Today is so beautiful I just had to go out and enjoy it. Just gazing across the fields and watching butterflies flitting among the flowers lowered my blood pressure. The Hermits’ Rest is beautiful this time of year.
I’m still carefully taking photos of each new plant that starts blooming. Each new one makes me smile, no matter how familiar they are. I love watching the year progress. Here are some new arrivals.
The day was so nice I decided to groom whatever horse showed up. Dusty won the prize and got a nice de-shedding. He’s almost finished shedding and is looking shiny. Even his poor little mane is growing in, and his Drew bites are healing. They still play a LOT.
After he was all pretty, we went for a nice walk/graze. He had fun and got some big clumps of grass taken care of. I exercised him by having him walk over poles. He then helped out by cleaning up around them.
Things have really improved since last week! The magnesium supplements seem to have helped the riding horses settle down, too. Drew especially seems more focused.
I wish I felt better. The toes are not getting better, so riding hurts. I can’t even wear my excellent new shiny flip flops. I’m glad my Skechers flip flops don’t make them hurt much.
Lucky for me my nails are good. I can make them as gaudy as I want to. I put a “jelly” layer over cute little flowers. Then I stuck shiny stuff on there. Hey, everyone needs a hobby.
Spring is in the air, at last. The weather is becoming warmer (perhaps too warm for February, but never mind – it’s nice for riding horses), birds are migrating north, and the days are getting longer. All those things are welcome to everyone who had to deal with the harsh surprises the ice storm brought.
I was happy to see that the cranes are now back in the skies, going the other way, and the killdeer have come back. Meadowlarks are also making themselves very well known.
All the tiny spring flowers are blooming, which you can see if you do “belly botany” like my botanist friend always recommended. It’s so good to see them.
While uploading some of the photos I took to iNaturalist, I took the time to see if one of my theories about what’s growing on our grassy areas was true. Sure enough, chickweed is so named because it’s used as chicken feed. It’s even grown as a crop in some places! Common Chickweed (Stellaria media) is darned interesting for a “weed.”
It is native to Eurasia and naturalized throughout the world. This species is used as a cooling herbal remedy, and grown as a vegetable crop and ground cover for both human and poultry consumption. Stellaria media is edible and nutritious, and is used as a leaf vegetable, often raw in salads. It is one of the ingredients of the symbolic dish consumed in the Japanese spring-time festival, Nanakusa-no-sekku.
I feel a lot better, because for the past few weeks I’d been feeding it to the chickens along with the henbit I’d read was good for them to eat (and whatever else comes up when I pull it up). They eat it like crazy.
Speaking of the hens, they also know it’s spring. Everyone has grown all their feathers back nicely, even Blondie, who had been bald on her back from the rooster’s attentions. And Betsy, the one who lays blue eggs, has ramped up production again. I think half the chickens are laying now (at least two of them are old enough that I don’t think they’ll lay at all). For a while I was just getting one or two a day, a white and a tan, but now I’m getting three…maybe up to five with the coming of spring.
The other great thing about spring coming is that the days are getting longer. That means I can get rides in on both horses after I finish work, which may help out with the fact that I’m not feeling very confident lately, especially with Drew, who is needing a lot of “firm corrections” as Tarrin calls them (he rushes rather than walking beside me when he sees grass, and just seems irritable). I am glad I can spend more time with my equine buddies, nonetheless.
So, why do I say spring is sickening? It turns out that I made myself sick when I was cleaning out the henhouse last week.
Let this be a lesson to you all: when you are sweeping up bits of hay and straw filled with chicken poop, wear a mask. I did not.
Thanks to that error in judgment, I now seem to have some kind of lung infection. I found myself wheezing and gurgling when lying down a couple of days ago, and since then, my lungs seem to be filled with fluid. At first it was clear, so I wasn’t too worried, but it’s getting worse, so I have an appointment to get my lungs looked at. Since I have NO other symptoms of illness (COVID negative, before you ask), all I can figure is I inhaled things that displeased my bronchial tubes.
Now, I live in Milam County, Texas, land of few medical services. I had an appointment for this morning, but it turns out the Internet is down at the local office. That’s so Cameron. I might be able to get in today in the next town over if my PA goes over there; otherwise, I have to cram an appointment with the other provider in tomorrow (my busiest day of the week), amid getting my spouse to the chiropractor for his messed up back, taking him to his Rotary meeting, and grabbing lunch with my friends. I predict all of that won’t happen.
So, readers: wear a mask when working in a dusty, enclosed environment like a chicken house. Or don’t ever clean it (not a good idea, since it gets stinky).
I wanted to share some of the things I’ve been doing with Drew and Apache over the past few days, in the wake of Drew’s choking incident and me putting in a lot of work with Apache on leadership and partnership. It’s all good, so that’s a huge relief!
Friday I had a late lesson over at Tarrin’s. Apache was not in the mood to go, but he did. I think the horses liked the other trailer better, because it was more open. But, we can’t tow it with the Tahoe, so too bad. Fancy trailer it is. By the time we got there he was all in a lather and everything was all dusty, but by gosh by the time we got to the working area, he was ready to work. Now, the work he did wasn’t his idea of a good time, at first, but he was a real sport about making attempts at jumping over the little jump. It wasn’t any fun for me, since I had to use the broken whip that tries to break my arm, and my arm was already tired from grooming him an hour the day before. He’s quite a good shedder.
After I got on him, we both learned a lot in an exercise involving trotting circles and side passing. Since I never thought I’d get that far in my feeble attempts at horsemanship, I was quite pleased to get the chance to work on it. We are both getting the hang of it, and again, Apache is quite the trooper at doing hard things. That way they will become easier!
The best part of the lesson was another test of Apache’s trail willingness. Tarrin walked behind us this time, and I got to practice being calm when he decided to turn around. It all went extremely well and we had a lot of fun. That’s when I spotted the violets in the woods and we forgot all about horse lessons and reveled in a new discovery. Plus, we got to look at all the axis deer in the next pasture over. No one spooked each other. That was cool.
It was such a great feeling to know that at last, he will go where I ask him to, because he trusts me not to send him anywhere scary. Tarrin got these nice photos of us looking all confident and happy together.
As for Drew, I told Tarrin I was concerned about him going so long between meals and not being able to do much in his pen. She told me she’d had a horse choke this week (it’s an epidemic, we think), and that she is feeding her wet food and watching her carefully, but she does have grass to eat. Our grass is still pretty short, so it would be hard for Drew to choke on it, anyway, so I decided he needed to be let out.
I was also worried about him developing stomach ulcers from being without food, especially since the vet had indicated his tooth grinding was a symptom. Hmm. Well, what a nice coincidence it was that Kathleen had many, many syringes full of ulcer medicine that Mabel hadn’t taken. Drew is all set in that department now, too.
That boy is eating a LOT and seems in a much better mood now.
All that continued yesterday, when nothing that the other horses were doing bothered him. Other than Apache starting back in on his grass eating, I could not complain. And Drew was so good and sweet. He comes right up for me to give him his Pepto Bismol stuff.
Today was really a big day for me and Apache, though. We went on a trail ride with Sara and Aragorn and I felt no nerves at all during any part of it. We managed to open a gate and at least push it shut. Score! And when I had to dismount to unlock the one with the barbed wire that tries to kill you, I had an easy time getting back on using the gate rails.
Then we walked and chatted and had a fine time. Apache did try the grass thing, but after whacking him with the saddle strings a couple of times, he got the idea. We went all around the creek, walked over logs, and easily settled when anything got scary. The best thing for me was that we were able to go up the hill to the woods, walk in, turn around when the way was blocked, and go back down calmly. We even went back up and walked up to the gate to our house to say hi to Goldie. Apache was good as he could be, possibly even having fun.
As you can see, it’s a beautiful day. We had a lot of fun trying new things and seeing what we could do. This was my horsemanship goal, to be able to go out on our property and ride around with my friends without worrying or spending the whole time feeling like I am in a battle. Sure, there will be challenges, and there were some today, but mostly we had fun and so did our hard-working horses, who got a break from cantering and leg yielding.
This is my view from the front porch as I type. No complaints for me. I’m in a time right now where there’s anticipation instead of stress, peace instead of worry, and joy everywhere I look. Even a short period like this in your life is one to treasure. And in these times, it’s especially true.
And oh yes, even the dogs are all mellow and happy. The chickens are all laying. And Fiona is free grazing, her favorite hobby. The Hermits’ Rest is a restful place today.
I waited, and good things came. This evening I went out to work with the horses. Apache was in a good mood. So was I. We had a great time together. It’s how I imagined horse ownership could be.
Warming up was fun. He is cantering so much more calmly. And we went out to practice jumping, like we’ve been doing all week. He would trot the circle, then stop dead to cross the jump, then take off. But finally he jumped! We were both so thrilled! Going the other way he didn’t jump but did trot over the jump. That may have been his first jump. I’ve certainly never seen him do it before.
Then we had a great ride in which he barely got nervous and I didn’t react inappropriately once. We are getting the hang of things.
Other good things are also coming along. There’s been good progress on the tack room. They wired it for electricity and are insulating the walls. How fancy!
I like what they chose for the walls. It looks like shiplap or something. It’s thicker than paneling but not as thick as the stuff we’d originally wanted, which was really expensive. Wood prices, sigh.
They added a side window to the south, so the air conditioner can go in it. That will also bring in a little light.
I’m pretty excited that it’s really happening! Good things come to those who wait.
[This is a re-post of something I wrote in our Master Naturalist Chapter blog. I just thought I’d share these new photos.]
I have a project on iNaturalist where I record the flora and fauna on the ranch where I live. I started it right after I became a Master Naturalist in 2018 and am still contributing to it. My goal is to eventually analyze the data to see if flowers or birds are appearing around the same time or if there’s difference due to weather or climate, or what.
I accumulated a lot of Master Naturalist hours while working on this project, since I go out on almost every nice day to see what’s new on the property. But, last year the program changed its policy, and now we don’t get credit for hours spent observing nature on our own property. I can see not wanting observations of the same twenty plants in a suburban yard, but we have 500 acres. I stopped for a while, but then I realized the project is still important to me, so I am still taking pictures and uploading, especially in the spring.
Last week I shared some of the earlier flowers in our fields and woods. This week some new ones have showed up, which always thrills me. I’ll share some photos of the new arrivals below.
We are also losing some birds and gaining others. The hawks are still here, red-tails and red-shouldered, along with the tiny merlins and peregrine falcons. And our resident harrier keeps hovering over the fields, hopefully eating a LOT of mice.
The amazing pair of great blue herons seems busy bonding, and the belted kingfisher who showed up over the winter is still flying around and making its unmistakable chirps. In addition to the crows and starlings, we have some visiting blackbirds that make a beautiful sound. I’m not sure what type they are but enjoy listening to them. And cardinals. Wow, do we have a LOT of cardinals, too. I never knew they flocked until I moved here.
Yesterday, I looked into a willow tree behind my house with my binoculars and saw a loggerhead shrike, a dove, English sparrows, a pair of cardinals, and a festive group of tiny chickadees bopping around. That’s my kind of decorated tree. Oh, and some red-eared slider turtles were holding down the trunks (this was in a tank).
I was happy to see barn swallows already in their nests just a couple of days after they arrived. The tiny insects are here, so they are looking pretty happy.
Speaking of tiny insects, I am always seeing tiny flies and bees on the flowers. They are pretty hard to identify. For example, the fly or bee in this picture is much smaller than you’d think. That is a dwarf dandelion it’s on, not a regular one.
So, yes, it’s a fun time over where I live, and I’m glad I’m able to document the variety of life here in the northern part of Milam County. I look forward to seeing what others are observing. I’ve noticed lots of plum and redbud trees elsewhere, but I just have the buds on cedar elms and coralberry.
Besides all this, I’ve seen a lot of butterflies, such as sulphurs and red admirals, but no one will hold still for me. I even saw something big and black from a long way off. I look forward to more!
Thanks for visiting my part of the world. No matter what, the rhythms of nature keep on going, and that’s a comfort.
One of my favorite parts of living at the Hermits’ Rest is anticipating spring’s arrival. It’s darned early here! And today I noticed my beloved bluebonnets are up and ready to grow buds.
I feel hope for the future when I’m reminded that Nature keeps plugging along. There are a few flowers out, especially the beautiful dandelions. I even snagged a bee in one photo!
Not many other insects are out right now, which disappoints the chickens.
Things are actually settling down a little bit over here. I may have time to review some documents or watch presentations from last year’s Master Naturalist conference that I missed due to COVID. Or I can just enjoy nature and the animals.
When Lee mowed the area where water flows when the front pond fills up, it squished the place where the little spring bubbles up. It made it look like a seep, not a pretty spring.
Today I got the weird or wonderful idea to mark the spring and make a little basin to hold water before it flows off to start the stream. Just for fun, you know, knowing it will disappear with the next flood.
I brought an old shiny sprinkler over to mark the location from future mowing.
Then I played in the clay mud to form a depression for the spring to gurgle into, then used some old bricks and rocks to make a teeny dam.
Now the water makes a little bird bath kind of thing. I got the idea when we saw vultures drinking from the spring a week or two ago (and were relieved it wasn’t Gracie they were messing with).
I’m so fond of this magical water coming out of the ground. It’s definitely Suna’s Spring. And I did mention before that the spring is NOT a leak in the water line? We checked. And we will have the nephew check again, just in case, because the longer I look at the stick marking the water line, the more worried I become. That would not be magical. Or fun to fix.
Goofing off in the mud was the highlight of my day. I hope you had a highlight.
It’s the time of year when my Christian friends are thinking about resurrection. To me, Easter comes at the perfect time of year, since flora and fauna are coming back to life all over the place. The Hermits’ Rest Ranch is no exception, but this year, after the unusually cold winter, we haven’t been sure if everything was going to come back or not. Every time I look out the window and see a monarch butterfly feeding, I feel grateful that some of them made it here and have food.
I’ve been periodically patrolling the land around our house, checking to see if plants are coming up at their usual times and numbers, and what kinds of insects are showing up. The good news is that most of the old friends are returning, but the bad news is that some are not as numerous and are later than usual.
One plant I’ve been anxiously looking for are the Texas baby blue eyes (Nemophila phacelioides), which only grow in one spot on the edge of the woods near the house. Usually by this time of year, we have a nice stand of them. Today I finally found one blossom, along the fence. I hope there are more of them among the green things in the woods!
The Indian paintbrush that usually covers our front field and the one down the road are nowhere near as numerous as usual, but the fact that there are some gives me hope for future years. The bluebonnets are okay in numbers, but I haven’t seen a winecup yet. The delicate roadside gaura (Oenothera suffulta), however, has managed to come up, in such a pretty stand that I thought they were some other flower.
I was comforted today to see that the little spring is still flowing, and that plenty of prickly sow thistle (Apache’s favorite snack), yellow evening primrose, pink evening primrose, ragwort, and dewberries are blanketing the ground.
And the big, purple thistles, which are a pain in the butt, but good for the soil, are getting ready to bloom.
I finally found a blooming example of one of the plants I’ve been watching, velvetweed (Oenothera curtiflora). It’s another gaura, but grows much bigger and has lovely soft leaves. Every year I forget what that plant is until it finally blossoms.
One plant I’d hoped the freezing weather would wipe out is the poison ivy, but I should have known, given how thick the vines are that climb the trees in a certain area, that they’d be back. Sigh. It looks so healthy and shiny, too. The mesquite tree, another one that’s sort of a pain (but also has its good points, unlike poison ivy), is coming back, as is the prickly ash, another Texas thorny tree. Well, at least they break up the monotony of our little wooded area, which has mostly cedar elm trees in it.
Now, I’ve saved the best news for last. As of yesterday, I was sure that the Shumard red oak that we’d planted last year behind out house, to someday shade the chickens, was a victim of the weather. I was not surprised, since it hadn’t had much chance to expand its roots. But, lo and behold, I spotted something red while I was out checking on the roosting hen. Little leaves! It looks like the tree will be with us another year after all. And that is good, which you will learn more about soon, when I report on the book about oak trees I just got!
No fooling, April 1 has been an encouraging day, at least for the plants around here! Our wildlife is returning to life and bringing us joy, in Nature’s yearly resurrection.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
How about the non-plants?
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.
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.
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.
I hope you are enjoying the signs of spring where you are (and if you’re in Colorado, I hope the snow is melting).
Since neither my sister nor I felt great after our vaccinations, we didn’t do dinner tonight. That, combined with the fact that it’s the first night of Daylight Savings Time led me to decide to spend some quiet time in the woods.
It wasn’t a quiet time, because there were so many birds, mostly white-crowned sparrows, mourning doves, mockingbirds and cardinals.
I just wandered slowly (I left the dogs in the house) so I could see the birds, hear the creek flowing away, and enjoy the new leaves budding.
It always smells good in the damp woods (even with the cow poop scattered around). It’s especially musty and lovely by the seep, the springy area in the woods that never dried up at all last year. I crouched beside it a long time, listening to birds and watching them fly around.
While I was there, I heard a loud bird sound, then something big flew by. I was enchanted, and I confirmed my hunch when I heard a hammering sound. It then flew by again, with a flash of black, white and red. It was the biggest pileated woodpecker I ever saw.
While I’ve seen them here before, never so close and so large. No, no photo. I was using my eyes!
Eventually I stopped being a hermit and joined Lee for a walk around the pond behind the house with the dogs. That’s always so relaxing. I was captivated by the perfection of dandelion seed heads and a little circle of verbena. A nice evening.