I think it’s time to stop messing with the oak trees for a while. Don’t get me wrong; I had a nice break today, out walking around my work building and checking out what was dead, what was still alive, and what was going on with the oak trees in north Austin. But, it’s the time of the year for the “tree worms,” as people around here call them.
I learned from Tallamy’s book about oak trees that these squirmy worm-esque creatures that hang by threads from oak trees right around when the oaks are blooming are not worms, but rather caterpillars of various oak moths (all of which seem to be brown and mottled, to blend in with oak bark and limbs). They hang from a strand of silk to make it harder for insect-eating birds and others to get to them. They can not only wiggle, but move up and down their strands of silk fairly rapidly.
Aren’t they fascinating? Sure, unless they are getting all over you and crawling around. I had this brilliant idea that I could get a picture of one of these caterpillars hanging from its silken thread, and spent at least 5 minutes trying to focus on one, but it kept swaying and wiggling. That was hard on the phone camera. Meanwhile, I was concentrating so hard I didn’t realize how many “worms” had landed on me.
I gave up and moved on to looking at one of my favorite groupings of oaks and other trees that shelter the office building from traffic noise. The motte of trees was generating its own sounds, though. A group of cedar waxwings was going to town on some of those bugs and singing, too. And there was one of those very loud wrens bopping up and down a tree trunk, along with a mockingbird, who was getting bugs off the ground. I saw evidence of a crow, too, and a big nest, just the right size for squirrels. Yes, there’s a lot going on in these city hideaways. No wonder the birds were singing, the trees contained quite the insect cafeteria for them.
I wandered back to the central courtyard a while later, and that’s where I found these tiny possumhaw holly blossoms. It made me feel more hopeful that at least the native plants in the courtyard made it. And with the rate things are coming and going in my life right now, that is a very good thing.
Unfortunately, when I got back to work, I kept finding caterpillars and bits of web on me. Good thing the little darlings don’t bite people. I put them all in a cup and let them go when I left for the day. Sorry, but I didn’t feel like photographing that collection. I still feel itchy, though. I do believe I’ll shower very carefully and thoroughly this evening. I bet no one would blame me!
Nonetheless. Hooray for all our resilient native plants and the life they support. Do you have yearly visits from the tree worms where you live? Are they all one kind, or a variety?
Social Media Update
Our blog and podcast now have an Instagram account! Follow #hermitsrestranch for updates there.
Yes, I didn’t write anything yesterday. For one, I had way too many meetings and errands to do. But really, I joined many people I know in being so overwhelmed, appalled, and upset about how black men and people of color in general are being treated in this country that I couldn’t find anything non-incendiary to say. So, I’m not saying anything else yet. I will, though.
Am I a Coward?
One thing about observing injustices in the world is I sometimes feel cowardly, like I really could be doing more to express the outrage I feel. Or take concrete action. (I have plans, though.)
This morning, however, I got a lesson that showed me I can indeed be brave, but that it helps to do so with a clear head and not from a place of anger.
Testing My Bravery
It was horse riding time on a very hot, cloudless morning. Sara and I met at 9 am, hoping that would be early enough for it to not be too hot. Wrong. By the time everyone was all groomed (including Fiona, who I am continuing to help shed her winter fuzzies) I was dripping with sweat.
Sara told me she’d had a great ride on Apache yesterday, though he exhibited some of his “druthers,” as she calls them, where he indicates he’d rather be doing something else, thank you. He warmed up fine, though.
Once I mounted, he began to hint that he’d much rather be over chatting with Lakota, the new gelding, who was not being ridden. I got him to do other things though, and we set out to go ride in our favorite pasture, where there is some shade.
To get there, you have to walk down a long “race” that’s used to bring cattle up from the far pasture. It’s mostly grass, but with the recent rains there are still some big muddy areas, which we usually just go around.
Not today. Apache had absolutely no intention of walking down that race like he normally does. He kept turning around. When I’d make him go the other way, he’d back up. He’d go sideways. We crept forward (poor Sara had to just walk her horse back and forth), and eventually got to an area between two slippery muddy areas that caused him to slip and slide as he cantankerously waved his head around and acted pissed off. No amount of urging, poking, bopping with the stick, and strong language helped.
After about fifteen minutes of this and I could see that I was losing my ability to project calm thoughts and not act angry. And Apache was slipping and sliding to where I was worried for his safety.
So I got off. He started to head back. Nope. We walked the rest of the way that we were going to ride. He was still agitated but at least went the right way, mostly. About halfway through the walk, he sighed and started acting completely normally. I was so glad I didn’t give up on him, managed to stay calm, and saw the day’s agenda through.
When we got to the end, we enjoyed the shade a bit, then I got back on (no easy feat with a hybrid saddle with high stirrups), and we walked sedately and calmly back. He didn’t break into a trot or anything.
There was a bit of druthers when we got to the end of the race, because we didn’t go straight to the barn. Sara and I wanted to be sure he had a clue who was in charge. Eventually he realized that prancing around foolishly was just making him sweat, and he did the circles he was asked to do.
Sara said we’d had a real breakthrough and she was very proud of me. I realized once again that I CAN push past fears and do things that need to be done so that I and others (including horses) can grow and do better.
It’s been so much fun checking out what’s growing in my tiny garden outside my office. Every day, there’s a little bit more to see in and around it. This little space supports so much life!
This morning, I found the Inca doves poking around in the area where there’s dirt. I wondered where they were living, and then they were kind enough to show me! They have a nest right above our carport light! I love these birds, because they are calm, busy, and beautiful when they fly. The underside of their wings is a russet red, which makes them easy to identify, and looks beautiful.
I looked a little closer before I went into the office, and saw even more life, on a tiny scale. I saw something yellow on the milkweed plant and was all excited that it might be monarch eggs or something, but when I got closer, the yellow dots moved. They are very bright aphids with little black legs. Turns out they are oleander aphids, which are also, conveniently enough, known as milkweed aphids. Well, the plants are supporting their tiny life, so I let them keep sucking away.
Over to the left, something moved on a common lantana flower (which Linda Jo, my iNaturalist identifier, called “not one of the good ones”). There was a tiny, tiny fly. It has stripes that make it look like a bee or wasp, but it’s one of the little flies that lives on nectar from flowers, a calligrapher fly. I guess it does look like it has writing on it!
And finally, when I stood up, I saw one little dayflower that did not look like all its beautiful blue friends. It’s a white sport! I love it when I find the oddballs of nature smiling up at me.
What a great way to start one’s day, just noticing the bounty of life around me. This really is a little garden that could…be full of life!
I have to share, because it’s so pretty, this black swallowtail caterpillar on my bronze fennel plant at the ranch (one of two herbs that didn’t die in my planter). I’m so happy to support future beautiful butterflies!
You never know what you’ll find during a walk around the Hermits’ Rest. Even in this awful weather, there are fun things to discover. I found that out today, when I went over to get a photo of the little grouping of Zizotes milkweed I’d found recently. Lo and behold, the milkweed was doing its job!
Each plant had its own beautiful Queen butterfly caterpillar on it. They were merrily chomping away and waving their festive red antennae and spikes. I’ve seen a lot of Queens around this year, and I am happy to see that there will be quite a few more, if things work out well.
I took some pretty good photos, I think. (Aside: Lee just got one of the new iPhones with three cameras. I am looking forward to heading out into nature with it to see if I can get better close-ups and distance photos with it. However, I think I’m going to get myself a regular camera, too.)
I also saw more subtle beauty last night. After the Vrazels mowed our field, not much sticks up, since the grass is not growing while we are in drought. One plant is growing, and it’s the horsenettle. It’s a prickly thing, but it’s strong and tenacious, and I happen to think the flowers are beautiful.
In any case, the sight of all those little purple flowers sticking up above the dead grass pleased me very much. Sometimes you have to be prickly and strong to deal with what life throws at you. Physical beauty is just a happy bonus.
While I was admiring tenacity, I had to admit to myself that one of my least favorite garden weeds, the spotted surge, can be beautiful when allowed to flourish and grow. I’m just glad I don’t have to weed it and get all that milky stuff on me.
It has rained so much the past few days that it feels like I live at a mosquito farm. Everywhere I go I’ve been eaten up, though the barn swallows are trying to keep up with them at the ranch.
Martha says that our old office on Travis is now located at “Lake Travis.” Birds love to bathe in it, but they can’t enjoy their lovely patio at the moment. (By the way, they recently saw a mother opossum and all her babies on her back–sure with I had a photo!)
The rains have also driven a lot of things indoors. A group of wolf spiders is hanging out in the kitchen of the old church building. I hope they scoot back out before the pest control dudes come!
It’s a nice October weekend, and I’ve been taking advantage of it by really enjoying the Hermits’ Rest. We’ve had a couple of neat discoveries today.
The first came when my friend Mandi and I were checking the bed with the okra, basil, and peppers in it. Out of habit, I looked in to see if there was any action on the cucumber vine that had really not done a dang thing all season, other than grow and make pretty flowers.
Whoa. What did I see, but a HUGE and very overripe cucumber, just sitting there taunting me. You’d think I’d have spotted that one long ago. It appears that the plant decided it was more of a pumpkin, and put all its energy into this one immense cuke. You’ll be grateful to know I’ve spared you the raunchy photos.
While laughing at the cucumber, I turned to look at the bronze fennel that is in its second year and going to seed. There I saw at least a dozen lovely caterpillars! They were munching away at an impressive rate.
There were two types, and one was easy to identify as a black swallowtail, but the smaller ones I didn’t get. Someone has suggested that they are eastern black swallowtails, but I’m hoping someone can help me get a definitive ID. They are way smaller than the other ones.
It was an extremely humid day, and there have been a few brief showers. We truly enjoyed the last one, which came from the shower that got me while feeding the chickens. It lasted at least an hour. You can’t complain when your surroundings are this beautiful.
PS: The chickens are finally making more eggs again. And Mandi and I found a dozen on the horses’ square bales. All were still good!