living under a black cloud, are haunted, or broke a mirror sometime in their past. They really just can’t catch a break.

Here’s a rat snake that was found in a shopping cart in Midland. So friendly.

You may recall that just last Saturday, I found an adult Texas rat snake curled up happily in the henhouse, with three eggs embedded inside him or her. That snake was removed, so I was really thinking all was well.

Nope. Wednesday night, Seth, the chicken tending volunteer, got scared witless when he saw TWO snakes in the hen house. He didn’t stop to try to identify them. For someone who lived in the boonies most of his life, he’s not real “ranchy.”

Here’s a cute spider to take your mind off snakes.

He called his mom, who told me. I said, hey, remember Tyler who lives right there? He can take care of snakes. Then I heard nothing.

I asked Mandi how it all went, and she said she wasn’t sure. He wasn’t talking about it. Wow. Nature is not kind to that boy (age 19). But I do understand that many people have big issues with snakes, even non-venomous ones.

So, I asked Tyler, who IS ranchy, what the heck had happened. He said the two snakes were the same kind and size as last week.

What, are they a family? If so, one of them ought to tell the others that the fun times at our coop don’t have happy endings.

Mostly, though, I feel bad for those poor remaining 8 chickens. We took care of one set of predators, only to be joined by another one. I think my friend Mike and I need to get working on the new and improved coop, not just talking about it.

Now, That’s Nature: Post Oaks Plus

It has rained so much the past few days that it feels like I live at a mosquito farm. Everywhere I go I’ve been eaten up, though the barn swallows are trying to keep up with them at the ranch.

“Lake Travis” in Cameron. Photo by Martha Nethers.

Martha says that our old office on Travis is now located at “Lake Travis.” Birds love to bathe in it, but they can’t enjoy their lovely patio at the moment. (By the way, they recently saw a mother opossum and all her babies on her back–sure with I had a photo!)

Sink spider

The rains have also driven a lot of things indoors. A group of wolf spiders is hanging out in the kitchen of the old church building. I hope they scoot back out before the pest control dudes come!

Continue reading “Now, That’s Nature: Post Oaks Plus”