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.”
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?
Aol.com, msn.com, Youtube.com, Barrons.com, Wikipedia
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.
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.
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
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.
“A Hill Country Gem- the Pearl Milkweed Vine”-Barbara Downes
“Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country” by Marshall Enquist
There are two of you red barked madrones near the Emma Lowe Country Stream, a peaceful area on the grounds of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Your bark is a deep, brick red. The gurgling, perpetual stream runs down hill from you and along side your paler barked sibling. Did Lady Bird know you as a child?
I move closer to you. Your cream colored blooms are just past their prime. Your green leaves are so heavenly soft to stroke.
Your curving, delicate, yet strong, branches take me back to drives in the hill country outside Austin. My Dad, at the wheel, is proud to point you out. “Look kids! A Madrone!” You were on a hillside to the right of the steep road leaving town. Are you still there? Or were you chopped down to make room for a driveway into a subdivision. You are not common here. But, you are the more valuable to me for being such a rare sight.
Seeing you always brings back the happier memories of being with my Dad. But, you also bring me sadness for these past times. I love you and I will remember.
(Photos by Betty McCreary)
Fact Source: A Field Guide To Wildflowers Trees & Shrubs of Texas by Delena Tull and George Oxford Miller (Texas Monthly Field Guide Series)
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.
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)