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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Looking For Pearls

When you are out for a walk in the woods is there a particular thing you keep an eye out for? Maybe a type of rock or fossil? Maybe you keep your ears tuned to hear a favorite bird. There is a small plant I look for during walks on the nearby greenbelt trail. It is a small, green vine that twines its stem and heart shaped leaves up bushes and trees. It has the prettiest little flowers in the world. The small flowers are shaped like five pointed stars and are graced with streaks of white. In the middle of the star is a single pearl. At least that is what it looks like to me.

I photographed the first one I ever saw and later found out what it was named. It is in the Milkweed family of plants (Asclepiadaceae) and grows in Central and Eastern Texas. It is a Milkweed Pearl Vine (Matelea reticulata). When I see them I point them out to whoever I am with. They are small and can be easily overlooked.

Their seed pods are not dainty and cute like the flowers, but bulky and spiky. Inside the pod are many flat seeds with long, silky hairs to help them drift away. They are a host plant for butterflies such as the Monarch and Queen.

They are another plant that reminds me of my mother because she loved them too. The first one she ever saw was at McKinney Falls State Park. A few years later, she went through docent training to be a volunteer at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and chose this plant as her subject to research and write a short paper about. She dug one up on private land near Dripping Springs, Texas. Planted in her backyard it did pretty well.

After our horrible cold snap this past February, I expected so many plants to not come back this Spring. Surprisingly, some plants have come back stronger than ever. This spring I saw more of these Milkweed Pearl Vine flowers in the greenbelt than I have ever seen before. They will disappear next winter, but I am certain to see their sweet faces next year. They will once again be a sweet reminder of my mother.

When you find one of Nature’s little pearls, please share it with a friend.

Resources:

Wildflower.org

“A Hill Country Gem- the Pearl Milkweed Vine”-Barbara Downes

“Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country” by Marshall Enquist

All photos by Betty McCreary