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.
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
And this lovely butterfly on a milkweed plant
And this majestic being visited on December 30th
And on the first day of the new year
And last, but not least in beauty
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
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
Watching wildlife is fun! I like a good hike where some interesting birds and maybe a rabbit or snake might be spotted. I have seen multiple deer while on drives around central Texas. And live armadillos! (yes, I said live!) But, most of the time I just sit on my back porch watching to see what birds might come to my feeders or what the squirrels are up to. If I am lucky, I may spot a lizard or snake. Frogs and toads and dragonflies enjoy our small backyard pond. But, I have always wondered what animals might be coming around at night when we are tucked into dreamland. A couple of years ago we set up a wireless camera system (Arlo brand) and began to record images of animals that are not seen during the day. I want to share some of these with you. The images are not sharp, but most of the subjects can be identified.
From Our Backyard Cameras-
We think it digs under the fence and have blocked up likely areas. Do not want my dogs to encounter this critter!
Sometimes we record something we cannot easily i.d. such as the following photo of what I think is a gecko tail.
From Our Front Yard Cameras-
And on occasion we record spiders, moths, june bugs, rain, our pets, our legs while we are escorting our pets or when coming home from a late date. And sometimes a neighbor’s cat…we don’t have many of those around because of the critter in the previous photo.
I turn away from the once again worsening pandemic, the sadness of refugees and war, and the tragic realities of life in our world. I want distractions from the worries of the day. Despite what we continue to do to her, Mother Nature gives us plenty of things to enjoy and be in awe of. I especially appreciate her gifts right now. I am not turning away from reality. Her gifts are part of our reality too.
I am distracted by the colors…
And the Interesting…
I even appreciate the distraction of the annoying…
Thank you delightful distractions! You help me make it through the tough times.
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.