A Different Winter Wonderland

I’d planned a fun nature walk with my little group yesterday, but thanks to COVID, I ended up on a solo walk. I explored a part of the woods that’s near the house, but not often visited. It was warm and sunny, but still a winter wonderland to me.

A dream in green

The green you see is a mix of rye grass and chickweed.

And mushrooms!

I went over to the tank/pond on the other side of the woods from the one behind our house. It’s the most attractive one and is always full of life.

Cows love it, but they haven’t pooped all the life out of it.

It’s often hard to get to from our place, because there’s a fence marking a property line that ends in a place that stays damp for a long time after it floods. But, the recent tree-killing knocked it down in a spot, so I could explore the pond while it’s full.

We only have a couple of months when the trees have no leaves. You can see more!

This pond has lots of aquatic plants in it. Some are blooming. I forget what they are, but it’s pretty.

The water looks brown, but there are lots of fish.

It always smells nice and earthy around the pond when it’s wet. Admittedly, some parts smell more cattle-y. It smelled fresh today.

Looking towards the dam.

The highlight of my little walk was checking out where the water comes into the pond, which I’d never seen from this side while the stream was flowing.

Coral berry lines the little stream.

The stream had dozens of minnows in it. It was fun to watch them dart around. In the photo you see their shadows better than them! I also figured out that the stream comes out of a spring at the base of our pond. It doesn’t seem to drain our pond, or if it does, it’s slow.

I felt like an explorer in my own back yard. I found a freshly dug hole where some animal lives.

And I encountered an ant swarm on a log. Probably fire ants but still cool to watch. I didn’t stick my fingers in there to check.

Can you see the ones with wings?

It is always refreshing to hang out in nature, no matter what time of year. It’s healing and reminds you of the big picture. None of us is alone. Please enjoy more images of our small, green wonderland.

Shiny and Strange Things, for Christi

I started work extra early today, so I got to stop before the pre-solstice sunset caught up with me. It had rained and misted much of the day, but the late-afternoon sun was shyly peeking out from the clouds. It turned the ranch into a jewel box of shining droplets hanging from every fence, blade of grass, and plant.

A twinkling world

I walked along just wishing I had someone to share this with. Lee was up working. Kathleen isn’t here. Mandi was at work, sigh. I know the little things I was enjoying so much weren’t the kind of things a lot of people would even notice. I mean, there was also a lot of holes from hogs or something, animal poop, and normal ranchy things.

For example, I was surprised to see these kernels of corn in the middle of our pasture. Did it come out in deer poop? Did a bird drop it? I have no idea. It has to be deer corn, because no one grew corn around here this year.

It came to me that these were the kinds of things my friend Christi often posted as she looked out on her own ranch. Trees, sunsets, random cactuses, weird mushrooms, corn in the middle of the field. Tears came to my eyes, because I’d just been reading about when her memorial service would be held, fittingly enough, right in the middle of Sara’s and my lessons with her trainer friend. She’d probably get a chuckle out of that.

There were a bunch of these interesting stinkhorn mushrooms in the field today.

Well, then, I said, as my heart literally began to ache, I should share the shiny and quirky things I see around the Hermits’ Rest today, in honor of her memory and her love of this part of Texas.

Willow branches

I hope you enjoy how even the lowliest blades of grass became shimmering waves of diamonds in the sun today. It’s a real tribute to a shining soul. Be sure to look at the pictures up close, so you can see all the droplets.

I Follow My Own Advice about the Woods

Any person who has read dozens of books about how wonderful trees are and how going out in the woods is so good for the psyche had BETTER go check out their own woods as often as possible. So, yesterday, after a day of writing and staring at screens, I went to check out the woods around here. Much has changed, but much has not.

Ah, trees and water.

As I mentioned earlier, fencing is going in to make a better experience for the dogs and us. To accomplish that, they had to make space for tractors to get in and build the fence. Many cedar elms and mesquite sacrificed their lives for that, but it was unavoidable if it’s eventually to be part of the residents’ cattle ranching empire.

It was a scorched earth policy.

I know perfectly well that a whole bunch of wildflowers and such will pop up immediately, so the earth will not be scorched for long. There has been talk of benches for viewing the woods and a treehouse being erected. We’ll see how long it takes for cattle to eat it, if it comes to pass (one thing I’ve learned about this family is they like to make plans, but only SOME of the come to fruition (probably for the best; I’m not complaining, just stating).

Currently, the chickadees think we built this pile just for them.

On my forest bathing adventure, I went past the tree cemetery and enjoyed some time listening to birds, trickling water, and leaves gently falling. While we probably do have an over-abundance of cedar elms, the wonderful thing about them is that they’re deciduous, so we get to enjoy some autumn color and a new view while the leaves are gone. They also explain why the soil is so rich and beautiful.

Where the fish and crawfish live.

I ended up just following the deer paths that wind through the wooded area between our house and the creek bottom. It was fun, but once I got home, I realized that all that ducking under branches had left me with interesting tree stuff in my hair. I washed my hair this morning, for your edification.

The path the animals use.

I checked out the pond in the bottom, which still has plenty of water in it, though it really didn’t rain much the whole time I was in Colorado.

I do love this pond. And hello, neighbors.

I also enjoyed the wide spot in the stream that leads to the creek, which I always called Deer Haven Pond, but now realize is a part of the stream and only a pond when the stream stops flowing. It is where all the animals hang out, because it’s quite hidden.

The “pond” enjoyed by deer, cattle, and apparently hogs.

The smells in the woods (other than cow poop) are so rich and earthy that I ended up just standing around and enjoying the scents and sounds. A little bunny hopped by, which alerted me to the many holes in one spot that must be their dens. Many little animals must enjoy all the fallen trees (mostly from the drought over ten years ago) as well.

The drought damaged many trees, so they keep dying off, slowly.

The coral berries are also decorating the woods. They don’t have a nice smell, but the color livens up the place and provides bird food all winter.

Cheerful coral berries.

In any case, just visiting my favorite area on the property was enough to keep my good mood flowing, even when the Bobcat Lair property failed to fund yesterday like it was supposed to, and our plans for the evening all changed. Big deal. I’m just living day by day and enjoying whatever comes up. I must have excellent blood pressure now!

Enjoy a few more images, and have a good day, whatever is going on in your part of the world. Unless it’s shopping. Ugh. I’m tired of Black Friday ads. Who had to invent that just to make yet another holiday all about shopping?

Wandering Pays Off, but No Troll

I smile a lot when I’m spending time in a new place all by myself. I’m easily charmed by little things, which makes me have fun traveling, even without any big plans.

Wandering took me here!

Today was no different. I was really tired after work (I was trying to write software training material, which is always hard on the eyeballs due to all the fidgety screenshots). But I told myself I really need to do something fun each day, especially since it was sunny and not all that cold.

Stuff like this is out there! I must go see it.

So, I set out in my normal shoes and headed toward downtown. The normal shoes were there to supposedly keep me on sidewalks and off of icy trails. You can ponder a moment about how that worked out.

When I got to Main Street, I turned right, just to see what was down there. At first the most exciting thing I ran into was a gas station (you don’t see many around her in the land of the quaint). But then I spotted something good. It was a beautiful little steam engine! It was one of the ones used in the early days of the area.

I wonder if it’s heard of Thomas the Tank Engine?

There was also a little boxcar and tiny caboose that you could look into. I was giddy with happiness, because I really like steam engines. I had run into High Line Railroad Park. It’s probably a lot more fun in the summer, but I enjoyed looking at the narrow-gauge rains and train cars anyway.

I saw a sign pointing to the troll, which is a wooden sculpture that is famous here, so I headed through the ice-skating arena parking lot to find it. I used Apple Maps, but it was not where the software said it was. I didn’t fret at all, because my wandering took me to a beautiful woodland park along a pretty creek. I wanted to explore.

Want to know what my idea of rejuvenating surroundings is? This.

Hey, remember those shoes I wore? They weren’t exactly cut out for the trails going up, which I quickly realized when I saw very serious hiking dudes putting on crampons. Still, the bottom parts of the trail were mostly free of snow and ice (and I’ve learned to walk on ice), so I allowed myself to be surrounded by the huge trees, which smelled so good. That plus the happy sounds of the creek made me not care one bit about a troll, which I figure my local friend Cathy can show me when she’s back from Texas.

After some forest bathing time, I headed back. I didn’t realize how pretty it would be when I headed toward the mountains, so I almost gasped aloud. I had a great walk back, the highlight of which is a real Suna highlight. I found a house with a big birdfeeder and stood there for ten minutes watching birds, including just about the most beautiful thing I ever saw. This bird was BLUE.

I also saw a little woodpecker (not sure what kind), and those cute little chirpy things I hadn’t gotten a good enough picture of yet to ID. I figured it was some kind of chickadee, and yep, iNat told me it’s a mountain chickadee. And, of course there were crows. The pictures were too crummy to share.

I took the back road, French St., to downtown and got to see some nice places to live or rent, and some of the old houses as well. There are a lot of purple houses. I have to like a town with purple houses.

One house I admired the paint job on the corbels when I realized it was also a cute boutique having a sale. I got some tiny earrings and a surprise holiday gift for the relatives back home. It will win the most hilarious gift of the 2021 season, I’m pretty sure.

See the pretty teal accents on the corbels?

By the time I got home, the sun was behind the mountains, and it was getting chilly again. I made myself some delicious ravioli with fancy mushrooms in it. See, I can cook if I have a jar of sauce and refrigerated pasta!

I guess people get used to this. Not me so far. This is from the ice arena.

That was one successful day of wandering and surprises. Tomorrow I get a visitor!

It’s Not Sunday, It’s Sunaday

Have you ever wondered what Suna would do with a day entirely to herself with no one else’s agenda (other than a deadline)? Truthfully, neither did Suna.

Samhain greetings, by the way.

But, today was indeed Sunaday, and I got to do whatever the heck I wanted to, all day long. I did have a newsletter to make, so I did it MY way, and gave myself little incentives like if I worked for an hour I could knit four rows, go for a walk, or have a mini Hershey’s bar (you know, in case anyone knocked on the door looking for candy, which did NOT happen in this building full of old people).

I looked at nature, duh.

Other than that, quirkiness ruled. I did many things I can’t do at home, like set food on the coffee table with NO consequences, burn a smelly candle all day long, sit around in bed watching CBS This Morning (what a comforting show), and watch things on the computer (gasp, not eating up all Lee’s bandwidth!).

Right outside the resort.

One thing that I did that wasn’t atypical was watch football all day. But, I did do other things, so there was no lolling on the couch without being productive. I still can’t manage that.

Tree hugging another tree.

The highlight of the day was going around the neighborhood. It wasn’t too cold yet, so I got to look at all the trees and listen to all the fun birds around here. The most fun birds, for sure, were the magpies, who were very vocal and active. They and the crows seem to be the biggest birds here.

My other favorite site was perhaps the cutest squirrel I ever saw. It was an Abert’s squirrel. They are small and have fun tassels on their ears. Of course, I did not see any moose or other large animals, since I was in a neighborhood of condos and resorts.

You could hear it chewing

Still, there were a lot of remnants of flowers and beautiful evergreens to enjoy. It smells quite nice here up in the sky.

In other news, I got a few photos of the pool, and I was surprised to find out that the little tiles they put on the steps glow in the dark! I guess we hadn’t gone outside after dark since they put them in.

That will look cool under water.

According to Lee, there is still a lot of tile work to go, since we chose that difficult but visually stunning Versailles pattern. Good for us.

Tomorrow starts my week of 6 am meetings. I have a great attitude and am sure I’ll do fine. Today put me in a great mood. A Sunaday is a good day, whatever day of the week it is.

Book Report: The Heartbeat of Trees

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Yes, indeed, I read another tree book. In fact, I read another tree book by one of my favorite tree-hugging authors, Germany’s Peter Wohlleben. This one, The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature (2021), is the English translation of his latest book from 2019. It’s theme is that we are not so removed from trees (and the rest of life on earth) as we make ourselves out to be, and that it behooves us to listen to them and care for them as part of our family of living, thinking beings.

The book has some really comforting sections, along with simple and fun ways to remind ourselves of our connections to nature and the forest. I think that’s the part I enjoyed the best. There are reminders to breathe, listen, and observe when amongst our tree friends, not just plow through our hikes like we have to meet some goal of efficiency. Plus, Wohlleben shares scientific evidence of how being out in nature contributes to both the health and wellbeing of humans. Don’t you forget that!

A lot of the book made me incredibly sad, however. Alas, there are no, make that zero, examples of untouched old-growth forests in Europe. Humans have messed with that land so much that even the very old forests that do exist were originated by humans planting them in the past few hundred years.

Worse, foresters aren’t necessarily out there protecting the trees and looking out for their best interests, in Europe or in the Americas. No, they are “managing” forests for productivity. I think I read enough passages on cutting down ancient trees, clear-cutting entire forests, and strip mining to last me for a long time.

Now, Wohlleben is no fool, and he points out that we need trees to be harvested (you know, so his books can get printed, and such). He’s not unrealistic; he just thinks it would be worth it to come up with some management techniques that are more respectful of trees, kinder to the environment, and supportive of all the life that surrounds forests. Just because something’s small and insignificant to us (like a mold, an insect, or a fungus) doesn’t mean it has no role in the balance of life. You probably know that, of course. I’m just saying it, because I’m all filled with righteous indignation.

We aren’t all lucky enough to have our own woods (and I certainly don’t have any old-growth forests at the Hermits’ Rest, either, just some old trees in pastures, where they can’t reproduce because of mowing), so the ones that are out there to be shared with our fellow humans and others are treasures. This book tells us about how some people are working to make things better, and that’s hopeful. The fact that governments and industries are not convinced that using up every resource we have isn’t a good idea is NOT hopeful, though.

You’ll learn a lot of you read The Heartbeat of Trees, and my hope is that it gets you to pay attention to your surroundings, wherever you are, and to do whatever you can to help the earth maintain a healthy balance for all of its inhabitants. You will also have a more global viewpoint, since he focuses on Europe as well as North America.

It Was a Good Break, No Bull

Time for something that won’t get a zillion hits (so it’s not about changing jobs). I enjoyed this weekend’s little break at a ranch outside of Bandera, Texas. We didn’t even leave the place the whole time. Yesterday, everyone mostly sat around in the very comfortable house, read books, or watched football.

Howdy from me and howdy.

I, of course, went outside to see what I could see. You’d think 29 acres of pasture wouldn’t yield anything, but that’s not the case! There is a lot of native grass and other plants out here, so I was able to find some new things to put in iNaturalist. And since I’m always scrounging around, I found interesting poop and some dead things (a large mouse and a fairly recently deceased fawn (boo hoo)). I’ll spare you photos of that.

I had to get Kathleen’s picture with the big guy, too!

I also spent a lot of time with the longhorns that live here. The steer (Howdy) is really well trained, and used to work at shows and stuff. He puts his giant head down so you can pat him between the horns. That’s the safest place. When flies bother him, he flings his head, and those attached horns, pretty dang hard. Anyway, that’s the no bull part. The cow is Little Sister, and she is friendly, but just learning to accept pats.

Really, though, the woman who owns this place is great with animals. The two horses are so well behaved and happy, the longhorns are friendly, and her dogs are a total hoot. She has one Aussie shepherd that apparently is a double merle, so he is deaf and can only see in one eye, so the other one leads him around and fetches him when she calls. Aww. (Sorry no pics.)

These are the broodmares next door. They have very fancy hay feeders.

Enjoy some of the things I saw as I wandered around looking at the neighboring very fancy quarter horses and the random plants. I’m heading back home after a work meeting (yay Zoom) to pee in a cup and prove I am a US citizen for the new job. Then it’s back to “normality” for a couple of weeks.

Escaped to Another Ranch

To celebrate my job change and help me wind down, the family surprised me with a getaway to Bandera.

It’s a different place than we went last year, though nearby. We are the first guests in the guesthouse at Farmer’s Daughter, so everything is fresh and new. Even the trees are new. But it’s also really familiar, with horses, cattle, a bunch of dogs, and rustic stuff.

Looking through the gate

It turns out you can bring dogs and horses here, so we might return! I’ve walked around and identified some plants, you know, because I do that.

This is virgin’s bower.

I also am thrilled to have a horse to pet. This fellow will show you how Drew will look in a few years. He even has a snip on his nose like Drew.

The cattle are two longhorns, one friendly, one not. The bull is so beautiful!

I’m doing my best to relax, though I’m annoyed I didn’t know there would be a hot tub. Mine is all wire, so no good yet! Because I’m just wiped out, I’m going to just going to share some scenery and sign off.

I’ll be more coherent tomorrow. Now I shall eat my celebration cake and drink wine.

Comfort from Nature’s Rhythms

I didn’t have an easy morning this morning, even though there sure was a cool sunrise. I wish I could have gone out and gotten a better photo, but here it is through the upstairs window.

There was a thick cloud that didn’t totally block the sun.

It’s a time of year that is hard for many of us, with tomorrow’s anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and that isn’t helping much either. But, when you’re feeling your trauma ramping up, feel trapped, are weary of being second guessed, or have to deal with the consequences of other people’s actions, you do have options. One of them is to leave.

Familiar signs of approaching autumn: snow on the prairie, wild morning glories, and balloon vines (all hiding behind that dang Johnson grass)

So, this morning, after I did all I could do to be useful, I took a nice walk. Looking around at the ranch and its life made it so much easier to put things into the perspective of life going on as best as it can, year by year.

This is the dry season, so Walker’s Creek is no longer flowing. It’s a series of puddles.

The cows next door are starting to calve, as they do every year around this time. It’s reassuring to see the same cows in the field, still providing new babies for their ranchers.

Mature mamas getting ready to do their job: make more beef.

Even while I was feeling reassured by the repeated patterns and rhythms of the year, I was finding new things. For example, I don’t think I realized before that the giant cane (Arundo donax) smelled good when it was blooming. I guess it has something going for it, after all!

Still, it’s one annoying nonnative and invasive plant!

It was cooler this morning, too, which really makes me hopeful for the return of more bearable horse-riding weather. And as always, I found beauty in the little things, once I slowed down to look. Check out the patterns the large puddles make when they dry up!

There are cracks in the dirt everywhere, actually.

More little things included the small flowers in the snow on the prairie plants, and the dozens of dusky skipper butterflies making the most out of the morning glories. They were everywhere!

After enjoying the life around me, and reminding myself that whatever is happening now is temporary, I felt a lot better and was able to come back and get work and meetings done. Thanks again to the healing properties of the Hermits’ Rest. The land and its residents are always here for me. And I didn’t have to get in the car and go for a long drive!

Hay ready to harvest. Time’s marching on, and every day brings new things to see, even in old familiar places.

Book Report: This Is Your Mind on Plants

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Oh, that Michael Pollan. He’s gonna convert us all to lovers of mind-enhancing substances, I think. His latest offering on this topic, This Is Your Mind on Plants (2021), makes me want to run out and try peyote, so it’s lucky that I am too white to get ahold of it (as you find out in the book, only Indians are allowed to obtain and use it in the US, as a legally protected religious right).

I had to put my coffee cup in the picture, to show I’m an addict. Lucky for me, I don’t have withdrawal symptoms.

But that’s not all the book’s about. The ever-curious Pollan explores four plants that have been used by humans to mess with their minds: opium poppies, coffee beans/tea leaves, and peyote cactus. I was especially curious about caffeine, which provided my favorite section of the book. I was surprised to learn that the caffeine fixation in Western culture is not very old at all. More fascinating to me was its relationship with the new ways of working that came up as society became more and more industrialized. Caffeine enabled people to concentrate longer, stay focused, and be more productive. Coffee breaks were actually invented to give workers their doses of their drug of choice!

Yep, it turns out that nowadays, caffeine is the most widely used addictive substance in the world, more than nicotine or alcohol. And it isn’t benign, especially since it messes with sleep patterns.

I also learned a lot about opium, but the opium section is more about the issues Pollan had when he grew some poppies for a writing assignment and discovered he could be in trouble with the law. Now, as someone who remembers lovely poppies growing in the garden at her church, this amused me. Apparently, the government doesn’t want people to know it’s easy to make a tea from poppy seed pods, or that if it’s used occasionally for aches and pains, it’s not going to addict you. Like most things, moderation rules. As I know, it’s a real good pain killer (I remember picking up Mom’s drugs when she was dying, and feeling really weird about carrying this giant thing of morphine).

Isn’t there some kind of drug in morning glories, too? Why yes, they also can be hallucinogenic.

On to more cheerful topics, and that’s good ole mescaline. What a kind drug it turns out to be. And it’s another thing that used carefully, in the right setting, provides many insights. Its effects certainly sound less potentially scary than LSD and the ilk. It apparently takes away the brain’s filters that only make you conscious of inputs that are relevant and lets you really see everything. So, you basically sit around and look at the world in its raw glory. I can see how that would be really cool, but not a way of life.

This section of the book was a lot of him trying to find the stuff and talking to various folks that a lot of readers might find a bit woo-woo, but they were okay. I would have liked to know more about the chemical aspects of how mescaline works.

To sum it all up, this is not Pollan’s most brilliant work, but I enjoyed what I learned, and always enjoy his writing. I’d like to read more about safe and intentional use of tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol, but I guess enough’s already been written about them.

Katie Zapfel

Children's book author. Mom blogger.

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