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)

Spring Comes To Ukraine

This morning I saw a You Tube video entitled “Ukraine President Zelensky welcomes Spring in Kyiv.” It is 18 seconds long and was posted on March 8th. He is outside with his cell phone doing a selfie, showing sandbags and snow in the background. I don’t understand the language, but the subtitles say:

“It is snowing.

This is what Spring looks like.

The Spring is similar to the war we experience.

Spring is harsh.

But everything will be fine. We will win.”

The date March 8th is interesting. That is also International Women’s Day.

It is a beautiful Spring day here in Texas. Our red bud tree is blooming and sprouting it’s heart shaped leaves. There is lots of color in the yard with many purple spiderwort flowers and lovely yellow butterflies. But, my mind keeps drifting to the war in Ukraine. I tune in to the news only once a day now. I look at the images: injured children and bombed buildings and scared dogs running in the streets. Sadness and anger well up in me. I can only watch a bit of this.

In late February I thought about writing about nature in Ukraine, of which I knew nothing. So, I googled “Flora and Fauna of Ukraine” and was awed by what I found. According to A-Zanimals.com, Ukraine has almost 50 national parks and many other protected areas. Depending on which part of the country you visit, you might find deer, wolves, hedgehogs, otters, elk, lizards, snakes, owls, white storks (Ukraine’s national bird) and many other animals.

The national animal of Ukraine is the common nightingale. It is a migratory bird, spending winters in Sub Saharan Africa. The nightingale is a sign of Spring in Ukraine. It is also a sign of joy because of it’s pleasant song. Only the unpaired males sing. This makes me think of the separation of women and children from men because of the war.

Back to March 8th. In late February, when I was googling “Flora and Fauna of Ukraine”, I discovered a website for floral delivery (Ukrainedelivery.com). They were advertising sending the women in your life a bouquet in honor of International Women’s Day. They also said “Ukraine is now in the state of war.” They go on to say that you can get a full refund or put your order on hold. Yesterday I revisited the website and it now shows a photo of bomb damage with the words:

“WAR in UKRAINE”

“Russia is killing people in Ukraine”

Note their motto: “Official supplier of LOVE”

I click on “More Information” (dated March 11th,2022) and get these words:

“It is a real war in Ukraine! Thousands of people are being killed by Russia. Women and children are dying because of bombs in the middle of Europe, in the 21st century!

Kiev delivery stops all its operations and services until further notice. We cannot provide any information about anything in Ukraine. We are just closed.

If you want to help- please ask your government to close the sky upon Ukraine! Please help via regular humanitarian channels.”

I have seen stories about women refugees from Ukraine being handed flowers as they crossed into Poland and Romania on International Women’s day. Something to ponder: One origin of International Women’s day was a 1917 Peace Protest by Russian women.

So much I wonder about…have the nightingales returned to Ukraine yet? Are they singing? Are the flowers blooming there now? Will there be peace soon?

Sources:

A-Z-animals.com

Ukrainedelivery.com

Aol.com, msn.com, Youtube.com, Barrons.com, Wikipedia

Sunflower photos by B. McCreary

Growing History

I wanted to write this month’s blog about Black History month and planned on focusing on Harriet Tubman. I had read a wonderful biography about her entitled Harriet Tubman- The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton. I wanted to share more about her life beyond her work with the Underground Railroad. But, I have gotten distracted by news coverage of the Russian invasion of the country of Ukraine. So, I will not write about Harriet Tubman this month, but will still celebrate Black History month.

On February 23rd, I discovered live television coverage of a United Nations Security Council meeting about the Russian threat to Ukraine. This was on CSPAN. I sat before the t.v. with my husband and daughter and watched as most of the ambassadors condemned Russia’s actions. There were ambassadors of different races and cultures of course, but also a good number of women representing their countries. Particularly interesting to me was our United States Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who has held the position for about a year. She was one of the people speaking in condemnation of the Russian president. Here is a photo of her that evening:

As I have watched coverage of the crisis on t.v., I have noticed quite a few black experts on Ukraine being interviewed by the news anchors. One person who has appeared several times over the past few days is a black man hunkered down in Kyiv. His name is Terrell Jermaine Starr and the following video is from MSNBC (if the link does not work, please search for him on the internet):

https://www.msnbc.com/yasmin-vossoughian-reports/watch/russian-assault-on-ukraine-continues-into-fourth-day-this-is-hell-134146117867

As a proud American, I believe we need to not turn a blind eye to our history. We need to continually examine our past and how it continues to shape us. But, I also believe we need to pay close attention to the history that is being made right now. And these two people are both witnesses to history and are growing history.

Sunflower- the National Flower of Ukraine

*A link to another piece about Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

Small Blessings

As New England gets hit hard by winter storm Kenan, we Texans are keeping our fingers crossed that we make it through the rest of winter without a repeat of last February’s tragic freezing storm. That prolonged cold snap inconvenienced so many of us with loss of power and loss of running water. It also maimed and killed so many people.

But, instead of rehashing that event and being anxious, I am going to share some of the little blessings of nature that I got to enjoy in December and on New Year’s Day.

On December 14, 2021 I spent some time in my yard snapping photos of insects on still blooming flowers.

True Bug (unknown species)

The insect pictured above was on a chrysanthemum flower. I googled the symbolism of these flowers and white ones are associated with death in some cultures. They can also represent happiness, love, and longevity, and rebirth. I see them as representing both death and rebirth.

Two weeks later, on December 28th I spotted this little fly on a dandelion flower

Flower Fly

And this lovely butterfly on a milkweed plant

Queen Butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

And this majestic being visited on December 30th

Hawk (immature Cooper’s?)

And on the first day of the new year

Crab Spider on Salvia

and

Sphinx Moth (Nessus?) at lantana blooms

And last, but not least in beauty

Blow Fly (?) on dried chrysanthemum

I am thankful I got to see all of these sweet critters and am looking forward to more blessings from nature in 2022

*All photos taken by B. McCreary in her yard

* The following reference books were used to identify the critters (Don’t hold these books accountable for any mistaken ids on my part):

Kaufman Filed Guide to Insects of North America-Eric R. Eaton and Kenn Kaufman

A Field Guide To Butterflies Of Texas (Texas Monthly Field Guide Series) – Raymond W. Neck

Peterson Field Guides- Eastern Moths- Charles V. Covell, Jr.

Peterson Field Guides- Birds of Eastern and Central North America (fifth edition)- Roger Tory Peterson

The House of Autumn


Front row seat at the fall fashion show

Awestruck by the beauty before me

Under royal blue sky

Streets lined with Autumn’s glory

Unlike Gucci or Dior

She drapes her models

In familiar fabric

Year after year


No pantone colors for Mother Nature

Flame leaf sumac

Seems to strut

Clad in crimson


Red oak competes

They both strike poses

Frozen

Until the wind blows


Mrs. juniper’s evergreen

Adorned with globes, tiny and blue

Nearby, her spouse sports

Orange fingertips full of pollen


Finally,

Shining like flakes of gold

Are Cedar elm’s yellow leaves

Wrapping up the best show ever

(Flame leaf sumac photos and Cedar Elm photo by B. McCreary taken in Central Texas)

Crime and Punishment

For the past several months I have been watching live streams of court hearings and trials (mostly from Texas county courts). Because of covid many courts postponed in person trials and finally went online. I have always been interested in what makes people behave the way they do. Watching everything from contested wills and child custody disputes to murder trials, I am getting a front row seat to people’s individual suffering. Not pretty, but fascinating. And I get a good look at the good and bad of our court systems.

(I have learned one main lesson: Do not represent yourself. Get a lawyer if at all possible or get a court appointed one.)

November 2021 is the 200th anniversary of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s birth and is being celebrated worldwide by the International Dostoevsky Society and the North American Dostoevsky Society (https://dostoevsky.org). The only novel of his that I have read is Crime and Punishment. That was many years ago, but the story still has an impact on me. How do I love the sinner? It is an age old religious and philosophical question. Can we love the human even as we hate the crime they committed. How do we do this?

How can anyone love the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery? And I do not mean forgive. I mean love. Sometimes the loved ones of victims forgive the criminal. How do they do this? Is it part of their religious beliefs? I have a hard enough time forgiving family members for hurting me in much smaller ways.

I ponder these things as I sit outside at the edge of the back porch and clip my fingernails. I do this outside when the weather is nice. I keep an eye out for the ants that often have a parade going on nearby and the wasps that might be checking out the pretty blooming lantana that brushes my left shoulder.

Lantana Blooms

I spot a tiny spider suspended in a web under the bush. I have no trouble loving non human creatures. They act out of survival and not malice. The closer I look at the spider the more beautiful it is. Once again I find solace in the natural world of plants and critters.

Orchard Spider

I leave you with a version of a quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky:

“Love all God’s creation

The whole universe and each grain of sand

Love every leaflet, every ray of God’s light

Love the beasts, love the plants, love every creature.

When you love every creature,

You will understand the mystery of God in created things.”

*Photos by B. McCreary

*Quote from Sunday, February 13, 2005 Order of Service of Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Austin, Texas- Blessing of the Animals Service

Natural Associations

I have written about certain plants that reminded me of family members (purple spiderworts for my Mom and madrone trees for my Dad). Deciding to follow this line of thought, I made a list of family members and friends. Next to each name I wrote the name of a bird or birds that I most associated with them. For example: Daddy- vultures, ducks, pigeons. My Dad got a kick out of telling a story about a neighborhood boy who lay out on a driveway, motionless, trying to attract vultures. And, when my daughter was young, my dad would enjoy going to Zilker Park with us to feed the ducks and pigeons.

My Dad Feeding The Pigeons

Next to the name of a very dear friend I wrote crows, because of her many recent crow encounters. I also wrote cartoon birds because she draws whimsical birds.

Whimsical Birds Courtesy Of A. B.

My next list was mammals and quite a few people had dog or cat next to their names. Some were more specific, such as hunting dogs for my Grandfather Johnnie and chihuahuas for my Great Grandmother Tee.

Great Grandmother Tee with Palsry, Neva, and Big Shot (1934)

I started a new list, Reptiles and Amphibians. I have not completed that one yet. And I started a list of categories: plants, trees, flowers, insects, fish, rocks, fossils, geographic features, and constellations. I tend to enjoy associations with the natural world. But, the possibilities are endless. It might be fun to see what kind of music or books or cars or art you associate with friends and family. This could be a fun icebreaker at a get together. Or ask people what animal they associate with themselves. It may be very different from what others associate with them.

Have fun with this!

Creatures of the Night

Watching wildlife is fun! I like a good hike where some interesting birds and maybe a rabbit or snake might be spotted. I have seen multiple deer while on drives around central Texas. And live armadillos! (yes, I said live!) But, most of the time I just sit on my back porch watching to see what birds might come to my feeders or what the squirrels are up to. If I am lucky, I may spot a lizard or snake. Frogs and toads and dragonflies enjoy our small backyard pond. But, I have always wondered what animals might be coming around at night when we are tucked into dreamland. A couple of years ago we set up a wireless camera system (Arlo brand) and began to record images of animals that are not seen during the day. I want to share some of these with you. The images are not sharp, but most of the subjects can be identified.

From Our Backyard Cameras-

Two Raccoons (June 2021)

Momma Opossum with pouch full of babies and a Cottontail Rabbit (March 2018)

Two Rats! (August 2020)

Screech Owl (4:30 a.m. March 19,2021)

Skunk (August 2020)

We think it digs under the fence and have blocked up likely areas. Do not want my dogs to encounter this critter!

Sometimes we record something we cannot easily i.d. such as the following photo of what I think is a gecko tail.

Gecko Tail? (June 2021)

From Our Front Yard Cameras-

White Tailed Deer (August 2021)

Coyote (July 2018)

And on occasion we record spiders, moths, june bugs, rain, our pets, our legs while we are escorting our pets or when coming home from a late date. And sometimes a neighbor’s cat…we don’t have many of those around because of the critter in the previous photo.

But, my favorite so far is this pretty creature-

Fox Near Front Porch
(June 2017) (seen in backyard once)

My Beach Trip

Port Aransas, Texas Seagulls

My vacation view

Golden Gulf waves

Sunrise

Me sitting on the best balcony ever

Sturdy deck chair

Watching gulls wheel over hot bright sand

hearing their laughter

Sea breeze ruffles my hair

giant tanker ships far away

passing slowly

pelicans cruising in

armadas of four or more

people wading, surfing

fishing, and flying kites

Sunset

Moonrise

Surf sound

My dream

(these words describe a June 2013 trip to Port Aransas, Texas and a trip I have been fantasizing about taking since the pandemic began)

Nature’s Distractions

I turn away from the once again worsening pandemic, the sadness of refugees and war, and the tragic realities of life in our world. I want distractions from the worries of the day. Despite what we continue to do to her, Mother Nature gives us plenty of things to enjoy and be in awe of. I especially appreciate her gifts right now. I am not turning away from reality. Her gifts are part of our reality too.

I am distracted by the colors…

Red

Blue

Green

Yellow

And the Interesting…

I even appreciate the distraction of the annoying…

Thank you delightful distractions! You help me make it through the tough times.

(photos by Betty McCreary)