It is a July morning, the only good time to sit outside when we are experiencing 100 and 100 plus temperatures. We sit out in our backyard sipping coffee. The breeze is pleasant, rustling the leaves in the burr oak above us. There is a bright, blue sky with fluffy, white clouds, drifting and shifting shape.
I have my binoculars close by, and my eyes scan the sky above our roof. My husband’s eyes are glued to the news on his Ipad.
Two people. Alike and not alike.
“Look! A Mississippi Kite!” I point at the soaring grey bird, it’s white head helping me identify it. My husband looks up briefly.
We both hear a far off engine noise. He taps and scrolls and says, “That is a Gulf Stream 4 private jet flying from Cabo San Lucas to Austin.” We look up and see the plane heading east. My husband has an app on his Ipad that shows a photo of the plane, the name of the plane, and the route it is taking.
“A White Egret…it is flying east too,” I declare, as I follow it with my binoculars.
“DC-9-15 (F) USA Jet Airlines heading from San Antonio to Detroit at 29,000 feet.” We watch it head north until the tree obscures our view.
Flying things in the sky. Alike. And not alike.
My eyes spot swallows flitting about up high. I can’t identify them.
“Boeing 737-79P. Southwest Airlines from Austin to Denver.”
A black chinned hummingbird zooms past us. As I follow it, I spot another Mississippi Kite. “Oh look, honey! Did you see it?”
“Yes, that was a Piper PA-46-350P Malibu Mirage…a private prop plane…going from Houston to Ruidoso at 24,000 feet.”
According to The Austin American-Statesman newspaper, we had 21 days of at least 100 degree highs in June, including 12 days in a row of this nastiness. We got a break late Monday the 27th with some much prayed for rain. Yay! I can now sit comfortably on my shaded porch and enjoy my coffee and read. It is still hot, but bearable.
As I get older I do not handle the heat as well as the younger me could. And our summers are getting hotter. June was not all bad. The beauty of nature carries on and helps me carry on. It sustains me. Here are some photos from my yard taken this month:
I want to express my gratitude to Mother Nature for sharing this beauty.
Just a brief blog today to share some photos of a few critters that have visited our yard and porch.
Could these little guys be the offspring of the snake in the previous photo?
Eastern Blackneck Garter snakes ((Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus) are nonvenomous although they may nip and release some funky musk when threatened. They eat small frogs, toads, and tadpoles. We have a small pond in our back yard and that is probably why we get the privilege of their company. They are diurnal and their adult size ranges from 16 to 43 inches (the latter being a record size). They give birth to live babies, maybe as many as 9.
I know a lot of people find snakes frightening, but to me they are beautiful examples of Nature’s beauty.
*All photos by B. McCreary
*Information from A Field Guide to Texas Snakes by Alan Tennant (from Texas Monthly Field Guide Series)
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.
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
I wanted to write this month’s blog about Black History month and planned on focusing on Harriet Tubman. I had read a wonderful biography about her entitled Harriet Tubman- The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton. I wanted to share more about her life beyond her work with the Underground Railroad. But, I have gotten distracted by news coverage of the Russian invasion of the country of Ukraine. So, I will not write about Harriet Tubman this month, but will still celebrate Black History month.
On February 23rd, I discovered live television coverage of a United Nations Security Council meeting about the Russian threat to Ukraine. This was on CSPAN. I sat before the t.v. with my husband and daughter and watched as most of the ambassadors condemned Russia’s actions. There were ambassadors of different races and cultures of course, but also a good number of women representing their countries. Particularly interesting to me was our United States Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who has held the position for about a year. She was one of the people speaking in condemnation of the Russian president. Here is a photo of her that evening:
As I have watched coverage of the crisis on t.v., I have noticed quite a few black experts on Ukraine being interviewed by the news anchors. One person who has appeared several times over the past few days is a black man hunkered down in Kyiv. His name is Terrell Jermaine Starr and the following video is from MSNBC (if the link does not work, please search for him on the internet):
As a proud American, I believe we need to not turn a blind eye to our history. We need to continually examine our past and how it continues to shape us. But, I also believe we need to pay close attention to the history that is being made right now. And these two people are both witnesses to history and are growing history.
*A link to another piece about Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield:
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
I have written about certain plants that reminded me of family members (purple spiderworts for my Mom and madrone trees for my Dad). Deciding to follow this line of thought, I made a list of family members and friends. Next to each name I wrote the name of a bird or birds that I most associated with them. For example: Daddy- vultures, ducks, pigeons. My Dad got a kick out of telling a story about a neighborhood boy who lay out on a driveway, motionless, trying to attract vultures. And, when my daughter was young, my dad would enjoy going to Zilker Park with us to feed the ducks and pigeons.
Next to the name of a very dear friend I wrote crows, because of her many recent crow encounters. I also wrote cartoon birds because she draws whimsical birds.
My next list was mammals and quite a few people had dog or cat next to their names. Some were more specific, such as hunting dogs for my Grandfather Johnnie and chihuahuas for my Great Grandmother Tee.
I started a new list, Reptiles and Amphibians. I have not completed that one yet. And I started a list of categories: plants, trees, flowers, insects, fish, rocks, fossils, geographic features, and constellations. I tend to enjoy associations with the natural world. But, the possibilities are endless. It might be fun to see what kind of music or books or cars or art you associate with friends and family. This could be a fun icebreaker at a get together. Or ask people what animal they associate with themselves. It may be very different from what others associate with them.