That’s a Big One

Even not feeling great, I’m finding things to be excited about. I think that’s part of my charm. Perhaps. Today’s theme is big. For example, this is a big grasshopper, especially for a male. And it’s one of my better photos, right on my driveway!

Differential grasshopper, apparently tired, because he let me get really close. Note wings.

The extent of my walking yesterday was patrolling the back yard with Lee. While I regretted not meeting my activity goal, I still managed to find something big and beautiful. It’s one of my favorites, a yellow garden spider.

I had to take this over the fence. Notice her silver head. The scientific name, Argiope aurantia, means gilded silver-face.
This is her belly and some of her web. Obviously she’s an orb weaver!

And now, I’m sure you’ve been waiting for us to see what was inside Fancy Pants’s giant egg from a while back.

Giant egg!

It was still big after peeling. and still rather lumpy.

Peeled. Normal egg in background.

I got out the sharp knife and carefully sliced the big bruiser. Would it be a double yolk? Would it look weird?

That’s a BIG yolk.

I can’t tell if it’s double or not, but it sure is big! Way more yolk than white.

Compare to normal large egg. The normal one has way more white.

I wonder if this one would have had enough food in it to grow a chick? We will never know. But it does make me want to raise chicks. Maybe the next broody hen will get lucky!

So…what’s big in your life?

Brown Recluses, Crows, and Cochineal: Stuff I Learned about This Week

I’ve enjoyed the Texas Master Naturalist Annual Meeting, for the most part. There were a couple of dud presentations (I won’t say which ones those were), but I managed to learn a lot. I really missed interacting with others before and after sessions and being able to interact.

But I did learn a bunch. I’m really glad I went to the brown recluse spider talk, because now I know how few people get bitten and that females don’t even walk around. If you see one out, it’s a male.

Hmm

They have six eyes, paired as in the photo. Easy to tell from other spiders, though I doubt I’ll get that close.

Unrelated to these guys, I found out the baby spiders that parachute across the fields are the jumping spiders. They are my favorites. They are all so pretty and friendly. Sara and I talked to one for a while yesterday. Yes, we’re weird ranch gals.

I learned about corvids, which include ravens, crows, magpies, and jays, among others. The surprise there is how similar their brains are to ours, just more densely packed. Really amazing birds.

More on recluses. I didn’t get bird images.

Another interesting talk was on fungi, but I realized I need images in my sessions. I am not an auditory learner, I guess. The speaker had very few slides, and I got lost. Luckily, she recommended a book I’ll go buy. That makes, I think, four I must have thanks to the conference!

Finally, I got a kick out of the presentation by a very sweet and very Texan Master Naturalist on cochineal. I could tell he’d learned way more about the fashion industry than he had intended to. But it was a lot of fun sharing his amazement about the ups and downs of these tiny insects, some of which happen to be right outside my door!

I’m gonna have to smoosh some up, use lemon juice as a mordant, and dye something red! I’ll read the books and report more later.

Well, I have an adventure to go to, so that’s it for now. Have fun on your Sunday, too!

What I’m NOT Doing between Now and November

Lately, a lot of my friends and other contacts have been publicly inviting people who disagree with their choice of candidates, platforms, or political parties to “unfriend me now!” I can empathize with what prompts such declarations. You get tired of being called ignorant, or sheep, or whatever, by people you thought cared for you, and who you care(d) about. Or you get tired of those one or two people who sniff out any tiny whiff of partisanship on your part and then blast your friends with the tenacity of a dog with a bone.

Let me tell you ONE more time why I think you’re wrong…gnaw gnaw. Image by @9_fingers_ via Twenty20

Now, I have some pretty strong beliefs on political, social, and religious grounds, and I am not ashamed of them, so I’m not going to succumb to fear and never be who I am in social media. If they come and round me up later for expressing my beliefs, well, I will have led a good and consistent life, and I’ll deal with the consequences.

I don’t think it’s helping one bit to egg people on and act like the stereotype you’re trying to deny you’re a part of, though. So, here’s what I plan to do between now and the beginning of November, which is a big election time in the US (some of you may not know; the US isn’t the most important place for everyone on earth, I’m told).

I’m also going to spend a lot more time looking at nature, like this extra cool Apache jumping spider.

I’m not going to remove from my social media accounts all my friends, coworkers, business contacts, and family members who express their affiliation with a different candidate than the one I favor. Believe it or not, I find that I do have other things in common with them, or like them for other reasons. It’s possible if your mindset isn’t that, “Every Party X member is a doofus.” (I will point out that yes, some Party X members are doofuses; some party Y and Z members are ALSO doofuses.)

Right? Image by  @desteniev via Twenty20.

I will “snooze” some folks on Facebook if something they say upsets me, but I won’t un-follow, unfriend, or whatever, unless someone comes across as genuinely dangerous or unhinged. So, yeah, if you threaten to kill me or people I love, I might put some distance between us. That’s just common sense.

I’m not going to waste my breath and time trying to “educate” or chastise people who say things I disagree with or find mildly offensive in response to comments on other people’s Facebook posts, tweets, or Instagrams. I have learned that’s how you (along wity people like yourself) earn bad reputations with other groups. I see it enough in comments on my own posts, and know how damned hard it can be not to respond (I do fail at times). Just go vote, folks, and realize most others have already made up their minds.

A good plan. Image by @MargJohnsonVA via Twenty20

If I share memes, I’m going to try to make it the constructive and encouraging kind, not the kind that puts down others. I have friends who share some real doozies that I enjoy, because I’m human, but every time I’ve even slightly hinted that some other bunch of folks might not have the right idea about something, I end up feeling bad about doing it. I guess I’m pretty firm that passive-aggressive memes serve more to make the person sharing them look bad than to shame the intended audience.

Slightly off topic, but hey, it’s my blog:

Honestly, I don’t need any help to know I’ve been a bad friend or done some things I shouldn’t have that won’t be forgiven or forgotten. I’m trying to forgive my own dang self and learn from the mistakes, so rubbing my nose in it just makes me resentful, not a better person. I wonder if all the nameless people so many accusatory memes are aimed at feel that way, too, if they see themselves in the words, of course. Targeted memes (personal or political) probably mostly miss the intended audience.

Also off topic: I did finally get a photo of the green heron!

Back on track

Anyway, another thing I’m going to do in social media and in person between now and November is be friendly to everybody I run across. I can find something neutral or positive to talk to just about anyone about, and that is what helps us all remember there’s good in everyone. Engaging with the people around me is one concrete thing I can do to help heal the divisiveness and partisan negativity we seem so mired in these days.

We’re all just chickens, say Springsteen and Patty.

I know I’m not alone in seeing people as fellow humans first, and labels second. It’s easy to disparage a faceless group, but one on one, it’s a lot harder. I am glad to have people around me who are great role models in this way of interacting, and yes, some of the best ones do not agree with all of my political and social views. When I’m feeling frustrated, I think of all the hard-working and thoughtful people I know who are trying to make the world better by working with each other. Thanks to everyone who helps with that!

How about you, are you up for trying any of the things I’m going to try to do for the next couple of months? If you’re not, what is your plan for dealing with the challenges of the pre-election period? What’s working for you?

Let’s talk!

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.

Continue reading “Whirlwind Family Visit”

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.

Continue reading “Batty Bits”