Comfort from Nature’s Rhythms

I didn’t have an easy morning this morning, even though there sure was a cool sunrise. I wish I could have gone out and gotten a better photo, but here it is through the upstairs window.

There was a thick cloud that didn’t totally block the sun.

It’s a time of year that is hard for many of us, with tomorrow’s anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and that isn’t helping much either. But, when you’re feeling your trauma ramping up, feel trapped, are weary of being second guessed, or have to deal with the consequences of other people’s actions, you do have options. One of them is to leave.

Familiar signs of approaching autumn: snow on the prairie, wild morning glories, and balloon vines (all hiding behind that dang Johnson grass)

So, this morning, after I did all I could do to be useful, I took a nice walk. Looking around at the ranch and its life made it so much easier to put things into the perspective of life going on as best as it can, year by year.

This is the dry season, so Walker’s Creek is no longer flowing. It’s a series of puddles.

The cows next door are starting to calve, as they do every year around this time. It’s reassuring to see the same cows in the field, still providing new babies for their ranchers.

Mature mamas getting ready to do their job: make more beef.

Even while I was feeling reassured by the repeated patterns and rhythms of the year, I was finding new things. For example, I don’t think I realized before that the giant cane (Arundo donax) smelled good when it was blooming. I guess it has something going for it, after all!

Still, it’s one annoying nonnative and invasive plant!

It was cooler this morning, too, which really makes me hopeful for the return of more bearable horse-riding weather. And as always, I found beauty in the little things, once I slowed down to look. Check out the patterns the large puddles make when they dry up!

There are cracks in the dirt everywhere, actually.

More little things included the small flowers in the snow on the prairie plants, and the dozens of dusky skipper butterflies making the most out of the morning glories. They were everywhere!

After enjoying the life around me, and reminding myself that whatever is happening now is temporary, I felt a lot better and was able to come back and get work and meetings done. Thanks again to the healing properties of the Hermits’ Rest. The land and its residents are always here for me. And I didn’t have to get in the car and go for a long drive!

Hay ready to harvest. Time’s marching on, and every day brings new things to see, even in old familiar places.

Nature Is the Best Medicine

I’m feeling a little better, and it’s for two good reasons: I got out in nature AND I got to eat something, finally, at 2 pm (oops, one should remember to eat). I should have known spending all day cooped up in the condo yesterday wasn’t the best thing for my delicate sensibilities.

Seeing a real beach bunny would cheer anyone up!

We finally drug ourselves out of the house, and I told Lee I had to eat before we went to a park. That was harder than you’d think, because most of the restaurants on the west side of the main road closed during COVID. We eventually did a U-turn and decided it was about time to eat at one of those pancake restaurants.

A trip back in time.

The first open one we found was the Plantation Pancake House, which made me just as uncomfortable as attending Plantation High School did, but, to be honest, the restaurant IS on a former plantation. What a charming, nostalgic place this was. It opened in the early 70s, and I don’t think there’s been any redecorating since then. However, it was sparkling clean and had lovely healthy hanging plants throughout.

Not pancakes

Our food was all freshly cooked by the very nice cook (I know this, because he was chatting with customers and hugging the servers). But what made me feel like I had gone back in time was how the staff interacted. They were so incredibly cheerful and helpful, toward patrons and each other. They seemed to truly like working there, like each other, and have pride in the restaurant. Watching the servers all cleaning and straightening the restaurant at the end of the day was a real pleasure. This was simply a nice, family place who treats the staff well (and they were old, young, black, white, and Hispanic).

After the victuals, we headed just a couple of miles down the road (not wanting to waste gas) and arrived at Myrtle Beach State Park. We had a blast at this place, which is the last piece of natural beach left on the Grand Strand. We first checked out the nature center, which was very entertaining, with aquariums and terrariums, plus a real friendly volunteer to chat with. We got to see a whelk out of its shell trundling along, a couple of types of crabs, and a beautiful rat snake. We spent a LOT of time at their really nice bird feeders, too. Click to see larger and uncropped photos.

Lee and I then embarked on a tour of all the heavily wooded nature trails. I was reminded of how incredibly varied the native hardwood forests on the east coast originally were. There were oaks, pines, cherries, sycamores, magnolias, dogwoods, hickories, and even native olives. It smelled so nice and woodsy. Click to see the pictures larger.

We enjoyed the smaller plants, too, and were happy to see ducks, turtles, skinks, and a lot of different kinds of dragonflies and damselflies. There were wetlands as well as drier parts, which gave me a chance to see so many new and familiar things. And the park is so well done! They have signs on the trail marking many of the common plants, with some facts about them. That really adds to the enjoyment, I think.

This was exactly what I needed for healing: nature to touch, feel, hear, see, and smell. You could still hear the motorcycles, but you could also hear dozens of kinds of birds. I did get surprised when fighter jets took off from the nearby airport. Those things are loud.

We are two happy campers now, and I happen to know Lee is going to get even happier later tonight! Stay tuned…

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 Review: The Nature of Texas

A review of a field guide to the nature of Texas, suitable for beginning naturalists

Here’s a new book that some of you who live in Texas might want to order. It’s a field guide called The Nature of Texas: An Introduction to Familiar Plants, Animals and Outstanding Natural Attractions, by James Kavanagh and illustrated by Raymond Leung.

The cover of the book, The Nature of Texas
Any book with an armadillo on it is a book I like!

This isn’t one of those huge compendiums of every single living organism in the state; instead, it highlights plants and animals that an average person with an interest in the nature in Texas might run into. The descriptions are brief and in lay terms, and the illustrations are really lovely (good job, Raymond Leung).

It’s a bit too basic of a book for me to carry around, but I could easily imagine giving it to a teenager or older child who’s going camping and wants to know what they might find out there, or someone who just moved to Texas and wants a nice overview. It would be fun to put on the bedside table for your out-of-state visitors, or on the coffee table of your rental property.

an open page of a book, with information about fish
An example of the text and illustrations.

The back of the book has two handy features. One is a brief list of interesting places to go to see the natural wonders of Texas, with clear maps. The other is a series of checklists you can use to mark off wildlife and native plants that you see in your travels. That would be a fun family project (though I’d have to add a bunch of things, like more owls).

I do recommend The Nature of Texas, just for the beautiful illustrations alone. And the introductory essay, “But a Watch in the Night,” written by James Rettie in 1948 is a real treasure, too. It’s a great reminder of how little time humans have actually been present and messing around with our planet.

Earth Day at 50

As a certified Master Naturalist, I am obliged to acknowledge that today’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. As a human being, I relish the opportunity to dwell on my concerns about the planet we all share and to remind myself to keep doing the things I do to help our green and blue mother stay a welcoming home for us all.

Thanks, Earth, for bringing us sights like this. Photo by @simogarb via Twenty20.

It’s hard to think about the Big Picture when so much little stuff is on our minds. But, it can do us a lot of good, too. We get presents from the Earth every day. Surely we can give back some, too!

This is little quaking grass. It’s seed-heads look like rattlesnake tails, or tiny Christmas trees to me. Behind it is our doggy swimming hole, which is FULL of tadpoles right now. Thanks, Earth!

What Can You Do?

Sure, we’re all avoiding big gatherings, so our Master Naturalist chapter isn’t doing an event like we usually do (actually, we’d canceled anyway). But the internet is just full of ideas. Here are some things I’ve read as well as my own suggestions:

  • Do some of these great ideas from the Kresge Foundation. They include live virtual events, social media ideas, and even a musical playlist.
  • Read a book! Head on over to my Book Reports Page and find one of the many nature books I’ve recommended over the past two years, or go ahead and get Nature’s Best Hope. We all need that inspiration sometimes, and reading takes our minds off “stuff.”
  • Go outside! Take a walk with your eyes, your ears, and your mind open to what the Earth has to share with you. Do you hear birds, squirrels, dogs, or coyotes? Do you see butterflies and moths? Are there plants growing in all sorts of places you don’t normally see? Make a list; you might be surprised at what the Earth has for you, no matter where you are.
  • Share with others. Remind people you know that it’s Earth Day and that they can do something to help. Use Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, email, your Zoom meetings…whatever! Word of mouth is always the best way to encourage new learning.
  • Start a new tradition. My friend Donna just told me that she has planted a tree every single Earth Day for the past 50 years. Hers is already in the ground. You can start your own Earth Day practice now!
  • Recycle something. Even better, re-use something you already have. I’ve made chicken feed scoops from plastic containers that have lasted months and months. I’m saving wine bottles and corks for projects (can’t wait for all my shiny bottle trees to start sprouting!). Let us know what YOU do!
Venus’ looking glass was my gift from the Earth yesterday.

I hope that’s given you some ways to celebrate Earth Day from the comfort of your property. The Earth is our home, and it never hearts to tidy her up, make her beautiful, and keep her safe.

Happy Earth Day #50!

One Day at a Time

That’s how I’m getting by right now. How about you? I celebrated finishing that 40-day project by not writing anything yesterday. I was blissfully involved in a work project that takes all my concentration and passes time quickly, which was a real relief, but left no time for blogging here. Everyone needs an occasional break.

I’ll just keep fiddling while the boat goes down. At least the sunset’s pretty.

As if the days didn’t blur together badly enough these days, I’m in a holding pattern on lots of things right now. Just taking one step at a time is not only all I’m able to do, but the right thing to do right now. I’ll get back to figuring out the future plans and options later, when my head’s clearer (all my stuff is just related to various jobs and their various stresses, nothing horrible).

Randomness and Birds

It’s been nice to have Kathleen doing “stress cooking.” I like it when someone cooks to take their mind off things. She made me the best baked chicken on a bed of collard greens last night. I truly love collard greens (weird southern girl thing), and these may be the best I ever ate. I’m so grateful that she and Chris are here helping me and Lee out right now.

The spring air is making everyone sniffly here, but it’s really been nice to see what kinds of creatures are doing their regular things. My friend Donna, who is not a tech person, wrote a little blog on this topic, if you want some more nice photos. I’m really happy to see her getting out of her comfort zone.

I’m not sure what kind of moth this little guy will grow up to be, but wow, what a pretty caterpillar!

In fact, just this morning I was thrilled to see that bluebirds are nesting in the dead tree by the road again this year. There used to be woodpeckers in there, so I guess they made a nice house. The phoebes are nesting in our garage and spend most of their days screeching PHOEBE at each other and eating bugs. They are a lot of fun to watch.

The phoebes ate dozens of bugs while I was on the phone at my ranch office last evening.

The bug population is doomed around the Hermits’ Rest, or at least less awful than it could be, thanks to the handy birds. The scissortails are back at work, and there’s nothing prettier than watching a male go after a bug. The swallows are in full force, as well as those phoebes. I watch the little sparrows go after bugs every afternoon when I go feed the horses. Just think how many mosquitoes and other bugs we’d have after all this rain if we didn’t have our avian buddies!

Producing pollen this week is the prickly ash. Go tree, go!

Today I’ll head out and see what new is blooming. I’ve seen a couple of winecups, and we have our eyes on the dewberries. Yum. Back to basics. It’s good for you.

Share your coping mechanisms if you wish!

The Earth Is Trying to Tell Me Something

When the big picture is overwhelming, which lately is most of the time, I often have a tendency to wallow, playing possible scenarios out in my head (entire US Senate revolts!), and other less-than-helpful activities.

I’m really glad that I am able to put myself into situations that will snap me right on out of it, thanks to arranging for my life to have regular POPS of nature here, there and everywhere. That lets Mother Earth politely poke me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, I’m still here, as are all my minions, and we want you to breathe and be one of us.

For example, this morning, I was stressing a bit about having to go get blood drawn, and in a rush. But, when I opened the garage door to leave, I was greeted by the sight of the front “yard” of the guy across the street. Now, this poor area is the least “kempt” of the tiny yards in the NorthCat Villas. Everything is quite overgrown, and I believe that much of the vegetation is volunteer.

Neighbor jungle.

Still, it is full of color and texture, and the sight of the yellow flowers and nandina berries truly made an impression that our planet is pretty darned clever. That reminded me that even my messy mind can make beautiful things, too.

Then, as I attempted to hurry my way to the clinic, I had to stop and admire the deer who were casually noshing in the fancy HOA plantings. They reminded me that they are clever and reslient, and so maybe I should take that as a goal for myself. Thanks, Nature.

Hey. It’s breakfast time.

And finally, when work had me more than a little annoyed about things beyond my control. I had just 25 minutes between meetings, so I went out and zoomed around the courtyard for a while. A coworker asked me to slow down and I said, “No.” As I zoomed, I heard the hawks a lot. Then a sweet sound crept into my consciousness. Where was it?

Back to singing.

The next time I came around I saw a very chilly mockingbird just “talking” to herself. There was all sorts of chirping, chortling, and the occasional longer stretch of song. After a few laps, I stopped and thanked her. She looked at me, fluffed her feathers and got back to singing.

I’ve decided this was the Earth’s way of telling me to not let all those negative Nellies and distractions interfere with my personal song. I just wish that same Billy Joel song would STOP playing in my head.

Off to hours and hours of meetings!