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)

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

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

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

The Voice of the Spiderwort

I am two and a half months above ground and about two and a half feet tall. My sturdy stalk and alternately placed, elegant leaves are a beautiful emerald green.

Up top, my face is soft and purple with pretty, yellow projections that are kissed and tickled by native bees…

And Honey Bees…

They like my sweetness. I look around and see many others that look like me and I wave my leaves to let my siblings know I see them.

I have been told that we are the descendants of beings that lived millions of years ago. I am a happy being and I know I bring joy to the mammals that live in the house nearby. The female mammal told me that her mother brought my ancestors here from her own yard twenty years ago. The female mammal planted them over there by what is now a pond. And from those few beings we have become many.

I acknowledge the other grounded ones, my cousins. They are different and yet the same as me. We are beautiful in our own way. Just like the mammals, especially the human ones, our differences make the world richer.

Each morning I open my three petaled face to a new day and close up and am done by evening. The next morning a new trio of petals opens. I am happy to be alive after almost perishing in the bitter, cold of last Valentine’s day. I think some of my family did not make it and that is sad. There are a few less of us this year. But, we will not be destroyed and we will probably outlast many of earth’s other, more mobile creatures.

I will lose my above ground body in the heat of the summer and lay dormant until my green shoots push, once again, up into the sky.

May I bring you joy and peace this season and in all the years to come. And may I inspire you to kindness.

(All photos by Betty McCreary 2021)

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 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.

img055
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)