Signs of Hope

Lately, I have been worried about the future of our country and feeling a real sense of despair at the divisions between people. There is so much trash talking and disrespect and hate. The news of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hit me hard. A sense of hopelessness settled on my spirit.

So, I have been sitting on my back porch looking for signs of hope. I must confess to a superstitious side of myself, the self who interprets natural occurrences to have some meaning beyond just being what they are. A quote I like, from Lady Bird Johnson, says “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” A few days ago, I saw this lovely purple flower in my backyard. It was the first time this plant had bloomed all year and I took this as a sign of hope.

Then, a day or two later I saw this:

Soon after this photo was taken, the hawk swooped down after unseen prey and landed in the pot on top of the very same purple flower. So, maybe, as Emily Dickinson says, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Or not. It is interesting to me that I look for signs of hope in nature when the despair I feel is because of humans. The truth is that nature gives me peace and distraction. Nature bathing renews me and then I am able to come back into and deal with the human world.

I realize that I need to look to people for the signs of hope I need. To look for the “helpers”, as Mr. Rogers would say. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a helper. Her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia over their love of opera, is a sign of hope. The idea that two people, with very different ideas on justice, could come together and enjoy a shared experience, gives us all an example to follow. What kept Justice Ginsburg going strong all these years? Was it hope? Her death brought sadness to many of my sister and brother Americans. It also brought a renewed urge to follow her lead, to work for justice and equality for all. That she kept fighting for all of us, despite numerous illnesses, is to be admired. We can hold her up as an example and as a beacon of hope when we are needing it, like right now.

(Flower photo by Betty McCreary)

(Hawk photo by Dan McCreary -iphone)

Pandemic Eyes

Sitting in my car, I observe the people in the parking lot. Some don’t put on their masks until they are at the store entrance. Others put on their masks before they get out of their cars. That is what I do. Turn off the ignition, grab my purse and car keys and put my mask on. I position it properly with both mouth and nose covered.

I peer over my mask at the other shoppers making sure we don’t get closer than 6 feet from each other, which is not always possible. Do I have to wait until the person looking at every brand and flavor of soup finishes and leaves before I can continue? The aisles are narrow. Usually I just pass them anyway, averting my head so I don’t breathe on them. I never really enjoyed shopping for food. Now, I hate it.

We are watching more t.v. now that we are staying home most of the time. I yell at the actors for not social distancing, something I would never do in the real world for fear of bodily harm in the form of some angry anti-masker coughing on me.

Technology is wonderful. We can stay connected via our phones and computers. However, participating in Zoom gatherings is very frustrating in that I cannot make direct eye contact with anyone. And I am tired of looking at my own expressions.

I find peace in being outdoors, but even the shape of certain flowers or seed heads remind me of pictures I have seen of the covid-19 virus.

Anything that is spherical with spikes, even a child’s rubber ball. Every part of life now seems to be through the lens of the pandemic. If you had told me a year ago that we would all be wearing masks, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wonder what our country will look like a year from now? Whether you are marching in the streets for justice or venturing out to work or caring for loved ones, please stay safe.

Cactus Flower
Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella)

All photos by Betty McCreary

Moments

At the inlet’s edge I sit

Just me

Watching

as sunlight swirls eddies into ever changing

abstract patterns

Gold light captured for an instant

melting away in the constant flux

a new curlicue appears briefly

and is gone

Mother’s palette changing by the moment

here a brown leaf flounders past

there a dragon fly skims the surface

flashing blue

At the inlet’s edge I sit

mesmerized by Nature’s Art

no permanent exhibit here

no meet the artist reception

Just me

photos by Betty McCreary

(at an inlet of the North Guadalupe River at Mo-Ranch in the Texas Hill country)

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

               I am struggling with writing this month’s blog. I don’t think I can write a coherent essay about my feelings during this time of craziness because they are all over the place. So many things in opposition. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”*

Staying at home or going out with a mask vs. pretending it is all a hoax and chastising mask wearers (as happened to a friend of mine in the grocery store)

Staying at home or marching in the streets

Protestors with masks can still be heard

You can breathe in a mask but you cannot breath with a knee on your neck

Fever of the current corona virus and the fever of rage and protest

I heard some interesting words on a recent PBS News Hour. An African American woman comparing the crime tool luminol to the corona virus. Just as luminol under UV light will show blood that was invisible before, the virus has helped in exposing the underlying racism in our country because of how disproportionally the virus is affecting the black population.

The multiracial crowds standing tall with arms uplifted in protest versus African American, George Floyd, handcuffed on the ground with a white policeman’s knee on his neck

The best of us: George Floyd was described as a “gentle giant” (The Guardian.com)

The worst of us: The white policeman holding him down

The best of us: The protestors being there and giving voice to what needs to be heard

The worst of us: The anarchists fomenting violence and destruction

The sadness and pain and fear and outrage in me giving way to the joy of seeing Astronauts Bob Behnken (age 49) and Doug Hurley (age 53), flying away from Earth in the Space X capsule called the Dragon atop the Falcon rocket, filling my heart with pure joy at the fantastic images of the launch

 Bob and Doug (both white) hurtling into space, their second stage engine cutting off at 8 minutes and 47 seconds

A knee on grounded, George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, his soul flying into the ether too soon (he was 46 years old)

May he rest in peace

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Eastern Bluebird photo by Betty McCreary

*Quote from the opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

Pandemic Spring II

I like keeping up with the news of the world most days and especially during this time of our Covid -19 stay at home. I watch the daily White House Corona Virus Task Force press conferences live so I can hear what they are saying without it being chopped up into incomplete sound bites later on. Watching from a comfy chair in my bedroom while playing solitaire I often glance away from the puffed up orange haired human on the screen and check on the scene outside my window. I distract myself from the insanity with the natural calming beauty of my backyard.  I can see red admiral butterflies and monarchs sipping nectar from the pink and yellow lantana blossoms. There is also a hummingbird feeder with a lovely black chinned hummingbird in attendance. I scold the humming birds for fighting each other over the feeder. “There is enough for all of you!”, I tell them, at the same time knowing that it is in their best interests to be territorial. The butterflies calm me and the hummingbirds distract me. But, the creatures that bring me the most pleasure lately are the little green lizards who are in abundance this year.

Anole3
Anolis carolinensis

Almost anytime I turn away from the puffed up man on the screen I look out and spot these guys puffing up their bright, pink throat pouches (dewlaps). They move along the tree branches or fence top and stop. Then they puff out the pink pouch a time or two and then move on. Then they stop and do it again. This behavior in these male Anole lizards (Anolis carolinensis) is to attract a female. My grandmother used to say they were “showing their money.”

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Green Anole with partially inflated dewlap

Anoles2April2020
Anoles Mating?

They are among many Iguanid lizards in the Family Iguanidae. They range throughout the south eastern United States from Oklahoma south through much of east Texas and east to Florida. They are not true chameleons, but change color from brown to bright green.

Anole5
Green Anole in brown on brown branch

Just like the ubiquitous face masks and empty store shelves, these little lizards seem to be everywhere. I see them on walks in the neighborhood. There is one that hangs out near the front porch and I have seen at least three different ones at the same time in the back yard.  Or maybe there were always that many of them around. It is just that now I have more time sitting at home enjoying nature from my window. Making lemonade out of pandemic lemons.

AnoleonGargoyleSpring2020
Green Anole on gargoyle statue outside my window

*Photos taken by author

*Reference: Texas Monthly Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Texas-by Judith M. Garrett and David G. Barker

Pandemic Spring

Ah! Spring! I don’t like winter. I need the promise of coming warmth, new growth, and renewal to get me through the cold, dreary days. I always look forward to visiting local parks to see the beautiful displays of wildflowers in central Texas.

Well, spring is here, but this year it will be different for all of us. We are now under city of Austin/county of Travis orders not to leave our homes unless it is for essential reasons. Buying groceries, walking our dogs, and exercising are considered essential. We are not allowed to gather with non family members and must remain 6 feet apart from all others when we venture out. This is new and scary territory as the number of coronavirus victims rises. As of this writing there are 179 cases in the county (up from 160 the day before) and there has been 1 death. I note my physical state each day and try not to leap to the conclusion that I’ve got it. I try for some sort of normality, but these are not normal times.

Last Sunday, March 15th, I ventured out to a nearby grocery store. There were too many bare shelves. I had seen some the week before, but somehow I thought those were anomalies. The bread shelves were bare. There was no milk at all in the dairy case. There was no cheese. No ramen. The frozen pizza area was picked almost to the bone. I walked around the store in awe. I did buy a few things. But, the only things on my grocery list that I actually found were wine and toothpaste. Driving out of the parking lot I started to cry and was pretty blue the rest of the day. At least we had some food at home. We are lucky. So far no one I know has gotten ill.

I am still trying to get used to the lack of freedom. At first I was sure that I would be able to go out and walk among the flowers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Then they closed some of their facilities (gift shop, cafe, classrooms, etc.). Okay. No problem. The grounds were still open and I planned a visit. I would get to see the owl, Athena, who had recently returned to nest near the entrance. Maybe her owlets had hatched. But, No! The Wildflower Center decided to close their grounds to all but essential staff.

Okay, I thought, I can still go out to my favorite nearby state park, Mckinney Falls, and indulge my wildflower and birding passions. Their grounds (400+ acres) were still open when I checked their website on March 19th. The site suggested reserving a park day pass online to minimize park staff interacting with the public. I planned a trip to the park with my husband. On March 22nd I checked the website. No! The park was now closed too!

Okay, I know I am whining. So many people are getting very sick and many are dying. Even doctors and nurses are dying. Celebrities and heads of state are getting sick. I am in the older than 60 group that has a greater risk of dying of the virus and I am grasping at focusing on Nature’s beauty and not on Nature’s ugly.

I can’t go see the park flowers in person during this pandemic, but I have photos from past years. I can do a virtual park tour. I share a few here for you to enjoy. Stay safe and I hope to join you next spring among the flowers.

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Tiger Swallowtail on Horsemint

Indian Blankets
Indian Blankets

Milkweed Pearl Vine
Insect nymph on Milkweed Pearl Vine

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Young White-tailed Deer Buck

Blue bonnets
Texas Blue Bonnets

**All Photos taken at McKinney Falls State Park by Betty McCreary

 

 

Tree Life

My right hip is starting to ache a bit from the walk and my legs move stiffly. I am thinking that much of my life seems to be a chore these days. Simple things, like walking, I no longer take for granted. We come upon a pretty tree. I hand the dog’s leash to my husband and walk up to the tree. I want to get a closer look at a flowering branch. It is a Redbud tree, although the small flowers are not red, but purple. The Redbud is an early bloomer. It is only February, but spring is here.

Texas Redbud

I wonder what it would be like to be a Redbud tree. I could go dormant in winter instead of feeling the depression that kicks in with short, dreary days. No thinking about everything I have to take care of each day. No laundry! No insomnia. No worrying about family and old pets. I would just “be.” I would be rooted in one spot. I could grow tall and wide and my roots could stretch deep into the earth. Bunnies might munch grass and cavort below me. Coyotes will move past me looking for prey. I could be a home to birds and squirrels. My flowers could provide nectar for butterflies and bees. My beauty would fade, but then return again each year. I could live a long time, longer than any human. There is an Oak tree on the coast that is estimated to be at least 1,000 years old. Redbuds are prettier than Oaks, though.

I am a Redbud tree. The air is cool and the sun is warm upon me. I am nourished by rich soil and spring rain. Beautiful purple flowers adorn me. My green leaves are shaped like hearts, but I cannot love. I will give birth to more trees like me as my flowers become seeds in sturdy pods. Someday I will get old. My grey bark will become scaly. I will topple into the dust and will become a log. I will be a bench for nature lovers and a home for little creatures. I will be gnawed by beetles and ants. I wil rot.

My husband is impatient, so I say good bye to my tree and my fantasy. When I get home I pull my field guide to Trees of Texas* off the shelf. I read that the life span of the Texas Redbud is only from 50-75 years! The length of their lives is the same as humans. And trees cannot love. I would miss loving if I was a tree. Oh, well. I will be cremated when I die and my ashes will be spread outdoors. I will become one with all life, Redbuds included, and I will be at peace.

*Trees of Texas Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Adventure Publications, Inc.; Cambridge, Minnesota)

 

Heart Shaped Leaf of the Texas Redbud

**(Photos taken by Betty McCreary)

Mother Nature’s Playground

A family member recently sent me some photos of her husband sledding down a sand hill at Monahans Sandhills State Park in west Texas. This brought back memories of climbing up and sledding down the white, gypsum dunes at New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument. We humans love playing on Mother Earth. We have our special accessories: sleds for snow and sand; pieces of cardboard for tall, grassy slopes or ice covered streets; skis and ice skates for snow and iced over ponds. We let gravity and friction take us on a ride. We go to the ocean to surf and sail. We go to the lakes and rivers to canoe or kayak. And then there is the fun of tubing on a river using the flow of water to power our ride.

But, we also have fun on earth without the accessories between our bodies and the elements. I remember rolling over and over down grassy hills when I was a little kid. And I had great fun jumping in puddles and leaping into piles of leaves. Maybe you made angels in the snow. Have you ever climbed a tree or gone up a cliff with only your hands and feet?

Here is a photo taken by my mother as I went hurtling down a slick, limestone incline at Pedernales Falls State Park in July of 1975*:

Photo taken by Barbara Downes (author’s Mother)

Last year I injured my back and right leg. I spent 5 months in chronic pain and outpatient physical therapy. I am much improved and can go on walks as long as the terrain is fairly flat. But, I don’t think I can do much physical playing on Mother Nature’s playground anymore. Just the idea of climbing up a steep hill seems impossible these days. I am mortal and age has caught up with me. I can’t do all I could do as a little girl or as a young woman, especially without some arthritis pain. The water is still my friend though. I can still float down the river on the current and swim in the lakes.

It is said that we evolved from the oceans and became land creatures. If I am lucky enough to get down to the coast this year I will body surf in the Gulf of Mexico. Guessing how the waves will break, I will try to be in the right place to float gently over the wave and down the other side.

*Swimming is no longer permitted at that part of the Pedernales River

Our Part of the Web

West Texas Spider Web (photo by B. McCreary)

                 Humans are an integral part of the web of life on earth. We have a great impact on and responsibility for the future of all forms of life here. I was planning on this last blog of the year to be about human’s deleterious effect on the rest of the natural world. I would share a photo I took of a duck with a 6 pack ring caught in its bill and around its neck. I would list numerous nasty things that animals and their habitats have suffered because of us. And then I would throw in some words about global warming and our impending doom. But, I froze like a deer in the headlights. I don’t really want to talk about gloom and doom.  Plenty of other people are already doing this (Greta Thunburg we are listening!).

                “We should change the narrative from one of fear and despair. Despite the bad (climate) news, people are still very optimistic. Optimism in this case is essential, because hope beats fear every time.”- Hillary Tam, Strategy director of global change agency Futerra” (news.globallandscapesforum.org)

                To follow the lead of Mr. Rogers, I want to look for the helpers. There are plenty of helpers out helping to make our world cleaner and safer for humans and other life forms. There are national organizations that have local chapters like the Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, etc. They can help people find a way to help locally and beyond. Individuals can help clean up a river, plant native trees, take samples from local waterways to monitor pollutants, survey area plants or fauna, remove invasive plant species, etc. If a person can’t physically get out there and do boots on the ground chores, most of these helper groups need office help and money. There are so many organizations that are helping and it can be overwhelming to choose which one to get involved with.   

                If you like to write, write articles or write your congressperson. If you are tech savvy, help design a new website or media campaign. Start a carpool at your workplace or school or church. If you are good at speaking before groups you can help spread the word this way. One thing I do is help with a local fauna survey. I go out to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center and join others in finding and recording every living thing that is not a plant. I cannot identify all the birds and insects I find, but I can help find them. And this is fun. We chat and laugh a lot as we work and learn.  I encourage everyone to find a way to help our planet. I especially encourage you to find a way to do this that is fun for you.

                I leave you with a quote from Dr. Jane Goodall:

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

(from globalcitizen.org)