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?”

Finished the Bug Book

Not much going on here, because I was busy researching the history of our Cameron properties for a blog post yesterday. I’m learning a lot about the church and the houses around it. I’ll share links to other posts on this topic, in case folks are interested. Here’s my favorite aerial shot of the neighborhood in 1960:

The area of old Cameron around our office building, which used to be the First Christian Church.

But, otherwise I am still reading a lot. I finally finished Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live. I would recommend it to any of you naturalists, biologists, entomologists, parasite lovers, and such.

I was fascinated by the last chapter, where they talked about about sourdough starters and how the microbes and such on the hands of the bakers make breads taste different. I was wondering about this, since the sourdough my friend Barron’s wife makes always tastes really good to me, but some other people’s is just to “sour” for me. Now I know why!

My other favorite part of the book was where the author, Rob Dunn, tells us not to mess with the spiders in our houses, because they are our friends and eat all sorts of things that we would LIKE for them to eat. Another tidbit was that most of the things people think of as “spider bites” are really staph infections. I was surprised, but there was plenty of research backing it up, according to the HUGE notes section.

So, there’s a book review for you. It looks like my next non-book club book will be the one Barron recommended that’s about the mind-gut connection. More microbes for me! Whee!

Dampness Brings Fungi and Fallen Trees

The summer drought has broken, and it’s rained three weeks in a row. The tanks are full and the ground is saturated. Plus, lawns all over the area are sprouting mushrooms. Lots of them are those somewhat poisonous ones I wrote about in July. But, if you keep looking, you’ll find many others.

Today, Mandi and I have been hanging out a bit on the porch at our office in Cameron. I have found a lot of interesting things to photograph there, and I’ll be sad to no longer have my office there after this month. But, not to worry, we will still own the place, and will have good friends living there who like nature as much as I do!

deadtree
It just fell down. And though it was not in a forest, no one heard.

Anyway, less than an hour after we were last on the porch, Mandi shouted, “Sue Ann, come look at this!” I ran over, camera in hand, of course. Well, look at that! The very dead tree that we’d been meaning to cut down had broken off at the ground and fallen. I guess it won’t turn into a woodpecker house now! It fell pretty hard, and one branch dug into the dirt. We didn’t hear it, though.

This kind of thing is common after a drought period. The soil loosens up around dead trees, then when it gets all moist, the tree easily topples.

fun2
A very small mushroom.

As we were standing around, we continued to marvel at all the mushrooms and other fungi that have been popping up. The tiny fellow above also has a tiny worm buddy, but I cropped it out. Oops. You see so much if you look way down, though!

Continue reading “Dampness Brings Fungi and Fallen Trees”

Fun and Weirdness

fungus
I’ve been reading a lot about these. I could make tea from them. I won’t, though.

You haven’t heard from me for a couple of reasons. One is that I’ve had so much fun stuff to do that it’s been hard finding time to write. I had lots of guests last weekend, and my company has been busy buying houses and commercial buildings. That’s all good.

The other is that it has been “one of those weeks” in which one weird thing after another keeps happening. I’ve been losing things, had a near-miss accident, have said some really odd and atypical things to others, and more.

The good news is that I’ve managed to get all my work done and am ready for a mini-vacation in Fredericksburg, so there should be some good nature stuff come out of that.

snakeskin
This is only a part of the big snakeskin we found. It was big in the middle, then got smaller. Interesting.

In the woods

Last weekend, Justin (nephew of the ranch neighbors) was here, and he and I had a great time tromping through our woods with the dogs (it was the first real tromp for the two newest ones). He is very much like me, in that he really notices things.

Continue reading “Fun and Weirdness”

Shrooms Are Not on the Menu

mushroom1
A fully expanded example, taken by Lee Bruns, at night.

Nope, this isn’t about the shrooms Michael Pollan talks about in his incredibly excellent new book How to Change Your Mind (read it now!). Today I’m talking about the most common poisonous mushroom in the US, the green-spored parasol mushroom Chlorophyllum molybditesThey are coming up all over the ranch right now, so I decided to learn more about them.

We have these every year around this time, which means there are some happy underground fungi networks (mycelia) here. This  year, a lot of them fruited this week. Interestingly, it’s right after a nearby lightning strike (in which our gate got knocked out and I got tingles running through my body). I was interested to read this in the Wikipedia article on mushrooms:

It has been suggested the electrical stimulus of a lightning bolt striking mycelia in logs accelerates the production of mushrooms.

I’ll be paying attention the next time we get a lot of mushrooms mushrooming up, and see if it follows a storm. By the way, in this same storm, a limb was knocked off a nearby tree.

mushroom4
These are some that came up right in front of our porch.

So, what about it?

I had trouble identifying this, because I really don’t know much about mushrooms. But a kind person in iNaturalist set me straight, which led me to read all about the green-spored parasol. It turns out it is very common, and loves to pop up on suburban lawns.

It won’t kill you, but it sure will make you sick. One of its many other common names is the “vomiter” mushroom. “The nature of the poisoning is predominantly gastrointestinal,” dryly notes the Wikipedia article on this one.

Hmm, Brody the cattle dog sure has had the runs the past day or two. I think perhaps we’ll remove all those lovely mushrooms in their prime playing area.

mushroom3
That’s a quarter in the middle of this one. Big!

As you can see, these things can get big! Of course, they are often even bigger underground:

Though mushroom fruiting bodies are short-lived, the underlying mycelium can itself be long-lived and massive. A colony of Armillaria solidipes (formerly known as Armillaria ostoyae) in Malheur National Forest in the United States is estimated to be 2,400 years old, possibly older, and spans an estimated 2,200 acres (8.9 km2). Most of the fungus is underground and in decaying wood or dying tree roots in the form of white mycelia combined with black shoelace-like rhizomorphs that bridge colonized separated woody substrates.[15]

I still have more to learn about this simple, but not-very-tasy fungus. I’ve never seen the green spores, so I’ll be looking for them.

I do know that if I get hungry, the similar-looking parasol mushroom would be a better choice. It’s cap looks more like there is snakeskin on it. Who am I kidding? I’m not going to eat a wild mushroom. I can do without gastric distress. As a great Huffington Post article on the “vomiter” points out:

Whatever you do, don’t eat that big white mushroom in your yard, just because it looks good.

mushroom2
I look delicious! Don’t eat me!