Things are back to normal for spring in Texas. There was another tornado warning here, but just some hail happened, not like what others in the US have been going through. Today’s fun was record heat. Then the power went out all over town! That’s spring here.
But this post is about a new pet. Spring brings the return of many old friends here. In fact, I was just thinking I was surprised I hadn’t seen any snakes yet this year. I didn’t see any over the weekend, either. But, the chickens let me know my search was over when I went to feed this morning.
Well, it sure seemed at home in the nest boxes. And there were no eggs. I didn’t see any lumps in our new pet, though.
I just watched it for a few minutes, and I was surprised to see it slide…somewhere. I went around the corner and saw these very convenient (to a snake) slots made by the supports for the boxes. Someone asked why I didn’t stick my hand in there, and my reply was that the slots also looked like excellent habitat for black widows and brown recluses.
I’m feeling more happy with the snake right now, because I came back later and found five eggs. At least the snake is sharing! Later, though, after horse riding, feeding, and medicating, I went to shut the door to the henhouse and there it was, outside the chicken area.
So, as lovely as this rat snake is, and even though there are lots of mice in the hen area, we will have to discuss its meal choices before I’d let it stay.
But I have room for another pet, because we did an oopsie yesterday. Kathleen and I teamed up to do the spring worming for the horses, which went well except for Mabel, who was not at all interested. She and Kathleen both ended up with wormer all over themselves and I had some on my hands. Everyone rinsed off in the water trough. Oops.
That was NOT very smart of us humans, but Mabel had more on her, and she wasn’t about to let us wipe her mouth. Luckily feeder goldfish are quite inexpensive. And I do still have one trough with big fish in it.
I may have mentioned that Lee got the mobile office he’d been saving up for a few weeks ago. He wanted something that could pull a horse trailer and let him work comfortably. That proved really difficult!
After months of trying to find a custom van, he changed tactics. We both missed traveling with our two previous RVs, so Lee looked at them as potential mobile offices you could sort of live in and pull a trailer. I sure heard a lot of conversations about various formats and types. Lee wanted one with a big truck chassis, because they are reliable.
Lee actually found a low mileage used vehicle that was very nice and budget friendly (for a behemoth). And so now I can work anywhere I want to, I guess. More importantly, Lee can, too. Well, anywhere this thing can park and get cell reception.
Anyway, enough about the conveyance, let’s talk about travel. We’d wanted to try the mobile office out this weekend, but I needed to do horses yesterday.
So, we left for Lake Somerville State Park today. It was a lovely, short drive, perfect for getting used to the squeaking and rattling of a building on wheels. The noise is a small trade off for the fun of looking out of that big windshield at the world. I’d missed that. Lee has missed driving a big truck, and I truly loved seeing how happy he was driving.
I, on the other hand, got my happiness once we arrived. A Sunday in winter is not overly popular at a state park, so we can’t see any other groups and all we hear are birds (and planes flying over). That’s so rare and precious.
I enjoyed wandering around the lake and looking at birds and signs of aquatic life. I love winter, when you can see through the trees. Seeing the yellow bellied sapsucker was cool. And from the sound of it, every tree had a woodpecker this afternoon. This made me so happy.
Yep. We had a lovely and EXTRA peaceful afternoon and evening, with few problems other than realizing we only had ONE fork for eating dinner! I enjoyed using the little oven, which is a combination microwave and convection oven. That saves space for the large fridge.
We will be here through Tuesday. I’ll be able to work just fine, as there’s 5G out here! And Lee can work without me bothering him with my endless Zoom meetings, because I can shut the door to my office, AKA the bedroom.
I think it will be fun to work from various spots closer to home in the future. I didn’t think another RV was in the future, but this one seems like it will make my hermit husband happy and let me spend some quiet time close enough home that I’ll be able to keep up with my ranch chores and precious horses.
And maybe we can eventually bring a dog. On the other hand, there’s no barking here!
It was awfully cold, then it rained a lot and warmed up. All of nature seemed to think it was time to wake up my get moving until the next cold front comes along.
I took a lunch break walk today to see how all the water features are doing. A heavy shower last night got the front pond flowing a bit, so I walked around and looked at the stream. It was pretty in the winter sun.
There were dozens of minnows darting around. I didn’t see any of the larger fish, which might have washed downstream in the flood last week or were in the deep parts. I always feel good when I see fish, because that’s a sign of healthy waterways.
I enjoyed looking at the coral berries and other colorful plants that remain, and was extra happy to see the spring flowing away. Hooray.
I wasn’t alone on my walk, though. My buddy Vlassic was as interested as I was! We had a great visit and walk, until he raced back home down the path I use for leg yielding with Apache.
And when I was about to come inside, I stopped to admire the dandelion blossoms. That’s when the gorgeous butterfly appeared. A friend joined him or her, and I basked in my winter surprise. They were soon joined by honey bees, who’ve been out the last few days, especially in the chicken coop. They like the feed.
In addition to all these guys, I saw lots of turtles and little frogs. Plus, I was happy to see tgat the greater yellowlegs are a pair. They look so interesting when they fly, swooping and calling as they go from one pond to another. Since I didn’t get photos of these resilient winter residents, I’ll share the sunset we enjoyed on our way home from Drew’s lesson.
I’m glad to be back at work, glad to have my routine back, and very glad for so many signs of resilience around me.
Now, there’s a blog post title that will draw dozens of readers, right? I’ve had lots to do during this week of no work, but much of it consists of mundane chores that aren’t interesting even to me, much less other folks! You know, farm tasks, applying for Social Security, making medical appointments, taking the car in for its very expensive five-year checkup, etc.
But hey, after dropping the car off at a new-to-us dealership, we did get to go to a restaurant and eat different foods from what’s available around here. Sushi is a rare treat, so we enjoyed the place that just happened to be on our way home, knowing we could linger because the horses were fed for me. What a luxury!
Actually, I got to eat out TWICE yesterday, which is exciting for a hermit. Some friends invited me to join them for lunch (Mexican, of course), which is always fun when it’s me and a bunch of people from the Cameron area, because I learn so much (and get to laugh).
Then, I spontained, as Lee would say, and after running an errand went to check out the new coffee shop in town. Lo and behold, it was open! They were training staff. I texted Anita to come join me, and we had a nice coffee and chat. I look forward to when they will have food and be a lunch alternative, but I won’t give up the coffee trailer, either. Wow, a CHOICE of coffee spots here?
Other than that, it’s the usual. In bird news, I got a photo of the greater yellowlegs who’s making its annual visit. I love the sounds those guys make. I realize this photo isn’t great, but you can at least recognize its shape and bill. My “photos” of the weird kingfisher who has been visiting didn’t even capture its distinctive shape, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get one of these darned lark sparrows to hold still. Why won’t the birds come closer so I can get an ID?
And of course, there are horses, who were due to get ridden today, but every time I went out to groom, it started to rain. Then it would stop, and I’d be annoyed with myself. Finally, I just fed them in a gap between showers, which was good, because now it’s raining hard enough that I think the ponds will refill. Now, THAT isn’t boring.
I guess it’s a perfect night for leftover soup, hanging with the dogs, and putting that afghan together.
I have been avoiding a lot of ruminating and deep thoughts for a little while, so I realize my posts are a bit mundane. I’m focusing on living in the moment right now, because it’s a very painful time of the year for me. The present is good, however. I’m thankful for the supportive folks around me and that life is pleasantly boring.
Whew, I was tired by the time I got home from Fredericksburg. I went home a new way, though, so I got to see some different scenery and avoid Austin traffic. To keep myself awake I tromped around the ranch on my breaks, taking pictures for the pollinator BioBlitz.
I just wandered and wandered, bearing in mind what I learned at the conference this week. I noted there were more fish where there was no cow poop, but there were fish even in what’s left of the creek, where I found one of the old mama cows having a quiet bath.
As I checked out the riparian areas, I also looked at the pastures. Yeah, they are rather over-grazed. The only plants left are what cattle don’t eat: broomweed, milkweed, and silverleaf nightshade. This made finding things to add to the BioBlitz a challenge.
I did find lots of insects and documented every tree variety, so I feel good. My goal is to ID 100 species as my contribution, and I think if I get some at Tarrin’s, where there are different plants, I’ll pass that goal. I did hit another goal today, and that’s 600 different species here on the ranch. Hard to believe!
Even if all I see is cedar elms and greenbrier, I can’t complain. Being able to get outside is such a privilege. The variety of life that’s still thriving in this drought gives me hope for us tenacious humans, too.
I didn’t see many birds other than this coy mockingbird and a cardinal that hid completely. I did hear hawks and crows a lot.
I’m hoping the weather will turn. It actually rained a few tiny drops when I fed the horses, and there was lightning in clouds at sunset. More hope!
More photos, mainly because Barbara looks at them all.
I’ll write more in the Master Naturalist blog about this (update, I forgot to do so), but I did enjoy a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections this morning. My friend Pamela and I drove over and met up with another Master Naturalist and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.
Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.
The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.
The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!
Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!
Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.
Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!
There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!
I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.
They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.
Believe it or not, I managed to get hungry after all those dead things. Good thing we’d arranged to meet our friend, Lynn at a restaurant at the old airport terminal. Ah. A nice restaurant. And airplanes! What a good time.
Whee! Yesterday was so much fun for me, as it tends to be when I go to a state park in any state. As we do every year we visit this area, Lee and I made a pilgrimage to Huntington Beach State Park, which is just a beautiful place full of nature, in addition to being a beach where zillions of people go. Last year we looked at the house where the Huntingtons lived, which was weird, to say the least, but this year, I just wanted to look at some birds. So I did.
We lucked out, because since it was a Sunday, the place was getting crowded by the time we arrived. But, in we got, and we were pleased to see only fellow bird nerds at the nature center boardwalk. I really enjoy learning more about birds and the marsh from people who know more than me, so I was in heaven. In fact, I learned a lot from a couple of little kids and their grandparents. It must be such a joy to have grandchildren to teach about things you care about.
There were birds a-plenty on the boardwalk , mostly dunlins and sanderlings, but I was happy to get to watch a beautiful plover in breeding plumage and the big thrill, a clapper rail. It’s a fairly large brown bird, but since they are shy, they are often hard to find. This one was preening, so we got to watch that really well.
There was also a very pretty snowy egret, who was later joined by a buddy. I love all their fancy feathers this time of year. There were lots of great egrets (bigger white birds), too. The best in the heron family, though, was a tricolored heron that I got to be the first to spot. It was gorgeous, with shiny feathers, red eyes, and a bright blue bill. We got to watch it for a long time, and the dude with the immense camera lens must have gotten some great photos.
Birds weren’t the only attractions, though. In addition to listening to the fun sounds of popping shrimp, we got to watch hundreds of fiddler crabs busy at work in the mud, and we were enthralled watching the oysters spitting. Some of them can really spit (sorry, no photos). It’s how they breathe, so when they are exposed, the water turns into a fountain. I also so lots of pretty fish and a blue crab doing its crab work. There is SO much life in a marsh!
In the wildlife center, we watched birds at the feeder for a while, then I enjoyed seeing what they had in some aquariums with native life in them. Watching the ray swimming around was mesmerizing.
After we left there, we headed over to my favorite nature walk along the marsh. I was happy to see that the area is recovering nicely from a fire a couple of years ago. I can tell woodpeckers are loving all the dead trees. You can hear them everywhere. As usual, I took lots of pictures, many of which I shared on Facebook, but here are some highlights. We were charmed by the signs some group had hung on some of the trees. Every sign had an uplifting, positive message that added to the pleasure of walking among all the huge trees and listening to the variety of birds.
I was pretty thrilled to see many painted buntings on this trip, but the best sight was in one eastern red cedar tree on this walk, where there were so many songbirds it felt like you were in an aviary. There were multiple painted bunting pairs, a cardinal family, a blue jay, tufted titmice, and a tiny, tiny bird that I think was a vireo. I had to take a picture of the tree and thank it.
After getting some pictures at the Octopus Tree (one that fell in a storm but didn’t die), we moved on to the next exciting portion of my day.
I knew I couldn’t leave without walking across the dam the road into the park is on, checking out that boardwalk, and seeing what was there. On the little boardwalk, I turned to take a photo of some “old man moss” and scared the heck out of a large white-tailed deer doe. I was happy to see something other than a bird! As I looked out across the water, I saw multiple alligators, and I soon learned why there are so many.
Another Diversion into Memories
As I walked down the dam, on the side that’s a lake, I saw a familiar sight, mullet jumping out of the water and making a big splash. It brought back memories for me. One was when my brother and I were pretty young and took the bus from Ft. Lauderdale to Gainesville to visit our grandmother. We ended up on the local bus that stopped over and over. We befriended an older black woman, who told us all about where we were. When we got to Lake Okeechobee she told us to look out the window, NOW. There, in the light of the setting sun, were dozens and dozens of mullet flying into the air and splashing down, creating diamonds of water droplets. I’ve never forgotten this sight.
When we lived in Plantation (1972-1980 or so), there was a Corps of Engineers canal behind us (C-10). These were the canals they used to drain the Everglades so crappy suburbs could be built where the alligators once roamed. Well, alligators still roamed there, but the best part for my family was sitting on an old footlocker we’d found and labeled “Davy Jones’s Locker” and watching the mullet as the breached in the late afternoon. Dad said they did that to kill parasites by exposing them to the sun. All I know is they sure were pretty. I’m glad I have some good memories of that place!
Back to the Present
Anyway, I enjoyed watching the fish jump and move around right under the surface of the water. I was watching a particularly rollicking roil of fishie exuberance when I realized I was not the only audience member. Someone was trolling for lunch.
I continued to watch the alligator as I defended my spot on the observation deck from a couple of barn swallows who were busy building a nest next to where I was standing. That reminded me of hanging out on the patio at home!
As I prepared to leave, I heard a noise where the fish were and picked up my binoculars. What a sight I saw! The alligator had found something to nosh on and was chomping away. I’d never seen a gator eat a meal before, despite living in Gator Country much of my life (really wish you could hear my mom’s gator call). There was lots of stuff sticking out of its mouth, and I could not tell if it had caught a blue crab or a mullet that had been surrounded by reeds (a recent storm had really filled the water with reeds).
All that gator action made up for the fact that there weren’t all that many interesting birds out, since I was there around mid-day. I enjoyed the ones I did see, then graciously allowed poor Lee to go back to the condo, since he was distressingly hangry. Here are a few more bird and people and landscape pix!
We had a surprisingly good meal at the Mexican restaurant next to the condo building. The food was very fresh and different from Tex Mex. The salsa was obviously fresh, but not quite what we were used to. However, when I declared it to be gazpacho, I loved it.
We just chilled in the room the rest of the evening, so I made great knitting progress and caught up with HGTV.
Lee is driving home today, so that’s it for me traveling anywhere, unless I take an Uber to the nice shopping center one evening or a guest magically appears (it HAS happened before). I have plenty of work to do, have the beach and hot tubs and pools at my disposal, and there is always someone friendly downstairs. I’m good. I do miss my friends, family, and animals, though.
When I finally get a day off, I can cram a lot of fun into it, that’s for sure, and yesterday I even stepped outside my comfort zone successfully, more than once. I’m so proud.
One thing I’m happy with myself for doing is finding my own fun by myself. As Lee has gotten more and more into the Hermit Life, I’ve found myself slipping into it as well (and COVID helped form the habit of being solo). Since I wake up ridiculously early here, I usually have five hours or so to kill before Lee is able to do anything. I sit on the balcony, read, or knit, but I’m so used to getting up and doing a bunch of chores that I’ve taken to just leaving and finding stuff to do outside.
Admittedly, some of the stuff I do involves fruity drinks and beach chairs, but I wander around, take pictures, and talk to folks. I swear I’m turning into my dad with all this talking to folks stuff. Not very hermit-like.
When Lee was awake, he suggested we go take advantage of the free putt-putt golf we get as part of our stay. I think the hotel chain bought this sorta run-down course, since it’s right across from one of the properties and counts as an amenity. Here’s an admission. I had NEVER played putt-putt before, or any other golf-like activity.
A Chapter for My Memoirs
Backstory: In my horrible only year at Plantation Middle School, some person without much forethought had the great idea of having a bunch of young girls, many from backgrounds that didn’t include elitist sports like golf (back then, well-to-do white people played golf), learn the sport in physical education. Golf includes golf balls and golf clubs, both things that needed to be treated with respect. There were rules, like only swinging your club behind a certain line, not swinging without checking your surroundings, and not driving the ball while people were out retrieving their shots. Good rules. Who can guess what happened?
Yep. I had finally hit my ball far enough to get an extra point (a thing I needed because PE was my worst class) and was about to pick it up when WHAM, one of the little darlings in class swung her club onto my head. I was so focused on getting my extra point that I simply went back to the teacher to report my success. She asked me what was on my gym outfit. That would be blood. I had to go to the nurse’s office, which was hard to do when you had no idea where that was in the crazy building and you were dripping. I was so angry that I smeared blood on the exterior wall of the school, quite an act of rebellion for the rule-follower I was at the time.
The nurse washed me up and called my mom to come get me. Mom was in the middle of her nervous breakdown from having to move away from Gainesville, so she was not happy to have to drive down Sunrise Boulevard (she didn’t like four-lane roads) to come get me. She looked at the hole in my head and declared something like it was just a flesh wound and took me home with no doctor visit or anything. Mom was frugal and didn’t want to waste health care dollars on us kids when she needed so much (thus, we had no trips to the dentist until our teens, my brother’s lazy eye was not addressed until too late to fix it, etc.).
The results were that I had headaches for years and sharp pains if I moved a certain way. I have avoided golf entirely. I wasn’t the only one permanently damaged by middle school golf. Another classmate had a chunk of her chin removed by someone who didn’t check her surroundings, and as far as I know, still has a nasty scar. I believe that was the end of the golf program at Plantation Middle School.
Back to Put-Putt
Anyway, Lee likes golf and used to be really good at mini-golf, so I agreed to go. I’m so glad I did. It was great fun, and I was nowhere near as horrible at it as I feared I would be. In fact, I was even under par on one hole, and made par on a couple more. The first hole was pretty bad, since I had to figure out how hard to hit the ball to make it do what I wanted it to do, but after that, I found it most amusing to see where the ball would go and what it would do.
I declare that I would do it again, perhaps at a nicer course. But, we got a lot of laughs out of the outing and it was great to see Lee actually enjoying an activity on a trip.
Off to Calabash
We decided we wanted some good seafood, so we motored off to North Carolina (barely) to the beautiful little town of Calabash, where we’d had a great meal last year. Once again, I knitted a lot. I am trying to get that baby blanket finished before that baby is born. We tried the restaurant next door to the one where we ate last year, and were not disappointed.
I got a huge amount of food in my platter, unlike the small serving we had in Murrell’s Inlet a couple of days ago. And it was fried so beautifully that my grandmother would have approved (the great connoisseur of Florida seafood). The oysters were immense and the scallops delicate and tender. The shrimp were local (from right next door!) and the fish was glorious.
While the service was a little slow, I could not complain, since there was quite a show among the local bird population for me to enjoy. Grackles were mating and building nests, so they were in great form (and loud, being grackles).
The seagulls were also in squabbling mode, so there was lots of action. Plus, there were pelicans zooming around and catching fish. They are so beautiful to me.
After the meal, I went for a walk on the little boardwalk and boat docks, where I got to enjoy pelicans having some kind of bird party next to a party boat, which cracked me up (easily amused).
I also realized why all the birds are so dang happy right there in Calabash. The water was literally teeming with little fish. No shore bird could go hungry with all those fishies everywhere they looked!
While I was gone, Lee was paying the check, and since he was alone with our leftovers, the laughing gulls got bolder. He got a great shot of a laughing gull taking one of my shrimp.
Once we got home, I needed to burn off that fried food, so I walked on the boardwalk until I got all my steps in, then decided to enjoy an Old Fashioned and knit a table at the upstairs bar (I had been outside until a loud family arrived). A lady said I shouldn’t be sitting alone and invited me to the bar to sit with them. I ended up talking to them and another couple for a long time. Lee even came down for a while.
And in talking to the staff, I discovered that Kevin the bartender is also a history professor who specialized in my very own ancestors in Florida! His family is also from north Florida with deep roots there. Who would have guessed? This condo has the best staff, that’s for sure.
I ended up meeting another couple and stayed too long and had three drinks, so I was not at my best when I got home. Lee said I was cuddly, so I must have been out of my mind, ha ha. It was worth it, though. I truly enjoy hearing the stories of all the people I run into and finding our commonalities without ruining things by getting into politics or religion. Granted, anyone I meet here fits certain criteria or they wouldn’t be here. Hilton sure does check your credit scores and incomes. But I’ve met people from many places and backgrounds, and that’s what I like and have missed so much the past few years.
While I’m still primarily doing outdoor things (we’ve been eating on patios), at least I’m no longer scared to talk to people. I’m back to having a nice balance of being alone and in peace and interacting with others.
I started reading about the universal theory of beauty, but didn’t get far enough to say anything wise about it. I was comforted to know there is such a theory, though.
Much of today I had my head buried in work. I do miss vacations, but Planview would have sent me to a mental health facility by now if I’d stayed.
When I was finished, I rewarded myself with some time in the hot tub (alone!), some splashing in the pool, and a mango daiquiri.
Then I enjoyed a quick beach walk at high tide, which let me see actual sea life and intact shells, a rarity here at the tourist beach. And the waves were great colors. Sea foam green is a real thing.
Lee and I went to the Murrell’s Inlet boardwalk for dinner at a seafood place. I was very pleased with my blood orange old fashioned I drank and the “crab stack” I ate. Crab, mango, avocado, cilantro oil and siracha (however you spell it) are all among my favorites.
We topped the meal off with a walk along the boardwalk, which features a goat island, oyster shells, and birds. Not bad for an area with like 20 restaurants in it.
The best part of the boardwalk I didn’t get a picture of, because we were enjoying it so much. There were these twinkles and tiny splashes. At first I thought it was something swimming under the water. But no, it was eensy fishies jumping together! Little sparkly fishies! We were charmed.
You know it was a good day when the most stressful thing was trying to fix my Facebook avatar to look less like a hatchet. I think she’s a little better.
Most of the day was spent cleaning and organizing things. There was much heavy lifting, according to my back. I had help from my son some of the time. I’m teaching him ranch stuff.
He washed a bunch of really grungy horse brushes, which I appreciated, and helped groom Apache. He lucked out and missed grooming Drew. He was encrusted with mud. I also hit a scab, which caused blood to spurt like crazy. Luckily I’d spotted bandages in the new trailer. He’s all fixed up.
My kid got a ground lesson on horse riding while I worked with Apache. I did darned well, if I say so, myself.
Then Sara came by and we looked at all the new stuff. She also says she thinks Peeper is a rooster. Damn. I didn’t see spurs…but that means I get more hens soon!
The only other news is this guy.
I found two of these poor young channel catfish in the middle of the pasture. They must have washed out of the pond at Sara’s. Poor guy or gal!
Let’s hope next week is better for all the residents here, fish, fowl, or fauna!