I’d been noticing a young tree by the tank/pond behind our house, so I went out to check it out this morning. That displeased the basking turtles, who spent the rest of my visit floating around peeking at me, waiting for me to leave.
Cattle appear to have pruned it nicely so it must taste better than cedar elms. It wasn’t the same as any of the other trees, though I knew I’d seen one before. So, I took photos of the leaves and looked it up.
I remember seeing these out somewhere, and they are really cool to look at. The leaves are so shiny! Of course, they are prickly! I can’t wait to watch this little guy grow from the swimming pool porch.
Of course, I had to see what else was happening out in that pasture. The lack of rain for the past few weeks has sure made things crispy. But the pink ladies are still blooming up a storm. They make even the chicken coop look nice(ish).
The pond always looks nice, at least to me. It’s why I put the house where I did.
Go out and see what’s new where you are! It try not to scare the turtles!
Any person who has read dozens of books about how wonderful trees are and how going out in the woods is so good for the psyche had BETTER go check out their own woods as often as possible. So, yesterday, after a day of writing and staring at screens, I went to check out the woods around here. Much has changed, but much has not.
As I mentioned earlier, fencing is going in to make a better experience for the dogs and us. To accomplish that, they had to make space for tractors to get in and build the fence. Many cedar elms and mesquite sacrificed their lives for that, but it was unavoidable if it’s eventually to be part of the residents’ cattle ranching empire.
I know perfectly well that a whole bunch of wildflowers and such will pop up immediately, so the earth will not be scorched for long. There has been talk of benches for viewing the woods and a treehouse being erected. We’ll see how long it takes for cattle to eat it, if it comes to pass (one thing I’ve learned about this family is they like to make plans, but only SOME of the come to fruition (probably for the best; I’m not complaining, just stating).
On my forest bathing adventure, I went past the tree cemetery and enjoyed some time listening to birds, trickling water, and leaves gently falling. While we probably do have an over-abundance of cedar elms, the wonderful thing about them is that they’re deciduous, so we get to enjoy some autumn color and a new view while the leaves are gone. They also explain why the soil is so rich and beautiful.
I ended up just following the deer paths that wind through the wooded area between our house and the creek bottom. It was fun, but once I got home, I realized that all that ducking under branches had left me with interesting tree stuff in my hair. I washed my hair this morning, for your edification.
I checked out the pond in the bottom, which still has plenty of water in it, though it really didn’t rain much the whole time I was in Colorado.
I also enjoyed the wide spot in the stream that leads to the creek, which I always called Deer Haven Pond, but now realize is a part of the stream and only a pond when the stream stops flowing. It is where all the animals hang out, because it’s quite hidden.
The smells in the woods (other than cow poop) are so rich and earthy that I ended up just standing around and enjoying the scents and sounds. A little bunny hopped by, which alerted me to the many holes in one spot that must be their dens. Many little animals must enjoy all the fallen trees (mostly from the drought over ten years ago) as well.
The coral berries are also decorating the woods. They don’t have a nice smell, but the color livens up the place and provides bird food all winter.
In any case, just visiting my favorite area on the property was enough to keep my good mood flowing, even when the Bobcat Lair property failed to fund yesterday like it was supposed to, and our plans for the evening all changed. Big deal. I’m just living day by day and enjoying whatever comes up. I must have excellent blood pressure now!
Enjoy a few more images, and have a good day, whatever is going on in your part of the world. Unless it’s shopping. Ugh. I’m tired of Black Friday ads. Who had to invent that just to make yet another holiday all about shopping?
Have you ever wondered what Suna would do with a day entirely to herself with no one else’s agenda (other than a deadline)? Truthfully, neither did Suna.
But, today was indeed Sunaday, and I got to do whatever the heck I wanted to, all day long. I did have a newsletter to make, so I did it MY way, and gave myself little incentives like if I worked for an hour I could knit four rows, go for a walk, or have a mini Hershey’s bar (you know, in case anyone knocked on the door looking for candy, which did NOT happen in this building full of old people).
Other than that, quirkiness ruled. I did many things I can’t do at home, like set food on the coffee table with NO consequences, burn a smelly candle all day long, sit around in bed watching CBS This Morning (what a comforting show), and watch things on the computer (gasp, not eating up all Lee’s bandwidth!).
One thing that I did that wasn’t atypical was watch football all day. But, I did do other things, so there was no lolling on the couch without being productive. I still can’t manage that.
The highlight of the day was going around the neighborhood. It wasn’t too cold yet, so I got to look at all the trees and listen to all the fun birds around here. The most fun birds, for sure, were the magpies, who were very vocal and active. They and the crows seem to be the biggest birds here.
My other favorite site was perhaps the cutest squirrel I ever saw. It was an Abert’s squirrel. They are small and have fun tassels on their ears. Of course, I did not see any moose or other large animals, since I was in a neighborhood of condos and resorts.
Still, there were a lot of remnants of flowers and beautiful evergreens to enjoy. It smells quite nice here up in the sky.
In other news, I got a few photos of the pool, and I was surprised to find out that the little tiles they put on the steps glow in the dark! I guess we hadn’t gone outside after dark since they put them in.
According to Lee, there is still a lot of tile work to go, since we chose that difficult but visually stunning Versailles pattern. Good for us.
Tomorrow starts my week of 6 am meetings. I have a great attitude and am sure I’ll do fine. Today put me in a great mood. A Sunaday is a good day, whatever day of the week it is.
Yes, indeed, I read another tree book. In fact, I read another tree book by one of my favorite tree-hugging authors, Germany’s Peter Wohlleben. This one, The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with Forests and Nature (2021), is the English translation of his latest book from 2019. It’s theme is that we are not so removed from trees (and the rest of life on earth) as we make ourselves out to be, and that it behooves us to listen to them and care for them as part of our family of living, thinking beings.
The book has some really comforting sections, along with simple and fun ways to remind ourselves of our connections to nature and the forest. I think that’s the part I enjoyed the best. There are reminders to breathe, listen, and observe when amongst our tree friends, not just plow through our hikes like we have to meet some goal of efficiency. Plus, Wohlleben shares scientific evidence of how being out in nature contributes to both the health and wellbeing of humans. Don’t you forget that!
A lot of the book made me incredibly sad, however. Alas, there are no, make that zero, examples of untouched old-growth forests in Europe. Humans have messed with that land so much that even the very old forests that do exist were originated by humans planting them in the past few hundred years.
Worse, foresters aren’t necessarily out there protecting the trees and looking out for their best interests, in Europe or in the Americas. No, they are “managing” forests for productivity. I think I read enough passages on cutting down ancient trees, clear-cutting entire forests, and strip mining to last me for a long time.
Now, Wohlleben is no fool, and he points out that we need trees to be harvested (you know, so his books can get printed, and such). He’s not unrealistic; he just thinks it would be worth it to come up with some management techniques that are more respectful of trees, kinder to the environment, and supportive of all the life that surrounds forests. Just because something’s small and insignificant to us (like a mold, an insect, or a fungus) doesn’t mean it has no role in the balance of life. You probably know that, of course. I’m just saying it, because I’m all filled with righteous indignation.
We aren’t all lucky enough to have our own woods (and I certainly don’t have any old-growth forests at the Hermits’ Rest, either, just some old trees in pastures, where they can’t reproduce because of mowing), so the ones that are out there to be shared with our fellow humans and others are treasures. This book tells us about how some people are working to make things better, and that’s hopeful. The fact that governments and industries are not convinced that using up every resource we have isn’t a good idea is NOT hopeful, though.
You’ll learn a lot of you read The Heartbeat of Trees, and my hope is that it gets you to pay attention to your surroundings, wherever you are, and to do whatever you can to help the earth maintain a healthy balance for all of its inhabitants. You will also have a more global viewpoint, since he focuses on Europe as well as North America.
My excuse for not finishing this one sooner is that I was trying to catch up on magazines, thanks to all the “subtle” hints that I have too many piles of them. I did at least get all the horse and decorating magazines finished, so last night I got myself to the end of Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard (2021). What a journey this book is!
If this doesn’t make you go hug a tree, nothing will.
I got the book the minute it came out, which is no surprise given how many books on trees, how trees talk to each other, and forest ecology I’ve read in the past couple of years! Simard wrote it in an interesting way, where autobiographical sections are interspersed with some pretty hard-core science content. If you just like stories, you can skim the science; if you just want to know exactly how trees communicate with and support one another, you can bypass the story of her life (but you’d be missing out on an interesting life!).
Simard was born, full of curiosity, into a western Canadian family full of loggers and tough woodland pioneers. It’s no wonder she ended up as a biologist. And she, too, is a pioneer. She had a very hard time getting anyone to listen to her as she explained the effects of clear cutting and re-planting as it was practiced at the end of the 20th century. I really came to admire her tenacity and conviction that she was right.
Of course, it helped that all her data backed her up, and that eventually she got enough grad students and fellow researchers to make it clear that trees help each other and need each other to survive. I’m glad she did, because her findings are fascinating. Different types of trees are connected, and certain ones use different kinds of fungi help different kinds of trees in their connections, too. It’s all complicated, as one would expect, but fascinating.
The highlight of the book is when Simard talks about “mother trees,” which appear in healthy forests. They are very old, and very well connected. They give their energy to new seedlings and distressed neighbors. It kept making me sad to read about them getting cut down, but I have to credit Simard for acknowledging that we need wood; we just need to be careful with managing forests so they can keep giving us wood!
I know the tree I have pictures of here is or was a mother tree. Just look at her beautiful roots.
Forests that are managed and have all the trees the same age, planted in rows, don’t get the advantages of having mother trees, nor of the diversity of companion trees and understory plants necessary for optimal health, resistance to pests, and protection from diseases.
I’m so glad scientists, and now foresters, are listening to Simard, and that she has passed her work on to her daughter. This woman is an amazing role model for us all.
Since we are all rested and wanting to see the eastern part of the USA, Lee and I decided to go to Pawley’s Island and Brookgreen Gardens today. I just had a hankering to see the island, since I’d read about it a lot, and you know, they make hammocks therethey make hammocks. Sure enough, it was small and cute, and consisted mostly of vacation homes that were quaint and nice. I enjoyed looking at the estuary and the marshes surrounding the island, but there weren’t really any places to get out and explore.
We instead found a nice little hamburger stand, and enjoyed a delicious burger and fries that were not fast food at all. That got us strengthened enough to head down the road to Brookgreen Gardens, where we hadn’t had a chance to go last year. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to charge my watch, so I missed 6,700 or so steps. Dagnabbit.
That did not deter us from having a wonderful time, though. Just driving into the place we saw a cool black-headed squirrel and a brown thrasher. A real highlight though, was a brand-new exhibit in their galleries, which was devoted to American sculptures and other art featuring wildlife and domestic animals. You don’t see many sculptures of good ole dogs, so it was a real treat.
There were also beautiful sculptures of horses (they have LOTS of horses), birds, foxes, otters, and all sorts of animals, plus some great drawings and paintings. We enjoyed the small gallery of items from the people who had owned the land when it was three rice plantations. I was impressed to see a few depictions of where the enslaved people lived, and that they were labeled as such. And I give credit to the families who deeded the land to everyone to enjoy.
The outdoor part of this garden is immense. It’s certainly too big to see everything on the property in one day, so it’s good your tickets can be used for a week! We will come back later to see the zoo, labyrinth, and other areas we missed as we wandered from beautiful spot to beautiful spot, finding little hidden sculptures in niches, and grand sculptures in beautiful settings with ponds and fountains.
This is the 90th year of the gardens, and you can tell, because there are lots of imported and exotic specimen trees that have grown huge. There were many evergreen trees I’d never seen before, plus a couple of deciduous ones, like a very, very large swamp chestnut oak, festooned with gray Spanish moss. You could live under that thing.
I can see why this garden has won so many awards. It’s designed to provide new vistas everywhere you turn, and must be spectacular when azaleas and camellias are blooming. I found one camellia blossom.
It was funny how I kept flipping back and forth from wanting to take photos of some of the pretty cultivars of decorative plants to wanting to take photos of the views and native things. Thus, there are a lot of photos in this blog post.
There was wildlife, too! We found turtles, an alligator, geese, a very friendly cardinal, a black-and-white warbler, plus brown thrashers. We heard even more birds. This place sounds fantastic, so blind people could enjoy it (by the way, it is also very accessible for people using canes, walkers, or wheelchairs).
Of course, my favorite part is what they call “beyond the wall,” which is a creek and swamp where the rice fields used to be. I’m so fond of swamps, that my heart got racing as I found sedges, rushes, wild irises, and beautiful cypress knees. The path was just perfect for a swamp lover like me, but, I realized when I ran into a fellow using an electric wheelchair, that it was totally accessible to all (if you’re careful)!
After a quick trip to the gift shop, where I got a t-shirt and commemorative mugs, we headed to shop at Publix, which is kind of like a tourist attraction for people from the South. It’s just the nicest grocery store chain. I got some flowers for our room and the vitally important coffee filters for the condo. Whew. We’re all set now!
Tomorrow I’ll be hitting the beach early, working, then probably relaxing in the evening, but we’ll find ways to enjoy being in a new location, even when working. Since Lee brought his giant iMac, he’s able to record his receipts instantly and keep track of Hearts Homes and Hands’ finances almost as well as he can at home. And I’m all set up, just with my laptop screen. We can do it!
I hope you enjoyed the photos. They sure were fun to take!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Admission: I only gave this book 4 stars because I wanted it to be longer. I dwell on every word Doug Tallamy writes, so I selfishly want more of them. The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Treesis his latest book, and it was only published two days ago. I snatched it out of the packaging and started reading it immediately! I’m really glad Tallamy mentioned this when I heard him speak in February, so I knew to pre-order.
Now, not only is Doug (I’ll call him Doug, because I consider him a friend, though I’ve never really talked to him) my favorite current naturalist writer, but oaks are my favorite trees. How much better can it get?
Oak trees and I go way back. One of my mom’s favorite stories about toddler Suna is that she used to go outside and find me talking to the trees in my yard. I thought there was someone in there, you see. I spent my childhood in something like a paradise for plant lovers, a small cement-block house on two lots, covered with large live oaks, along with a few other lovely native Florida trees. I was, however, not at all fond of pine trees (ironic, since my grandfather worked for a company that planted pines for paper-making). I liked oaks. They always had something going on, with all that Spanish moss dripping off them, possums and squirrels running around, and of course an endless parade of songbirds.
I loved those trees like family members, as I followed my dad around helping him landscape the yard and make lovely flower beds around the oaks, all mulched with their leaves. Little did I know he was doing the exact right thing by planting the dogwoods, redbuds, azaleas, and such under the larger trees to mimic a natural understory. Most important, the leaf mulch supported all sorts of wonderful insects that contributed to the ecology of my little world. Thanks, Doug, for confirming my dad’s innate wisdom!
The oaks and I continued our love affair, and I continued to visit ones I particularly cared about as long as I lived in Gainesville, and I still check to see if certain trees are still there (most are, 50+ years lager). And when I moved to Illinois and then to Texas, I learned about more and more types of oaks, which shed their leaves in the fall like normal trees (not like live oaks, who shed in the spring). My favorite tree in my first yard in Texas was a bur oak we planted, of course with an understory of Texas mountain laurel and native plants. It’s a gorgeous specimen now.
All this background is to explain why I was so happy this book was written. It turns out, I was right, there was “someone” in my oaks! They support more moths and other insects than any other type of tree. They teem with life! I enjoyed learning a lot about the various caterpillars and moths Doug finds in his Pennsylvania trees (he also talks about other areas, too, though).
He also satisfied my curiosity as to what the heck oak galls are, what they’re made of, and who lives there. Well, little larvae live in there, but the galls are somehow inspired to grow from actual oak material by the wasp who lays her eggs on the leaf buds. All sorts of insects want to eat the larvae, but galls protect them well. Then, when they leave, they make a nice hole, which then can be used by certain ants as little homes. I never knew that!
So, there’s just one example of the kinds of things you learn about amazing oak trees in this book. It’s enough to make you want to run out and plant some. That’s exactly what Doug wants you to do. Like to many trees, their numbers have diminished. We need them to store carbon, to support life, and to clean the atmosphere. You’ll find fun information on starting oak trees from acorns, as well as comprehensive lists of the best oak varieties for different parts of the US (by size, too).
You’ll also be sure to enjoy the color photos of trees, insects, and all the denizens of the oak world. I guess Doug’s now famous enough that he gets to have color photographs in all his books. We win!
This little book is a treasure, and I’m so glad it confirmed my bias toward the gentle old trees I’ve loved my whole life. I plan to take the book off its shelf and hug it occasionally. It’s my friend, I guess.
Want to read more by Doug Tallamy? I have a review of his previous wonderful and inspirational book, Nature’s Best Hope that you might enjoy.
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.
What a weird day it’s been. I couldn’t work, because everyone in Austin is having power outages. I felt so cold. I felt sick. Then I felt better! The weather was horrible, but by afternoon, with the sun shining, it felt okay out! The dogs had cabin fever, so we went and played. So you get another post of snow photos.
We went out and checked the chickens and cows. Everyone was fine, even Springsteen, who was trying to disguise herself as a statue, was sitting with the others.
I just had to take pictures of the shiny trees and happy dogs. It’s beautiful, as long as you have power and the wind settles down.
All the dogs really enjoyed themselves after begging me to go out. Penney bounced and flopped and dug her nose in. She and Carlton ran and jumped in the woods. And Alfred was in his element.
I had fun, too, once the wind went down. The sun was so bright I needed sunglasses, though. I found bunny tracks and could see that the armadillo had peeked out of his hole. And the spring is still flowing in the woods.
Tonight will perhaps be the coldest night ever here. And more freezing precipitation is on its way.