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?
The soft and the rough.
The light and the dark.
The living and the dead.
The pointed and the rounded.
The same and different.
Not sure how my life will look when I finish as I am still a work in progress.
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:
For information on some famous Texas trees: tfsweb.tamu.edu/Websites/FamoustreesofTexas/Explore_our_Trees/
Visit new trees propagated from famous Texas trees at the Ladybird Johnson Research Center arboreteum. Info at: Wildflower.org
Lately I hear media pundits talk about a possible time of civil unrest or even civil war in the United States. I try to put this idea aside as an exaggeration…because this is almost too scary to contemplate. But, my anxiety for the future of our country lingers…it resides at the back of my thoughts and no matter how hard I try to ignore it, it creeps in and colors my life. Are our people so divided and fearful of each other that we would destroy one another?
Walk in another man’s shoes for awhile if you want to understand where they are coming from…I have heard variations on this quote for most of my life and have tried to put myself in the shoes of others to try and learn about them…the “other.” I don’t think we can ever truly understand another person, but this exercise, the trying on of shoes and walking their path, is a start. It helps to have imagination and compassion.
I am really struggling with this concept. I keep coming back to the penny. If you look at one side of the penny you see the profile of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln:
No matter how different we are, we can agree that this is the image on the face of the penny. * This is our reality. But, what if I am looking at Lincoln’s face and you are looking at the other side of the penny. You will see:
You will be seeing the Lincoln Memorial. We can both be looking at the same penny and we can see totally different images. And we can argue about this and both be right.
What if we put the coin on it’s edge. Then we would both see the same image of the penny and could agree. But, are we willing to look closely at the other side of things, the differing opinions of others. This is hard to do and I think most people don’t even try. It is easier to hold fast to our own perceptions. We so want to be right. Lately, I often feel like I am looking at a spinning penny…I can’t make out any images and so don’t know what to think.
When I thought about exploring this penny metaphor, I dug into my meager coin purse (I don’t use coins these days) and dug out some pennies. I was surprised to find a new back to the penny:
In my mind I had been so sure of the Lincoln Memorial being on the back side of the penny! How did this new back not get my attention before this? Why get rid of the old image? What does the shield mean?
So, a little online research tells me that the face of Lincoln first appeared on a penny in 1909 to celebrate 100 years since Lincoln’s birth. The wheat on the back represented prosperity. In 1959 the wheat image was taken off and the Lincoln Memorial appeared on the back to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Then starting in 2009 there were 4 other designs to appear on the back of the Lincoln penny:
Log cabin- to represent his early years
Lincoln reading a book
Lincoln in front of Illinois statehouse to celebrate his time as a lawyer and statesman
Unfinished Capitol Dome – to symbolize our struggle during the civil war
Then in 2010 they minted the image of the shield on the back in honor of the sesquicentennial of his election win. The shield symbolizes our national unity. Learning what the designs represent gives me a bit of hope that we will not come apart, but will come out of this current strife a stronger country.
I am told that there is talk of doing away with pennies altogether. Maybe we can use the old pennies as part of our school children’s education…?
The image that has not changed all these years are the words “E Pluribus Unum”, Out of Many, One…we can have different ideas and listen and learn from each other and work with each other…Let this be our future.
Photos by B. McCreary
*The words “In God We Trust” and “Liberty” on the face of the penny speak for themselves
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?
Aol.com, msn.com, Youtube.com, Barrons.com, Wikipedia
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
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.
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.
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.
Ah! Spring! I don’t like winter. I need the promise of coming warmth, new growth, and renewal to get me through the cold, dreary days. I always look forward to visiting local parks to see the beautiful displays of wildflowers in central Texas.
Well, spring is here, but this year it will be different for all of us. We are now under city of Austin/county of Travis orders not to leave our homes unless it is for essential reasons. Buying groceries, walking our dogs, and exercising are considered essential. We are not allowed to gather with non family members and must remain 6 feet apart from all others when we venture out. This is new and scary territory as the number of coronavirus victims rises. As of this writing there are 179 cases in the county (up from 160 the day before) and there has been 1 death. I note my physical state each day and try not to leap to the conclusion that I’ve got it. I try for some sort of normality, but these are not normal times.
Last Sunday, March 15th, I ventured out to a nearby grocery store. There were too many bare shelves. I had seen some the week before, but somehow I thought those were anomalies. The bread shelves were bare. There was no milk at all in the dairy case. There was no cheese. No ramen. The frozen pizza area was picked almost to the bone. I walked around the store in awe. I did buy a few things. But, the only things on my grocery list that I actually found were wine and toothpaste. Driving out of the parking lot I started to cry and was pretty blue the rest of the day. At least we had some food at home. We are lucky. So far no one I know has gotten ill.
I am still trying to get used to the lack of freedom. At first I was sure that I would be able to go out and walk among the flowers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Then they closed some of their facilities (gift shop, cafe, classrooms, etc.). Okay. No problem. The grounds were still open and I planned a visit. I would get to see the owl, Athena, who had recently returned to nest near the entrance. Maybe her owlets had hatched. But, No! The Wildflower Center decided to close their grounds to all but essential staff.
Okay, I thought, I can still go out to my favorite nearby state park, Mckinney Falls, and indulge my wildflower and birding passions. Their grounds (400+ acres) were still open when I checked their website on March 19th. The site suggested reserving a park day pass online to minimize park staff interacting with the public. I planned a trip to the park with my husband. On March 22nd I checked the website. No! The park was now closed too!
Okay, I know I am whining. So many people are getting very sick and many are dying. Even doctors and nurses are dying. Celebrities and heads of state are getting sick. I am in the older than 60 group that has a greater risk of dying of the virus and I am grasping at focusing on Nature’s beauty and not on Nature’s ugly.
I can’t go see the park flowers in person during this pandemic, but I have photos from past years. I can do a virtual park tour. I share a few here for you to enjoy. Stay safe and I hope to join you next spring among the flowers.
**All Photos taken at McKinney Falls State Park by Betty McCreary