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:

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

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

Moon

Full Moon March 2021

Jesus saw you. Harriet Tubman saw you. Ruth Bader Ginsberg saw you. The poorest man in the world and the richest woman in the world see you.

Moonrise over the Gulf of Mexico. Moonrise seen through pine trees. Moonrise over mountains and jungles. Moonrise viewed through my pecan tree – through bare limbs in winter and through thousands of leaves this May. Your beauty awes me every time, whether full or tiny sliver.

You are 238,855 miles from me…about 200 round trips from Austin to El Paso.* But, I don’t want to travel to you, just admire from afar. Spotting you sometimes during the day, I stop and look and briefly marvel.

The sun grounds me and gives me energy. Your reflection of the sun…maybe that is why I want to see you.

When you are full, I see the image of a rabbit with a basket. The ears are the Seas of Nectar and Fertility. The rabbit’s head is the Sea of Tranquility and the body includes the Sea of Serenity.** Perhaps, to me, you represent the Easter Bunny, bringing new life each month of the year and bringing me a smile.

In my lifetime I have had the chance to see you full almost 800 times and I intend to see you, full or not, many more times. Thank you for giving me brief and lovely escapes from the Earth troubles that are never ending.

May 25, 2021

*https://spaceplace.nasa.gov

**Forbes.com “The Top Five Features To Find On The Full Moon”

https://images.app.goo.gl/a83q6Kb1yTszjbRG7

Blog photos by B. 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)

Deep Freeze Deep in the Heart of Texas

In Austin we are lucky to get one snow fall each winter and we had ours on January 10th, 2021. Only a couple of inches of snow fell, but enough for excited kids to build snow people and have snow ball fights. By the next day it began to melt. We had gotten our snow for the year and were satisfied with what we got. Little did we know that much more was to come.

We had seen the forecast for the polar air to sweep far south, deep into Texas and surrounding states. On the evening of Saturday, February 13th it got quite cold. By early the next morning we had a heavy sleet storm.

Sunday, Feb. 14th- Valentines’ Day- We woke up to an ice covered lawn and found a dead, frost covered squirrel at the base of our burr oak. I recognized it as one that had suffered an injured leg at least a month ago. I guess this round of cold was too much for it. Later, while taking bird seed and warm water out to the birds, I slipped and fell and hit my head on a rock. I got up quick, assuring my husband, “I’m okay!” But, he saw blood running down my neck. He cleaned the scalp wound (and yes, scalp wounds bleed a lot!) and we monitored me for any signs of concussion. The roads were too iced over to drive, so I am glad my injuries were minor. Even ambulances were having a tough time responding to all the falls and car accidents. The first responders were working overtime.

In the afternoon the snow began to fall. So, now we had snow over ice.

Millie our elderly dog late that night

Monday, Feb. 15-More snow had fallen in the night

Millie in even more snow 7:16 a.m.

Tuesday, Feb. 16th- Happy Birthday to Me! Had to postpone my Birthday dinner of chicken fajitas from Chuy’s restaurant. We still have power. Many people do not.

Cold Cardinal

25 degrees and it began to snow again.

Wednesday, Feb. 17th-Our water pressure was very low in the morning and my husband was quick to fill a couple of pots with water. Later in the morning we had no water at all from our taps. The high was 32 degrees and it began to sleet again. A neighbor stopped by to see what we might need. Later, she and another kind neighbor brought us 2 pitchers of water (she had filled all her sinks and tubs in anticipation of the storm). It was still not safe to drive on roads and we heard that many stores had run out of drinking water and most food. This was like what happened during our initial covid lockdown the year before. At least we had plenty of food in our fridge and pantry. Days of no sun started to wear on me.

Ice Covered Trees

Ice Covered Crepe Myrtle

Thursday, Feb. 18th-Still no running water. Our high today was 32 degrees and it snowed again! Our Desert Willow tree on the side of the house lost two large limbs under the weight of the ice. We melted lots of snow on our gas stove to use to flush toilets. We are lucky our power is on and our natural gas is okay. At 9p.m. a boy from next door brought us a large bottle of water!

Friday, Feb. 19th- Sun! Melting has begun and we gather more snow because we still have No Water! At 1:37 p.m. the temperature outside is a glorious 39.4 degrees. I have not bothered to record the lows because they are so low that I don’t want to think about it (I think the lowest it got was 5 degrees). With the sun come clear nights and we can see the stars again.

Happy Squirrel

Chipping Sparrows Bathing in Snow Melt

Saturday, Feb. 20th- Day #4 of no running water. Sun and 57.9 degrees! Our snow melt is running out.

Robin and Snow Melt

I am in my 60s and have never had to experience the lack of running water unless it was my choice (back country camping in Big Bend or a trek into an Amazon rainforest village). This is a life lesson in gratitude and recognizing how lucky and privileged my life has been. We are grateful for snow and kind neighbors and that our power did not go out and our pipes didn’t burst and that I did not get a concussion or break any bones when I fell. I am also grateful that I was not alone during this ordeal.

So many Austinites lost power and water. Many were left in the cold for days. Some died, including a young boy. And there were people left in the cold, without water, that were also suffering from the covid virus. A woman gave birth at home in the cold. A family with many kids lost power/heat at home and survived huddled in a van for several days.

Sunday, Feb. 21st- Our water came back on! But, we are under a boil water notice. And it is good the taps are running because there is no more snow to melt. Sunny and 72 degrees. I heard a screech owl trilling in the evening, so I know at least one owl survived the cold. I have heard many birds died.

Monday, Feb. 22nd- 75 beautiful degrees and I saw my first crane fly of the season.

Tuesday, Feb. 23rd- The City of Austin lifts our boil water notice. We are blessed to have clean, running tap water. This winter storm has been a humbling experience. Things have become more normal again. Knock wood, this will be the last of the Winter for us Central Texans. Repairs to burst pipes and water damaged homes are keeping plumbers and others busy. Our concerns will become “normal” again…like where we can find a covid vaccine shot.

Spring is Coming Soon

(photos by Betty McCreary)

Tree Peace II

In January 2019 I posted my first blog piece, “A Closer Look”, in which I talked about how looking closer at things can reveal so much. I gave the example of how beautiful Cedar Waxwings are up close and used this photo:

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) Up Close

In my blog piece last month (“Tree Peace”) I showed photos of various trees, some decorated and some winter bare. The bare one is the huge Burr Oak in my back yard. Siting on the back porch at dusk watching the last rays of the sun as they illuminate the branches gets me out of my worries about the world and brings me peace.

Over the two years I have posted these blog pieces I often spend more time worrying about what to write about than actually writing. I was contemplating writing about several different subjects, but nothing was really speaking to me. I kept thinking about our country’s current problems with political division and the ongoing pandemic/lack of vaccine. I pressure myself to write about them. But, so many others are writing some thoughtful and often brilliant pieces. I don’t know that I have anything better to add. I know so many people are agitated and afraid right now, me included.

So, yesterday evening, to escape my worries, I chose to sit outside and bird watch. Had the usual White Winged Doves and Cardinals. I even saw a Hermit Thrush take a bath in our shallow pond. I could hear the laughter of Robins once in a while and the sweet whistles of the many flocks of Cedar Waxwings in nearby yards. And then:

Cedar Waxwings in Burr Oak Tree

The Cedar Waxwings decided to hang out in my back yard tree. They came in one by one. Some would leave and others fly in to replace them.

Some sat like sentinels while others preened themselves. All seemed to stay in the sunny branches as the shadows grew on the lower branches. I saw one gently put its beak to another’s, like a kiss. There was constant movement and sweet whistling noises. Other flocks of Cedar waxwings were flying over, as were flocks of Robins. All were heading west into the setting sun. Watching them was mesmerizing.

Sometimes it is better to look at things from afar. The birds reminded me of little golden balls, like ornaments. I see in them the beauty of a large, peaceful, cooperative group. I am thankful for this magical gift of nature that swept me away for a while, and I love witnessing the cycling of the seasons once again. I feel the connection to January 2019, although that seems so long ago. I wonder if any of these birds came to our tree two years ago? As the sun continued to lower in the sky, the birds began to leave the tree. Afterwards, the only evidence they had been there were numerous purple bird droppings left on the cover of our outdoor grill.

(photos by Betty McCreary)