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.

It’s August. It’s Drying Up.

I’m very grateful for all the opportunities I get here at the Hermits’ Rest to observe weather patterns and natural cycles. Today was a good example.

There’s plenty of water, but it’s down at least a foot.

I’d gone to open the gate for Trixie and was intrigued by how many butterflies I saw, so I hung around the front pond, the one we made so we could build our driveway. I noticed that the pond is losing water rapidly, though it has more in it than usual this time of year.

All gone

The wet parts of the arroyo are all dried up, but you can see how much life they support. There are crawfish mounds and bird footprints in the former mud. And all around are wetland or riparian plants, like sedges and rushes.

My favorite grass, silver bluestem, foreground.

This part of our property has more than just coastal Bermuda grass, which brings so many interesting creatures, like those butterflies I saw.

I saw a common buckeye, a tiger swallowtail, and a larger sulphur butterfly, but not where I could get pictures. And there are still a few flowers in among the drying grassy.

Look at those pink evening primroses!

The star of the pasture right now, though, are the ballon vines. They are everywhere, ready to float away in the next flood and populate another area downstream. The little yellow butterfly above is feeding on their tiny white flowers, which are quite a contrast to the seed pods!

Little balloons everywhere.

It even rained a little today, which won’t fill the pond back up, but it sure felt good on me and the horses. Drew my horse baby and I had a rainy hug fest. By the way, Trixie said his procedure worked, so he doesn’t need more work, just strengthening.

Hard to believe this was once a barren ditch.

This is the weirdest August ever, but I’ve got horses, dogs, chickens, ponds, and native plants to enjoy. How could I be lonely?

See the dragonfly?

In the Gloom: Life, Death, and Joyful Canines

Wow, it’s rainy and cloudy again today, but sometimes gloomy weather makes even a simple walk with the dogs an adventure sort of creepy. It doesn’t help that I just looked out the window and there are dozens of creepy cowbirds covering the grass. I hope they appreciate the local cardinals for hatching their babies…

Anyway, this morning the dogs and I went out for a quick walk in between my work meetings. They were chock full of energy, and were running around like there was some bunny to chase.

Come on, let’s go, Suna!

I was getting dizzy watching them run around each other. It was almost like lunging Drew. Things did get gloomier as we approached the trees and watery area.

The dark skies and moody greens of all the vines creeping around the pond and arroyo added to the feeling of impending doom. There are tie vines, bindweed vines, passion vines, dewberries, smilax, poison ivy (further downstream) and balloon vines. It’s dark and mysterious.

All dem vines

To save me going on and on, here are some of the dismal, yet lovely in their own right, sights the dogs and I saw.

Yes, whenever I see a mama spider all covered with babies, I admit to shuddering a bit. Thanks to Lee for finding that one. However, I’d say the thing that enthralled me the most, in a macabre way, was watching the garden spider encasing a grasshopper in its web. I’ve seen it a couple of times lately, but this was the first time I was close enough to film it. Keep watching the video, because you can see the silk coming out of the spider toward the end. Fascinating, but eww.

Life and death, right here at the Hermits’ Rest

But, don’t worry there will be more grasshoppers. How do I know? Oh, you know me and all my observation skills.

Can we have some privacy here?

Saturday Morning Ranch Sightings

Here at the Hermits’ Rest, weekend mornings start early for some and slow for others. But there’s always something lovely to see or fun to do. This morning was typical. Lee has started taking a walk every morning and asked me to join him. He may not do it again, as I had him go with me to feed the chickens and move Apache into his pen for the day, but we did eventually get to walking and looking at what’s growing and changing along our arroyo, which is still springy after the recent rains. I’m rather fond of the native plants and even the bad ole invasives (the water primrose) that line the stream.

It’s pretty to me.

Heck, to me tie vine is as lovely as fancy morning glories, and the ruellia is as pretty as a garden petunia. Plus, they are free!

A plant I hadn’t noticed much before is blooming right now, and the blooms are so tiny and hidden among the leaves that you almost wouldn’t notice them. It’s called scarlet toothcup (Ammannia coccinea). It’s a riparian plant, which means it grows in moist areas along streams and such. I think the little flowers are lovely.

Lee and I enjoyed many sights. What a great start to the day!

Next it was time to do some work, since the rest of the household had already been up working with horses and other chores. I got to help cut mesquite down where Sara’s horses currently are, in preparation for the cows that live here to rotate there. That was a lot of fun, and I saw some beautiful iron weed growing in that field.

It was good to be able to help by loading branches and opening gates. Plus, I got to see the other horses and more native plants and insects. I’ll spare you the endless supply of grasshoppers.

Everyone was busy this morning. The tenants were haying and Kathleen was horsing with her herd. I enjoy watching her ride. They’re all progressing according to plan, from what I can tell.

The dogs are just having fun, as usual, swimming, running, and rolling. I love seeing a happy Alfred!

Rainy Blurry Day

I’m sorta typing this without really looking, since I suddenly have a pretty bug ocular migraine deal going on. I’m sure not fond of those things, and still don’t know what is causing them. The good news is that I can type with my eyes closed, I guess.

What’s wrong with my eyes?

What I wanted to write about is the fact that it’s been rainy the last few days, which came as a surprise to all of us, but a welcome one! It usually stops raining by this time of the year, so we will enjoy every drop we get.

It’s not bad enough to stop things from happening, though. I’ve managed to move the horse and Fiona, and I’m still impressed about how easygoing they are with being taken to the dry area. They just follow me over there and act grateful for their treats.

As you can see, it’s still very green.

Since it’s a lot cooler today, I’m hoping the rain lets up long enough to ride Apache today. I’ll just take him down the race, so he doesn’t put any dents in Ralph’s perfect grass.

Isn’t this pretty? It’s in the mallow family.

The pens at the Hermits’ Rest are getting worked on again. The area under the roof is all cleaned out, and a ditch is getting done to hopefully drain runoff from the future water troughs. Once that’s all clean and graded, the rest of the fencing can go into the stall area, gates can go up, and we will be ready for occupants.

Only stuff that’s being used is in here now, like the chair, the fan, the tunes, and the Vlassic swimming pool.

Well, that’s about all I can write with my eyes closed, so I’ll just leave you with hopes that you are having a good end of June. I feel remarkably chipper and calm (other than my eyeballs), even though I know it’s going to be a doozy of a week!

It’s Grasshopper Season (and Cicadas and Katydids)

A Break with a Katydid

The dogs wanted to go out this morning, so I went out on the porch to drink some coffee and watch them play. I quickly realized that in fact, I was being watched, as well. There was a curious katydid sitting on my chair, waving her antennae at me. Mike Yager, you can stop reading now. Thank you for clicking. (He’s not a fan of these things)

You know I’m a katydid, because I have such long antenae.

Soon, she jumped up on my pants leg. I figured I could get a few good pictures of her for iNaturalist (which identified her as a slender meadow katydid Conocephalus fasciatus).

Let’s chat.

Next, she just hopped on up to my hand, where I was able to watch her up close, doing things with her legs, swishing those antennae, and chilling.

Checking what’s on her leg.

Finally, I got a video of her doing things and walking down my hand. I stopped when she began chewing on me and drew blood. Cheeky insect!

An innocent insect, until…

Grasshopper World

What I’d intended to write about today was grasshoppers, though. Every few years, we get a bumper crop. While I know both my children are creeped out by them, I am glad for the chickens’ sake, since they do love to chow down on grasshoppers. The vast majority this year are differential grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis), which are the kind known for messing with crops. (I saw one other type today, an obscure bird grasshopper, but I didn’t get a stellar photo.)

Look at those eyes!

The ones here are pretty varied in color, with the adults being yellow, orange, green, or brown (brown ones are older). The earlier instars tend to be very bright green, but they are mostly adults now.

Those brown twigs WERE asparagus leaves.

I can see why some folks get bothered by these guys when it’s one of their super-abundant years. They are everywhere and eating everything. Here is my asparagus. Yep, all you can see are sunflowers and other things that grasshoppers don’t eat down to the nubs.

The way the grasshoppers jump every time you move is annoying to me and apparently terrifying to some people. The good news is that I have never been bitten by a grasshopper, even when they got under my shirt or in my boots. The bad news is that those suckers hurt like heck when you run into them in your utility vehicle that no longer has a windshield.

Now, when I say they are everywhere, I’m not kidding. Here, watch this video. Also, if you aren’t on mute, listen to it. What do you hear?

Let’s see what we can stir up!

I think that’s enough on grasshoppers for today.

Indirectly Observing Wildlife

At least one cicada is out there.

One of the things I noticed today as I walked through the grasshopper-filled field, was that I knew there were a lot more living things out there than I could see. For example, the video above just rings with the sounds of cicadas. It’s been a big year for them in many parts of the US, but just average here. Still, they are loud when you get out near the trees. I don’t need to see them to know they are here!

I also know for sure that there was a barred owl somewhere in the trees, because it was making its characteristic “who cooks for you?” call a lot. And the pileated woodpecker I see occasionally was also out there calling and pecking. All morning there have been crow squabbles, as well, along with white-winged doves, who are omnipresent. Although I also saw it earlier, I heard the great blue heron squawk a couple times as it moved from tank to tank looking for crawfish or something.

Penney is looking at a lot of crawfish holes that were recently much wetter.

Speaking of crawfish or crayfish or crawdads, I also know they are all over the place, even if I don’t see them. Their find mud castles are everywhere right now, since it’s drying out and a lot of the areas that were damp all winter and spring are not covered in water anymore.

What’s left after a crawfish digs its hole

Yep, they are there, even if you can’t see them. I also saw lots of deer tracks in the muddy areas, which makes sense. There are a few does and fawns in the area.

Summer Blooms

Though we are very obviously heading into the dry season here at the Hermits’ Rest Ranch (the water table is back to a more normal level, so the new spring has stopped flowing, though the old one in the woods is still dripping away), we still have some hardy flowers that are still blooming. I always enjoy them and their tenacity.

Whether your experiencing a rainy day, dealing with the west coast heat wave, or enjoying a restful Saturday, I hope you can go outside and see what is thriving where you live. And if you can’t see anything, listen!

Death to Nightshade

What? I’m killing plants? Settle down, nature lovers. I need to safely get rid of a plant that’s dangerous for the horses in the areas that are going to be dry, and I need to remove some snake habitat near the chickens.

When there’s not much grass, horses will eat anything.

The beautiful local nightshade, the silver leaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) is everywhere this time of year. It has pretty purple flowers and cool tomato-like but inedible fruit.

Pretty flowers, but nasty thorns.

It’s hard to pull it up, because of the thorns all over the leaves and stems, but I need to make the area where Apache will be staying safe for him. In a pasture, there’s plenty of other grass, so it’s no big deal. But, in the “dry lot” or pen, where were now putting him in afternoons, he’d eat it.

Apache had a fine new hay bag to snack on. Horses need to eat pretty much all the time.

So, I was given a big sprayer with a mixture of white vinegar, salt, and Dawn dish detergent in it. This is bad for plants, but not toxic for animals. I sprayed around the chicken coop first. They thought it was treat time, because the spray made all the grasshoppers jump off the plants and into the pen.

Sad plant by chicken coop

I then sprayed under the roof where the stalls will be, and got most of the rock pile sprayed (the rocks are leftover limestone bricks from building our house).

Unhappy nightshade. Ok grass.

When I walked out this morning, all the forbs looked really sad, including the nightshade. The grass looked parched, but not awful. I may have to spray it again, when we get more ingredients.

I never was so pleased at killing anything.

So, it looks like we will ditch the commercial herbicides and use this method to clean up around our property and keep all our animals safe and happy.

We still have PLENTY of grass.