Donkey versus Dog, and Other Ranch Sights

Maintaining my detachment from things out of my control is a challenge right now, so there are LOTS of nature walks going on. The benefit is that you get to see drama, birth and death, and beauty throughout the day. This morning, for example, I went out to do the usual chicken feeding and horse moving while it was still relatively cool out. That meant all the animals were frisky, especially the dogs and equines. As I was trying to give Apache his daily hay, Goldie was “helping,” as usual. She made the mistake of getting between Fiona and the hay, and Fiona finally connected with one of her kicks, and got poor Goldie on the side. Much yelping occurred.

Goldie may even be taller than Fiona at the shoulders.
Perhaps too extreme of a close-up, but it’s worse than it looks here. But, Goldie is fine and her usual cheerful self.

Fiona has been warning Goldie and the other dogs to keep back by flattening her ears and back-kicking (to the extent that I no longer stand behind Fiona when dogs are around), but she’s just so fascinating to Goldie, who is her match in size, but not in bulk. Carlton has learned to keep his distance. I’d like to say Goldie has, but the photo above was taken AFTER the kick.

There’s always someone kicking, scratching, or biting someone else around here. That’s how they maintain their pecking order (literally, in the case of the hens). I also got to enjoy watching the beautiful swallows figuring out their pecking order from their morning launch station. There are always dozens of them sitting on east side of the house each morning as they get those insects.

Lee is always telling me how observant I am, and I know that just comes from a lot of practice going on hikes and entertaining my younger son with all the different bugs and flowers we saw. Anyway, this morning was one of those sparkling mornings with lots of dew. Also some of the really ephemeral parasol mushrooms that appear and quickly fade away were up. They are so delicate that they tremble at any slight breeze.

A little later in the morning, it was Lee’s turn to want to get some nature walking in, so I accompanied him. We went over to the dam, and found all sorts of interesting things. The MOST interesting is that there are dozens of baby catfish in the overflow area. There are so many of them, and I know that water will dry up way sooner than our other ponds, so I think I will try to catch some and transfer them.

Look at all those little guys!

When I was young, my mom caught some baby catfish in Noonan’s Lake near Gainesville, Florida. She put them in our goldfish pond, and we watched them grow and grow. By the time we moved away, they were a foot long and we loved to try to drop food straight into their huge mouths. The goldfish were also really big. Dad did a great job on that pond.

When we turned around to go back, after enjoying the fishies, I saw lots and lots of insects on the velvetweed. At first I thought there were three kinds, but when I uploaded to iNaturalist, I realized I saw juvenile and adults of the same insect, the eastern leaf-footed bug. There was a stink bug of some type, too, but I failed at taking its picture well enough to ID it, as you can see below. Well, and there were zillions of differential grasshoppers, zzz.

Well, that just shows you what you can find if you look hard and are patient. Focusing on the teeming life all around you reminds you that you are just a small part of the big picture. And watching the animals handle their disagreements with no hard feelings is a good lesson for us, too. Now if I can just maintain that feeling of oneness with the Universe, detachment from unhealthy attachments, and goodwill to all!

Soggy and Soggier

It’s still raining today. There were brief respites, but we’ve had at least an inch. Whew. The good news is we have a lot of mushrooms to enjoy.

Happy puffballs.

I tried to go check out what was going on at the fence project. But it started raining real hard, so we went off to see a horse that we may board over here to keep Apache company. It’s all alone, and belongs to some folks who live near our office.

Howdy. I’m Prince.

He needs a Coggins test and stuff, but if he came here, his owner says we can ride him. That would be fun. At least he’s small, and he’s named after my dad. This isn’t a done deal, but a possibility. In any case, I got to meet a friendly horse.

It then rained more. But, not before I went out to take some pictures of the Black-eyed Susans. I lucked out and Penney joined me. I got some lovely photos of her looking romantic.

I’m so romantic.

She sure blends in well with scenery.

This is just so beautiful. I love the storm clouds.

Being with the dogs makes you notice so many things! I didn’t even get mad at Vlassic when he jumped up and got my entire outfit muddy.

Who, me?

But even muddy weather has its good points. There’s always beautiful nature to enjoy. Like, why were there so many mud daubers on sunflower leaves? And why is Mr. Toad living in this trough?

All in all, it’s good to be back in the swing of things. I got work done and caught up with my Master Naturalist blogging. It’s volunteer week at work, so it was authorized. What fun! I’ll try to get more fascinating tomorrow. I’m still wiped out.

Penney is tired too. All that glamour wore her out.

Book Report: Fantastic Fungi

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Yes, another book report. That’s what happens when you take time off from your usual busy-ness-hood. Today’s book is another really special one that I bought after the Master Naturalist meeting. Fantastic Fungi is a companion to a film I need to see. The book is edited by Paul Stamets, an expert on mushrooms, who also contributes essays.

Cool book cover, plus Penney.

Before I go on and on about the writing, though, let me gush about the illustrations, which are mostly gorgeous photographs by Taylor Lockwood and others. I could look at them all day. The variety of shapes, textures, colors, and forms that mushrooms and other fungi can take surprised me. There are things in this book that I’m awed by.

The inside back cover. Look at those things!

And now for the content of the book. There are lots of short essays, interrupted by annoying large subheadings (my only complaint). The greats of mushroom science contributed, and it’s weird to read “and I discovered x in my research,” rather than “this famous person discovered x.”

Since mushrooms are an area where I lacked knowledge, I learned a lot about how mycelium and fungal networks are organized. I knew they could be very large and very old, but the contribution they make to life on this planet are way more significant than I’d realized.

My favorite page, because of all those shapes.

And that’s where this book switched from being a pretty book about a part of nature I only knew a little about to something much more significant. Over and over, the contributors to Fantastic Fungi, stressed that fungi have much to teach us and may even be able to save us, if we learn how. The subtitle is: How Mushrooms Can Heal, Shift Consciousness and Save the Planet, after all.

Reading about how we seem to be designed to use the nutrients, chemicals, and other aspects of mushrooms makes me realize we are related. And that’s the point the contributors are trying to make. Without mushrooms, plants and animals would suffer greatly. Paul Stamets, especially, speaks eloquently.

A core concept of evolution is that, through natural selection, the strongest and fittest survive. In truth, (and scientifically proven), communities survive better than individuals, especially communities that rely on cooperation. Acting on such a principe, people want to give in order to receive, which I think reflects the power of an essential goodness.

Paul Stamets, p. 66

It becomes clear from Stamets and others that all of the organisms here in Earth depend on each other. Humans have been woefully ignorant of this.

Then, they bring in the heavy hitters, Michael Pollan and people he’s worked with to talk about how mushrooms (psilocybin) can help humans realize this (which I did read about in How to Change Your Mind). And they bring in more research on the experiences people have with these mushrooms. Good stuff.

What they mainly say is that people overwhelmingly have experiences of oneness and connection with other people and the earth. Maybe this is what mushrooms are trying to tell us? If so, I’m all for it. A bit more acknowledgment of our commonality and less artificial differentiation would be fine with me.

I’m inspired. And it strikes me that focusing on this kind of mutual connection is yet another way we can help get past racism, bullying, and needless antagonism. Thank you, fungi.

Hmm. I seem to be on a journey, don’t I? Are those mushrooms growing on the cow patties what I need?

(No, I’m not gonna do it. Too law abiding. And don’t want to poison myself.)

Baby Steps to a Comfortable Life

Work Comfort

I’m realizing that my life is coming back, slowly. It’s different, but things I care about keep coming back. For example, going back to my Austin office has let me visit my tree friends in the courtyard (even if we can no longer see them from our desks).

Courtyard oaks.

I’ve known the trees since I moved to this area. We used to drive by them all the time while they were building my house. Then they were mottes of trees in beautiful meadows. Now they got saved when an office complex got built.

So restful.

I saw extra cool honey mushrooms in the rocky karst area.

Home Improvements

Our Bobcat Lair house has been stuck in February mode. The front tree has had Valentine decor, and there was a broken statue on the dining table for months. I was hardly ever home, and Anita stayed downstairs.

Farewell February!

But tonight Declan and Rollie came over and fixed that. We put up all the decorations we have, and Rollie really wanted orange lights, so we have them.

And we did the mantel. Yay.

It felt so good to be doing something together. I miss having the kids around. And they helped so much. We may have been wearing masks and keeping our distance, but we were doing fun seasonal stuff. Time has stopped freezing.

Spooky young people. They ARE smiling.

And we all walked the dogs together. That has always been my favorite family activity, ever since I was a kid. Traditions continue. Life goes on. Love can’t be stopped!

Sending air hugs to all.

Random Goodness

I may as well share the good and/or interesting stuff of the day. Maybe I’ll do this every so often.

First, I got the little bistro sets up in the break area by the stairs at the Pope Residence. They surprised me by fitting. I even ate lunch at one. Now that no one else eats in the office, I’ll fine solo in style!

Kathleen and I picked these out in hopes that they would fit.

And I opened the box with the dishes for the office. I just set out coffee cups, in case a visitor wanted some coffee. The rest are i. The cabinets for now.

If it’s deemed too junky, I can put them away.

So that was fun. I also had fun looking at birds this afternoon. I finally determined the small heron I keep seeing is a green heron. It was out with the blue heron behind the house, and while I was looking at them and turtles, I spied the BIGGEST bullfrog I ever saw. Turns out they can weigh up to 1.5 pounds!

There was no way to get a photo of the frog, but I did get a picture of this scary kissing bug. It will not give me Chagas’ disease because it is deceased. Buddhism fail.

Eek

The best news is this! We had four eggs today! That’s the first time I got four eggs since we built the hen house here by our house. Thanks, Springsteen!

Bertie, Fancy Pants, Springsteen, and Hedley.

By the fall molting season, we may have a few more kick in! It would be nice to be able to share them with friends and family before they shut down to molt.

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…

Grace, Nature, and Humor to the Rescue

What do you do to get through trying times? You take it one day at a time. I am doing my best to just observe and not get all caught up in things I can’t control, like I’ve been saying this week. And I figure one way I can help myself and others is to provide brief diversions. What the heck?

Grace

I’ve been reading and reading ideas on mindfulness and they have brought me a bit of grace, I think. Here’s a quote by Joanna Macy, the Buddhist teacher and naturalist, about the times we are in and our relationship to the earth:

…It is so great a privilege to be here on Earth at this time….Being fully present to fear, to gratitude, to all that is–this is the practice of mutual belonging. As living members of the living body of Earth, we are grounded in that kind of belonging. We will find more ways to remember, celebrate, and affirm this deep knowing: we belong to each other, we belong to earth. Even when faced with cataclysmic changes, nothing can ever separate us from her. We are already home.

Lion’s Roar, May 2020, p. 50. Excerpt from A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time, edited by Stephanie Kaza.

Guess what book I just ordered?

Nature

As always, nature has provided me with a way to center. The magnolia blossom that Chris picked for me this morning has filled my office with fragrance, and I found myself in a meditative state earlier, just looking at the structure of the center.

Magnolia glory.

You can see how the current beauty is all set up to become a beautiful seed pod with bright red seeds. I take it as a reminder that we are always undergoing a transformation (including Mother Earth) and that we can gain solace from how destruction and metamorphosis bring their own beauty.

What’s cool is that it continues to change. The petals are folding up now (not happy we picked it, I guess)

I’ve noticed a lot of my friends sharing their gardens, whether flowers or produce, which brings moments of pleasure. And my Master Naturalist friends keep coming up with the best stuff! Look at this puffball mushroom my friend Pamela saw on her property, just a couple of miles from our ranch.

Now, that’s one big mushroom! I love all the patterns on it. Photo by Pamela Neeley.

Humor

And then there’s humor. I was rather surprised yesterday when I made a joking comment to my husband, and he took offense. He says I never joke around. This is disturbing, since I think of myself as funny. Oops.

But I decided that it’s a good idea to have some fun with images, anyway. I posted the following photo of a tile in my bathroom on Facebook:

What do you see in the center tile?

I said I saw a Satanic goat (it has scary eyes). The responses to the post were a lot of fun. People saw a llama, a dragon, a snail, a slug, a horse, unicorn, a goddess, and a duck (among others). The tile is a natural stone called river travertine, because it looks like flowing water, so the person who saw the ocean was right on!

I decided I’d just post things that made me laugh, so I also posted a picture of poor Penney and all her excess skin.

There’s a second dog in there somewhere.

So yeah, I’m not going to deny the undercurrent of doom swirling around me, but my pet bobcat (or whatever that is) and I are going to keep looking for grace, natural beauty, and the absurd as we go through the day.

Oh, SnapChat, when you don’t have me worried about my kid’s safety, you entertain.

Where Does Our Stream Go? Mystery Solved!

I don’t usually do more than one post in a day, but Suna the Master Naturalist is all excited about something! I have an unexpectedly free and non-rainy day, so I decided to take the dogs on a walk through the woods, our favorite pastime (as you might notice).

Today my goal was to figure out why our stream and its springs are flowing away, but Walker’s Creek is dry as a bone where County Road 140 goes over it. I also wanted to see what I’d find along the creek bed.

So, the dogs and I walked through the woods by the house and inspected all the recently fallen limbs. There were lots of mushrooms, as you can see above.

I found it, Mommy!
Continue reading “Where Does Our Stream Go? Mystery Solved!”

Mother Nature Had the Sniffles

Yesterday’s big plans got thwarted, because it kept threatening to rain all day. Mostly it just drizzled, which made me think Nature has the same thing so many of my friends have that makes them all sniffly. It never rained hard until the evening, when we were sitting in the hot tub talking to random fellow guests.

What this meant is that we had to cancel our boat outing around the Pinkney Island preserve. But, we talked to Scott the Boat Guy, and are going to try to do it later this morning. It appears dry outside.

All the moisture makes decay happen quickly and beautifully.

We did manage a quick outing to the Audubon Preserve, where last year I saw a zillion birds, but had no binoculars. This year, yes to binoculars, but no to birds.

The pond was beautiful, even in the drizzle.

I really do appreciate the efforts the group has made to label so many of the plants. They have a very nice brochure that talks about all the different mini-ecosystems in the park and what grows there. It’s also where I learned about the original topography of the area, with high ups and downs of boggy spaces and higher land with trees. It’s not like that where all the houses are now.

This pitcher plant was hiding behind its label.
Continue reading “Mother Nature Had the Sniffles”

What’s Prettier Than a Beach Sunset?

Nothing. At least that’s what we think. But, since Anita and I walked and walked in a beautiful area all day yesterday, I think I’ll share some photos of other things we saw. But, first…

The Horror!

I set off on a long walk through a lovely area and didn’t bring my phone! What a horrible discovery. My panic was averted when Anita pointed out that she happened to have a phone with her, and that it also took photos with GPS coordinates on them. So, she became the official walk photographer.

These are ringless honey mushrooms, Armillaria tabescens.

While our walk along Pope Avenue was mostly populated by non-native plantings, the sides of the path had all the native stuff I was interested in. The mushrooms were really interesting, especially the one I’m glad to have turned over, because then I could see the yellow bumps it has instead of spores. That was a winner. It’s a Red-cracking bolete (Xerocomellus chrysenteron).

The way out didn’t win me any exercise points on The Watch, because we stopped constantly. We spent a long time trying to decide if an animal we saw in the duckweed was a turtle or a frog. Whatever it was, it was really fun to watch it bobbing around.

Continue reading “What’s Prettier Than a Beach Sunset?”