My November

If you read my October post, you saw photos of my beautiful Bur Oak tree and the nuts it was producing. Now, only a month later, there is not a nut to be found except on the ground. I gave about 2 dozen nuts to a friend for craft projects. And I picked up another 171 and donated them to Tree Folks to propagate. So, maybe my wonderful tree will live on.

The leaves are mostly gone now, mulched into the ground by my husband’s mower. I want to put them back on the tree. I am not ready for winter. Time is moving too fast for me.

We have been working quite a few jigsaw puzzles lately. They take time, but they make me feel as if time is standing still. Searching for shapes and colors. Looking for patterns. This is quite meditative. I get into the puzzle zone. And this zone is carrying over a bit into the rest of my day. Sometimes, now, when I look at a house on the street or the trees in their brilliant fall colors, I think the scene before me would make a nice jigsaw puzzle.

I think of my life as a puzzle. Mostly complete, but with some missing pieces yet to be fitted in their proper place. But, the puzzle of my life is not determined by fate. I believe I can still change the picture if I make the right choices each day. But, figuring out these “choices” is not easy. I get into a rut of a routine and anxiety often interferes with changing up my daily activities.

The contrasts and comparisons of life are calling to me these days. How does it all fit together?

Rock Rose Bloom and Hackberry Stump

The soft and the rough.

The light and the dark.

The living and the dead.

The pointed and the rounded.

November Clouds At Sunset

The same and different.

Not sure how my life will look when I finish as I am still a work in progress.

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)

Penny For Your Thoughts (Or Which Side Are You On?)

Lately I hear media pundits talk about a possible time of civil unrest or even civil war in the United States. I try to put this idea aside as an exaggeration…because this is almost too scary to contemplate. But, my anxiety for the future of our country lingers…it resides at the back of my thoughts and no matter how hard I try to ignore it, it creeps in and colors my life. Are our people so divided and fearful of each other that we would destroy one another?

Walk in another man’s shoes for awhile if you want to understand where they are coming from…I have heard variations on this quote for most of my life and have tried to put myself in the shoes of others to try and learn about them…the “other.” I don’t think we can ever truly understand another person, but this exercise, the trying on of shoes and walking their path, is a start. It helps to have imagination and compassion.

I am really struggling with this concept. I keep coming back to the penny. If you look at one side of the penny you see the profile of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln:

No matter how different we are, we can agree that this is the image on the face of the penny. * This is our reality. But, what if I am looking at Lincoln’s face and you are looking at the other side of the penny. You will see:

You will be seeing the Lincoln Memorial. We can both be looking at the same penny and we can see totally different images. And we can argue about this and both be right.

What if we put the coin on it’s edge. Then we would both see the same image of the penny and could agree. But, are we willing to look closely at the other side of things, the differing opinions of others. This is hard to do and I think most people don’t even try. It is easier to hold fast to our own perceptions. We so want to be right. Lately, I often feel like I am looking at a spinning penny…I can’t make out any images and so don’t know what to think.

When I thought about exploring this penny metaphor, I dug into my meager coin purse (I don’t use coins these days) and dug out some pennies. I was surprised to find a new back to the penny:

In my mind I had been so sure of the Lincoln Memorial being on the back side of the penny! How did this new back not get my attention before this? Why get rid of the old image? What does the shield mean?

So, a little online research tells me that the face of Lincoln first appeared on a penny in 1909 to celebrate 100 years since Lincoln’s birth. The wheat on the back represented prosperity. In 1959 the wheat image was taken off and the Lincoln Memorial appeared on the back to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Then starting in 2009 there were 4 other designs to appear on the back of the Lincoln penny:

  1. Log cabin- to represent his early years
  2. Lincoln reading a book
  3. Lincoln in front of Illinois statehouse to celebrate his time as a lawyer and statesman
  4. Unfinished Capitol Dome – to symbolize our struggle during the civil war

Then in 2010 they minted the image of the shield on the back in honor of the sesquicentennial of his election win. The shield symbolizes our national unity. Learning what the designs represent gives me a bit of hope that we will not come apart, but will come out of this current strife a stronger country.

I am told that there is talk of doing away with pennies altogether. Maybe we can use the old pennies as part of our school children’s education…?

The image that has not changed all these years are the words “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One…we can have different ideas and listen and learn from each other and work with each other…Let this be our future.

Info from:

Lincolncottage.org

usmint.gov

en.wikipedia.org

Photos by B. McCreary

*The words “In God We Trust” and “Liberty” on the face of the penny speak for themselves

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!

It is a July morning, the only good time to sit outside when we are experiencing 100 and 100 plus temperatures. We sit out in our backyard sipping coffee. The breeze is pleasant, rustling the leaves in the burr oak above us. There is a bright, blue sky with fluffy, white clouds, drifting and shifting shape.

I have my binoculars close by, and my eyes scan the sky above our roof. My husband’s eyes are glued to the news on his Ipad.

Two people. Alike and not alike.

“Look! A Mississippi Kite!” I point at the soaring grey bird, it’s white head helping me identify it. My husband looks up briefly.

We both hear a far off engine noise. He taps and scrolls and says, “That is a Gulf Stream 4 private jet flying from Cabo San Lucas to Austin.” We look up and see the plane heading east. My husband has an app on his Ipad that shows a photo of the plane, the name of the plane, and the route it is taking.

“A White Egret…it is flying east too,” I declare, as I follow it with my binoculars.

“DC-9-15 (F) USA Jet Airlines heading from San Antonio to Detroit at 29,000 feet.” We watch it head north until the tree obscures our view.

Flying things in the sky. Alike. And not alike.

My eyes spot swallows flitting about up high. I can’t identify them.

“Boeing 737-79P. Southwest Airlines from Austin to Denver.”

A black chinned hummingbird zooms past us. As I follow it, I spot another Mississippi Kite. “Oh look, honey! Did you see it?”

“Yes, that was a Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage…a private prop plane…going from Houston to Ruidoso at 24,000 feet.”

I guess we see what we want to see sometimes…

*(Sky and plane 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

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