I’ll write more in the Master Naturalist blog about this (update, I forgot to do so), but I did enjoy a visit to the Texas A&M Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections this morning. My friend Pamela and I drove over and met up with another Master Naturalist and her granddaughter, who’s high school age, and enjoyed it as much as we did, I think. We were sad that more of our group couldn’t join us.
Our guides were curators Heather Prestridge, an ichthyologist, and Gary Voelker, an ornithologist. They were informal with our small group, informative, and entertaining as well. I had a blast learning about how many specimens they have, how long the collection has been growing (since the 1930s), and how they preserve the animals for research.
The collections of herps (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc.) are immense. It’s cool to see where they all come from. There is much from Texas but also around the world. They are preserved in formaldehyde.
The fish were fascinating as well. My favorite was the box fish. There were just so many to categorize. Wow. There’s a lot of work for their grad students and volunteers! The other thing they do with the specimens is take tissue samples and freeze them (really cold) for future research on DNA and the like. What a resource this is!
Of course the birds fascinated me. I was probably really annoying with all my questions but wow, there were things here I’d never seen before, like the Hoatzin. What the heck. This bird’s young have claws on their wings!! It’s also called a stink bird, because it digests food in its crop, which is smelly. It’s a really different bird!
Dr. Voelker was great at sharing information about the birds. We saw the largest and smallest owls and an awesome variety of kingfishers, some that were an indescribable blue. Africa has some darn colorful birds.
Look at these roseate spoonbills. They are so many shades of pink. and I was fascinated to see the bill up close. Such specialization!
There was a lovely domed collection of hummingbirds that had been donated to Heather. Someone had it in their family for years!
I’ll spare you the details but we learned about 3D imaging and printing of specimens. They find what’s in the animals’ stomachs and can ID them. Huh.
They didn’t talk much about boring old mammals but I checked them out.
Believe it or not, I managed to get hungry after all those dead things. Good thing we’d arranged to meet our friend, Lynn at a restaurant at the old airport terminal. Ah. A nice restaurant. And airplanes! What a good time.
When I finally get a day off, I can cram a lot of fun into it, that’s for sure, and yesterday I even stepped outside my comfort zone successfully, more than once. I’m so proud.
One thing I’m happy with myself for doing is finding my own fun by myself. As Lee has gotten more and more into the Hermit Life, I’ve found myself slipping into it as well (and COVID helped form the habit of being solo). Since I wake up ridiculously early here, I usually have five hours or so to kill before Lee is able to do anything. I sit on the balcony, read, or knit, but I’m so used to getting up and doing a bunch of chores that I’ve taken to just leaving and finding stuff to do outside.
Admittedly, some of the stuff I do involves fruity drinks and beach chairs, but I wander around, take pictures, and talk to folks. I swear I’m turning into my dad with all this talking to folks stuff. Not very hermit-like.
When Lee was awake, he suggested we go take advantage of the free putt-putt golf we get as part of our stay. I think the hotel chain bought this sorta run-down course, since it’s right across from one of the properties and counts as an amenity. Here’s an admission. I had NEVER played putt-putt before, or any other golf-like activity.
A Chapter for My Memoirs
Backstory: In my horrible only year at Plantation Middle School, some person without much forethought had the great idea of having a bunch of young girls, many from backgrounds that didn’t include elitist sports like golf (back then, well-to-do white people played golf), learn the sport in physical education. Golf includes golf balls and golf clubs, both things that needed to be treated with respect. There were rules, like only swinging your club behind a certain line, not swinging without checking your surroundings, and not driving the ball while people were out retrieving their shots. Good rules. Who can guess what happened?
Yep. I had finally hit my ball far enough to get an extra point (a thing I needed because PE was my worst class) and was about to pick it up when WHAM, one of the little darlings in class swung her club onto my head. I was so focused on getting my extra point that I simply went back to the teacher to report my success. She asked me what was on my gym outfit. That would be blood. I had to go to the nurse’s office, which was hard to do when you had no idea where that was in the crazy building and you were dripping. I was so angry that I smeared blood on the exterior wall of the school, quite an act of rebellion for the rule-follower I was at the time.
The nurse washed me up and called my mom to come get me. Mom was in the middle of her nervous breakdown from having to move away from Gainesville, so she was not happy to have to drive down Sunrise Boulevard (she didn’t like four-lane roads) to come get me. She looked at the hole in my head and declared something like it was just a flesh wound and took me home with no doctor visit or anything. Mom was frugal and didn’t want to waste health care dollars on us kids when she needed so much (thus, we had no trips to the dentist until our teens, my brother’s lazy eye was not addressed until too late to fix it, etc.).
The results were that I had headaches for years and sharp pains if I moved a certain way. I have avoided golf entirely. I wasn’t the only one permanently damaged by middle school golf. Another classmate had a chunk of her chin removed by someone who didn’t check her surroundings, and as far as I know, still has a nasty scar. I believe that was the end of the golf program at Plantation Middle School.
Back to Put-Putt
Anyway, Lee likes golf and used to be really good at mini-golf, so I agreed to go. I’m so glad I did. It was great fun, and I was nowhere near as horrible at it as I feared I would be. In fact, I was even under par on one hole, and made par on a couple more. The first hole was pretty bad, since I had to figure out how hard to hit the ball to make it do what I wanted it to do, but after that, I found it most amusing to see where the ball would go and what it would do.
I declare that I would do it again, perhaps at a nicer course. But, we got a lot of laughs out of the outing and it was great to see Lee actually enjoying an activity on a trip.
Off to Calabash
We decided we wanted some good seafood, so we motored off to North Carolina (barely) to the beautiful little town of Calabash, where we’d had a great meal last year. Once again, I knitted a lot. I am trying to get that baby blanket finished before that baby is born. We tried the restaurant next door to the one where we ate last year, and were not disappointed.
I got a huge amount of food in my platter, unlike the small serving we had in Murrell’s Inlet a couple of days ago. And it was fried so beautifully that my grandmother would have approved (the great connoisseur of Florida seafood). The oysters were immense and the scallops delicate and tender. The shrimp were local (from right next door!) and the fish was glorious.
While the service was a little slow, I could not complain, since there was quite a show among the local bird population for me to enjoy. Grackles were mating and building nests, so they were in great form (and loud, being grackles).
The seagulls were also in squabbling mode, so there was lots of action. Plus, there were pelicans zooming around and catching fish. They are so beautiful to me.
After the meal, I went for a walk on the little boardwalk and boat docks, where I got to enjoy pelicans having some kind of bird party next to a party boat, which cracked me up (easily amused).
I also realized why all the birds are so dang happy right there in Calabash. The water was literally teeming with little fish. No shore bird could go hungry with all those fishies everywhere they looked!
While I was gone, Lee was paying the check, and since he was alone with our leftovers, the laughing gulls got bolder. He got a great shot of a laughing gull taking one of my shrimp.
Once we got home, I needed to burn off that fried food, so I walked on the boardwalk until I got all my steps in, then decided to enjoy an Old Fashioned and knit a table at the upstairs bar (I had been outside until a loud family arrived). A lady said I shouldn’t be sitting alone and invited me to the bar to sit with them. I ended up talking to them and another couple for a long time. Lee even came down for a while.
And in talking to the staff, I discovered that Kevin the bartender is also a history professor who specialized in my very own ancestors in Florida! His family is also from north Florida with deep roots there. Who would have guessed? This condo has the best staff, that’s for sure.
I ended up meeting another couple and stayed too long and had three drinks, so I was not at my best when I got home. Lee said I was cuddly, so I must have been out of my mind, ha ha. It was worth it, though. I truly enjoy hearing the stories of all the people I run into and finding our commonalities without ruining things by getting into politics or religion. Granted, anyone I meet here fits certain criteria or they wouldn’t be here. Hilton sure does check your credit scores and incomes. But I’ve met people from many places and backgrounds, and that’s what I like and have missed so much the past few years.
While I’m still primarily doing outdoor things (we’ve been eating on patios), at least I’m no longer scared to talk to people. I’m back to having a nice balance of being alone and in peace and interacting with others.
Oh goodness, I skipped a day of blogging for the first time since I resolved to post every day quite a while ago. I had good reason, though, it was a busy day with lots of fun meetings, animals to care for, chores, and conversations. By the end of the day, when I could have blogged, I chose to sit on the porch and talk to my family. Who could blame me for choosing in-person interaction? (Okay, someone could, but I probably don’t like them.)
There are lots and lots of bugs (including mosquitoes) out right now, and I especially liked this fuzzy caterpillar.
I got the chickens a big brick of treats at Tractor Supply today, since they completely finished their last treat, which was watermelon rind. They can certainly clean out a watermelon.
Let’s see. I also met a large fish, who’s apparently a local celebrity in Bea’s Kitchen (more on why I was there, later). It’s a fine and friendly fish.
I seem to be unable to add captions, but the fish says hello. Sigh, WordPress seems to give new features, then take away old ones.
And in case you were thinking I forgot the dogs, here’s Carlton making himself WAY too much at home in my bed this morning.
That’s some stink-eye! I’m off to do horse things and then finish my indoor writing tasks. I wish all of you a reasonable weekend, with weather that fits your desires (mine is no rain).
After all the stress of the last week or so, it feels good to be able to find humor in life again. I must admit that, at a certain point yesterday, I had lost all humor. But, hooray! It’s back now, and I am happily laughing at myself, my animals, and my friends…and of course myself. Here we go.
Yesterday, as it was thawing out like crazy, Sara asked me to come help her and Ralph with some water-related chores. The water in the big, blue barrel where the horses all were, had gotten quite low. Since it was sitting crookedly and was quite full of algae and other yuckiness, it was declared to be a good day to clean it out and stabilize it.
This was not a neat and tidy job. We were in huge mud puddles that had horse/donkey poop in them and were very slick. Sara did a great job making a fairly level spot in the mud where the barrel goes, while Ralph worked on the water supply. Major oops, a water pipe had burst in a very dramatic way, so there will be no using the barn toilet until that can be fixed! That made everything even muddier, and cause cursing and such.
My job was to clean out the barrel itself. I am not the tallest of humans, so I could not reach my hand in and get to the bottom of the barrel. I had to climb in and scrub it with handfulls of hay. I felt ridiculous. Little did I know, I also looked ridiculous, and Ralph got this photo to prove it. I laughed my substantial rear end off when I got this picture!
With the trickle of water that was coming out of the hose, we managed to finish cleaning it and get it set up, then we took our muddy selves over and replenished the hay. We actually had fun in between banging on things and getting frustrated!
My intention is to never have to do that again, so next time I am in Temple, I am going to get some goldfish to put in here! I am pleased to report that our little goldfish made it through the freeze AND the cow pooping in their home and are swimming around happily, with their trough topped off, too.
Today was a lot easier in the horse department. Spice and Lakota got moved back to their pasture, and Lakota is still standing, mostly. Fiona and Apache are happy as can be, now that it’s all warm again, and Fiona is still curious about everything. Here she is fascinated by one of the dead birds we keep finding (at least this cowbird isn’t eaten up).
Fiona is a very patient donkey, even when Sara and I got a case of the giggles and put the bird on her head (bird will become falcon food for the neighboring falconers).
Other things to laugh at are the chickens. They are back to hanging out in the garage, and I thought this picture of Bruce and Bertie Lee was cute. I think you can see where poor Bruce’s comb is worse for wear. On the other hand, they all made it!
It appears that Vlassic found yet another dead bird, a dove, and messed with it. When I came out to see the chickens, they were fighting over it. That seems strange until you remember that chickens are omnivores. At least nothing is going to waste around here…I guess.
The chickens got some new food, Grubbly, which has some sort of grubs in it. They didn’t like the plain grubs at first, but now they do. Yesterday I opened the bag of that brand of food and put some in their dishes. It disappeared very quickly, so I think I’ll switch them over. I’m so glad all the animals made it through the challenging time and that all of us still have our senses of humor, even if they are weird.
One more piece of cheerful news. Not only is the ice all gone in the trees, but I heard a familiar sound yesterday afternoon and followed it. Sure enough, the male redwing blackbirds have arrived! Maybe it WILL stay warm! (The females were already here.)
I got an interesting surprise as I was heading to the office to write a bunch of blog posts. I saw a large group of black vultures (my favorites, because they seem more…attractive than turkey vultures) pecking away at something over by where the pond runoff comes out of the culvert under our driveway (which is secretly a dam).
I thought maybe they had a snake, and I thought I should go see what kind of snake it was. However, it was not a snake. It was this!
Oh, what a bummer. It appears that this delicious largemouth bass must have passed through the culvert and gotten dumped into the runoff area. It must have ended up in a part that was too shallow to swim in. Sniff.
But what did that tell me? It told me we have giant bass in our pond!* Who knew? Mandi should come fishing, or someone who likes to fish, anyway. Now that it’s mowed to the edge, the pond should be easier to work with. I figure we also have catfish, since I’ve seen channel cats that got pushed through the culvert before. Mandi and I totally failed at catching them, darn it.
As if that wasn’t enough excitement, when I got to the Pope Residence, I saw all sorts of things flying around right above the grass. What could that be? I spent some time trying to follow them around to see what they were, but then I realized I just had to look DOWN and they were everywhere. I thought they were Japanese beetles, but when I looked it up on iNaturalist, it said they are common green Junebugs. I guess they all decided to hatch after the rain.
Well, whatever they are, there are a LOT of them. I hope there are some at the ranch, so the chickens can have a treat.
And here’s a treat for YOU, readers! A nice picture of how cute the dogs are as they sleep with Lee. Maybe that will cleanse your palate from the fish, flies, and beetles.
* I am aware that this is a normal sized fish. It is big to me.