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:
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:
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.
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)
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.
Monday, Feb. 15-More snow had fallen in the night
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.
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.
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.
Saturday, Feb. 20th- Day #4 of no running water. Sun and 57.9 degrees! Our snow melt is running out.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Just like many of you, the holiday lights that decorate our indoor and outdoor spaces give a lift to the melancholy and stress that I feel this time of year. Especially this year.
I also like to sit on my back porch and just sit and stare at the trees and the sky. Sometimes when I do this I am driven in by the sudden barking of a neighbor’s dog or yelling of children nearby. My main nemesis is the loud leaf blowers that are so popular among the anti-leafers. So, I was very lucky recently to sit at sunset and just be in silence. I guess this is my meditation. The more I am able to just sit, the better I deal with all the other everyday stresses.
During this particular quiet sit, I watched the bare burr oak tree as the waning sun gradually left the tree limbs dark in front and the ones in back glowed pink.
I have much to be grateful for this year, but am not sorry to say goodbye to 2020.
Here’s to a better, peaceful year ahead for all of us!
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)
I look at trees every day as a birdwatcher, but I don’t really “see” the trees. Recently, a friend from Colorado has been e-mailing me of her encounters with various trees and this has prompted me to look at trees a bit closer. Our native trees have been beautiful this fall. Not just beautiful, but spectacular: the brilliant yellow of the cedar elms and the big tooth maples; the reds of the cypress and the Texas red oak; the intense scarlet of the aptly named flame leaf sumac.
I had intended for this month’s blog to be a celebration of central Texas trees showing the rest of the country that: “Yes, we do have seasons down here.” Driving down nearby streets, the colors would catch my eye and I would tell myself, “I will come back tomorrow and take photos of that tree.” I kept telling myself I was going to do this, but I kept putting it off. Then, a few days ago I noticed that the tree colors were less vibrant and more leaves were falling off the trees. I realized I was missing, may have already missed, my opportunity. I thought I had already learned my lesson years ago when I did a lot of nature photography: Take the photo now! “The sky will not look like this tomorrow.” “That bird may not be in this spot tomorrow.”
This is a pattern of mine throughout my life, to plan to do something and then not follow through and then the opportunity has passed, never to return. There is a feeling of shame associated with this habit of procrastination, and a feeling of sadness.
On the 13th of this month while surfing the internet, I learned of the death of author Gary Svee. He was someone I had intended to contact. I wanted to ask him about why he wrote what he did about an ancestor of mine. I had been given a phone number of someone who knew him and was so anxious about calling a stranger out of the blue that I kept putting this off. I put it off for a year and a half. Now it is too late.
I went to his online memorial page and left a note. On the page it said that people were being asked to donate money to plant a tree in his memory. So, I did that. There is some sort of meaningful connection between the tree leaves transitioning and people transitioning that I am trying to grasp as I write this. The book of fiction this man wrote was entitled Single Tree and painted a sympathetic portrait of part of my family tree, a great, great uncle. I wanted to thank him, whether or not my thanks would have been welcome by him. But, I didn’t do this. He will never know what his book meant to me. Maybe he wouldn’t have cared. I cried when I read that he had died even though I had never met the man. I think maybe I cried more in disappointment at myself.
So, I share with you here some of Austin’s color and my advice to take action. Colors don’t last. Lives don’t last.