Tree Peace

Decorated Live Oak In Our Front Yard

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.

Sunset With Burr Oak

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!

Happy New Year to you all!

Grateful For Nature Photography

It was a dreary, drizzly winter morning. I had been sitting in my portable photo blind since dawn (several hours of boredom) waiting for the sky to lighten and birds to come in to the perch I had set up near a feeder. I was tipping back on my little hunter’s stool (not made for tipping) and must have started to doze. Over I went, taking the blind with me, not to mention my tripod, the attached camera, and heavy lens. Instinctively, I grabbed the lens as I was going down. I fell on and bruised my other hand. As I righted the blind and tripod, I hoped no one other than the birds and nearby cows had seen me go over.

Nature photography can be difficult. Sometimes I have had to carry heavy camera equipment and other essentials (blind, stool, water, etc.) over rough terrain. I have been bitten by chiggers, fire ants, ticks, biting flies, and mosquitos. I’ve endured heat, cold, and lightening. I have encountered cactus spines, cow patties, poison ivy, and snakes (once a sunbathing Cottonmouth water moccasin blocked my path).

But, the rewards are great. The most obvious reward is getting some nice photos. I can show them to people proudly and say “Look what I did!” I can also show them to people and say “Look what I saw!” Maybe show them something they have not seen before and maybe in the showing and telling I can help others in their appreciation of the web of life.

Bobwhite Quail

There is also gratification in the process of taking the picture. The focusing on that one subject. My whole being becomes concentrated on seeing and recording a single, small part of the world. All else fades away.

Sometimes I have sat in my photo blind for hours, being quiet and still so I wouldn’t frighten away potential subjects. I needed to stay alert and aware. After hours of this sitting, I may or may not get the shot I wanted. I was rewarded with just learning the art of being patient and still.

There is the reward in just being outdoors communing with nature. Listening to the quiet. Listening to the bird song, the insect buzz, the coyote howls.

And the reward of the unexpected:

I had not planned on getting this Jack Rabbit portrait. I had been passing through an area to take photographs of something else. He ran into some bushes as I walked by. When I came back through that area later he allowed me to approach him and take lots of pictures. It always feels magical when this sort of thing happens.

The rewards I have gotten from my photography have been a sustaining force in my life. I am full of gratitude for this. When I have finished taking pictures of a subject I always say a quiet “Thank you.”

*Photos by Betty McCreary- Bobwhite Quail and Jack Rabbit photos taken in Goliad co., Texas

*Author’s note: My days of lugging heavy lenses over rough terrain are pretty much over. I shoot mostly flowers and insects in my own backyard with a small, lightweight digital camera.

Fears

Halloween is almost here, a time when many of us like to dress up in costumes and be someone else for a night. Maybe we hope to scare someone else with our creepy monster outfit. Some of us like to scare ourselves by visiting one of those haunted houses where scary people leap out of the darkness. As an older adult I just enjoy giving out candy at my front door and guessing what each cute kid is supposed to be. Not happening this year. We have not decorated the yard and we will not welcome trick or treaters to our house. Catching and spreading the covid-19 virus is the fear this year. Many of the neighborhood yard decorations have incorporated a pandemic theme into the traditional pumpkins and ghosts. One house down the street has a large sign that reads “Quarantown” and there are skeletons trapped behind bars.

Fear is as much a part of being human as loving and laughing. We are all afraid of something. I am afraid of being outside during a thunderstorm and of being a passenger in a car with a reckless driver. I am afraid to fly. These fears are all of things outside of myself. But, when I was younger I struggled with a different kind of fear. As a child I suffered from social anxiety. I would get very shy in large groups of people, especially ones I didn’t know. I would not talk. Then I developed a school phobia, causing me to miss many days of school. I became agoraphobic and was unable to go into a burger joint just to buy a hamburger. It was not easy, but eventually I overcame these fears. I am confidant and even outgoing. I can shop anywhere and I have even given talks before large groups of people.

But, some of my personal fears have come back in 2020. I drive only once a week, or less. As I approach my car I am nervous about going anywhere. I feel like my old socially anxious self. As I pull out of the drive-way I have to remind myself that, yes, I do know how to drive and I will not have a wreck. I am now used to wearing a mask in stores, but still feel super self-conscious around the other shoppers. I don’t speak to them. I turn my head away and do not inhale or exhale as I pass them. I am always relieved to get back out to the parking lot.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was mindful of the growing virus cases around the country. On March 26th I started a chart. I began to keep track of the number of covid-19 cases for my county, as well as all the counties in the United States where I had loves ones. On March 26th Travis county reported 119 cases. Two days later we had our first death. As I write this on October 29th, 7 months later, my county reports 31,851 cases and 449 deaths. 2.6% of the people here have been infected…or 1 out of every 39. It is worse in other parts of Texas.

There is a dread here. A fear that no matter the mask wearing and the social distancing, the invisible monster, the covid-19 virus, will get us anyway.

I am not even going to start talking here about my other dreads, the visible monsters: more unarmed people killed by police; election results/no election results; civil unrest; wildfires; hurricanes; loved ones I may never see again; murder bees…

One of my favorite quotes is this one by Eleanor Roosevelt ( a shy, introvert herself):

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”

Well, I am looking fear in the face. But, so much of what I am afraid of is not inside myself, but out there waiting to get me. So, like many of you, I will distract myself by the beauty outside:

“The fears of what may come to pass,

I cast them all away,

Among the clover scented grass,

Among the new-mown hay.”

(Louise Imogen Guiney- “A Song from Sylvan,” St. 2)

And Hey, two full moons in one month is a good thing, a sign of better times to come. Be fearless my friends and stay safe.

*Quotes from Volume One (1800-1899) The Quotable Woman-compiled and edited by Elaine Partnow- Pinnacle Books

*Covid-19 numbers from: Infection2020.com

*Photo- My mother and three of her siblings taken around 1940

Signs of Hope

Lately, I have been worried about the future of our country and feeling a real sense of despair at the divisions between people. There is so much trash talking and disrespect and hate. The news of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hit me hard. A sense of hopelessness settled on my spirit.

So, I have been sitting on my back porch looking for signs of hope. I must confess to a superstitious side of myself, the self who interprets natural occurrences to have some meaning beyond just being what they are. A quote I like, from Lady Bird Johnson, says “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” A few days ago, I saw this lovely purple flower in my backyard. It was the first time this plant had bloomed all year and I took this as a sign of hope.

Then, a day or two later I saw this:

Soon after this photo was taken, the hawk swooped down after unseen prey and landed in the pot on top of the very same purple flower. So, maybe, as Emily Dickinson says, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Or not. It is interesting to me that I look for signs of hope in nature when the despair I feel is because of humans. The truth is that nature gives me peace and distraction. Nature bathing renews me and then I am able to come back into and deal with the human world.

I realize that I need to look to people for the signs of hope I need. To look for the “helpers”, as Mr. Rogers would say. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a helper. Her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia over their love of opera, is a sign of hope. The idea that two people, with very different ideas on justice, could come together and enjoy a shared experience, gives us all an example to follow. What kept Justice Ginsburg going strong all these years? Was it hope? Her death brought sadness to many of my sister and brother Americans. It also brought a renewed urge to follow her lead, to work for justice and equality for all. That she kept fighting for all of us, despite numerous illnesses, is to be admired. We can hold her up as an example and as a beacon of hope when we are needing it, like right now.

(Flower photo by Betty McCreary)

(Hawk photo by Dan McCreary -iphone)

Pandemic Eyes

Sitting in my car, I observe the people in the parking lot. Some don’t put on their masks until they are at the store entrance. Others put on their masks before they get out of their cars. That is what I do. Turn off the ignition, grab my purse and car keys and put my mask on. I position it properly with both mouth and nose covered.

I peer over my mask at the other shoppers making sure we don’t get closer than 6 feet from each other, which is not always possible. Do I have to wait until the person looking at every brand and flavor of soup finishes and leaves before I can continue? The aisles are narrow. Usually I just pass them anyway, averting my head so I don’t breathe on them. I never really enjoyed shopping for food. Now, I hate it.

We are watching more t.v. now that we are staying home most of the time. I yell at the actors for not social distancing, something I would never do in the real world for fear of bodily harm in the form of some angry anti-masker coughing on me.

Technology is wonderful. We can stay connected via our phones and computers. However, participating in Zoom gatherings is very frustrating in that I cannot make direct eye contact with anyone. And I am tired of looking at my own expressions.

I find peace in being outdoors, but even the shape of certain flowers or seed heads remind me of pictures I have seen of the covid-19 virus.

Anything that is spherical with spikes, even a child’s rubber ball. Every part of life now seems to be through the lens of the pandemic. If you had told me a year ago that we would all be wearing masks, I wouldn’t have believed you. I wonder what our country will look like a year from now? Whether you are marching in the streets for justice or venturing out to work or caring for loved ones, please stay safe.

Cactus Flower
Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella)

All photos by Betty McCreary

Moments

At the inlet’s edge I sit

Just me

Watching

as sunlight swirls eddies into ever changing

abstract patterns

Gold light captured for an instant

melting away in the constant flux

a new curlicue appears briefly

and is gone

Mother’s palette changing by the moment

here a brown leaf flounders past

there a dragon fly skims the surface

flashing blue

At the inlet’s edge I sit

mesmerized by Nature’s Art

no permanent exhibit here

no meet the artist reception

Just me

photos by Betty McCreary

(at an inlet of the North Guadalupe River at Mo-Ranch in the Texas Hill country)

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

               I am struggling with writing this month’s blog. I don’t think I can write a coherent essay about my feelings during this time of craziness because they are all over the place. So many things in opposition. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”*

Staying at home or going out with a mask vs. pretending it is all a hoax and chastising mask wearers (as happened to a friend of mine in the grocery store)

Staying at home or marching in the streets

Protestors with masks can still be heard

You can breathe in a mask but you cannot breath with a knee on your neck

Fever of the current corona virus and the fever of rage and protest

I heard some interesting words on a recent PBS News Hour. An African American woman comparing the crime tool luminol to the corona virus. Just as luminol under UV light will show blood that was invisible before, the virus has helped in exposing the underlying racism in our country because of how disproportionally the virus is affecting the black population.

The multiracial crowds standing tall with arms uplifted in protest versus African American, George Floyd, handcuffed on the ground with a white policeman’s knee on his neck

The best of us: George Floyd was described as a “gentle giant” (The Guardian.com)

The worst of us: The white policeman holding him down

The best of us: The protestors being there and giving voice to what needs to be heard

The worst of us: The anarchists fomenting violence and destruction

The sadness and pain and fear and outrage in me giving way to the joy of seeing Astronauts Bob Behnken (age 49) and Doug Hurley (age 53), flying away from Earth in the Space X capsule called the Dragon atop the Falcon rocket, filling my heart with pure joy at the fantastic images of the launch

 Bob and Doug (both white) hurtling into space, their second stage engine cutting off at 8 minutes and 47 seconds

A knee on grounded, George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, his soul flying into the ether too soon (he was 46 years old)

May he rest in peace

________________________________________________________________________________

Eastern Bluebird photo by Betty McCreary

*Quote from the opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

Pandemic Spring II

I like keeping up with the news of the world most days and especially during this time of our Covid -19 stay at home. I watch the daily White House Corona Virus Task Force press conferences live so I can hear what they are saying without it being chopped up into incomplete sound bites later on. Watching from a comfy chair in my bedroom while playing solitaire I often glance away from the puffed up orange haired human on the screen and check on the scene outside my window. I distract myself from the insanity with the natural calming beauty of my backyard.  I can see red admiral butterflies and monarchs sipping nectar from the pink and yellow lantana blossoms. There is also a hummingbird feeder with a lovely black chinned hummingbird in attendance. I scold the humming birds for fighting each other over the feeder. “There is enough for all of you!”, I tell them, at the same time knowing that it is in their best interests to be territorial. The butterflies calm me and the hummingbirds distract me. But, the creatures that bring me the most pleasure lately are the little green lizards who are in abundance this year.

Anole3
Anolis carolinensis

Almost anytime I turn away from the puffed up man on the screen I look out and spot these guys puffing up their bright, pink throat pouches (dewlaps). They move along the tree branches or fence top and stop. Then they puff out the pink pouch a time or two and then move on. Then they stop and do it again. This behavior in these male Anole lizards (Anolis carolinensis) is to attract a female. My grandmother used to say they were “showing their money.”

AnoleDewlap
Green Anole with partially inflated dewlap

Anoles2April2020
Anoles Mating?

They are among many Iguanid lizards in the Family Iguanidae. They range throughout the south eastern United States from Oklahoma south through much of east Texas and east to Florida. They are not true chameleons, but change color from brown to bright green.

Anole5
Green Anole in brown on brown branch

Just like the ubiquitous face masks and empty store shelves, these little lizards seem to be everywhere. I see them on walks in the neighborhood. There is one that hangs out near the front porch and I have seen at least three different ones at the same time in the back yard.  Or maybe there were always that many of them around. It is just that now I have more time sitting at home enjoying nature from my window. Making lemonade out of pandemic lemons.

AnoleonGargoyleSpring2020
Green Anole on gargoyle statue outside my window

*Photos taken by author

*Reference: Texas Monthly Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Texas-by Judith M. Garrett and David G. Barker

Tree Life

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.

Texas Redbud

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)

 

Heart Shaped Leaf of the Texas Redbud

**(Photos taken by Betty McCreary)