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
Jesus saw you. Harriet Tubman saw you. Ruth Bader Ginsberg saw you. The poorest man in the world and the richest woman in the world see you.
Moonrise over the Gulf of Mexico. Moonrise seen through pine trees. Moonrise over mountains and jungles. Moonrise viewed through my pecan tree – through bare limbs in winter and through thousands of leaves this May. Your beauty awes me every time, whether full or tiny sliver.
You are 238,855 miles from me…about 200 round trips from Austin to El Paso.* But, I don’t want to travel to you, just admire from afar. Spotting you sometimes during the day, I stop and look and briefly marvel.
The sun grounds me and gives me energy. Your reflection of the sun…maybe that is why I want to see you.
When you are full, I see the image of a rabbit with a basket. The ears are the Seas of Nectar and Fertility. The rabbit’s head is the Sea of Tranquility and the body includes the Sea of Serenity.** Perhaps, to me, you represent the Easter Bunny, bringing new life each month of the year and bringing me a smile.
In my lifetime I have had the chance to see you full almost 800 times and I intend to see you, full or not, many more times. Thank you for giving me brief and lovely escapes from the Earth troubles that are never ending.
**Forbes.com “The Top Five Features To Find On The Full Moon”
I am two and a half months above ground and about two and a half feet tall. My sturdy stalk and alternately placed, elegant leaves are a beautiful emerald green.
Up top, my face is soft and purple with pretty, yellow projections that are kissed and tickled by native bees…
And Honey Bees…
They like my sweetness. I look around and see many others that look like me and I wave my leaves to let my siblings know I see them.
I have been told that we are the descendants of beings that lived millions of years ago. I am a happy being and I know I bring joy to the mammals that live in the house nearby. The female mammal told me that her mother brought my ancestors here from her own yard twenty years ago. The female mammal planted them over there by what is now a pond. And from those few beings we have become many.
I acknowledge the other grounded ones, my cousins. They are different and yet the same as me. We are beautiful in our own way. Just like the mammals, especially the human ones, our differences make the world richer.
Each morning I open my three petaled face to a new day and close up and am done by evening. The next morning a new trio of petals opens. I am happy to be alive after almost perishing in the bitter, cold of last Valentine’s day. I think some of my family did not make it and that is sad. There are a few less of us this year. But, we will not be destroyed and we will probably outlast many of earth’s other, more mobile creatures.
I will lose my above ground body in the heat of the summer and lay dormant until my green shoots push, once again, up into the sky.
May I bring you joy and peace this season and in all the years to come. And may I inspire you to kindness.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.