What Did I Want to Do When I Grew Up?

Hello from the road to South Carolina. I love road trips. You can sure think a lot. You can also knit a lot. I’ve actually arrived at the end of the pattern I’m making, but because I’m using different yarn and needles, I’m going to repeat the lace pattern.

Best picture I could get in the car. You can get the idea.

I have plenty of yarn left. I enjoy knitting without disturbances. It lets me think of new techniques to try, modifications to make, and things I want to try next. I was wondering if I could crochet a border off live knitting stitches (not bound off). I think I’ve seen socks done that way, with crocheted cuffs.

I can’t wait to block it.

I could knit for my job, if I’d taken that choice when it came to me. I love the science of designing patterns, love teaching it (so much, oh so much), like to go to conferences, and all that. And I do technical writing, which helps a lot. I’d have to have figured out a niche and done a lot of marketing, like so many of my knitting friends did so well. Knitting blogs got a lot of folks started, and I loved doing that, too.

So much comfort.

That dream ended as abruptly as my work in La Leche League did. I didn’t have the self confidence and hadn’t healed enough to figure out a way to get through the hard part and start again, which I now can do. I no longer just disappear when I’m unfairly treated and no longer believe what other people say. Woo!

What Else Did I Want to Do?

But, who knows, I have a lot of years left! There’s another alternate route I could have taken, like the road less traveled. Yes, it’s exactly like two roads diverging in a woods, because I didn’t choose the one leading into a forest.

I do love those plants!

In college, I concentrated hard on classes leading to an interdisciplinary degree in linguistics. I loved studying all the different areas, and was strongly tempted by neurolinguistics. Brains fascinated me. (Still do; notice what I read about now.)

But, I had to get those darned prerequisites out of the way. I did most of them in the wonderful honors program, but I got burned by an awful teacher in Biology who gave exams that were ten essay questions where if you missed any part of the answer, the whole thing was wrong. That ended up ruining my boyfriend and his best friend’s GPAs. I was like, “You ain’t messing with my summa cum laude, asshole,” and got the only A in the class. I gave him one scathing evaluation.

Crimson clover to cleanse your palate from that guy.

That preamble was intended to explain why I took my second biology class as a normal class, with a grad student TA instead of a mean full professor. The class mostly covered genetics and biochemistry. I ate it up like ice cream. Figuring out chromosomes and proteins and all that was like figuring out puzzles. It was so fun.

I always wanted to know how plants worked. This is a beautiful invasive vetch in Georgia.

I stayed after and asked the teacher questions. This guy was studying bees for his doctoral research, so I asked a lot about insect genetics. All I now remember is that he always wore incredibly wrinkled shirts, apparently because his girlfriend didn’t have an iron. There was much good-natured kidding, and he rewarded us with wearing an ironed shirt to the final exam.

Like this wild azalea hiding in a prissy trimmed hedge, I was nature girl stuck in academia.

Because I answered all the extra credit questions right, I didn’t need to pass the final, but I did it for fun. Then came the fateful question. The TA took me aside and begged me to switch majors. Biology needed me! I said I’d think about it. With my love of trees and springs and swamps, I imagined becoming a wildlife biologist and working with a State agency.

But, by that time I was already accepted to grad school in linguistics with a full fellowship. I had to take that path. Plus I was following my boyfriend. Hint to young people: your vocational choice should be determined by your brain, not hormones. I’ve been stuck working with language a lot longer than I had my boyfriend (a great human, don’t get me wrong).

The Good Part

But, all was not lost. I came to the Hermits’ Rest and got to hang out with Sara, the genetics PhD. And I met Dorothy, who’s not only a blog/podcast sponsor, but also got me into the Texas Master Naturalist program! I now get to do biology every day if I want to, I get to study the natural world, and if I can’t BE a wildlife biologist, at least I get to hang out with them! And I do work with a State agency.

Like this fine plantain, I’m choosing to find beauty wherever I am and grow where I’m planted.

It took me a while, but I did get to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. It just took patience.

So, have you attained your goals? Does your vocation match your avocation?

Exploring with Friends, Safely

GO AHEAD, CLICK THAT PODCAST LINK!

Our Master Naturalist chapter is slowly and carefully starting to do some activities that fall under our guidelines for safety. We really wanted to do something for Earth Day, so a few members got all organized and set up some tables over at Bird and Bee Farm, where our Wildscape project is located. I headed over there, since I had some little pins to give out, and since I hadn’t seen most of them since last year.

By the way, check out my hair. It’s SILVER, from Overtone. No more 1-inch roots!

Our members had put together all sorts of stuff to give away for adults and kids, and by the time I left, they’d had nearly 80 visitors! Luckily, they were spread out over 4 hours, so we didn’t have any scary germy crowds. We were all very glad to see each other, which was a nice feeling.

Some of our members, very well spaced out.
All decked out with my Master Naturalist shirt, new wrap, and Earth Day tote from H-E-B.

I even got presents, including a festive wrap Catherine (from the comments on the blog) found while thrifting with her daughter, and a great book on roadside wildflowers by the woman in charge of the plantings in Texas.

As always, I enjoyed talking to people about Earth Day, but I enjoyed even more the fact that Catherine took me and Joyce C. on a little hike to look at the bird-watching station they are creating in the woods behind the chicken housing. It’s in a pretty, circular area surrounded by a variety of native trees, including one very large oak, under which I got a photo of me looking very tiny.

I got to do some plant and insect identification with my scientific buddy, Eric, which I’ve missed a lot, and we all discussed rainfall amounts from yesterday (we got close to a half inch).

And of course, there were chickens and guinea fowl. We even found some guinea eggs, and I got to take a few home, courtesy of the really nice young man who works there helping out. There were a few hens who really looked interesting, and I was pretty much awestruck by the coop the Weks built for their personal chickens. Photos were taken as examples for future projects at the Hermits’ Rest (distant future).

It was just plain great to go somewhere, see different scenery, and get to say hello to my friends. This is one case where I’m really glad we’re all so old, because everyone’s vaccinated! All we have to do is take the reasonable precautions. Whee!

Exploring the Wild Violet

Today was just the best day I’ve had in quite a while. As if finding the eggs wasn’t enough, I got to explore a new place, and wow, I found some mighty fine bits of nature!

Spoiler alert.

My friend Pamela had told me she’s seen fresh evidence of beavers on her property, which isn’t far from the Hermits’ Rest. I talked my way into an invitation to go check them out this afternoon after work. I put on cowboy boots and headed with her and Ruby the hound over to the spring-fed stream out at the edge of the hay fields.

It’s a pretty place.

The stream eventually goes to Big Elm Creek, but until it gets there it wanders around.

Near the start of the stream, which is on another property.

We set off to find beavers. There was definitely evidence of beaver activity, such as holes heading to the water and chewed saplings. But the first brush pile we looked at turned out to be a logjam, not animal work.

We enjoyed looking at plants and flowers until we got a little further down. You could see THIS was a beaver dam. It had lots of mud, sticks piled carefully, and entrance holes. We were happy! I took pictures of the holes, but to be honest, holes don’t photograph well.

All the water flows through one little area. How cool. Anyway we kept going, looking at dewberries and wild garlic and such.

Bugs, too!

We were enchanted by these very shiny, small primroses neither of us recognized. Maybe it’s an early buttercup? They are exquisite!

Then, as I trudged along the bank of the stream, I glimpsed purple. I squealed and said a curse word, but from happiness. I found violets! Wild violets!

Oh, my dear friends!

I’ve loved violets my whole life, and have missed them here. As we looked carefully, Pamela and I saw more and more. She was as delighted as I was, and we just had the best time spotting them.

Next, I got all excited to see cute little frogs and some minnows. Always good to see waterways alive with life!

Suddenly I saw a…thing. A big thing. Was it a fish, a salamander, or what? I yelled for Pamela to come see this huge thing.

Uh. It’s a…

Finally I figured out it was a dead frog, the biggest frog I ever saw in the wild (and I’ve seen those cane toads).

Not a great photo, but it was hard to get to.

Judging from its yellow throat, I’m guessing it’s a male bullfrog. It must have died of old age! I took a photo with Ruby in it to show the size. Ruby is a hound dog, not small at all.

Large.

After that, everything else was less dramatic, though we enjoyed the moss and other water-loving plants. We decided to name the little body of water Wild Violet Creek. Now it has a name!

Wild Violet Creek

I ended up going all the way to the back of Pamela’s property, where there’s a nice pool. Some short-horned cows came to see if I had any food.

Food, please.

I just ran around like a little kid taking in all the space, the hay fields, trees with woodpecker holes, and a very brisk wind. I didn’t mind. It was such a beautiful spring day!

Land spreading out so far and wide!

The water, woods, trees, and flowers washed away all the stress of the previous few days. Everyone needs access to something like this.

Peace, quiet, and beauty in the middle of Texas.

I hope you can find some springtime natural inspiration wherever you are. And maybe a giant frog or some violets.

Speaking of Pollinators – Let’s Help Bees

The situation in this area with regard to the effects of the bad weather incident is pretty dire. I don’t think I realized how bad it was until I read the documentation encouraging people to participate in a project to track the state of pollinators and pollen sources here. Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, wrote:

The 11-day cold spell (10-20 February) in Texas was a disaster. Freezing temperatures covered the state and extended well into Northern Mexico. While many of the immediate effects of the freeze are clear, season long and multiple year effects may linger. The damage to the flora was extraordinary, and it is likely that nearly all above ground insects died over a wide area. Plants already in flower may have been so damaged as to not flower this year.

Nearly all above-ground insects died! Now, every time I see an insect, I’m thrilled, and must record it. Yesterday I spotted a young grasshopper and a jumping spider, and if I could have hugged them, I would have.

A few of my friends have been mentioning that the bees are everywhere right now, and they don’t have much to choose from for nectar sources. As I showed you yesterday, I mostly have henbit and dandelions for them, along with a very few white clover blossoms (I think I saw six blossoms between my house and the horses, which is a half mile in distance).

I’ve been seeing photos of home-made bee feeders, which seem to mostly be pans with some gravel in them, filled with honey water. My friend, Pamela, had a lot of success with using a cookie tray and a simple plate!

I wasn’t sure if I needed to do that, since dozens and dozens of bees have been sampling the chicken feed, which makes me worry about how much sugar must be in there!

But, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I already had a nice shallow dish over by the chickens, but I don’t have any gravel, so I found a few rocks that look like reasonable perches. I poured some honey water in there (same stuff I make for hummingbirds) and waited.

Yeah, well, we don’t like this.

I guess I haven’t waited long enough, because I have only seen a couple of bees check out the water, and there are still very many on the chicken feed. I think I’ll go out and put in some sticks and flowers and the things Pamela had. It’s an ongoing experiment.

Zero bees at water station. Many bees in and on the food.

As an aside, I have to laugh about my chicken yard. It now feeds not only chickens but many wild birds. I’m always startling doves and meadowlarks in there, plus many sparrows. That’s fine with me. They’re all my avian buddies!

I do hope all the feeding of the bees helps. We need them, the native bees and the honeybees.

Update!

When I went out to check the mail, I took a detour by the chickens to see how the bee feeder was doing. I was happy to see that they found it, and could tell I made the liquid too deep. So, I added some flowers and sticks they can hold onto. Immediately the bees started using them, and more arrived. My heart is full.

Knitting on Hold Due to Online Shopping Fail

Darn me. I thought I had ordered more yarn for the table runner I’m making for Lee, then wondered why it had not arrived. Sigh. The website I used had such a long and convoluted ordering process that I missed one last “finalize order” button on the bottom of a screen, because the text was so long that the button required scrolling to see. Let me just say, “Grr.”

It’s looking pretty, though, other than my ugly decreases (for which I blame the yarn texture, not my sterling technique.

So, I now have a 28-inch long piece of knitted fabric and no more yarn. The purchase HAS hit my credit card, so now I’ll just wait until next week for the rest to show up. The good news is that Lee wants the runner to be 50 inches, so the two more skeins I ordered should be enough, but not too much. That makes me happy!

Half of a table runner.

I made a mistake in the last light brown section, but it’s not bad enough to rip out. With all that crazy color and texture, who’s gonna look that hard at it, once it’s on the stereo cabinet? It just shows I’m human!

Once again, I am really glad to have a backup project! The blue shawl will get longer today, though I must admit categorizing all my Bioblitz photos takes away from my knitting time.

Still Blitzing

No one I know actually logs ALL the hours they spend on iNaturalist. For me, the time just melts away as I try to figure out what kind of plant or animal I’ve seen. Yesterday I even got a couple of bird photos, nasty, blurry ones, but yay! I actually love this one, which really doesn’t show the bird species, but looks artsy.

Mystery bird.

And I got these beautiful closeups of henbit, the omnipresent wildflower of February.

And here, I just had to take a photo of the entrance to the driveway that leads to the cabin and barns. It’s pretty to me.

Very Texas-y.

How’s your weekend going? I hope better than this dead hunk of fish I found. Yep, a good place to stop blogging.

I don’t think there’s enough of this to identify on iNaturalist, but the fish does have cool teeth. At the top is a fin.

Blitzed and Hit 2000!

It’s been a heck of a work week, giving me little time to think or write about. We’ve been doing real estate stuff, but I hesitate to write about that anymore. So, I’ll tell you about the highlight of my day, which has been participating in the Winter Bioblitz for our Master Naturalist chapter.

Crow poison

I made 62 observations today, which was a feat, since I only did it on breaks and at lunch. It’s also a feat, because the vast majority of the plants I can identify right now are henbit, chicory, and clover.

Look at all those observations

The highlight of my morning was reaching 2,000 iNaturalist observations. I’ve been going more slowly lately, so this meant a lot to me. I enjoy contributing!

Some really pretty dandelions

It was good I knew where a lot of things are, so I could confidently say, “This is poison ivy!”

That’s one thick ivy vine.

Other chapter members got out and took some pictures, too. Carolyn took a picture of a cat and uploaded it, which gave me a chuckle. I know lots more will join in!

Ooh, snails and mussels from Linda Jo.

Anyway, I’m enjoying my nature pause and finally able to get Master Naturalist hours for my iNaturalist work around the ranch. That makes up for whatever challenges I’m facing.

A sweet tiny field madder bouquet.

Have a happy evening. Time to knit.

Headstones and History

While I’ve written about Walker’s Creek cemetery before, I was compelled to write again, because our Master Naturalist event champion, Linda Jo, asked us to go out and observe at a Milam County cemetery this week. This place is so beautiful, I’m always happy to visit.

This is maybe a mile from the ranch.

I decided to do two things, survey what’s living and growing in the area for iNaturalist and see what I can learn about the area’s history from the tombstones. I’ll post the nature stuff on the Master Naturalist blog when it’s done.

Our area in a nutshell. I do have photos of the school, etc., somewhere on this blog.

As I looked around, I saw the graves of those founders and their descendants. The Jinks family put in new stones and is all fancy.

Very fancy, Jinks family.
Older Jinks graves. Marzillah, on the right, died in 1909 and has Heaven and other art on her stone. Her husband was a Mason. He died in 1886, making him probably one of the first ones here.

The Cages and Walkers had some cool old stones. I love how many stones throughout the cemetery have kind words on them.

Mothers often have poems.
Another beloved mother. “Rest, mother, rest in quiet sleep, While friends in sorrow over thee weep.”

Another thing I notice on the older headstones is that there are hands in them, like the one at our house, which has a hand pointing up. Here are a couple with a handshake and hands reading a book (Bible, I assume).

My favorite stone with an inscription was this much more recent one. Way to go, Sonny.

Yes. What a guy.

I do enjoy humor from the families. This is so cute cute

A cow, and a population sign. Fun Lucko family.

Lots of the gravestones looked like trees. They are Woodmen of the World stones, bought with burial insurance. When I was a kid, I thought it was an organization for guys like my grandfather, who was a woodsman (forest surveyor).

1919 grave of Luther Allen

As I looked around, I noticed a few things. One is that the people buried here aren’t German or Czech, like we see in the surrounding area. The names are mostly English, Scots, etc.

A Walker who lived a long life. Originally a Todd. There are Todds down the road.

Even the people I know who are buried here have English names. The late sheriff Green, his son, and eventually his wife, the Greenes, are here.

Newer graves lovingly cared for.

This is a great example of what I saw all over the cemetery, where people do sweet things like stack rocks or arrange rocks in patterns. I thought it was so sweet.

Notice the stacked rocks. Also, such a beautiful tree for the family to enjoy during visits.

The rocks hold up better than fake flowers, for sure. But, some of the graves are well tended. My former neighbor, Elaine, gets visited often. It helps that her son now lives across the street in her old house.

Notice the rocks, her favorite bird, and fresh flowers.

Another thing I noticed was that any tomb cover on a grave was all cracked up. I’m not surprised, seeing how much the soil moves around here. The Jinks grave above shows this. Here’s another example.

It’s all cracked.

This cemetery is in a beautiful spot, surrounded by woods and little ponds. I enjoyed my time here so much.

There were doves and cardinals around this pond.

Remember the sign at the beginning that talked about a church? Most cemeteries have a church associated with them. There’s not one here now, but there was one across the road, here.

This is where the church was.

I’d noticed the sign before, since we drive by here often.

Church site.

Only today did I see the sign, which appears to be on the old entry. Aha.

Very descriptive.

I saw so much of historical interest here, right down the street! I look forward to writing up all the plants and animals I encountered.

Fog Magic

Last night was absolutely magical, if also a bit scary for people on the roads. It’s one of those things that can’t help but inspire awe as you witness what Nature can do in the right circumstances. As a Blogmas gift to you all, I’ll showcase some photos from my Master Naturalist friends as I tell my story and share theirs, too.

This photo from Larry Kocian gives you an idea of what it looked like at my house as the foggy evening started out.

For me, the magic started when Vlassic and I were walking back from feeding the horses, right at sunset. I noticed a red stripe along the horizon, where there was a break in the rain clouds that had hung around all day (but not brought anywhere near enough rain).

Here’s the fog from in town in Cameron, from Martha.

I suddenly saw a sliver of sun peek out from under the clouds. I got a few photos of the sun as it slipped through the gap and disappeared behind the trees.

The sun right in the little gap between the clouds and the ridge.

Then I noticed the mist. I could actually see fog forming behind our house, above the pond, and across the field. I knew we were in a valley, and guessed it was probably clear on top of the hill where the cemetery is.

The clouds are getting lower, and you can see mist forming right above the ground over on the left.

Right after I went inside, Lee came back from the office and said he was scared to death driving along the creek bottom to get to our house. The fog had gotten so dense that he could not see the road. A while later, Chris came back from a trip to Rockdale with the same report. Deep, deep fog.

You can guess from this photo, looking toward our house from Pamela’s property, that it was darn foggy down at the creek.

About that time, Pamela texted me, “Are you living in a cloud?” I said I sure was, and she told me she’d sat behind her house and just watched the fog creep higher and higher from where I lived to the hill where she lived. This is what it looked like from her house as it came up.

Here comes the fog!

Here are two pictures of roughly the same view from her house, one taken on Thursday when I was there, and the other from last night, both around sunset.

After Pamela sent me her photos, I started seeing more and more of them in my Facebook feed. Cindy Travis, who lives to the southeast of us, shared these beautiful images from her ranch.

Another Master Naturalist friend, Phyllis, shared what the fog looked like from her vantage point. Another beautiful sight!

Foggy mystery, from Phyllis Shuffield.

Later on, I found some amazing images from another Master Naturalist friend, Larry Kocian.

This one, from when the fog was really deep, is spooky, but full of beauty.

He was on a bike ride through the fog right at sunset and really got some great images (he’s quite a skilled photographer). Here is how Larry described it:

…[T]his was taken at sunset on the Country Club golf course across the street from where I live. The fog started on the pond and it grew rapidly and enveloped the entire golf course, making it look like a Halloween theme setting. But then it felt like being in the clouds, experiencing absolute peace and happiness.

Me and my little girl Clarice, (in this photo), rode our bikes into this growing fog bank. It was a great nature experience, being at the right place, at the right time, under the right weather conditions.

There was 100s of birds (unknown species) all over this acreage, enjoying the fresh water from the rains earlier in the day. Also the saturated atmosphere here at the surface, the fog, was very refreshing. It was like refreshing lotion going into the skin. This fog hid everything on the acreage, except for these trees, making them look like they were floating in the clouds. And as you can see, the sidewalk the leads to the pond way down the way disappears into the clouds. We were floating in the clouds, enjoying this unique moment in Nature.

Thanks to Larry for sharing the photos and description! You almost feel like you were there, right along with him and Clarice. And here’s a special treat: he made a video of riding through the fog.

Well, if that doesn’t convince you that our planet is worth taking care of, I don’t know what will. Evenings like this are rare, but the memories will serve as a balm to our senses for a long time. No pandemic can take that away from us!

Once more, our Master Naturalist buddies made sure to preserve these memories. I’m grateful to Pamela, Phyllis, Cindy, and Larry for sharing with all of us, along with my dear friend, Martha.

What’s in Burleson County?

I wanted to know. There are very few iNaturalist sightings there that weren’t made by Eric from my Master Naturalist chapter. He, along with Alan, who lives on and runs a fish farm near Somerville, wanted to do something about that!

Near the main house

So we met up at the property today, to see what kind of fun field trip we could come up with to educate chapter members about the area, how Alan has been managing the water — fish ponds, lakes, streams, etc.

One of the ponds, with Bad Patty, the dog.

Of course I had to get a tour! Let me say that was fun! Alan is a great tour guide, and I got to see all kinds of new plants and insects. The lake is great, and there are many different micro-climates on the property.

American lotus

My favorites were plants whose seeds rattle when they dry. And all the water plants!

I enjoyed talking to my friends and learning about raising fish, grasshoppers, and so much more. I can’t wait to go back. It’s outdoors, we stayed apart, and the weather was great.

I also made this weevil friend. It crawled all over me for a long time. It’s Eudiagogus rosenschoeldi.

Remember my resolve to have more fun? I’m still working on it! And doing it! Not all serious all the time!

A lovely variegated fritillary I saw.

So, are you having any fun?

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

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

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

Hmm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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