Missing the Ranch and Keeping My Spirits Up

It’s really weird to have not been at the ranch the entire month of November, especially since that’s usually a great month to be there (good weather, frisky pets, lots of time for walking). It didn’t help at all that I spent a good bit of time wandering around the area on Google Maps trying to figure out where those two people drowned. I think I got it located a bit further away from our property than I’d feared, but still adjacent. It makes me so sad.

In happier news, my one orchid that didn’t succumb to some evil scale has rewarded us with many blossoms.

I listened to a news report that said the victims had fallen out of their boat and got caught up in pond weeds. That’s exactly what I had feared. Even if you can swim, that stuff can get you. One guy had a young family and one was just 22, so young. They’re having a football game to raise money for their families. Traion Smith was just an amazing athlete in high school, and a nice young man. The news report showed the former Cameron coach breaking into tears at the thought of losing him. Life sure has its twists and turns.

Anyway, I ended up looking at what great quality the Google Maps images of our property are. I really liked how you could see each cow and all the cattle paths in the bottom pasture next to our house.

All the cows are at upper right, and you can see where they walk. The image can even get closer in! That’s Walker’s Creek and one of the streams that meets up with it.

I was disappointed that I could not see Apache or Fiona, nor the chickens. I guess the photo was taken just before we got the chicken house. So, you’re spared those images.

Sunset looking out by neighbor Ruth’s house. I love how the oak leaves are shining.

While I do miss the ranch (and its occupants, including my poor lonely quarantined husband!), I’m enjoying some time in Austin. We got to take a walk with our neighbor, Ruth, who regaled us with tales of trying to buy groceries at the H-E-B (we went a bit later ’cause I had to fill my prescription, and it wasn’t so bad). She went to the Randall’s store full of “old people” and it wasn’t crowded. That store is always full of old people! And, if you don’t live in Texas, we realize H-E-B is a weird name, but since it’s named after Mr. Butts, you can understand the choice.

Roses in my flower arrangement. They help me feel better.

And since I’m in Austin, we can have my son’s little family unit to eat out on the deck, to minimize germs and all, like we keep being told to do. It will be very small, but good.

Giant mum about to explode. This arrangement had such great autumn colors.

We will get through these challenging times. Sometimes it’s easier than other times, but I feel like all this practice of empathy, compassion, and forgiveness that’s come out of the pandemic, the election, and the personal issues of those around me will benefit me the rest of my life.

I don’t know what this flower is, but I love the way only part of it is in focus.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the flowers I got at the store and our sunset. I saw no sunsets in Utah, because the mountains were to the west. That’s okay, mountains are pretty, too. Share what’s keeping you happy and in the moment, if you want to!

Magic Magnifying Snowdrops: Photos

I had a strong desire to close all my exercise rings today, so I went out in pretty heavy snow while Anita napped and took a walk.

At this point I could still see where I was going.

Good news is that I’m huffing and puffing less after a week in Utah. Better news is that I looked down as I walked down the condo building sidewalk. I saw this.

This is actually the first one I saw.

When the snow falls, it melts into little puddles on the aspen leaves and makes little areas of magnification. You can see so many veins and cells in the leaves.

Look at the magnification at top right!

I also noticed the beautiful colors of the water reflected on the sidewalk.

Also, each leaf is a different color or combo.

I just had to share these images. Enjoy them!

Black and charming
Multiples
That one stem sure is shiny
Look how small some little puddles are.
And some are big.
My favorite. Look at those veins.

My Buddy Nature

I sure love being outside and exploring new places. Even in this week where I’ve been laying low, I make sure to get outside and do something daily. It’s just plain fun.

And there are purple cacti and rocks.

I’d intended to go on a short walk today, but when I realized I had a couple of hours until my next meeting, I just kept going.

I went up high!

I kept following the golf cart trail, since I had on normal shoes. The views were lovely, and I got to see chipmunks, a raven, and a dear little hairy woodpecker who was not scared of me at all. I only got photos of plants, though.

Whoa, this apparently is woad, the plant that have Europe its blue dye before indigo showed up.

I admit that I had to stop a lot, and not just to take pictures of plants. I climbed 33 staircases up, and ended up way up there. I had to catch my breath.

You can see my panting.

But it was lots of fun! I went up a deer trail and almost felt peace and quiet (still too much construction noise). I enjoyed so many new trees and plants. And it was all free, unlike shopping.

From the deer path.

Other things I found were an elk leg (huge) on the golf course and many lovely rocks and autumnal plants.

I ended up making 3 miles and walked over an hour. I hope I can do it again tomorrow!

Not bad for an elderly person.

I’ll have to change tactics next week. Snow and cold is coming. I may need snow pants. But I have my walking sticks and snow boots. All this solitude and exercise is helping my mood, so I want to keep it up!

I like all the colors. But that grass is painted green. Ha!

So hey, how are you coping? Hanging out with your quiet buddy, nature can’t hurt. Plus, being physically really tired might help you sleep!

Thinking Peaceful Thoughts

Every time I get shaky today, I am thinking of peace, over and over.

My little sign and random stuff from the side of the road.

It’s helping! I’m also keeping busy with work. Thank goodness I have something complicated to think about and people to brainstorm with.

I also took a walk today, and that helped me with the peace. I tried to find the nearest hiking trail, but could not find the start, so I wandered up the golf cart path through the golf course at the next resort. That was a bit of a huff and puff, but I was rewarded with at last being able to look at mountains, trees, and such with no condos in view. Hooray.

Ah. Birch trees, not construction equipment.

I found the trail when I got to the end of the golf course, and decided to follow it back down. It was so pretty, and I got to see more birds and a very annoyed squirrel. And lots of pretty Utah rocks. The path is narrow, so you have to jump off when cyclists show up. Luckily I just had to deal with one.

Heading down the trail.

The only thing that disturbed my peace was when I was almost to the bottom of the trail, and things got muddy and slippery, due to snow melting. Then the path totally disappeared under a pile of snow (manufactured, I am sure). There were no cyclist paths or shoeprints to tell me where to go, so I guessed. I ended up having a lot of fun sliding and stomping in snow. If someone was watching, I’m sure I put on a good show, but it was just what I needed, some goofy time spent right there, in the moment. Goal achieved!

End of the path (ski school is here).

And by noon, I’d met my goals for exercise and movement, so my watch is happy. I’m back to doing meetings requiring concentration for another few hours, then I shall read a book that requires concentration. No, I’m not even turning on my preferred news outlet until later today.

I’ll be thinking of these guys. They’ve survived humanity. So can we.

One more thing, I want to thank all my friends and readers outside the US for the support you’ve been giving during this hard time in the US. It helps with our collective anxiety. Please, all of you our there, keep all of us in the USA in your thoughts, and if you pray, pray for peace.

We are all part of the same earth.

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?

Humble but Lovable, the Cedar Elm

It’s about time I paid tribute to some trees again, don’t you think? Enough of that introspection hoo-hah! Today I was inspired to write a little something about my favorite Texas tree, the cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia), because it just keps showing me how wonderful it is.

Also these beauty berries keep telling me they are beautiful, so okay, I put them in here. There are cedar elm leaves around them.

The cedar elm was the first native tree other than the live oak that I learned to identify. Yes, before the Ashe juniper (the one that’s not cedar, but is called cedar). There was one in my neighbor’s front yard, and it looked so different from the other lucky natives the developer had left that I just had to look it up. Then I got confused. Is it a cedar, or is it an elm? Apparently, it’s an elm. Here, read what something official says:

The common native elm in east Texas where it is planted for shade. Called Cedar Elm because of the rough, cedar scale-like texture of the leaves and because it is often found in the western part of its range with Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei), which is locally called cedar. The Latin species name means thick leaf.

Ulmus Crassifolia
Oaks and cedar elms mix at the work patio.

The ranch is chock full of them, which makes sense. We have their favorite terrain: near water, flat, and with a saucy hint of limestone to make them happy. The limestone is why they’re all over the hill country. The terrain is why they are all over Milam County.

Don’t confuse the cedar elm seeds with these inland sea oats. Of course you wouldn’t; this is obviously a grass, right?

Cedar elms are very easy to identify by their leaves, which have sawtooth edges and aren’t very big. Nature conveniently deposited one on my arm today.

Cedar elm leaves turn yellow just before they fall to the ground. Then they turn brown.

They’re deciduous, which makes me happy. That way I see a lot more in the woods at the ranch during the winter. Their leaves are dropping right now, and it’s like a gentle rain.

They make pretty displays.

As the picture above shows, they shed their little fruits and seeds at the same time that the leaves are falling. That’s a rare trait in the elm, and an easy way to know you have a cedar elm. Squirrels will eat them, if there aren’t nice juicy acorns nearby. Check this out!

By September or October, the branches are thick with clusters of flat, oval seed packets called samara. The samara looks much like a tiny green round ravioli, or those dots of explosive caps for toy guns of the past. These are the fruit of the elm tree, with the seed forming a reddish bump in the middle.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm
Here are little branches blown down by the wind that show the seeds and leaf size. Look at all those leaves on the patio (those are just from today, since the building staff obsessively sweeps).

Since these are native trees, they also feed lots of native creatures. Here’s some sort of tent caterpillar or something that has made a home on a cedar elm branch.

Looks yucky, but, yay Nature.

The seeds appear pretty prolific, because they can easily become over crowded. We have some that need to be thinned out, which is always hard for Ms. Tree Hugger. But they can really grow thick, which makes it hard for them to grow tall and strong.

I’m happy to have them, filling the cedar brakes (limestone landscape common in the center of Texas) with something to break up the monotony of those dang Ashe junipers!

Resources

Cedar Elm, Texas A&M Forest Service.

The many beneficial traits of cedar elm, by Marilyn Sallee, Native Plant Society of Texas, 2011.

Ulmus Crassifolia, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Baby Steps to a Comfortable Life

Work Comfort

I’m realizing that my life is coming back, slowly. It’s different, but things I care about keep coming back. For example, going back to my Austin office has let me visit my tree friends in the courtyard (even if we can no longer see them from our desks).

Courtyard oaks.

I’ve known the trees since I moved to this area. We used to drive by them all the time while they were building my house. Then they were mottes of trees in beautiful meadows. Now they got saved when an office complex got built.

So restful.

I saw extra cool honey mushrooms in the rocky karst area.

Home Improvements

Our Bobcat Lair house has been stuck in February mode. The front tree has had Valentine decor, and there was a broken statue on the dining table for months. I was hardly ever home, and Anita stayed downstairs.

Farewell February!

But tonight Declan and Rollie came over and fixed that. We put up all the decorations we have, and Rollie really wanted orange lights, so we have them.

And we did the mantel. Yay.

It felt so good to be doing something together. I miss having the kids around. And they helped so much. We may have been wearing masks and keeping our distance, but we were doing fun seasonal stuff. Time has stopped freezing.

Spooky young people. They ARE smiling.

And we all walked the dogs together. That has always been my favorite family activity, ever since I was a kid. Traditions continue. Life goes on. Love can’t be stopped!

Sending air hugs to all.

Everyone Says I Was Happy

I guess the family isn’t used to me really, really enjoying myself. But I did this weekend. I didn’t have to worry about work issues, people issues, or world issues. I just hung out with nature and relaxed. I recommend that.

Camphor-weed. I got that right!

I’m a taxonomists at heart. I like labeling things. That’s why I feel such satisfaction identifying things successfully on iNaturalist. It tells me where things belong (when I get it right).

Couldn’t figure this one out. Had to upload it as unknown! All the suggested flowers had five petals.

I also enjoy helping research on what grows in Texas, especially places that hadn’t had much coverage. While Jacob’s Well had lots of observations, since Master Naturalists volunteer there often, the place we stayed at had only three that weren’t by me, all from 2018! I did science! No wonder I was happy.

You can see where I walked!

Plus, I got to “spontane.” I could go wherever I wanted, as long as I wanted. No one told me to stop taking pictures, walk faster, or stop talking to the birds and cows.

This one had five petals. It’s a bluebowl or Giliastrum rigidulum. It’s only found in the part of Texas where I was.

And there was something new around every corner. Yes. I WAS happy. I still am. I got to see my animals tonight, including the chicken that just doesn’t seem to lay eggs, ever.

Suna, that’s not a hen in that henhouse.

Before I get back to thinking about Kanban cards (and yes, I dreamed I was trying to capture my weekend activities in Agile stories), I’ll leave you with a few more interesting plants I saw. I can’t believe I made over 100 observations this weekend. All fun.

I say to you, go find your fun. Now more than ever, we need to balance our lives and bring in some fun. Have a good work week!

Switchgrass. I even got a GRASS right! This was in a beautiful prairie restoration with many blue stems, gramas, and other native grasses.

Nature is Tough. A Good Lesson

On my last morning in Wimberley, I decided to see if I’d missed anything on the property. Sure enough, after saying hi to the cows, I found a nice tent camping spot.

There’s something for everyone here, as long as you like rustic.

I found a few more plants for iNaturalist, and took this photo to show those of you not from the middle of Texas what our limestone rocks look like. they have lots of water holes and sometimes fossils.

Limestone and cedar elm leaf.

Most of the trees here are live oaks or cedar elms, just like at home. The difference is there are more live oaks here and more cedar elms at home.

Very old oak.

As I was trying to find more plants I discovered where there’s a waterfall and pool when it’s rainy. There were chairs to sit and relax, so I did.

As I looked around, I saw many flowers and plants growing straight out of the rock, many in the creek bed. They must pop up fast! Their tenacity and drive to grow, thrive and reproduce inspired me!

It’s just plain encouraging to see the native plants in their homes. No one planted them, but as they say, they bloom where they’re planted.

How delicate. Its a hairy ruellia, the only one of those I saw.

Finishing my walk, I saw more and more signs that autumn is here, even way down south in the US. I’ll leave you with these vines.

Virginia creeper, creeping away.

I Avoided Falling into Jacob’s Well

We were planning to explore Wimberley this afternoon, but we quickly realized it was Market Day. It looked really fun, with hundreds of vendors. However, there were also many hundreds of attendees. As wild as we were being by going out of town, we were NOT going to hang out with huge crowds!

So we kept going and instead had a nice drive, punctuated by a stop at Buc-Ees.

I didn’t touch that dirty beaver.

After that we drove around the Canyon Lake area, where I’d never been. We ate at a nice Italian restaurant, then drive around a while more. It was so relaxing looking at all the scenery.

When we got back to where we are staying we decided to go visit a rum distillery. It would have been more fun if they were allowed to serve drinks, but I did get a bottle of craft rum.

The distillery was right near Jacob’s Well, which is a 140-foot deep artesian well on a river.

Jacob’s Well.

These are fairly common around here, with all the limestone aquifers. Of course, there are caves down there. Lots of people get lost in there. Thankfully, swimming season ended October 1. While it was slippery getting down to the well, I managed not to fall in.

Looking down the river.

There were beautiful gardens nearby and a nice playground.

Visitor center (closed)

I was happy to see a sign thanking Master Naturalists for their help. I also enjoy talking to a couple of young park volunteers. So fun.

Nice sign!

I amused the family by taking even more photos of plants. But they said it was nice to see me so happy.

Visiting a natural wonder was just what I wanted. It brought much more joy than buying a bunch of stuff would.

Looking the other way down the river.

We had a nice day!