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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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)