My Beach Trip Part II

Back in August 2021 I wrote some free flowing words to describe a trip to the Texas coast in 2013. In August of 2021 Covid was keeping us home and one of my travel fantasies was going to the beach. And it was not just Covid. Our aging, ill dogs kept us home. We finally headed out a few weeks ago, January 10th, for a 2 night stay away. This time our destination was Rockport and further. Our goal was to enjoy nature and see the wintering Whooping Cranes and scatter some of the ashes of both our dogs.

Rockport is only 200 miles from Austin (about a 3 and 1/2 hour drive), but in my pre-trip brain it seemed far, far away. I get anxious before any trip, but once on the road most of my anxiety dissolves. I like to head out the door and get out of town. But, first, we had some delays. I had a dirty windshield and no wiper fluid…trip to store to get that. Had to pull over on the outskirts of Austin to deal by cell phone with a company in another city about being guarantors for my daughter’s first apartment. This took a long 20 minutes of my husband giving them lots of information. Finally, we were headed south on highway 183. Then road work south of Cuero…one lane only with pilot cars guiding us through.

Picked up Whataburger burgers for lunch and ate those in Goliad State park, our mid point break. Got to stretch here and start the birding portion of our trip. Meadowlarks, phoebes, vultures, warblers and little sparrows.

Made it to the Holiday Inn in Rockport where we would spend 2 nights.

The next morning we headed out to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is 48 miles from Rockport and much of the trip is a drive around plowed, barren winter fields. It was windy that day, not ideal for birding. But, we saw quite a few interesting critters, some from the car and some from walking the numerous trails. Here is the first one I took a photo of:

American Alligator along the Rail Trail

At Jones Lake we saw these beauties:

White Tailed Deer

White Tailed Deer

Another White Tailed Deer

Further away, we spotted a few more White Tails amongst quite a lot of feral hogs. The two species of mammals seemed to be getting along just fine. I had never seen deer and hogs together and thought the hogs would be too aggressive.

We saw a variety of birds: lots of Black vultures; some Turkey vultures; Great blue herons; Snowy egrets; Great egrets; Little egrets; Osprey; Red tailed hawk; Grebes; Moorhen; Pelican; Terns; Kestrels; Ducks; Caracara. We checked out the observation decks searching the marshes for Whooping Cranes, but only spotted one, a tall white dot far in the distance. Several other visitors told us they had seen Whooping Cranes at Goose Island State Park in Rockport and we pondered checking it out.

On the 9 mile Auto Loop in the Refuge (one way only), we saw something new for both of us. There were a handful of Black vultures bathing in a marsh. Who would ever think seeing vultures bathe would be a treat?

Turkey Vulture

As we prepared to leave the park, we stopped and walked out onto a pier over San Antonio Bay. Here we let go of our beloved dog’s ashes, mindful of the wind.

San Antonio Bay

Leaving the park we saw more deer:

White Tailed Deer Near Park Headquarters

We had a hearty meal that evening at The Boiling Pot. The waiters cover your table with butcher paper and dump your dinner in a pile in front of you. Shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob, and usually crab, which they were out of that night. We took the offered plastic bibs and made a mess eating with our fingers.

The next day we decided to check out Goose Island State Park before we headed home. We got out of the car and walked around The Big Tree. Experts think it is 1,100 years old and huge (my photos didn’t do it justice). We drove around the park and saw deer, numerous birds, and people fishing, but no whoopers. We drove back to the park entrance and my husband went in and asked the ranger where the whoopers might be seen. She told him exactly where to see them, just outside of the park. And find them we did. The closest I have ever been to them (but not close enough for good photos with my little camera). And they weren’t just standing and walking like I had seen from afar in the past. Some would fly to a different area of this private property. There were at least 3 juveniles among them. Sandhill cranes, Egrets, and Herons were nearby. It turns out that they love this property because of the deer corn feeder.

Whooping Cranes in Rockport

Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Crane

Interesting Trees Behind Whoopers

And a Kestrel on a wire nearby:

Kestrel

So, a good get away for us. We came home refreshed and renewed. Two weeks later we are sick…my husband has Covid and my head feels stuffy and I am tired (my Covid test was negative). And, Yes, we have been fully vaxed and boosted.

Thank Yous, Regrets, Ramblings

I spent the week before Christmas crying over the death of our dog Millie. She was sixteen and had a number of health problems. I knew she would pass at some point, but it still hit me hard. When I feel great loss and / or depression is when I work on my gratitude. Oh, I still grieve …and I am tearing up as I write this, but I am counting my blessings at the same time.

Millie, thank you for letting me be part of your life. Thank you looking for me in the house when you awoke from your naps. Thank you for going on walks with us and letting us see you enjoy life. As a youngster running loop de loop patterns in the backyard. Rolling in the grass. I am left with many memories of your happiness.

There were other deaths. Another old dog passed a few months before. He was our little proud man Dash who enjoyed barking at the t.v. (usually at animals or cops on Live P.D., but once at Lady Gaga).

My cousin Steve lost his long struggle with cancer in October. I am sorry we both let years pass without contact. I am grateful for your later attempts to keep us 15 first cousins in touch with each other.

My gratitude to loved ones near and far….A goal for 2023 is to let people in my life know how much they mean to me.

I am thankful for the flamboyant…

Poinsettias at Target

And The Subtle…

Native Green Poinsettia In My Backyard

I am thankful for a cat in my lap while I watch t.v.

Thank you to the cold…

A cold weather snap in Central Texas forced our family gift exchange into a more traditional holiday home visit instead of the usual covid protocol parking lot gift exchange of the past few years. Masks were worn and we had the best visit in a long time.

And the cold weather kept another family member from bringing our presents until after Christmas, giving us a wonderful post holiday visit.

Thank you to the mighty

And the meek

Green Anole in Backyard

Thank you to books and of course, authors

Thank you to my writing group members for the laughter and love and for sharing your expressive gifts

Thank you to my sister and fellow bloggers out there. I love the support you give me and I love that you are sharing creative selves and your interesting lives.

Thank you to C. R. X. for your independent spirit and your smiles.

Thank you to D. Mc. for putting up with me and loving me despite my eccentricities.

Thank you A. B. for being my long haul and long distance friend.

Thank you to a.m. radio for playing the oldies with good beats and with lyrics I can sing along to…”I love rock and roll…put another dime in the juke box baby!”

I am thankful to the longer days and the songs of birds.

Estoy tan agradecida!

(I am so grateful! from my Spanish phrase a day calendar for Dec. 29th)

(All photos taken by the author in December of 2022)

My November

If you read my October post, you saw photos of my beautiful Bur Oak tree and the nuts it was producing. Now, only a month later, there is not a nut to be found except on the ground. I gave about 2 dozen nuts to a friend for craft projects. And I picked up another 171 and donated them to Tree Folks to propagate. So, maybe my wonderful tree will live on.

The leaves are mostly gone now, mulched into the ground by my husband’s mower. I want to put them back on the tree. I am not ready for winter. Time is moving too fast for me.

We have been working quite a few jigsaw puzzles lately. They take time, but they make me feel as if time is standing still. Searching for shapes and colors. Looking for patterns. This is quite meditative. I get into the puzzle zone. And this zone is carrying over a bit into the rest of my day. Sometimes, now, when I look at a house on the street or the trees in their brilliant fall colors, I think the scene before me would make a nice jigsaw puzzle.

I think of my life as a puzzle. Mostly complete, but with some missing pieces yet to be fitted in their proper place. But, the puzzle of my life is not determined by fate. I believe I can still change the picture if I make the right choices each day. But, figuring out these “choices” is not easy. I get into a rut of a routine and anxiety often interferes with changing up my daily activities.

The contrasts and comparisons of life are calling to me these days. How does it all fit together?

Rock Rose Bloom and Hackberry Stump

The soft and the rough.

The light and the dark.

The living and the dead.

The pointed and the rounded.

November Clouds At Sunset

The same and different.

Not sure how my life will look when I finish as I am still a work in progress.

A Tree Runs Through It

Plop! The sound of a Burr oak nut hitting the ground.

Plop! Klunk! The sound of another Burr oak nut hitting the ground and bouncing three feet in the air and then landing on our wooden deck. I imagine getting bonked in the head by one of these nuts. It would hurt. That is why I am sitting on our porch and not under the tree the way I often did during the summer heat. We have a bumper crop of the nuts this year, probably several hundred from just this one tree. I can’t even walk barefoot in our yard because every few inches I step on a big nut.

Leaves, nut case, and nut of Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

And more nuts….

The tree is either the life giving Mother Tree or a cause of concern, depending on my mood. I love looking at it, which is good because it is too large to ignore. The tree has been speaking to me a lot lately. It speaks with the loud klunk! of it’s seeds dropping and it speaks to me as it’s leaves rustle in the wind. It speaks to me by just dominating the back yard. It is about 40 feet tall and the crown is about 30 feet wide (covering at least half of our yard). Whenever I turn into our driveway out front, I see it over our roof top. It was just a couple of years old when we planted it 24 years ago. Now, I sometimes worry about it falling on our house…or falling on our neighbor’s house.

When I was about 7, I remember collecting acorns from Live oak trees and storing them in a secret cubby in my bedroom closet. They were to be ammunition in some future imagined “war” with neighborhood kids. I think about gathering all the burr oak nuts for a similar stash. These are so big, that they would be quite the deterrent to some attacker. Instead, I gather a few dozen and give them to a friend who will use them in some decorative craft work.

Trees. Trees were here first and have witnessed so much of our history. A Tree of Life is a part of more than one religion and trees as symbols are imbedded in so many cultures world wide. Where would the story of Noah and the Ark be without trees? Or the Buddha and the bodhi tree? Or the angry apple trees throwing apples at Dorothy and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz?

A woman walks on a forest path with a wooden walking stick…perhaps whittled from the same kind of trees she walks through.

A judge brings a court to order with a wooden gavel.

We have destroyed trees for things that benefit humans: firewood for warmth or cooking or just enjoying a campfire; boats; houses and fences to go around the houses; picture frames; toys; wagons; furniture; cradles; coffins; tools; guitars and drums; We eat their nuts and fruit and make medicine from their bark. We climb them and attach swings to them for fun. We carve our names in them and tie yellow ribbons around their trunks. And Christmas Trees! Their smell and color adorn our homes.

And trees have witnessed and unwittingly been used for the bad things humans do. They have been made into weapons like battering rams, guns, arrows and spears, and catapults. We have used their limbs to lynch in fear and hate. They have seen us destroy our own kind. Maybe they are trying to get our attention. Maybe the oak is wanting to warn us that destroying them destroys us?

I write this first as a rough draft on paper made from trees with a wooden pencil while leaning on a wooden desk in a partly wooden house. I notice so many things in my life made from wood and I see many trees as individuals now. I sort of took them for granted before, unless they had pretty leaves or were hosting the birds I love to watch.

They give us life by purifying the air and enrich our soil and on and on…I should probably have written this for Arbor day, but the giant Burr oak is speaking to me now. I don’t know all she is saying, but I will continue to listen.

Websites to check out:

  1. For information on some famous Texas trees: tfsweb.tamu.edu/Websites/FamoustreesofTexas/Explore_our_Trees/
  2. Visit new trees propagated from famous Texas trees at the Ladybird Johnson Research Center arboreteum. Info at: Wildflower.org
  3. Organization that plants new trees in Central Texas: https://treefolks.org

(Photos by B. McCreary)

Autumn Gold

To paraphrase Carson McCullers from her novel “Reflections In A Golden Eye”: There is a backyard in the South where a few days ago a murder was committed…

Yes, a week ago today, Tuesday September 20th, a crime was committed. I murdered some beautiful little creatures. It was negligent homicide. Our little backyard pond needed some water added, so I set the hose running and meant to check on the water level after a few minutes. It was a nice, evening and three of us in conversation on the back porch was a distraction. At some point I realized that I had not monitored the water level. It was overflowing into the yard! I pulled the hose out. I did not see any goldfish flopping around in the grass, so I figured all was okay. The next morning (Wednesday) I fished out seven pretty, little, golden corpses, which I netted and dumped into the compost bin. Yuck! Not because of the decaying bodies, but because of my guilt. I had poisoned them. I started to think that maybe we should just get rid of the pond.

This little pond has attracted so many interesting creatures: frogs, toads, dragonflies, wasps, snakes, opossums, raccoons, and an occasional bird. Colorful waterlilies add beauty and the sound of the trickling, pump fueled, waterfall is relaxing. And I enjoyed seeing the goldfish moving about in the water. But, I was not a good caretaker of this little oasis and these critters would have to find somewhere else to hang out.

One more corpse floated up on Thursday morning, the first day of Fall. I pulled some water plants out and tossed them in the garden. I wanted to see if any goldfish had survived. But, I didn’t see any. Maybe they were hiding after seeing their family members die. No more little bodies showed up Friday, and I began to let go of my self-criticism. I am human. Humans make mistakes.

Saturday morning I brought my notebook and pen out to the back porch and attempted to write a poem about the falling leaves in the yard behind ours. I wrote:

As each leaf descends

And says goodbye

Sun reflects gold

A little while later, my husband and I were enjoying our morning coffee. My binoculars and camera were nearby. I like to take pictures of lizards and whatever else catches my attention. The binoculars are for checking the trees and sky for birds. This was the peak of migration and I was hoping to spot something different than our resident birds.

And then they came!

Yellow Warbler

Warblers! Lots of them and more than one species. They came to bathe in our pond! Golden treasures from above.

Immature Yellow Warblers?

Golden Cheeked Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Mixed Group (taken through window)

This lovely parade of migrants lasted about 20 minutes, when our dog Millie wandered out and scared them off. I feel so blessed to have witnessed these visiting birds reveling in the same water that I had been contemplating getting rid of just a few days earlier. I guess the Universe has forgiven me. Or at least I have forgiven me. I will be a better caretaker of this small environment. I promise.

(please let me know if my warbler i.d.s are not correct)

(all photos taken by B. McCreary)

Penny For Your Thoughts (Or Which Side Are You On?)

Lately I hear media pundits talk about a possible time of civil unrest or even civil war in the United States. I try to put this idea aside as an exaggeration…because this is almost too scary to contemplate. But, my anxiety for the future of our country lingers…it resides at the back of my thoughts and no matter how hard I try to ignore it, it creeps in and colors my life. Are our people so divided and fearful of each other that we would destroy one another?

Walk in another man’s shoes for awhile if you want to understand where they are coming from…I have heard variations on this quote for most of my life and have tried to put myself in the shoes of others to try and learn about them…the “other.” I don’t think we can ever truly understand another person, but this exercise, the trying on of shoes and walking their path, is a start. It helps to have imagination and compassion.

I am really struggling with this concept. I keep coming back to the penny. If you look at one side of the penny you see the profile of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln:

No matter how different we are, we can agree that this is the image on the face of the penny. * This is our reality. But, what if I am looking at Lincoln’s face and you are looking at the other side of the penny. You will see:

You will be seeing the Lincoln Memorial. We can both be looking at the same penny and we can see totally different images. And we can argue about this and both be right.

What if we put the coin on it’s edge. Then we would both see the same image of the penny and could agree. But, are we willing to look closely at the other side of things, the differing opinions of others. This is hard to do and I think most people don’t even try. It is easier to hold fast to our own perceptions. We so want to be right. Lately, I often feel like I am looking at a spinning penny…I can’t make out any images and so don’t know what to think.

When I thought about exploring this penny metaphor, I dug into my meager coin purse (I don’t use coins these days) and dug out some pennies. I was surprised to find a new back to the penny:

In my mind I had been so sure of the Lincoln Memorial being on the back side of the penny! How did this new back not get my attention before this? Why get rid of the old image? What does the shield mean?

So, a little online research tells me that the face of Lincoln first appeared on a penny in 1909 to celebrate 100 years since Lincoln’s birth. The wheat on the back represented prosperity. In 1959 the wheat image was taken off and the Lincoln Memorial appeared on the back to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Then starting in 2009 there were 4 other designs to appear on the back of the Lincoln penny:

  1. Log cabin- to represent his early years
  2. Lincoln reading a book
  3. Lincoln in front of Illinois statehouse to celebrate his time as a lawyer and statesman
  4. Unfinished Capitol Dome – to symbolize our struggle during the civil war

Then in 2010 they minted the image of the shield on the back in honor of the sesquicentennial of his election win. The shield symbolizes our national unity. Learning what the designs represent gives me a bit of hope that we will not come apart, but will come out of this current strife a stronger country.

I am told that there is talk of doing away with pennies altogether. Maybe we can use the old pennies as part of our school children’s education…?

The image that has not changed all these years are the words “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One…we can have different ideas and listen and learn from each other and work with each other…Let this be our future.

Info from:

Lincolncottage.org

usmint.gov

en.wikipedia.org

Photos by B. McCreary

*The words “In God We Trust” and “Liberty” on the face of the penny speak for themselves

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!

It is a July morning, the only good time to sit outside when we are experiencing 100 and 100 plus temperatures. We sit out in our backyard sipping coffee. The breeze is pleasant, rustling the leaves in the burr oak above us. There is a bright, blue sky with fluffy, white clouds, drifting and shifting shape.

I have my binoculars close by, and my eyes scan the sky above our roof. My husband’s eyes are glued to the news on his Ipad.

Two people. Alike and not alike.

“Look! A Mississippi Kite!” I point at the soaring grey bird, it’s white head helping me identify it. My husband looks up briefly.

We both hear a far off engine noise. He taps and scrolls and says, “That is a Gulf Stream 4 private jet flying from Cabo San Lucas to Austin.” We look up and see the plane heading east. My husband has an app on his Ipad that shows a photo of the plane, the name of the plane, and the route it is taking.

“A White Egret…it is flying east too,” I declare, as I follow it with my binoculars.

“DC-9-15 (F) USA Jet Airlines heading from San Antonio to Detroit at 29,000 feet.” We watch it head north until the tree obscures our view.

Flying things in the sky. Alike. And not alike.

My eyes spot swallows flitting about up high. I can’t identify them.

“Boeing 737-79P. Southwest Airlines from Austin to Denver.”

A black chinned hummingbird zooms past us. As I follow it, I spot another Mississippi Kite. “Oh look, honey! Did you see it?”

“Yes, that was a Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage…a private prop plane…going from Houston to Ruidoso at 24,000 feet.”

I guess we see what we want to see sometimes…

*(Sky and plane photos by B. McCreary)

Natural Saviors

According to The Austin American-Statesman newspaper, we had 21 days of at least 100 degree highs in June, including 12 days in a row of this nastiness. We got a break late Monday the 27th with some much prayed for rain. Yay! I can now sit comfortably on my shaded porch and enjoy my coffee and read. It is still hot, but bearable.

As I get older I do not handle the heat as well as the younger me could. And our summers are getting hotter. June was not all bad. The beauty of nature carries on and helps me carry on. It sustains me. Here are some photos from my yard taken this month:

Water Lily

Crepe Myrtle

Turk’s Cap

Rock Rose

Beauty Berry

Purple Blooms (id unknown)

Mexican Petunias

Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

Crab Spider on Pokeberry Blooms

Mint Blossoms

Englemann’s Daisy

Little Blue Flowers

I want to express my gratitude to Mother Nature for sharing this beauty.

(photos by B. McCreary)

Snakes On A Porch

Just a brief blog today to share some photos of a few critters that have visited our yard and porch.

Eastern Blackneck Garter Snake (11-8-2021)

Eastern Blackneck Garter Snakes (3-26-2022)

Could these little guys be the offspring of the snake in the previous photo?

Same Snakes (3-28-2022)

Another Eastern Blackneck Garter Snake (June 2021)

Eastern Blackneck Garter snakes ((Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus) are nonvenomous although they may nip and release some funky musk when threatened. They eat small frogs, toads, and tadpoles. We have a small pond in our back yard and that is probably why we get the privilege of their company. They are diurnal and their adult size ranges from 16 to 43 inches (the latter being a record size). They give birth to live babies, maybe as many as 9.

I know a lot of people find snakes frightening, but to me they are beautiful examples of Nature’s beauty.

*All photos by B. McCreary

*Information from A Field Guide to Texas Snakes by Alan Tennant (from Texas Monthly Field Guide Series)

April Bathing

Have you ever bathed with family or a dear friend? I had the privilege of bathing with both recently. No, I am not talking about bathing in a tub or a shower. I am talking about Nature bathing, taking long, slow walks outside. Some call it forest bathing. I say it can also be called prairie bathing, riparian bathing, or desert bathing.

In early April I enjoyed such an outing at McKinney Falls State Park, which is on the outskirts of Austin. My husband and our daughter and I had a great time meandering along the creek looking at wildflowers (which are at their peak in early April here), bird watching, and even fish watching. Here are some photos:

Redbud Tree and Bluebonnets

Pink Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)

Cypress Tree Trunk On Onion Creek

Cormorants Convening

Fish In Onion Creek (unknown species)

Towards the end of April a dear friend invited me to go bird watching with her in the same park. Some different plants were now blooming. We saw snowy egrets, great blue herons, and more cormorants flying up and down the creek. Other than birdwatching, we had no agenda. We just walked and enjoyed the fresh Spring air on our skin. The sounds of many different birds teased our ears, from the screeching of red tailed hawks to the sweet songs of cardinals. There was also the recurrent chirping of frogs. We stopped to admire and smell flowers. I enjoyed touching leaves to feel their texture. Here are a few photos from that walk:

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

False Gromwell (Onosmodium bejariense)

Prairie Larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum ssp. penardii)

Scarlet Leatherflower (Clematis texensis)

We did not talk about world affairs or gossip about people or our troubles. We talked about nature, that before us, and old encounters. And we met others enjoying the natural wonders of this park. There were the girls from a nature school laughing and having fun while processing yucca leaves into cordage. And a couple visiting from Israel led us to a view of a barred owl up in a cypress tree.

These times nature bathing with others both relaxed and renewed me. Get out there, somewhere green, and just be. Oh, and don’t forget friends and family. Invite someone outside to bathe with you.

Here is a link to more info on McKinney Falls State Park: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/mckinney-falls

Plant information from A Field Guide to Wildflowers Trees and Shrubs of Texas (Texas Monthly Field Guide Series) and Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country by Marshall Enquist

Photos by B. McCreary (who is also responsible for any misidentification of plants)