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!