Sunday Musings: It’s a Good Life, All Things Considered

Today, I’m being more explicit about what I’m grateful for than my usual gratitude practice, which is more like, “Thank goodness X is in my life, or I can do Y, or Z happened.” I want to say how grateful I am to Lee for deciding to get our retirement property early, build a house on it, and start with the rural fun and learning experiment we call the Hermits’ Rest Ranch. It’s saving my butt, that’s for sure.

Every Sunday morning, I wake up, make coffee, and hang around with Lee and the dogs up in our bedroom. It’s a huge room, so it has a loveseat, chairs, a little dining table (now Lee’s desk), and coffee fixings. Usually the dogs take turns wanting to sit by me and get petted. It’s such a gentle way to ease into the day. Weekends are the best.

This morning I had Carlton for a long time, and he was not about to let me do anything with my left hand except pet his long neck while he stretched his head straight up. Then big ole Harvey wanted some time with me. I’ve mentioned before that he thinks he’s a lapdog now, and sure enough, he managed to drape himself over my entire lap. We had a nice snuggle (I originally wrote “struggle,” which may, in fact, be accurate), though that bulky dog sure is heavy.

Not pretty, but fresh!

It is nice to review your previous day up in the bedroom, so I thought back on how happy I was to find out that all the guinea eggs from yesterday were still good, and wondered what to do with them, since I’m not heading into Austin for a few weeks, I can’t get them to my coworker who’s allergic to chicken eggs, but not guinea eggs. I guess we eat them.

Here, Apache has just picked up a clod or grass and declared round pen time was over. Typical scene with Sara working with Ace and Fiona eating grass like there’s no tomorrow.

I also reminded myself how good I am at being patient in difficult situations, which yesterday’s time with Apache once again proved. Both he and Ace were antsy, like there was something going on around them that put them on alert. I never did figure out what it was, but it led to more dancing around and trying to do what HE wanted to from Apache. He just wasn’t thinking. But, we stopped, had a little chat, and eventually went on to have a nice ride. He really likes it when I talk to him calmly.

And for those of you suggesting lessons, I’m actually signed up for some with a local trainer. That’s why I got a Coggins test for Apache when the vet was here. Sara will take Ace and I will take Apache. That means we get to practice trailer loading, because it’s been a long time since we’ve gone anywhere out of town. He used to love going to Kerri April’s to learn Parelli stuff.

This is a cool brown skink that was in the hay feeder yesterday!

I roused myself from all my musings and went out to see what’s going on with the chickens and such. Every single step I took, Bertie Lee was right with me. She’s the Big Red of my main flock. That hen just likes me. When I checked the chicks, they’d knocked their little feeder over and messed up the water, so I fixed all that and gave Star more adult chicken food (the kind they don’t like, but my shipment of Grubbly feed has not arrived yet, due to high order volumes).

They are not starving, anyway, since every time I look in they are eating away at the plant growth in and around their little coop. I’m sure no bug stands a chance in there, either!

Here’s a pretty buckeye I saw yesterday.

Then I just sat around, watched the chicks preen their feathers (it appears that they are trying to get the fluff off, so their fine new feathers can grow out), and enjoying the pond, trees, and butterflies. I got to watch the little ones go up and down the ramp, and it’s clear they are way faster at it than their mom, who carefully steps down the ramp. They also jump up and down off the small tree branch I put in their area and flap their little wings when they go to land. They will be strong! I wonder how old they will be before they can fly?

Naturally, I looked up the answer on the Googles and found they start testing their wings at around a week (check), but they don’t get their flight feathers until around 5 weeks, so we have something to look forward to!

Just looking around the ranch keeps me focused and gives me perspective. My challenges are just small bumps in the road compared to all that goes on around me every day in nature. And, like my friend Vicki has been reminding me lately:

I’ve survived all those previous hard times,
so I will probably survive this one, too.

I don’t want to just survive, I want to thrive! So I’m going to keep focused on the fact that life is good, I’m surrounded by supportive friends and family, and the new events we’ll go through will make us stronger and wiser. This is what I hope for all you out there, too.

And don’t forget to visit the podcast if you need something to listen to that’s fairly uplifting and pleasant. For me, it’s a nice break between some of my more intense podcasts! And if you want to help out with my blogging fees, consider visiting the support link at the top of the page.

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.

You Never Know Who You’ll Meet around Here

I ran into some residents of the ranch I don’t normally see today, all of whom I thought were darned cute. It made for a great lunch break!

First, I headed over to feed the chickens this morning. When I opened the supposedly tightly locked storage container, I heard a rustling. I looked into the scratch, and four little black eyes calmly looked up at me.

This is primo chicken food! (note second nose at far right)

There were two tiny deermice enjoying the seeds. They are just about the cutest little vermin imaginable. I told them hello, then took them over to where I knew there were other mice and let them go. One trotted out and disappeared into the grass, but the other one took a little encouragement. It was a nice visit, but I need to make sure to shut the chicken food container completely from now on!

But, we just met! We don’t want to leave yet!

As I was waiting with Lee for the vet to come and give us our heartworm medicine and trim the dogs’ nails (no, that did NOT happen, and there will be sedation in the future), I wandered around looking for interesting plants and insects. More and more Indian paintbrush plants are blooming, and I just can’t get enough of how pretty they are.

Such an interesting plant.

But, mostly I chased this one butterfly. It was all white, at least from a distance. I’m sure I looked ridiculous trying to befriend it, but eventually I got it close enough to get a reasonable photo.

I’m quite fond of the sorrel blossoms

So, it was not all white. At first all I saw was the spot, but when I looked up the white family of butterflies, I saw that there was a border of black and white along the edges of the wings. Aha, it wasn’t a regular white butterfly, but was Anthocharis midea, the Falcate Orangetip, which apparently doesn’t always have an orange tip. No wonder I was confused. I now know they were discovered in 1809 and are mostly found in Texas and Oklahoma. What a cool visitor to meet!

Action shot.

The next encounter I had was with a whole family, or more accurately, 3 of the four lifecycle stages of one insect. First I found this cool looking fellow, scrounging around with a few of its buddies.

This grass is delicious, and so is the chicory.

I was pretty excited when it came up as a seven-spotted lady beetle (ladybug). Sure enough, that’s what the larval stage looks like. Pretty soon I found this happy specimen who’s an adult.

Slightly blurry lady beetle.

Then, a few feet away, I noticed this guy, who I’d never seen before. The bug was very easy to photograph.

Just resting. Nothing to see here.

When I looked that one up on iNaturalist, I got all kinds of beetles, but none of them looked right. Then I got to thinking that it sort of looked like that adult and larva ladybug. I googled the life stages of a ladybug, and there was my finding, a ladybug in its larval stage! That means that in 15 minutes I found every part of the lifecycle except eggs!

I also spotted the first pink evening primrose on our property this year. That’s good news!

I’m going to declare this lunch hour a successful social event, where I met some fascinating neighbors!

Feeling a Little Better about Nature’s Survival

After that unusual series of cold fronts, snow, and ice, I (and others) have been pretty worried about whether out friends out there in nature are going to make it through to spring and keep going. In the past day or two I’ve seen some happy signs. So, as long as I’m out in nature and not dealing with technology, I’ve been pretty happy.

Vlassic is happy, because I’ve been sitting on the porch with him and running around a lot.

My heart skipped a beat when I finally saw some Indian paintbrush plants in the field. Now that there are two or three of them, I know we’ll have at least a bit of our usual field of orange in front of the house (as long as we can convince Jim the brother-in-law not to mow until they are going to seed).

A brave pioneer in the big wildflower meadow (until someone turns it into a pasture).

The field is already lovely to me, with a whole lot of mock verbena mingling with crow poison and field madder, once you look close enough to see them. And I know more’s coming! That’s why I like this time of year. Every day something new starts blooming, and I record them on iNaturalist so that some day I can analyze the data and see if the weather changes when the wildflowers start up (that will be when I retire).

I don’t remember having so much of this charming plant in the field before!

A new “blossom” coming up yesterday was this dwarf plantain (at least that’s what iNaturalist identified it as). I thought it was the annual trampweed (which is also in the picture, along with chicory, burr clover of some kind, and a grass, but I was wrong).

But it IS something new blooming, whatever it is!

Another new bloomer is one I’d been worried about, on behalf of my stomach, and that’s the dewberries. They really got knocked back by the cold, but by gosh, they have recovered and started blooming. Even though there are only a few blossoms right now, it already smells good over by the stream.

Future fruit! Yay!

How about the non-plants?

Adult green-striped grasshopper that is brown.

I’ve been anxiously looking for butterflies and grasshoppers and such. Judging from the sounds I’ve been hearing, the green-striped grasshoppers I’ve been watching grow up have matured. I see them flying around the back yard and making their grasshopper noises. Here’s one that happens to be brown.

I’ve been seeing a lot of these hairstreak butterflies, along with some sulphurs and one red admiral that was too far away to photograph.

Hairstreak with chicory and tiny bluet.
This blurry shot is the best one I could get, as the butterfly never landed.

But, I had heard people were already seeing monarchs, but that there was nothing for them to eat. Sure enough, as I sat in the back yard yesterday waiting to go to the phone store, a steady stream of them passed by, but never landed on anything. I sure hope they find some nectar!

I know pear trees are blooming (native ones, not just Bradford pears), so the bees are doing well.

Maybe Carlton has some hunting dog in him. I caught him pointing (he turned his head when he saw me).

I’m never alone when I’m out looking at all these plants and insects and such. Carlton and Penney are especially close to me wherever I go, while Alfred and Vlassic explore more. It always makes me happy to see that the pets have as much fun as I do. We are all really lucky to have acres and acres to explore and nobody to tell us what we can and can’t do out here. Ranch living may have poor cell reception, but it makes up for it in the kind of freedom that matters to me, which is freedom to observe nature and be a part of it, not try to dominate it.

As usual, Penney was by the water.

I hope you are enjoying the signs of spring where you are (and if you’re in Colorado, I hope the snow is melting).

Tired. It Happens.

Today was one of those do nothing but clean up and get stuff done days. For some reason, floor cleaning hurts my back, so I am zonked. But you need to dust and clean occasionally, right?

I got some good knitting in. My entrelac looks like something now. I enjoy knitting forward and backward, so I never have to turn the work.

A little lumpy, but nice colors.

The other one I started took a while to figure out, but will look good as it gets bigger. It’s a lot of slip stitches.

Hmm. Barf or nice?

I did see a few pretty plants and other living things today, plus I checked on the new fish, who all seem to be in the barrel. Enjoy these!

My sister made me and Lee a salmon dinner followed by a nice cake. Good ending to the birthday weekend.

I have been thinking about a few things and will get more interesting next week. Until then, here’s a checkered skipper butterfly.

Achieving Nature Goals

Okay, I have a little something to say. After all that iNaturalist work last weekend, it was this weekend where I met some goals, or desires, or whatever.

While walking around, I remembered to open up a balloon flower to find the seed. My friend Linda Jo was right! They look like little yin-yang symbols!

Balloon vine seed, and my fingerprints.

While we were walking the horses, Sara very patiently let me try to get photos of all the butterflies and moths swarming in the pasture, even when her horse stepped in fire ants.

Waiting for Suna to take pictures.

Everyone’s patience was rewarded, though. I saw a butterfly on the fence. It sat still. I got its picture! It was an American snout, the ones we saw so many of last week! Finally one stood still.

No, not a great photo, but you can see the snout!

After achieving that goal, I felt fine. Then, on my way home, one of the dragonflies I’d been seeing all summer finally stood still. I was really curious what they were called, but they are very dart-y ones.

Hello, black saddlebags!

These always look like two mating to me. I was happy to see what they actually look like. Cool insects, and another goal met.

I looked at my iNaturalist totals and was happy to see I hit 1800 observations today. I’d been disappointed not to get there last week. Luckily, there are lots of interesting things to see on the Wild Type Ranch, where we walked!

Most recent observations. Over 1800!

I think that’s good for someone who has jobs and stuff. Still, I look forward to lots more in the future. We hope to visit neighboring counties with few observations and see what’s there!

Here I am looking for bugs with my “helper.”

Glad I found my voice. Sometimes I just need to shut up. Hee hee.

Sure, I Relax

It was nice to get home from work and think about what’s eternal.

One thing is learning. I’m loving the book I’m reading, perhaps too much. The person who wrote How to Be an Antiracist has managed to clarify all sorts of muddy questions and gut feelings I have about race, class, and political systems. Perhaps this is not the most relaxing book ever, but it makes so much sense that my brain feels tidier or something. More on this when I’m done!

The other eternal thing is life going on about its cycles. I’m surrounded by birth, death, old age, and metamorphosis every day. The new calf, Nicole’s son who will arrive in a month, the lady in Cameron who died in the fire and had cooked all those burgers, Lee and me, a butterfly. I treasure all of it!

Now to stop writing so much and share photos of what relaxes me.

Tomorrow will be Rip’s week-a-versary.
He liked head rubs.
Gulf fritillary.
Happy to enjoy our golden years (ha ha) at the Hermits’ Rest.

Cute Animals for Scary Times

Really, I do understand why people are being cautious these days. The rate of coronavirus infections in Milam County has skyrocketed. I have been limiting where I go, and even wearing my mask to cross the street. I ordered a lot of new masks today, too, since I’m wearing them more and getting them dirty.

Question mark butterfly
This question mark butterfly is stunningly beautiful, and was right outside my office door.

My family and the companies I am affiliated with are all being very careful. There have been two people die who work for my Austin employer, though I do not know what caused it. Sure makes you pause and want to hug your loved ones, though you can’t.

Sleeping white dog
For the past three nights, Carlton has been lying on top of me until I get to sleep. Dogs are so loving.

What I can do is tell you some fun/mildly interesting stories about animals and share some pictures! Okay!

A house finch nest
Mama Finch says she likes it on THIS side.

First, all the birds around our Cameron offices have been continuing their festival of babies. The mockingbirds finally left their parents this week. I miss them, but Lee says now we have a carport squirrel. The swallows are down to two babies who are about ready to fledge. And the every-valiant house finches re-built their nest on the OTHER side of the garage and are sitting on eggs.

I love that nature just keeps plugging along. Some things just don’t change.

One thing that doesn’t change is Alfred and his abundance of hair. We had him pretty well cleaned out, but yesterday we noticed Harvey was getting lots of hair out of him. So, Kathleen sat and patiently removed hair for about ten minutes, before Alfred ran out of patience.

Large pile of dog hair and two dogs
I’m not sure I like this…

The rest of the night, if Kathleen even LOOKED like she was heading toward him, he ran away. Not much makes him run. We laughed a lot, and laughing is good. I hope some day we can work on his other side!

A jackrabbit in Milam County, Texas
Just chillin in the pasture.

I got a new animal sighting today, too! I saw my first jackrabbit in Milam County, right on the ranch. Someone had said they saw a really big bunny, so I think this was the one. Those are some big ears, but I felt a lot better with my ID when a couple of local friends confirmed my sighting. I am happy to see them and hope their population grows.

In horse news, Apache is walking close to normally, for which we are all very grateful. He, Fiona, and Big Red the chicken are all getting tired of living in the tiny pen not sure why Big Red is always there, but maybe she thinks shes part of the herd.

Big Red, Apache, and Fiona
Good morning. We would like to eat now.
Ginger the chicken
I did not ask for a husband.

And in bird news, the guinea fowl are growing like crazy, and the new chickens are, too. The ladies are growing in their combs. Clarence, the newest rooster, has not won over Ginger and Bertie Lee yet, but its getting better every day. Thank goodness!

We think Bruce is about to get his crow going, which will be fun. At the moment he makes some funny sounds we cannot really identify.

So, that is the non-COVID news from around here. Office update soon!

Things That Puzzle Me

To be honest, a lot of things puzzle me these days, and I assume you’re probably puzzled a lot lately as well. Some of these things are fun or funny, and some are testing my ability to not be judgmental of others (and ya know, sometimes people seem to be begging to be judged; still I try not to do it). And some of it brings me way down. Sigh.

The first thing is this. It’s a fun one. What is going on with these mud daubers? Is this love or death?

What is going ON with this threesome? I can’t get it out of my mind.

There’s been a lot of mud dauber drama around the house, anyway. I see lots of hornets attacking the blue-black mud daubers, but there are usually just two of them. What a way to go!

On to the Rant

Next, I see so many people with huge logical inconsistencies in the things they say and post on social media. How is this not an issue for them? I was going to write some specific instances, but I decided that I don’t want to get involved, because of the next thing that puzzles me…

Why does everything have to be politicized? Health and safety precautions to protect ourselves and others now signify which political “side” we’re on? Why? I’m sorely disappointed at how people are labeling each other as fearful and irresponsible. Let’s look at a butterfly now and breathe.

And facts. What the hell has happened to those little gems? This whole business of not trusting science and verified facts confuses me a lot. Of course there is always more to be learned, but this doesn’t mean that historical event X never happened or gravity doesn’t exist (we don’t exactly know what gravity is, by the way.

And black men! My word! My heart is breaking and I would start hugging every black man I see, but that would not be good at this time, and at any time that would be sort of weird. Nobody deserves to live life judged guilty just for being born. Shame on us.

Ah, a buckeye. That brings some positive energy in.

Honest, I respect people’s right to view the world from different perspectives from mine. I am not telling anyone how to think, as much as it’s tempting sometimes. I guess I’m just disappointed. And puzzled. And confused.

I’ll tell you exactly how bad I feel about other human beings right now. Last night, I dreamed that some kind of bomb went off and I watched a man fleeing a nuclear blast. I thought, “Well, he can’t escape that, but at least he won’t have to deal with the mess the survivors are left with.” I think my subconscious was reflecting what I consciously don’t want to admit, which is that there are times when I’d just rather not be here than to watch society disintegrate before my eyes. It’s so painful.

Debbie Downer, signing off. Going to look at nature so I can feel better. How are YOU coping?

Birdhouses, Butterflies, Break-time Fun

That Chris, he needs a break from constant caulking, which is the never-ending phase of the Pope renovation he’s on now. Every bit of trim needs some caulk. Ugh. I’m sure glad he does takes some breaks, because that means we get birdhouses!

The bird house will get a perch and a lovely fake bird. I ordered a bunch of potential residents to try out.

Today’s house is at an extremely awkward corner where I guess we could have put some kind of decorative finial or something. But a birdhouse is way more fun and adds quite a bit of whimsy to the project. Chris knows I like birds and Kathleen likes that kind of thing, so we are not complaining a bit.

I like how today’s house has molding on the bottom, to make it look like it just grew there. Hmm, where will the next house be? (I know, but I’m not telling). I got a vision of little kids visiting and being sent off to find all the birdhouses in the building. That would be fun.

Another project has gotten started, too. The water heater is getting its cabinet in the main bathroom. It’s going to fit quite nicely in the corner, and there will be some storage added, which will be good in a downstairs with no, zero, zilch closets.

I believe the plan is that the compartment can be easily unscrewed for access, since it won’t happen too often once it’s hooked up. Ooh, what an exciting day that will be for all of us who wash dishes at Hearts Homes and Hands!

Breaking with Butterflies

I needed a break after finishing yet another slog of a project, so I walked around the block by the Hermit Haus. I turned by the Baptist Church, because I was wondering if the fancy New Gold hybrid lantana that’s planted all around its borders attract as much wildlife as the native ones in my tiny garden.

The answer was a resounding yes. There were skipper butterflies skipping all over the plants, as well as quite a few duskywings. I saw another variegated frittilary, but didn’t get its picture.

Big wasp enjoying a lantana flower

I also saw a very large wasp, which reminded me of an even bigger one, the cicada killer (they are so cool, but I haven’t seen any this year). This one appeared to be a Guinea paper wasp, judging from its stripe pattern and large antennae. But, I could be wrong and it could be a regular ole yellowjacket, which we have plenty of around here. I’ll find out on iNaturalist, I’m hoping.

It really does me a lot of good to take little walks and outdoor breaks, which are just fine to do in an uncrowded place like here. Since we are getting more and more coronavirus cases here, I’m not going anywhere crowded right now!