Ways We Cope with Stress: Featuring Plants

Because I’m so darned introspective, I’ve been examining how I cope with stress these days. I find that I can only handle a subset of the priorities I could before, and I avoid duties that appear like they’ll bring on more stress. That’s how I’m coping now, to the detriment of a couple of projects. But, as I look around I realize mine is only one way to cope. I also notice it’s not just us people who cope in different ways, so rather than call out people today, I’ll illustrate my points with how local plants are coping with the stress from Winter Storm Uri.

A perfect example is how some trees have died, some are struggling to come back, and some look fantastic, and this difference can happen in the same types of trees.

Some of us seem to deal with stress as if it’s not there at all. These people are often deeply grounded, have been through a lot, or have lots of support (roots!). These people, just like the Ashe juniper trees, often support others.

Others retreat and focus on one thing at a time, and try their best to do it well, like a rose bush with just one perfect flower.

Only one blossom, but it’s a good one.

There are people, and I know quite a few of them, who not only handle stress well, they thrive on it and so some of their best work when there’s a lot going on. Sometimes doing something is a way of coping and staying busy (I’m guilty of this), while others find challenges energizing. They enthusiastically bloom where they’re planted!

There are those, and who can blame them, who go into hiding, and only begin to peek out when the danger is over. Even then, they go slowly. It takes a lot out of people and plants to get their bearings when a stressful situation begins to ease up.

Stress tends to scatter some folks, too. They try this method of coping, and that method of coping, trying to find one that will actually work and get them through the hard times. I see this a lot in stressed oaks, which start putting out new growth all over, and not just at the ends of their branches. Some pop up along old limbs, and other pop up from the roots (very common).

This motte of oaks is sending out new sprouts all over the limbs and trunks.

When stress is really causing problems in living your usual life, though, sometimes starting again in a new place might help, like the redbud trees I’ve seem who look pretty sad up top, but have vibrant new growth farther down their trunks.

How many of us know people who have no choice to start over, even when that, too, is a struggle. I saw this poor tree with no leaves or other signs of life on its branches, but that hadn’t given up completely, and was starting again, hesitantly, and perhaps slowly. But, it’s still THERE! I count those of us who are in this situation as stronger than they realize.

I’m coming back!

Many of us fail to thrive during stressful periods. And it’s hard to say who’s going to cope well and who’s going to fall apart. One thing I noticed was that often there are two or more trees of the same variety near each other, and one looks great, while another struggles or succumbed to the weather? What’s the difference? You can’t tell on the surface what internal resources a tree or person has. That’s why we need to be patient and not blame people for their problems.

Same tree (an oak), different success rate.

I think flexibility, along with resilience, makes a difference in how we weather the inevitable Winter Storm Uri events in our lives. People who lived very rigid, inflexible lives really have had trouble with pandemic changes, just like a plant that’s been groomed into a stiff hedge with no choice in how it grows may have more trouble in a winter storm.

There are hundreds of these around the office, all very sad looking.

Those of us who aren’t well situated in the first place or already have anxiety issues may cope by throwing things every which way. A lot of the plants I seem seem to be reproducing like crazy, trying to grow, and growing in weird ways, like they’re trying ALL the options to make sure they’re making a good, healthy, happy impression. This has to take a lot of energy, and I wonder how well they’re going to do if they keep all that extra-perky energy up. I’ve noticed some crashing and burning of late…maybe a bit by me, to be honest.

This inland sea oats has come back strong, and has generated dozens of little buddies, just in case things don’t work out.

Now, some of the trees, and some of the people don’t make it at all through intense stress. I know more than one person who seems to be hanging by a thread right now. Some of us are just out of our element, like tropical trees (palms and such) that look pretty awful right now. I can’t fault them, and can only offer support and virtual hugs. And I will honor those we have lost.

We salute you, fallen non-native and non-cold hardy tree.

Looking at all the ways we humans and plants deal with unexpected stress is a good exercise for me. I can easily see the parallels among us, and what’s most clear is that there’s no right or wrong way to cope, nor are we all going to cope equally well. So, I’ll try to be patient with those who are struggling, including those who cope differently from me. I hope you can, too.

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).

Thelma and Louise Buy Plants

Because my employer gave us the day off in honor of Juneteenth (good for them), Kathleen and I decided to do something fun. We went to the little local nursery in Cameron to get some plants for the new office, since it’s pretty smelly in there from floor finishing (another post).

New plants!

It was hard to decide what to get, because they had so many lovely things. I got myself a spider plant for my office, because the ones in Austin got aphids or something. Boo. She got a pothos for hers, but I’m going to make one out of the plant in my bedroom (and Mandi May have made me one, too).

We found our company on a poster! Kathleen is wearing her Thelma hat. I happen to have Louise.

I also got a peace plant, and because I messed up Mandi’s, I’ve made it the Mandi’s Mom Memorial Peace Plant. That pleased her. That’s it for indoors.

The peace plant, before watering.
Before planting.

Kathleen got three roses for in front of her office and a hibiscus for the patio on the other side. She also got a fern and a corn plant. For now, they are on the front porch, but one is really for the reception office.

The hibiscus. It will be red.

She picked three pretty plants for the area around the mailbox. One the young man at the shop said was a Mexican honeysuckle. The others are purple. I had to look it up. PlantSnap said it was a golden dewdrop. Okay. Duranta erecta is its name and it will be big and thorny. Oh my. But it’s native to Mexico, so it may not make it through the winter.

Golden dewdrop, purple type.

Well, the nursery mostly has Mexican plants, so that makes sense! The people who run the place are very nice and take such good care of the plants. I’m very glad they’re here in our little town.

The Mexican plant collection.

After I went to the farrier visit, we planted the ones that go in the ground. I admit Kathleen did the hard work. I weeded. Then Chris also helped. It was fun, and the weather wasn’t too bad in the shade.

Thelma plants a foundation plant.

It all looks quite cheerful. Tomorrow Kathleen is going to work on the grass, and we are going to get some cheerful Mexican pottery for the indoor plants. Fun times. It’s feeling like a real, cared-for, old house!

The first three of many future rose bushes.

Let’s Garden! The Heat Index Is Only 105!

Hey, I’m only in Austin three evenings a week, so I don’t have a lot of chances to do outdoor activities. Monday it rained. Yesterday I had a phone meeting, so we had time to go buy some plants afterwards but not to do anything with them.

Beautiful blooming oregano plant, new cushions, and my smelly gardenia.

So today, even though it’s 95 degrees out, we repotted and rearranged everything. I was really happy to find huge oregano plant that I can put in the frighteningly sunny part of the deck.

Cheer for the blazing sun area.

I also put a couple plants that are less perky back there, and added happy sun-loving healthy plants to make it look better.

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