I Never Get Tired Of…

Sunsets. Tonight’s even featured some rain in the distance. And a cute dog.

I got to enjoy this sunset because I had a nice dinner with my friends Mike and Martha. I got so used to not doing things with friends that it’s been hard to get back in the habit. The last two weeks have helped!

Fancy girl

The other thing I’ve done for the last couple of days is look at horse hooves. Nope, I’m not tired of that, either. I’m learning a lot by watching Sara learn farrier skills for her own horses. As the above picture hints, I found Soltara and all her mane a bit distracting.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have rubber bands!

Yesterday I learned a lot about Apache’s foot journey, and I’m glad it’s good now! Lots more some got scraped off even though he’d just been trimmed a couple of weeks ago! Interesting.

Happy foot.

And wow, Aragorn’s therapeutic shoes are complex. I’m in awe of both Tarrin and Sara for knowing how to do this work. Still, glad I can pay Trixie for my farrier work when possible! Who knew I’d learn so much about this stuff!

Work in progress.

I’m pretty good with bugs, though. I never get tired of taking pictures of them. Too bad disaster has befallen my naturalist friends. The iNaturalist site went down! Oh no. Thus. Here are two red and black insects.

I’ll be back tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be more interesting.

So Many Dead Things

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.

Art is from 3D images of animals.

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.

Specimen jars. Stop here if you don’t want to see preserved animals and such.

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!

Pamela is amazed at the hoatzin 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!

That’s something else!

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.

And look! A giraffe skull! Look at the horns!

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.

The Flower Fairy Goes Art Walking

What a pleasant Saturday! I started the day fairly early for me, so I could go work with the horses before it got over 100° F. I ended up hanging horse signs up in the tack room, rearranging my horse playground and round pen, working with Drew (who now wants to nip me while we trot right, so that got dealt with) and working with Apache, who rode all the way over to the edge of the woods today. He is now comfortable in most of the front pasture.

My spotted buddies

As a reward, I gave him a nice cool bath with my new horse bathing attachment. We finally have the hose available to where that works out. Apache was displeased that I made him stand around to dry while I cleaned his saddle and bridle, but they look good now.

My clean tack. Hard to see but it’s there.

Then, since Apache’s bath had cooled me off, I took pictures of how nice things are looking around here.

After all that I was too hot to do much, so I swam in the pool while it was still cool. I think that thing is my lifesaver.

After I rested a bit, Lee said he wanted to go to the first Art Walk in Cameron, which was held in the remodeled building that used to be Bea’s Kitchen. Wow, they’ve done a great job with the place. Here’s the restored signage.

Big words!

The interior is gorgeous, and they made really cool light fixtures that allow you to see the ceiling tiles. And upstairs, there are beautiful new windows. It’s gonna be so cool.

The Art Walk was so much fun. Anita, Lee and I all had a great time meeting old friends and making new ones. the artists were all very interesting people, too. One woman lives in Maysfield, down the road from us and makes interesting jewelry. The rest were painters. Each was different in focus, ranging from sweet watercolors to cleverly subtle social commentary. I got a watercolor and was happy to learn the artist gives classes!

It’s a marsh.

Lee and I both really liked the work of one of the artists, Randy Robinson. We learned he only started painting not that long ago. His work had movement and great light, because he studied Rembrandt’s style in Europe. I got to talking to his daughter and learned they live in nearby Milano and have lots in common with our family. All the stuff you usually don’t think you’ll find. What luck!

Then, when I was off with Anita, Lee secretly got the painting I loved the most, which was of a horse in the night, spooked (says the brochure) by finding a human lying in her field. It really captures the wildness and bemusement. And you just want to pet that muzzle.

I love that it’s off center, too, from the viewpoint of someone on the ground. Yeah. I wore a flower fairy dress. It has pansies with faces, and Alice in Wonderland.

We talked more later, and I kept thinking he seemed familiar. We started talking about plants, and then it all became clear. He’d joined the Master Naturalist group during my presidency and come to a few online meetings. I introduced him to Carolyn Henderson, our current president, and we hope he starts coming to meetings.

Me and Randy and Night Dreamer

Well what a coincidence! We are all friends now. I’m so happy to keep meeting like-minded folks out here. Like anywhere, diversity’s out there and it makes for a stronger community.

Happy to be here

In addition to the Art Walk, the model railroad across the street was open one last time before it moves elsewhere. All the tiny buildings were set out where you could really look at them, and there were folks explaining which modern places the models of 1930s life depicted.

Anita looks at the back of St Monica’s church

The details on the buildings are quite charming. There are prisoners at the jail, a wedding at one church, and a nun at the Catholic Church. My favorite is a woman hanging laundry.

It will be fun to see the rebuilt model of old Cameron!

As if this wasn’t enough fun, we even tried a new restaurant. Yes, it’s Mexican but it’s different Mexican! I had chicken in Mole sauce. I hope Veracruz lasts.

Fed the horses of course. Look at the moon!

Reptile Season

I’ve mentioned the snake that was in the henhouse last week and the snapping turtle that visited. The reptiles and their ilk have not stopped coming, though.

This morning my son was mowing the back yard when I went out to feed the horses. He said to go get my camera, because he’d just seen a different kind of snake.

A different kind of snake

He was right. That wasn’t another rat snake, it was a thick ole water snake. Like everything else, it seemed to be moving from one body of water to another.

The bad thing was that it went over to the swimming pool equipment, where there is already a garden hose that looks just like a water snake. Now we are very careful over there.

I’m not a snake

Only an hour or later I went to put something in the tack room and spotted a movement that looked familiar. Nope, not a snapping turtle, but one of the native cooters. It didn’t stick its head out enough to ID it, and it’s shell was covered in algae. A fine little specimen.

The algae is a good disguise

These guys are breeding right now. I know for sure, because my friend Jeremy, who does all his ranching at night, saw one laying eggs and burying them last night! I’ve never seen that, since I do NOT ride a tractor at night.

I’d like to be going now.

We are still getting rat snake visitors, too. There was one in the henhouse last evening, another full-grown one, who had already gotten an egg. I got the other ones out, and just left the snake, since I was on my way to a Master Naturalist party for our graduating class. I did post it on Facebook.

Apparently my photo startled the aforementioned Jeremy when he saw it. Then only a little while later, he nearly stumbled across one doing his yard work! It looked exactly the same, which gave him another start! Like me, he’s a snake fan, but they still can startle you! I love having interesting friends who share stories.

Speaking of startling, the colors in this selfie startled me! It even made my hair look good.

By the way, I had a blast at the party last night, which was held in one of Milam County’s numerous Mexican restaurants. This was in Rockdale. The folks I sat with were so much fun and told great stories about the area and it’s history. I’m sure everyone noticed how much we were laughing.

Of course, we talked about reptiles, too. I heard that last year, Gene Rek, the guy who sells us our chickens, had over twenty rat snakes in his turkey pens. Yow. That’s more reptile visitors than even I would want.

My friends Gene and Carolyn goofing off.

We all realized it had been a long time since we’d had the chance to just relax over a meal and get to know interesting people better. It felt good to laugh and share.

Flowers from the Sand

I spent the day at a place called Sandhaven. It was sandy. I enjoyed lots of different plants and other life (I was actually at a horse show). It was cool to see what was blooming and growing.

A prairie lizard

I must say this beautiful lizard hiding in a tree was my favorite sight. But the caterpillar of my beloved common buckeye butterfly came in a close second!

Festive!

There were a number of other interesting insects, too, some shiny and some I’d never seen before, like the scoliid wasps that were everywhere. Here are some examples.

Gee. That’s a lot of insect viewing when I was waiting for dressage to start. I was pleased. Now, here are just a few flowers I found. Some were pretty spectacular. Hope you enjoy them!

I hope you enjoyed this tour of spring blossoms near McDade, Texas! I have enjoyed adding my observations to iNaturalist.

Why Do I Work the Hardest When I Feel the Worst?

First, I do not have anything contagious; my lunch (which was delicious) disagreed with me. And I felt okay this morning, when I worked on so many different things that it made my head spin.

I need to stop and admire the flowers, like Fiona.

After a fun time telling a new coworker fun things to do where she lives (one neighborhood over from where the kids grew up in Brushy Creek), I headed out to lunch with Anita for our newly traditional weekly gab-fest. It was so nice to just share our week together like we used to.

I told her they got this far on the pool house deck.

By the time I finished getting groceries that Lee had missed when he went out (plus ice cream—why I usually stay home), my stomach was sad. Rather than go to bed and rest, I instead dove into every work project I could think of, including some stuff that hurt my head. Me learning SharePoint is probably like my coworkers trying to learn Planview. It is counterintuitive and won’t let me do what I want to do.

Another exciting home improvement is this screen door to the garage. No chickens allowed!

Actually it is probably descended from the bane of my existence when I did websites, the dreaded Microsoft FrontPage, which let you make any website you wanted, as long as it looked just like one of its templates. I digress.

Goldie says, “Focus, Suna.”

But by golly, I made a thing I find absolutely hideous, but is quite SharePointy and full of big margins, giant useless images, and not enough information to tell you anything. Yay. It did, however, take my mind off my stomach hurting.

I’ll clean your ears.

I then wrote a bunch of blogs for other organizations, did miscellaneous to-do items, and nearly checked off all the bullets in my bullet journal for the day. So far I only have one bullet for tomorrow. Ah. Horse stuff with Sara!

Another Topic

By the way, I got recertification for another year as a Texas Master Naturalist! I’m enjoying it more this year, since it’s a lot less stressful just being the secretary. And no, I will not take over the website until I retire from paid employment. Boundaries! I have them!

Hey, look, I’m with my most faithful blog reader, Catherine!

I’m quite proud of my fellow volunteers, though, and so glad I get to see them again. I just had to hug a couple of women I’d missed so much. And I was very sad to learn that Sam, one of our members in the last class, had passed away this week. He was so helpful to our older members and did some good work.

So yes, life’s short. That’s why I spent good time with my horses and Fiona this afternoon. I groomed and loved on them as hard as I could. It was my reward for getting through the afternoon of mental and physical owies. It’s just so peaceful when everyone is in a good mood and crunching away on their dinners.

It’s not peaceful on the patio. By the way, Alfred is just to the right of the photo, pawing for attention.

Whatever you are celebrating this weekend, enjoy it. I’ll enjoy what everyone else is celebrating, with thoughts of peace and kindness to all, even those who want to cause you pain. I’m just not letting it happen!

A Rare Sighting of Wonder

Yesterday, my friend Mandi dropped by to pick up the baby blanket I finished recently, so her imminent little boy will have a nice warm blanket, perfect for Texas summers. Ha. Well, it will be perfect for cold air-conditioned rooms and draughts. Drafts. Whichever.

We spent most of our time over by the horses, because she needed some horse time and I had to feed the equines. I showed her the new and improved tack room, into which I am slowly moving my things.

Vlassic is fond of the chair, which Mandi shared she had tried to give away or throw away multiple times, but must have been waiting to serve as the tack room chair all along.

She also got to enjoy watching me work with Drew briefly. He acted like a doofus at first and was running off to eat grass with no regard to me, but once I got him into the round pen, he remembered what he was supposed to be doing and was just fine. I didn’t want to work with him too much, since he’d had so much time off and had been sick, but at least he got a few jumps and circles in to remember his job.

You starve me, human (he now is on the other pasture with more grass).

When we were done, we walked over to the hen house to gather the day’s production (they are in extra-productive mode right now, with 6-7 eggs a day, which is not bad for just eight hens).

I saw something in the corner of my eye and looked up. There, whirring and spiraling, was a flock of birds. They weren’t geese, since they were the wrong shape and there was a noticeable lack of honking. The birds were not in any particular formation, either, which also ruled out cranes or ducks. They really weren’t making much noise at all.

This is pretty much exactly what we saw, only from someone else near Dallas a few weeks ago. Image © Russ Hoverman Creative Commons.

Of course, I didn’t have any binoculars. I even had left my phone elsewhere! That’s not like me! So, I memorized what they looked like. To me they looked like seagulls, not something you see often here, due to a lack of sea. I took note of the black wing stripes.

An idea of what the formation looked like. Image © Russ Hoverman Creative Commons.

After that, we just watched them fly. They sparkled in the sun as they turned and spun. We were in awe. There must have been a hundred or so, shiny, white and swirling. We watched until they flew out of sight, heading northward.

Screenshot of Merlin Bird ID

When I got back to my phone, I immediately pulled up one of the most helpful bird-watching apps I’ve found, Merlin Bird ID from Cornell Labs (an institution I happily give my charitable donations to). This app has you input a few facts about the bird you saw, then gives you a list of possible birds it could have been. What’s really GREAT about the app is that it knows exactly where you are and has a huge database of past bird sightings for different times of year to draw from.

And that was the key to my bird identification. The app knew what tends to migrate at this time of year in the center of the United States. We were witnessing the migration of Franklin’s gulls (Leucophaeus pipixcan) from South America as they head up to the Great Lakes and marshes in the center of North America. How lucky we were to be outside and looking up in time to see that!

This is the kind of thing that makes life worth living for a naturalist. I’ll remember the sight for the rest of my life.

As it is, life goes on. The gutters are functional now and they got a little test yesterday when we got actual normal rain without any tornadic events.

They go into the ground now. Fancy.

In more Hermits’ Rest news, today the guys are building an entry deck for the pool house. That is going to make bringing things in and out much easier than trying to step on a couple of cement blocks, from which Lee almost fell yesterday, anyway.

Deck in progress. Getting it level was not easy.

It’s currently hard to work, because cattle in the next field are having some sort of moo-off. They can be impressively loud when they are in a cow-tizzy. The dogs are doggedly protecting us from these invisible monsters.

Shut up, cows.

And just for laughs, yesterday I put my new pool float in the hot tub. It was mighty comfortable. I was told it looked like I was on a tiny version of the Lazy River ride in Schlitterbahn (a water resort in Texas), where you get in an inner tube and float around and around in a circle of river water. I don’t care. It was fun (yes, this was also the image from yesterday’s little bitty blog post).

Have a great Friday Eve.

De-Fence-less

I didn’t work today and didn’t do too much, either. My biggest accomplishment was taking notes for a very long Master Naturalist Board meeting. I’m glad they were more boring when I was President.

I’m what you should have focused on.

Much of the day was spent writing a blog post on the big mushroom, which is finally dying. Turns out, it’s poisonous!

Bye!

The other highlight, if you can call it that, was grooming the horses. Poor Drew hadn’t been groomed since before he got sick, but he wasn’t too bad. He was shedding, but not too badly. But he was hungry, so I followed him around and got it done.

Grooming remnants.

Apache, on the other hand…oh my goodness that horse is hairy. I spent like 45 minutes and three different implements trying to put a dent in the hair. It had only been three days since he was brushed! It felt like grooming a bunny. I’ll try again tomorrow and maybe I’ll have time to ride. I guess birds have lots of nesting material now.

That hair gets in my way, says Buckeye.

Hey, what about the title of this post? We are fence-less in the side yard now. While I was blogging on the front porch, I got to watch the guys use both tractors to lift and pull and finally remove the posts for the fence we don’t need anymore. That tractor was jumping and flying, while the backhoe just carried stuff. I’m not sure they all were having fun.

It was fun to just relax, hang out with Lee, and do whatever I wanted to. I did knit a bit. Penney would like to show you my squares.

There and Back Again

Well, dang it, I was not elsewhere for very long! Like the Hobbit, I was there and back again. As anyone who’s my Facebook friend already knows, I discovered that the conference I went to Kerrville to attend was not happening. There were two others there wondering what the heck was going on, too. We couldn’t even get ahold of anyone listed as being in charge of the conference for a long time. So, we spent some time looking at the endless supply of taxidermized animals in the hotel lobby. I love the fact that the mother and baby giraffe had a sign that said they died of natural causes. You know, it’s an art and everything, but taxidermy isn’t one of my favorites.

Finally, Tiffany, the mom in the other group, got in touch with the AgriLife folks in Kerr County, who informed us the conference had been canceled. I called and gave them my name and number, and they promised we’d get contacted by someone who knew something. The Smith family, who had driven five hours, went to visit some relatives. I decided to have a “me” day, and sought out a coffee shop to ponder my plans.

Someone can’t read

I really liked the Pax coffee shop I found. The coffee was Cuvee Coffee from Austin, which I like a lot, and the honey-infused latte was quite yummy and the avocado toast was seasoned well. I know a person who goes by “Pax” from my old church, so I got them one of the t-shirts from the shop. They are pretty, too.

After a little walk around downtown Kerrville, I went off to Fredericksburg, my favorite place to go off to, to be honest. I had a lot of fun visiting all the shops I miss so much, like the fantastic Native American jewelry store I like so much (I got a ring with snakes on it by Effie Calavaza, who was Zuni), where I got to listen to a phone call in Navajo. That doesn’t happen often.

Snake on the other side had red eyes

After enjoying the hat place, the boot place, the fancy clothing place, and a candle place, I headed over to the wine place. That’s the Becker winery shop. I’ve been a member of their wine club for three years and this was the first time I even got to take advantage of my free glass of wine per visit perk. I just sat there in a big ole leather chair, knitted on my next blanket, and felt all fancy. Since I took the contractor gig I hadn’t taken any time off. It felt good to have no agenda.

Next, I wandered down the road a bit to have lunch. It was in an old warehouse building. My goodness, it was PRETTY. I just sat there and looked at all the rustic things around me and enjoyed a “hippie panini” (all veggies) and some delicious fruit. I’m glad I am comfortable dining solo.

The building next to the one with the restaurant in it must be owned by the same folks. This was an “antique store” but not one of the dusty fusty ones. No, it is a trendy spendy antique store. I was impressed with the interesting finds in that place, such as a lot of grates and urns from France, industrial pieces that could make cool lamps, an antique weaving machine, and a somewhat creepy amount of things sourced from old Catholic churches or something. There were many things I thought we could duplicate here, so I took a lot of pictures.

Of course, because it’s trendy, most things in the store were white, cream, or wood colored. I’m not sure why colors are so scary, but they are. All the linens were extra natural, too, and pre-wrinkled. Whatever.

After all this fun, I drove home quite pleased with my day. Then I started getting calls from various AgriLife people apologizing and such. They are refunding my registration and even paying back my hotel room! I did not expect that. Later, they offered me a big discount on the next conference in October. I guess they expect that one to actually happen. HA HA.

Bonus. Store dog.

I appreciate the caring and concern, though. Since I spend a LOT of time volunteering for them, I’m pleased at how they are willing to make amends and are so nice about it. Heck, we all make mistakes, right? And I ended up having a nice day and got home in time to feed horses, so Lee only had to feed once.

Mansion I should have taken the tour of in Kerrville.

Bonus: I was going to have to miss a Master Naturalist Board meeting tomorrow, so now I get to go to it after all. It’s always good to have the secretary in attendance. And I will get to see friends. Score!

I Am Elsewhere

Look at me! I’m doing an activity! For fun! In a different place. Alone. I’m going to a conference I attended Before COVID and really enjoyed, sponsored by the Bennett Trust and Texas Parks and Wildlife. So I’ll get Master Naturalist credits.

It’s rustic.

The hotel in Kerrville (YO Ranch) is old but charming, and I have good memories of staying here during the Kerrville Folk Festival. I like the quaintness and quiet. I hope it’s fun tomorrow.

Rustic

Things are still moving along at the ole ranch. With Anita’s house done, we can get some things we’ve been waiting on. First, we’re going to put the gutters on our house, at last. Lee wanted rain chains, but the wind killed them. So, the gutters have come out of the storage container!

Drainage

First, we needed to make the water drain away from the pool. I feel really bad for the team, because they had to dig this trench with a pick axe on the hottest day of the year so far.

Hey, there’s a house in the back yard. And a trench.

A big drain hose will go in the trench. I am, however, hoping at least my son feels better today, when he got to drive the backhoe around and destroy stuff.

Vaguely happy son.

They were taking down the fence we used to use to keep the dogs in. Now that we have a larger fenced area and the pool is done, we don’t need that fence, even though it’s pretty. I’m assuming the crew will re-use the components.

I was proud of how well the guys did without any supervision. They’re a good team.

???

I have saddled poor Lee with horse feeding for the time I’m gone (until Saturday). I prepared buckets of food for Apache and Drew. I’m hoping he can hold down the fort until his helpers return! Secretly, he is doing much better with the horses and has been helping a lot! Yay for my spouse.

More tomorrow. Now I must post about knitting.

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