I Can’t Muster Up Schadenfreude

Wow. I’m not saying I’m a saint who never has bad thoughts about others, but when presented an actual opportunity to experience some good old schadenfreude, roll around in it, wallow for a while, and maybe even gloat, I find I can’t dredge it up.

Let me share what happened, as vaguely as I can. Last year, my favorite boss ever, was “let go” as they always said in La Leche League while firing anyone with institutional knowledge or history in the organization who didn’t drink some very bitter Kool-Aid.

Even though we were prepared, those of us who worked for this boss were sad, really sad, because we’d done a lot of good work together and were a great team. Of course, we had nothing to do with whatever the C suite’s issues were, and that wasn’t our call. But, it hurt some of us a lot, including the old boss.

Everybody’s beautiful, in their own way, right? This Japanese maple sure is.
Changes make me want to hide, like this budding hydrangea.

Fast forward to today, and the person responsible for that “letting go” (and for me losing the two coworkers I tried to hire last year) was let go today. I had dreamed of the day when that darned so-and-so got their comeuppance. I was ready to take immense pleasure in the pain of that other person, true schadenfreude. But, no. I felt sad, instead. I know how hard it is to see that unemployment train coming and have it roll over you. All I could feel was empathy toward my former nemesis.

Why? Well, I’d recently gotten to know that executive as a person, and saw them as more than just the instigator of a really bad year. I found out things we had in common, and our mutual humanity won out over my biases. Shoot, the stuff in those unconscious bias books is actually true; you really can’t hate someone you know as a well rounded person.

It’s okay!

How about that? I’m not as vindictive as I thought I could be, when it comes down to it. And that’s a good lesson to learn. I’m sure I’ll be fine as the changes keep coming where I work. It’s normal, corporate America stuff, after all. But I can still have empathy with former colleagues as I keep trying to keep up with the changes.

Actually, I feel like I had an omen or portent of the future this afternoon. As I was walking in the courtyard trying to get my bearings (me and big changes are just not friends), I found myself surrounded by common whitetail dragonflies, all female. They’re a symbol of change, metamorphosis, and good things to me. I felt comforted.

Knowing Your Issues Doesn’t Fix Everything, Nor Should It!

As always, things are changing in my life. One of the changes anticipated for this year is that Anita and I will need to move out of the Bobcat Lair house in Austin. That’s sad, because we really love the setting, the house, and most of all, the neighbors. But, the cost of just paying the City of Austin property taxes is more than the mortgage to our old house, and now that we are getting closer to me retiring from paid employment, we’ll need the money from that house as part of our income stream. Things are winding down, and it’s time for investments to pay off.

It’s the Austin house (Bobcat Lair) showing lovely dark rain clouds. Ah.

Yes, that’s all logical and good. Anita has her own little house in Cameron that we hope to get renovated as soon as her contractor is available and her tenant, who’s already month to month, knowing Anita is going to need to live in the house herself, finds another place to live. This is all quite reasonable, right?

But, when Anita started talking to me yesterday about how much she’s packed up already (she does all her moves all by herself, because she would rather invest her time than her money), and that she gave her tenant notice that she needs to be out, I found myself going back into one of my old, unproductive ways of reacting. I am not good with moving, AT ALL, and the thought of having to leave my beloved sanctuary sent me into a panic. It just seemed like a HUGE amount of work, change, and uproar was impending, and I kind of shut down.

A little wine on the deck helped me feel better, too.

Anita (bless her) kept talking me through it, and I began to realize that I can do things in stages, that I actually don’t have all THAT much furniture in the Bobcat Lair, and that I even have a place to store things like my books and such. And all the boxes I still haven’t unpacked (though there aren’t all that many now!!).

Plus, I plan to rent an apartment near my work, so I can easily figure out what things go where, move them, then get the rest moved to Cameron (except for what’s needed to stage the house). I’m just trying to breathe as I think of more things that need to be done, like electrical work to fix outlets that stopped working…but it’s not too much.

I just have to face it; I’m who I am, and I’m going to have trouble with changing things when it comes to my home, because having my own place grounds me. I’m still a fine person!

Ernesto apparently agreed with my coping strategy. Photo by  @juleslang via Twenty20.

I’m Not Alone

Speaking of my issues, which I am, I had an odd experience last night watching the PBS show on Ernest Hemingway. Now, he’s not someone I ever would have thought I had anything in common with, other than being fond of short sentences (he was way better at actually writing them, though). As I learned how he grew up, the experiences he had with his family, and how he coped later, I was really surprised to see how we have a LOT in common when it comes to our inner demons and how we deal with them.

One part of the show, in particular, hit me hard. He was talking about how happy he was when he had both his wife and another woman he was also in love with. He said it made him inexplicably content, even if he knew it was hurtful. And then he talked about how, in his relationships, he always made sure to have another love interest all lined up before he left someone. Ouch. Those were my destructive patterns in my younger days.

Hemingway statue in Cuba that apparently chokes people up.  @prezioso02 via Twenty20.

I’m really glad I didn’t live such a public life as Hemingway did, because reading all the criticism of my life, like he had to, would have been really uncomfortable. I’m glad I just got to judge myself harshly without too much help from others (except former partners).

I don’t think Hemingway was able to get much control over his demons, much like his father, who committed suicide when he couldn’t get a handle on his mental struggles. He knew perfectly well what his problems were, which is clear from his books, but knowing what his challenges were didn’t mean he could fix them, any more than I can help my issues with moving.

I’m glad I had help, good reading, and inner work that has gotten me out of destructive patterns, at least with romantic and friendship relationships. I’ll be interested in watching the rest of this series and getting more insight into this fascinating writer and historical figure.

What a good thing that we happened to watch this interesting Ken Burns documentary right after I was beating myself up for repeating patterns from my youth (I know perfectly well that I hate to move house because leaving my beloved home as a teenager was so hard on me). It gives me perspective to cut myself some slack and bear in mind that some of our personality “features” are deeply ingrained, just like those unconscious biases.

We can only do the best we can and keep making an effort to improve. Thank goodness I’m a lifelong learner and never plan to stop enjoying the challenges of living up to my best intentions. Let’s all keep open to ways to learn more about ourselves and others, and be patient with ourselves.

That’s my lecture for today. Take what works for you and leave the rest!

A Note from a Friend

After reading my blog (with all the typos I just fixed), my friend Kelli Martin Brew responded to echo my thoughts. I really got a lot from what she said, so I’m happy she allowed me to share her thoughts with you:

I love this. The longer I live, the more it seems clear that a lot of who we are and what we do is hardwired. But how I have wanted to believe that knowing something was the same as changing it! At this stage in life, I think we can use this hard-won knowledge to be more merciful – and to be honest about our own struggles and behavior. I grew up with a huge mandate to “be a good example.” At this point in life, I have contented myself with being just an honest “example” of… something. Whether it is deemed “good” or not will be decided sometime in the future, if at all.

Kelli, Facebook, April 6, 2121

I really treasure connections that allow us to share our inner thoughts, struggles, and learnings. I plan to be an example, too!

Pet News, Some Good, Some Not

There’s been a lot going on in the pet department around our ranch community. The first is good news, which is that right now there are two puppies to enjoy over at the neighbors’ house. They use Australian cattle dogs as working animals, and the elderly matriarch (Tess) is no longer able to do much. So, they decided to allow their breeder friend to get puppies from their youngest female (Jess) and one of the breeders’ unrelated males. The two female pups and Jess came home from the breeder’s house this weekend, and I got to enjoy them. They are so soft at this age!

Bess is the one with brown on her, who’s on the go. The other one’s a real snuggler, so her new family will enjoy her!

One of the little cuties has another home, where she’s going in a week or so, but we get to enjoy the other one (Bess) and watch her grow. Nothing like a bunch of rhyming cattle dogs to brighten the neighborhood! They now have 5 generations of the same maternal line at their house.

Other nice pet news is seeing how well Ace is fitting in with the other equines. We caught him touching noses with Fiona yesterday, which was so sweet. Immediately afterwards, though Apache broke up the love fest. I guess Fiona is HIS lady.

Hello, little buddy.

The amusement we’re getting out of the paint horses shedding continues. There are interesting areas of white in the pastures. When you get up close, you can see they are horse shaped, if that horse happened to be rolling on the ground. Spice left one where you can actually see her brown spots and her white ones, like a map of her coat. I couldn’t photograph that, since we were wrangling three horses, but I did get a picture of one from Apache, which is all white. Poor Spice will get brushed out next time I’m back at the ranch, since she looks like Apache did last week (since Sara hasn’t been riding her, she hasn’t had her usual amount of grooming).

It’s like Apache made a snow angel with is hair.

The sad pet news is that we appear to have lost Gracie Lou, Kathleen’s little white dog, and Vlassic’s favorite companion out here. She just never came in Saturday. We can’t keep her fenced in, because she’s so little that she slips through the gates, but she always has come in and asked to go nap in her bed in Kathleen’s room, and of course, to eat.

Gracie joined us last April.

We put a notice on Milam Touch of Love and asked all the neighbors (all four of them!), but no one has seen her. I went up and down the road and didn’t see any evidence of foul play, either. She just vanished. Maybe she encountered a hawk or a coyote, or a big cat, but only the hawk makes sense, because she disappeared in daylight, AND the harrier’s been around. Lee’s favorite theory is that she was sniffing on the side of the road and someone picked her up, thinking she was lost of something. She is very friendly and will jump into cars.

So, we’re hoping someone realizes we are looking for her and brings her back. She’s always been such a tough ranch dog, and more of an outdoor animal than indoor. It seems weird for something to get her after she survived the farm in Yorktown for so long, as well as our place for over a year! Keep your fingers crossed she turns up again.

A New Supporter!

Let’s end this on a happy note, though. I’m going to have to get those knitting needles warmed up again, because The Hermits’ Rest blog and podcast have a new supporter! Thank you to Kathleen Caso of Hearts, Homes and Hands for becoming a monthly supporter! She’s hoping to share podcasts about the ranch with our home-bound clients, who enjoy listening to stories. I enjoy telling stories, so THAT all works out. And then, if they want to see pictures, they can look at the blog. Great idea, right?

You, too can support us for as little as dollar a month by signing up at https://anchor.fm/sue-ann-suna-kendall/support – or just keep reading and listening. I’m happy to have all of you around!

Checking Out Oaks for Myself

After reading the book about oak trees last week, The Nature of Oaks, I felt compelled to go find some old oak trees and see what’s living and growing on them. What kinds of ecosystems would I find in and on the oak trees near me? The closest ones that are easy to see are the ones at the Walker’s Creek Cemetery, which are old white oaks that were probably planted there when they founded the cemetery in the late 1800s.

One of the beautiful oak trees at the cemetery.

Right now, they are in their blooming stage, so I got to see a lot of oak catkins, which Doug Tallamy told us in the book are the male parts with all the pollen on them. They do look pretty, even if they make many folks all clogged up with sinus stuff and turn our cars yellow.

Very fresh leaves and lots of catkins, pollinating all they encounter.
Two insects, or chrysalises or something. Note there are already holes in some leaves.

I was wondering what I’d see living on the shiny new leaves that had just poked out after their very chilly winter slumber. I found lots of little bugs, but I was having camera focus issues and couldn’t identify any of them. A few leaf clusters had multiple types of insects crawling on them, probably eager for some tasty young oak snacks. Another thing I learned from the book is that the leaves develop more and more tannins and get harder and harder as the spring moves to summer and summer leads to autumn. By the time the leaves are ready to fall, only leaf miners and other insects that can get to the soft centers of the leaves are able to get much nutrition out of oak leaves. How about that?

While looking for life on the oaks I couldn’t help but see some more life in neighboring shrubs. There were a few very interesting Eastern tent caterpillar nests. These have only one generation per year, and from the number I saw, they aren’t doing too much harm to anything. They appeared to be on hackberries, a native tree no one’s all that fond of, so I’m happy to let them build their nests.

Tent caterpillars and their poop.
This nest appears to be on a hackberry and a smilax vine.

The thing is, the little caterpillars are jumpy as heck! I’m used to caterpillars slowly moving along a plant, chomping away. These guys were flinging themselves around frantically. I don’t know if they were reacting to me disturbing them, were getting ready to pupate, or what. They were fun to look at, though.

I didn’t see any moths, but I did see a lot of little wasps that were too fast to photograph. I also saw a beautiful pileated woodpecker, chickadees, and the usual cardinals, all on the oaks, so I confirmed for myself that these oak trees support a lot of life.

What’s going on in your neck of the woods? (look, I stuck with my tree theme!)

Where Do Easter Eggs Come From?

Not bunnies. Not baskets. Nor roosters! Not even from capons (see below). Most of them come from the grocery store or the drugstore, as far as I can tell. This question is just an excuse for me to talk about chickens…again.

It ruffles my feathers to think I’d try to lay an egg!

It’s been quite a time in my chicken-raising career, but it seems like things have settled down. I finally seem to have a bunch of hens and dear Bruce, who have stabilized and aren’t getting eaten by anything. I did see the harrier out yesterday, though. Beautiful hawk, but I’m keeping my eye on it.

I do want to get some more hens soon, as soon as the henhouse gets set up to keep young ones separate for a while. I now know which kinds to get, anyway. Tough ones.

Of course, I’m looking forward to seeing if the eggs Star is setting on will hatch. I’m hoping they’re hens, since I don’t know how to caponize (castrate) a cockerel (young rooster). I have no idea if anyone around here does it as a service. I did read, though, that capons make great brooders and surrogate mothers, since they have hen hormones, but don’t lay eggs. The things you learn on Wikipedia!

I actually caught star out on one of her daily food runs recently. She is all fluffy, I guess from sitting all fluffed up on the eggs. I took a peek at the eggs, and they all look fine. I debated removing the dud egg, but didn’t want to confuse her. I’ll remove it when and if the others hatch on the 15th!

Even a good mom needs a break sometimes.

It just makes me happy watching them explore the area and down massive quantities of insects. We always seem to have plenty more, so I don’t think they’re ruining the ecology out here (it’s mostly ruined by herbicides the tenant ranchers put on the fields, anyway).

Henley says to leave her alone. She’s NOT sociable.

It’s so relaxing to just sit on the grass or in my official chicken-watching chair and enjoy what they do. And I guess I’ll always be looking for egg stashes, since I think that darned Bertie Lee may have gone somewhere else now that I took all her supply from under the work bench.

None of these ranch hobbies are inexpensive, but I do get a lot of joy out of the animals, and I think that’s what counts. They got me through the quarantine by giving me a purpose every day and something to do that forces me outside in the fresh air. I’m pretty grateful for the chickens (and the horses) for that.

If you celebrate Easter, I hope you enjoy your eggs, whether from a hen or from a rabbit that poops out chocolate ones. I haven’t had a chocolate bunny in years, though I do manage to snag a creme egg on sale after Easter every so often. They are tasty!

I hope you also are experiencing some hope for the future. I am, because it’s actually raining over here. Rain brings flowers and keeps those tanks full!

You don’t think I’d make it easy on you, so you? Says sassy Bertie Lee.
Springsteen, the Jersey Giant, reminds you that black IS beautiful, as are her pinkish eggs.

So tell me! What is bringing you renewed joy and hope this season? I’d love to hear from you! I’d also love to knit you some washcloths, if you feel like being a supporter of this blog and podcast. Click the support button on the main podcast page, or hey, you can even send me a voice message about what brings you joy and hope from there!

All the Hermits of the Hermits’ Rest send you lots and lots of virtual hugs and support, however you may need it.

I Did a Social Event! With Airplanes

What the heck? This sure came as a surprise. I realized there was a little airshow coming up this weekend, and that Lee had volunteered to help out with the Chamber of Commerce table. I hadn’t considered helping, but I didn’t want him to go be social all alone, since he hadn’t done it in over a year. So, off we went to the Cameron airport this morning, to celebrate the recently renovated runways and such.

This was Cameron’s “soft opening” for events, too. There were vendors, including my friend, Pamela, plus Manley the king of jams, and even wine. They were all in an excellent open hangar, so we felt breezes and fine wearing our masks.

Lee and Melanie managed to sell a whole bunch of the Chamber of Commerce raffle tickets, so they felt quite successful. It was a lot of chatting for Lee, but he did well. Now he’s exhausted, though.

Melanie and Lee are telling visitors what fun you can have in Cameron. I got to choose the giveaway winners. No cheating from me!

I mostly knitted and talked to my Master Naturalist friends. We got a little giddy when we realized we were all fully vaccinated and could actually stand near each other and talk. It was a small thing, but made us so happy. Sigh, maybe we can have real meetings again soon, if people keep being careful (like we were today).

I truly love this picture. We could not stop talking, and the dog could not stop jumping long enough to get a photo. But I sure was glad to see all these fully vaccinated friends.

Most of the action was outdoors, though, and it was so much fun to look at the 20-30 little planes that showed up. It was the most planes I ever saw at this little private airport. Lots of them were old and interesting, no doubt, and I’d explain more about them if I knew anything at all about private planes. I did ask our banker friend, Richard, who happens to be a private pilot (and has been a looooong time), so I knew that the one that did the tricks was a trainer plane from after WWII, and the cool green plane that blazed in from Georgetown was a Russian trainer.

One highlight of the day was cutting the ribbon to officially re-open the airport. All the local dignitaries were there, including the whole city council and mayor, plus the airport team, the engineer, and others. But the star of the show was Marion Travis, age 92. She was a pilot in her youth, and a true aviation pioneer. She is Cameron royalty (and a real hoot). She cut the ribbon.

There wasn’t much to the actual air show, since one of the trick planes had a mechanical problem, but the one that did fly had some tricks. It sure was fun watching that plane going upside down and making loops. I’m glad I was on the ground, though. I was told the pilot is a Southwest Airlines pilot for his day job.

I feel practically human, though really tired, after walking around looking at planes then walking around with Apache trying to figure out how he’s feeling (he was a bit weird yesterday, not cooperating and tossing his head a lot). But, hey, it was almost like a normal day from the olden times, other than all the masks people were wearing!

Suna let me eat the forbidden grass, but just for a few minutes.

Ooh, one more horse note. Apache has shed most of his winter coat over the last two days. It’s been most impressive brushing him out. Some bird will be able to make many nests from his fur. By the end of today, I suddenly realized I could see his patches on his skin again. I got down to his summer hair! He’s going to feel a LOT better now that it’s slowly warming up. More goodness to look forward to over the summer, I hope.

He must feel lighter after getting rid of so much hair. He lost this much yesterday, too.

Tanks? Ponds?

I live in Texas, on a cattle ranch, though none of the cattle here are mine. The cattle here mostly drink out of artificial ponds, because as any Texas naturalist knows, there’s only one natural lake in Texas (Caddo Lake, on the Louisiana border). Thus, any pond you see is made by a human or beaver.

There’s a tank in the middle of those flowers down the road.

However, any native Texan will tell you those cattle aren’t drinking out of (and cooling off in, and pooping in) ponds. Oh no. Those are tanks. Stock tanks or cattle tanks. You sound like a city person if you call them ponds.

Our lovely small pond that sometimes merges with the creek.
I don’t know how long they stay so pristine.

I’m telling you all this because I’ve recently had a couple questions about what the heck a cattle tank is. First, stock tanks in most places are like big water troughs made of metal or plastic. People like to make them into swimming pools. But that’s a normal tank.

These are attached to water supplies and have valves to keep water at the right level. We have some here, as well. The goldfish in there have really grown, to my happiness.

There ARE fish in here.

But most properties have one or more of these in-ground tanks, made usually by damming an arroyo or other place where water naturally goes, then digging out a big hole. This is how we made our front “pond.” Our driveway is the dam.

The tank we made. Those trees grew up since we built the dam/driveway.

All the other tanks on the property are much older. Our neighbor’s son remembers swimming in them. Um, I see too many snakes to consider that. The big tanks have very tall dams around them, created by digging the holes. The dam around the front tank next door is really tall, and Fiona freaks out at it. I still don’t know why.

Looking down the ditch that drains into the big tank. Look carefully on each side to see the dam.

Because I wanted to know more about the history of tanks in Texas, I looked it up and found a fine article from Texas Monthly that fascinated me. For example, I learned that 80% of the tanks in Texas have fish in them, even ones that haven’t been stocked. I’ve seen catfish in ours!

The tank behind our house has plenty of fish for the herons, and is popular with cattle and dogs for cooling off. There’s only a dam on one side, but it’s tall!

I also learned that there are subsidies for building tanks that prevent erosion. That may explain why Texas has more of these man-made bodies of water than any other US state. I actually think that’s what my neighbor does, advise people about building tanks. I should ask, huh. My friend Phyllis confirms this; I’d call them tanks, too, if I got paid!:

My Dad always said that the government would pay farmers to put in stock tanks in the early 1900’s. So if you built a pond for your livestock you paid for it, but if you built a “tank” for your livestock the government paid for most and sometimes all of it…

Of course, as my friend Lynn also pointed out, when you build a tank, the State owns the surface water. That’s one of those weird Texas technicalities.

One thing I do know is that it’s easier to build a tank when you have some clay in your soil. In sandy places, you have to add a layer of clay so it will hold water. We have a couple of dry tanks here, too. Animals like to hide in them. See, I paid attention in my Master Naturalist classes. I obviously think tanks are cool.

Some old tanks look pretty darned natural, like the one next to Walker’s Creek cemetery.

And finally I was happy to read my favorite thing about tanks is not just mine and my naturalist friends. Tanks now attract all kinds of plants and animals that might not be there if we hadn’t put the water there for them. Long after the cattle ranches are gone, the tanks will remain, drying up in drought and refilling when there’s lots of rain.

The little front pond in a drought. Not much water (2013)

Yes, pond, tank, or whatever, these artificial watering holes will provide us with ample nature watching opportunities and provide habitat for so much life. Hooray for tanks!

Book Report: The Nature of Oaks

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Admission: I only gave this book 4 stars because I wanted it to be longer. I dwell on every word Doug Tallamy writes, so I selfishly want more of them. The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees is his latest book, and it was only published two days ago. I snatched it out of the packaging and started reading it immediately! I’m really glad Tallamy mentioned this when I heard him speak in February, so I knew to pre-order.

Now, not only is Doug (I’ll call him Doug, because I consider him a friend, though I’ve never really talked to him) my favorite current naturalist writer, but oaks are my favorite trees. How much better can it get?

Oak trees and I go way back. One of my mom’s favorite stories about toddler Suna is that she used to go outside and find me talking to the trees in my yard. I thought there was someone in there, you see. I spent my childhood in something like a paradise for plant lovers, a small cement-block house on two lots, covered with large live oaks, along with a few other lovely native Florida trees. I was, however, not at all fond of pine trees (ironic, since my grandfather worked for a company that planted pines for paper-making). I liked oaks. They always had something going on, with all that Spanish moss dripping off them, possums and squirrels running around, and of course an endless parade of songbirds.

My most recent visit to some of my favorite trees, at the park I played in a child (as did Tom).

I loved those trees like family members, as I followed my dad around helping him landscape the yard and make lovely flower beds around the oaks, all mulched with their leaves. Little did I know he was doing the exact right thing by planting the dogwoods, redbuds, azaleas, and such under the larger trees to mimic a natural understory. Most important, the leaf mulch supported all sorts of wonderful insects that contributed to the ecology of my little world. Thanks, Doug, for confirming my dad’s innate wisdom!

The oaks and I continued our love affair, and I continued to visit ones I particularly cared about as long as I lived in Gainesville, and I still check to see if certain trees are still there (most are, 50+ years lager). And when I moved to Illinois and then to Texas, I learned about more and more types of oaks, which shed their leaves in the fall like normal trees (not like live oaks, who shed in the spring). My favorite tree in my first yard in Texas was a bur oak we planted, of course with an understory of Texas mountain laurel and native plants. It’s a gorgeous specimen now.

All this background is to explain why I was so happy this book was written. It turns out, I was right, there was “someone” in my oaks! They support more moths and other insects than any other type of tree. They teem with life! I enjoyed learning a lot about the various caterpillars and moths Doug finds in his Pennsylvania trees (he also talks about other areas, too, though).

An oak out in nature in Florida

He also satisfied my curiosity as to what the heck oak galls are, what they’re made of, and who lives there. Well, little larvae live in there, but the galls are somehow inspired to grow from actual oak material by the wasp who lays her eggs on the leaf buds. All sorts of insects want to eat the larvae, but galls protect them well. Then, when they leave, they make a nice hole, which then can be used by certain ants as little homes. I never knew that!

So, there’s just one example of the kinds of things you learn about amazing oak trees in this book. It’s enough to make you want to run out and plant some. That’s exactly what Doug wants you to do. Like to many trees, their numbers have diminished. We need them to store carbon, to support life, and to clean the atmosphere. You’ll find fun information on starting oak trees from acorns, as well as comprehensive lists of the best oak varieties for different parts of the US (by size, too).

You’ll also be sure to enjoy the color photos of trees, insects, and all the denizens of the oak world. I guess Doug’s now famous enough that he gets to have color photographs in all his books. We win!

This little book is a treasure, and I’m so glad it confirmed my bias toward the gentle old trees I’ve loved my whole life. I plan to take the book off its shelf and hug it occasionally. It’s my friend, I guess.

Want to read more by Doug Tallamy? I have a review of his previous wonderful and inspirational book, Nature’s Best Hope that you might enjoy.

The Great Hen Detective Strikes Again!

Take THAT, Bertie Lee! You can’t fool us forever! You’re just a chicken, and we are human hen detectives! I think they could start paying me for this egg-finding work. Yep, I finally found where Bertie Lee is currently stashing her eggs. I say currently, because I only found ten. Of course, she could have just started again after finishing molting, or after the cold episode. I don’t know. I’m not a chicken.

Look at all those sort of dirty Bertie eggs! And one very clean Henley egg that was just laid.

Lee helped on this one, because yesterday he said he saw her coming out from behind the work benches again. He thought maybe she was laying in her old spot, which she’d gotten chased out of. So, this morning, I decided to look even harder than usual, and used the step ladder to climb on top of the sturdy old workbench. I looked down behind it, and there they were! Eggs!

Bertie Lee tells Bruce that she’s glad the garage is such a mess, because it’s easy to hide eggs in. Her eggs are secretly under that white cabinet.

Of course, they were in a really hard-to-reach place, as Bertie Lee is a smart hen. She survived the 2019 and 2020 hen attacks that lost us a lot of our flock. I found the perfect egg-moving device however, our fishing net. I was able to carefully roll them forward and get them, without injury to me or any eggs. Well, two of the eggs were cracked, but I think Bertie must have done that herself, since the mess was dried up.

When I brought the eggs in, I immediately tested them for viability by seeing if they floated, just like I did a couple of days ago when I found Big Red’s egg stash. These were all in GREAT shape, with only one looking slightly iffy. I put it in with Big Red’s, along with a couple others, ready for becoming deviled eggs for Easter!

Bertie is trying to tell Buttercup to hide her eggs better, but Butter is focused on bugs.

Now I have seven hens capable of laying, and six of them are active (I hope; I couldn’t find Springsteen this morning, and she’s the low chicken in the pecking order). Theoretically, I may have enough to start giving eggs away again. And I can’t wait to see if Star hatches any baby hennie chicks! She’s still in there, setting away.

She knows she’s my favorite. Don’t tell Buttercup.

What a great way to start a day off! The Sherlock Holmes of Laying Hens strikes again! I’ve already had my personal Easter egg hunt.

The Ranch Resurrection

It’s the time of year when my Christian friends are thinking about resurrection. To me, Easter comes at the perfect time of year, since flora and fauna are coming back to life all over the place. The Hermits’ Rest Ranch is no exception, but this year, after the unusually cold winter, we haven’t been sure if everything was going to come back or not. Every time I look out the window and see a monarch butterfly feeding, I feel grateful that some of them made it here and have food.

Everywhere I look there are monarchs, and I know I have milkweeds out there for them!

I’ve been periodically patrolling the land around our house, checking to see if plants are coming up at their usual times and numbers, and what kinds of insects are showing up. The good news is that most of the old friends are returning, but the bad news is that some are not as numerous and are later than usual.

One plant I’ve been anxiously looking for are the Texas baby blue eyes (Nemophila phacelioides), which only grow in one spot on the edge of the woods near the house. Usually by this time of year, we have a nice stand of them. Today I finally found one blossom, along the fence. I hope there are more of them among the green things in the woods!

Well, that’s one, at least.

The Indian paintbrush that usually covers our front field and the one down the road are nowhere near as numerous as usual, but the fact that there are some gives me hope for future years. The bluebonnets are okay in numbers, but I haven’t seen a winecup yet. The delicate roadside gaura (Oenothera suffulta), however, has managed to come up, in such a pretty stand that I thought they were some other flower.

Usually you don’t see so many together. They turn pink when finished blooming.

I was comforted today to see that the little spring is still flowing, and that plenty of prickly sow thistle (Apache’s favorite snack), yellow evening primrose, pink evening primrose, ragwort, and dewberries are blanketing the ground.

Future food for lots of birds!

And the big, purple thistles, which are a pain in the butt, but good for the soil, are getting ready to bloom.

I finally found a blooming example of one of the plants I’ve been watching, velvetweed (Oenothera curtiflora). It’s another gaura, but grows much bigger and has lovely soft leaves. Every year I forget what that plant is until it finally blossoms.

It will be much bigger and more showy soon.

One plant I’d hoped the freezing weather would wipe out is the poison ivy, but I should have known, given how thick the vines are that climb the trees in a certain area, that they’d be back. Sigh. It looks so healthy and shiny, too. The mesquite tree, another one that’s sort of a pain (but also has its good points, unlike poison ivy), is coming back, as is the prickly ash, another Texas thorny tree. Well, at least they break up the monotony of our little wooded area, which has mostly cedar elm trees in it.

Now, I’ve saved the best news for last. As of yesterday, I was sure that the Shumard red oak that we’d planted last year behind out house, to someday shade the chickens, was a victim of the weather. I was not surprised, since it hadn’t had much chance to expand its roots. But, lo and behold, I spotted something red while I was out checking on the roosting hen. Little leaves! It looks like the tree will be with us another year after all. And that is good, which you will learn more about soon, when I report on the book about oak trees I just got!

Brand-new oak leaves!

No fooling, April 1 has been an encouraging day, at least for the plants around here! Our wildlife is returning to life and bringing us joy, in Nature’s yearly resurrection.