When things get hectic, blogging is the first thing that goes for me. It always has. I’ve tried to keep up during hard times over the years, the biggest adaptation happening when Forest was born to some themed posts to keep me going. And it works, usually.
I certainly don’t want to quit writing here. When you’ve been putting your writing online in some form since 2002 it is hard to give it up because you’ve turned into one of those hardcore old-style bloggers and, well, I don’t want to stop blogging yet. But….writing and reading blogs has been more time consuming this last year. And I need to adapt it into something that fits me for now. So, while I will probably still take a bazillion photos I just won’t be writing up every little trip for a while. If I have problems keeping up and reading blogs, surely my readers have the same with my writing.
I find myself wanting to read more, of the book kind, and I have been reading voraciously this year so far. I’ve had a lull over the last few weeks, the pull of the phone outweighing the piles of paper and digital pages that are compiling. I also have a stack of magazines from the last year or so I want to read but I’ve found my focus is not long enough to digest it all. Another item I need to work on.
But most of all, I’ve felt the need to be creating elsewhere than writing here to share. I’ve been trying to sketch in my sketchbook and do some small watercolors in another watercolor journal. As much as I want to even focus on some Actual Paintings, I also find myself lacking the discipline and time to devote to that at the moment. So, smaller tidbits of art where I can. I’m also trying to encourage Forest to join in and I’ve been trying to have art time one or two evenings a week. A couple of years ago, I found a stack of 6×6 paper books at the Dollar Spot at Target. He created through those quickly and I bought some similar books at Michaels online last summer during the height of quarantine. And he goes through those and creates little art books and I see that in a short time he will be also writing stories in them. The evolution of his reading abilities in the last few months has taken off and while reading and sounding words out is different than actually putting them down on paper (it’s harder, more help is requested!), I know that the ease and ability to do it himself is just around the corner.
And that’s where we’re at right now, a transition to leaving kindergarten and into first grade soon. A transition from staying away from folks to seeing folks and venturing out more. Spring to summer. Quiet to busy. And it’s a lot.
I can’t guarantee how this blog will look and I am not going to state that I’m committing to writing once a week or anything like that because putting some kind of confined space around what I put here is a guarantee for me to rebel and not do it.
In the meantime, I’ll be around. Probably puttering in the garden or with a nose in a book, and sometimes putting down words and photos here.
Let’s pretend this isn’t a dusty post languishing in my drafts folder since last summer! I wanted to post it a few months ago but lacked the interest in getting it out. And seeing as I took these photos in June 2020 and a new June is rapidly approaching I figured I might as well get this one up. And I am itching to get back to the Big Thicket soon, too.
I am leaning towards this being a Carolina satyr Hermeuptychia sosybius however Intricate Satyrs are very similar and this one has that look like it is just slightly different and could be an Intricate.
Going through my iNaturalist recordings to jog my memory, I noted this one as being Amanda’s Pennant, Celithemis amanda with the caveat I would come back to make sure. Did I ever go back? Nope. But I think the ID is correct.
Triantha racemosa, coastal false asphodel. Localized to this area of Texas but more common along the Florida panhandle into coastal Alabama and Mississippi, with some sporadic hits around the coastal Carolinas.
Rhynchospora latifolia, sandswamp whitetop sedge. I would love to get some of this established in our ditches and pond shoreline or especially in our low spots in the front yard. I saw R. colorata in a ROW swale last year in the neighborhood and almost stopped on my bike to rip some out of the ground. I should have because it was mowed the next time I went.
Yes, must get back to the Thicket very soon.
The last time I did one of these was in December and I lamented then that I hadn’t done one since August. I don’t have a very good track record lately, do I?
Well, a lot has been going on behind the scenes.
I first found Rusty and Dusty on the Petfinder app back in January. Forest and I had started looking for cats and I was favoriting ones that were kid friendly and those who were in bonded pairs. These two were brothers and they had/have three sisters. Chris wanted to wait until we took our Arkansas trip before we started looking for cats and while we were on the trip I emailed the rescue group to find out more about them. I filled out their application and we made plans to meet them. Their living situation wasn’t the best, though they were well cared for. They were born in a garage from two feral cats and a woman took them in and cared for them, though she had at least one cat of her own. So she started raising them in her laundry room and once they were old enough she would shuttle them to her screened-in porch during the day. Which is how they had lived for most of this last year. We were the first people to have come to see them. After a few days of thinking, we decided to go ahead with adopting them and made plans for after Easter to have them dropped off at the house. A few days out from that we almost didn’t get them as the woman who had been raising them decided she wanted to keep them. It was a dramatic evening afterwards with tears all around but circumstances changed later that night and the next morning when she thought better of it and realized they would be better off with us. This is a synopsis of what happened, of course, it was a terribly evening and we were really upset. Finally, they arrived at our house and have been with us for the last week and a half.
They are a pair of sweet goobers and yes, sometimes we have a hard time telling them apart. Rusty is the more social and less scared one so if you see a cat first it is likely Rusty. Dusty is a scaredy-cat but he is also sweet and Dusty is smaller. Both really are very sweet to each other and don’t really fight all that much. They’ve gone from hiding under our bed for days on end to sleeping on the bed at night. And they love to hang out on the couch upstairs while you watch tv because they haven’t figured out that tv isn’t real yet. And they love Forest, though he is too rambunctious for them still and they haven’t gotten used to all the movement and noise, even with us sometimes, they will scatter quickly if you move too fast. We love them and they will be a fun addition to the household for the next decade and a half.
In Forest-land, he’s lost two teeth in the course of a week and a half. He’d had two loose teeth for a few months and finally the bottom one that was loose came out the night before Easter and his top one came out about a week ago. The tooth fairy has been busy around our house lately! And Forest is doing great, otherwise. He’s currently in a very imaginative place and wants to play battle dragons, which is a made up game adapted from one of his games off his tablet!
Ugh. The garden.
It was doing pretty well until a week ago. Even the deer weren’t being terrible assholes. Plants were recovering from the freeze in February and most plants were rebounding.
I had seen earlier in the afternoon this storm moving in from the hill country and it had dropped hail out that direction. The storm had shrunk by the time it reached our area but it also made a beeline for us. Chris said it still had hail in the center so he moved my car under the carport and cleaned up a few things. We sat outside to watch the rain and hoped the hail wouldn’t come but it did. It was light for the first thirty seconds but after that the clouds started dropping buckets of ice and Chris and I just looked at each other in amazement and shock. It was very loud because of our metal roof. The only good thing was we got to see the new drain in action that Chris installed in early February that will help drain water from the front walkway area to the backyard. It worked!
Needless to say the garden was torn to shreds and then the deer came by to add insult to injury the day after.
We still haven’t started the new edible garden beds, yet. I did end up planting zinnia seeds in the perimeter bed near the blackberries so I am excited to have some flowers out there this summer. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind a half flower garden/half edible garden out there since we will never be able to grow what we want in our actual flower garden without the deer browsing. We don’t usually use all the space in the edible garden anyway and we don’t eat a lot of the edible plants we do grow. Anyway, there’s a lot we can re-envision out there—more perennial edibles instead of annual edibles—something. I don’t know….
I have been reading A LOT! I have a lull occasionally but then will complete 2-3 books in a week. I’ll hit some high points from the last few months:
+Open Book by Jessica Simpson: I loved this! I listened as an audiobook and I highly recommend as Jessica reads it herself. It’s a memoir and you get a glimpse of her life over the last 30 years. You see some behind the scenes of her and Nick but you really get a feeling of what a dipshit John Mayer really is.
+Thousand-Miler: Adventures Hiking the Ice Age Trail by Melanie Radzicki McManus: Audiobook—I loved this book! Melanie is an ultrarunner who wanted to FKT the IAT. The book gives you glimpses of her hike/run but also goes into other stories of other hikers on the IAT that she meets but also some of the historical aspects of the IAT. It isn’t a play-by-play of a thru-hike. Definitely add it to your hiking trail memoir collection!
+New Naturalism: Designing and Planting A Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden by Kelly D. Norris: This is a very pretty book that guides gardeners into transitioning into the Piet Oudolf style of naturalistic gardening, which isn’t strictly native plants but a more wild design. I would say this isn’t for beginners but also beginners should read it. There are plenty of basics covered but there are also a lot of in depth analysis and ideas to go with it. It is a book you will be referencing for a long time.
+Floret Farm’s Discovering Dahlias: A Guide to Growing and Arranging Magnificent Blooms by Erin Benzakein: So, I’ve been falling in love with dahlias on social media. They are gorgeous and generally aren’t considered to do well in Texas and the south. Except—people are growing them! You have to give them more shade than you would think in the summer but people are being successful with them. So I ordered some dahlias tubers from Etsy and am trying my hand at them. I am growing them at the office, though, because they wouldn’t survive the deer. Unfortunately I didn’t account for the fact that the landscaping company comes in and sprays sometimes and a few were sprayed so I’m not sure if they will recover. I need to put a sign or fence them off somehow. We shall see. The book is beautiful and really details how to grow them and all of the varieties there are.
+Under Western Skies: Visionary Gardens from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast by Jennifer Jewell and Caitlin Atkinson: Another beautiful book to add to your garden book collection! So many gorgeous gardens from the American West are chronicled in here and you will want to pull so many design elements from there. Page after page will have you wanting to stand in each photo and wish that was your garden to enjoy.
+The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: A fiction book based on Hemingway’s first wife. I knew Hemingway was an ass but you really get a glimpse of it here and I really felt bad for his first wife and their son. It’s 1920s glitz and glamour but also you feel the dirty underbelly of that lifestyle.
+The Light Through the Leaves by Glendy Vanderah: If you loved Where the Forest Meets the Stars, Glendy’s debut novel a few years ago, you will love her second book! I really adore her writing and because she has a biologist and naturalist background the details are where it matters. You know how you read a book and someone is writing about nature or science and they get some detail wrong? And it is annoying because they used the wrong term? Well, Glendy doesn’t do that because she knows what she’s writing about! Definitely add it to your summer beach read list!
+The Way of the Gardener: Lost in the Weeds Along the Camino de Santiago by Lyndon Penner: Another trail memoir that goes against the typical grain, though I was left wondering if the author totally enjoyed his walk! Lyndon is a gardener from Canada and had the chance to hike the Camino with a friend a few years ago. He brings his gardening knowledge to this book so you get the plant aspect of what is found along the Camino as well as some historical tidbits along the way. And since he is not a thru-hiker are heart you see some of the antics that you wouldn’t see from a typical thru-hiker. I found myself wanting to reach through the book and prepare him a bit more, though.
I have not been making a lot of art but I have been doing blind contour drawings to stay in the creative groove and have started doing sketchbook work again. I am cleaning up my studio so I hope to start painting again soon. I have made two crochet pieces in the last several months, a shawl and a shirt. I have a photo of the shawl but it isn’t great and I never took a photo of the shirt so I’ll have to remedy that and share soon.
Seeing family in May! My parents are coming down and brother’s family are coming down later in the month. And finally seeing some friends again! I had my first friend date last weekend and it was fantastic! I’m also hoping for some hiking trips to east Texas and looking forward to getting beach time in as well.
*A note*: I was alerted that Feedburner is going to phase out the email subscription service for feeds soon. I need to figure out how to migrate that to another service so if you see any changes and get this via email, that’s what happened. They had said they were phasing out Feedburner totally about 8 or 9 years ago and that never happened so I’m not going to hold my breath too much but will try to take action to migrate it anyway. Just FYI*
It’s been a few weeks.
I haven’t felt much like writing here and to be honest, I’ve got a huge back log of things to share from not only Thanksgiving but I still have Alaska items to share, and now I have posts from Arkansas and a camping trip we took over Easter—and it’s a lot. I have enough photos processed to write a few weeks worth of posts but the last thing I feel like doing is sitting down and writing. I feel stuck in my writing here. I basically feel like I just do trip reports and while I enjoy that I need to figure out a new way to write and make it work for me. It might be sharing less photos. And as much as 2020 felt hard and was difficult in its own way, 2021 and the return to “normalcy” feels even harder and that has put a damper on my mood.
Looking back at these photos and seeing Skater Boy Forest with his hair cracks me up! This feels like eons ago and yet it was not quite six months ago! He’s since lost two more teeth, the most recent one last night, a top tooth! And even just remembering the feeling of life in November versus now—not knowing when vaccinations would be getting to the general population and here we are now and some areas are having trouble getting enough people to come out to get vaccines by appointment that they have even started having first-come, first-served days at some hubs around here. You could never have seen that sitting back there along the Guadalupe River in November.
I am glad it is spring, though that also feels like it is rapidly hurtling along and we will be in summer conditions before we know it.
Hopefully I’ll get out of my writing funk and get back to sharing more soon.
Reaching back into late February with this post to go with a couple of others I wrote about our hike at the REL Sandyland Sanctuary. I actually had to look it up because I was unsure of who Mr. Larsen was, and it turns out he was an executive with Time, Inc. and as a conservationist later in life he organized the Nantucket Conservation Fund and joined the board of The Nature Conservancy, who later dedicated this tract of land to him when it became a sanctuary.
I imagine it is a much different scenario out there at the sanctuary this time around. I had hoped to possibly visit it again when I was in Lumberton and Silsbee on Friday to get my second COVID vaccine but I had too much to do at work and needed to get back to the office for the afternoon. And being that it is a 2+ hour drive each way, I didn’t have much time to dally, though I did pop into the Southern Gardens nursery in Silsbee to look for a couple of plants.
I’ve begun to really love bulbous cress. It is an early spring bloomer and is an underrated spring ephemeral wildflower in our area. Of course you have to be in some more mesic or wetter areas to see it but it is a delight.
This particular species are only active in early to mid spring when the vacciniums are blooming and are considered to be one of the most efficient blueberry pollinator species. There’s a lot more great information here if you’d like to read more. A really cool niche species!
I am hoping we can trek over to SE Texas again this spring to catch some plants we didn’t see last year during our late spring/early summer visits.
It’s back to the grind for us this week, but last week Chris, Forest, and I checked out of state and drove to Arkansas to spend the week in a cute AirBnB cabin on the SE edge of the Ozark National Forest. Between cooler weather and the state of Arkansas not being on their spring break, it was fairly quiet for us on the trails except in a few areas. We could see that ramping up as we left our cabin on Saturday, the start of a glorious weekend meant an influx of ORVs, and canoes and kayaks being driven into the Ozarks as we passed heading south to I-40.
We hiked, we waterfalled, we did some rock scrambling and bushwhacking, put some out and back miles onto the Ozark Highlands Trail (and now I want to hike it!), did some relaxing on the front porch while reading and playing games, and overall enjoyed having very little cell signal. We even got to meet Old Man Winter once again on Thursday when we briefly saw snow at higher elevations in the mountains. Thankfully it only stuck around briefly but it was a very cold day for us, though we did explore one of the cooler sets of waterfalls we visited in the Boen Gulf area of the NF that day.
And between when we arrived and when we left, many of the spring ephemerals were beginning to open. I managed to nab a few Life List goals because of this and left very happy with our botanical finds. Chris did some salamander searching and I think Forest only wished it was summer so he could have splashed in all of the pools of water at the base of the falls.
The return was a bit somber because we had an inkling one of our last two remaining feral cats might have died after Chris saw a loose dog on our property via our outdoor cameras, and the cat never showed back up on camera later in the week. Sure enough, we found Ruby dead on the garden path not far from the front door. Little Callie has been mourning her and I’m more than a little worried for LC now that she doesn’t have an outside companion.
So, we are easing back into life. I’m looking forward to my second COVID shot later this week and Chris will likely find out if he received the placebo shot this week as J&J is telling trial participants now and will vaccinate them if they didn’t get the shot the first time. And of course, spring is in full swing here and I’ve got a garden to get working in.
Hope all is well out there with my readers in Blog Land!
Coming out of the stupor of winter has been cathartic. February was a mess but even in February I felt a shift in life. Getting my first vaccine shot amplified that shift but the return to blooming plants and insects flying about has really set in motion this feeling of life switching again. Being able to witness the evolution of spring in the yard has been delightful this year for so many reasons. It is always something I enjoy but I think February just wore me down that everything in nature is a marvel.
I was heading out to the edible garden on a walkabout with Forest last weekend when I noticed a fluttering shadow as I looked down on the driveway, just as we were passing the Chickasaw plum. It was a butterfly, so I looked up trying to find it and expected it to be flying directly overhead. Instead I found it nectaring on the plum alongside various bees and after a couple of photos with my phone ran inside to grab my camera. I don’t often see question marks around our yard so this was a thrill I wanted the good camera to document. And, I actually did run inside. Chris was just coming outside and looked at my oddly as I bolted up the drive way but all I had to do was mutter “butterfly!” and he understood.
The Chickasaw blooms are already starting to fade and I can only hope we finally get a crop of plums this year. But only time will tell on that. And soon other trees will begin blooming and new nectar sources will abound.
Finally we are entering into front porch moth season once again, that time of year when I leave the house in the morning there may be a couple of moths to be found resting on the side of the house. We’ve had a few friends visit over the last week and so I thought I would start a new series here on the blog, Front Porch Moths!
The first and more unique looking species is the Hubner’s Pero, which is relatively uncommon in this part of the US and is much more widespread in the mid-Atlantic region. Host plants include Alnus sp., Shepherdia canadensis, Prunus serotina and Salix species.
This tiny moth is relatively widespread throughout the eastern US but still, there’s not a ton of sightings on iNaturalist but enough to get a good idea on its range. I was having trouble figuring out its host plant and was going to say “Go with oaks!” because that’s the most common option and sure enough, I finally found a citation stating various oak species!
This particular species is fairly common here in Texas with occurrences wide spread throughout the greater south. Larval hosts seem to range from apples to oaks and Bug Guide even suggests various woody plants may be hosts. That is generally the theme with some of these moths because they are so under studied and many have multiple host plants.
Celery Leaftier Moth, Udea rubigalis
This snouty moth, as the name suggest, has larval host plants in your edible garden. They like your celery and brassicas and other similar plants. This particular species is very widespread and there’s a good chance you’ve seen this one before and not known what it was.
Stay tuned for more moths this spring and summer!
These days I almost always just keep the 75-300mm lens on my camera when out for a hike. Any time I use a normal lens I’m always sad because I can’t get a good photo of a butterfly or an insect and I would prefer the ability to get a good wildlife shot than a landscape shot for now. So, of course, that was the lens I had on me during our hike two weekends at the Sandyland Sanctuary. While it wasn’t quite a lepidopteran extravaganza it was fairly eventful and exciting outing!
The first find was this moth which I believe to be a Ruined Chocolate, Argyrostrotis deleta. My field guide has its range from Florida and along the coast into eastern Louisiana which mostly matches up with sightings in iNaturalist. However, there are a tiny handful of other east Texas sightings so I feel a bit more confident saying this is what it is, but I’m not for certain. I loved the rusty chocolate colorings on it and wish I’d taken a better photo.
I’m slowly getting better at telling the duskywings apart in the field but it always takes some verification when I get back home to make sure I’m right. Not long after this, I tried chasing another butterfly off into the brush but had no luck getting a photo. I finally realized what it was, a goatweed leafwing, after I emerged from the brush.
Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, nectaring on the bulbous cardamine in the bottomlands. The cardamine was by far the most common plant providing nectar out there that weekend though a few more plants have surely started blooming since then.
Of course the highlight was the zebra swallowtails, of which this was the only one I managed to get a photo off. I also had to stalk this one off into the brush while it nectared for me to get a photo. The others we saw were too busy flying in search of nectar for me to even contemplate getting a photo.
I’d like to thank this black swallowtail for throwing me off. I really thought it was a different species of swallowtail but nope, “just” a black swallowtail. And I don’t say “just” pejoratively, I do like these butterflies, too, but they have a habit of tricking me into thinking they are something else! Or maybe I just need to be better about differentiating some of the similar species in the field!
All in all, it was a good beginning of the butterfly season hike for me and I’m just itching to see more of my lepidopteran friends in the coming months!
Yesterday we drove over to the Beaumont area, Lumbertson and Silsbee to be more precise, because I found a COVID-19 vaccine appointment over there earlier this week. Among our state’s list for current requirements in 1A and 1B is a BMI of more than 30. I had known this for a few weeks but vaccine distribution was far harder to find in January and February but some of the lists I had signed us up for in January were finally starting to have some movement but most didn’t have appointments by the time I saw emails or were still in the stage of, ok you are good to move forward but we will let you know when there are appointments. Earlier this week I signed up for a few more health departments in other counties a bit further away and the Beaumont area SETROC sent an email rather quickly to say if you qualified you could sign up for appointments. And did they have appointments! I couldn’t believe they weren’t completely gone—some days were filled but there were plenty of time frames to choose from. I couldn’t believe it! My BMI is barely over, 31, but it meant I fell into the category. Chris also fell into the category but he decided to hold off since he’s still in the Johnson and Johnson two-shot trial and hasn’t received his second shot yet (and we don’t know if he has a vaccine or placebo). But I wanted to seize the opportunity especially since we were just sick with maybe COVID, maybe not, since Chris and I never tested positive.
We drove over very early yesterday morning and the whole process was very fast, about 45 minutes since I was in the first appointment group of the day and a line was already forming when we got there. By the time I left there was barely any line and it would probably be a quick 20-30 minutes for anyone else coming later. My arm is a little sore today but no different than any other vaccine. I have to return on March 26th for the second shot.
Afterwards, I wanted to go to the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary, somewhere we haven’t been to since mid-February 2016! Forest was only 1.5 and still fit comfortably in the backpack carrier. I almost melted looking back at some of the photos from that trip and how tiny he was! And here he was now 6 walking the trails himself! I wasn’t sure if he would end up on the bottomland trail or not but we ended up traveling down it and I remembered the very large bald cypress tree that is somewhere midway through the trail. Sure enough, we came across it again and took a few more photos, this time exploring the back side of the tree and found it was hollowed out! The bottomland trail was much better this time around as last time Chris and I had to do some bushwhacking and lost the trail several times due to poor blazing and downed trees.
I’ll do a better post about everything we saw soon, but it was an excellent butterfly day! I wasn’t sure who would be flying but my day was made by seeing maybe a dozen or so zebra swallowtails! There were other butterflies of course, but I was very satisfied with the zebras! Not a lot was in blooms, mostly violets and some tinier flowers like bluets, but in the bottomlands the bulbous cress (Cardamine bulbosa) was ample and seemed to be the main source of nectar for any pollinators out at the time.
The hike was a great cap off to getting the vaccine. So, moral of the story: if you are a little fluffy and overweight, check your BMI! Some states are more strict with their guidelines right now so it may be a higher BMI number for you (I’ve seen 40 in some instances) but if you fit the 30 and over BMI and are in Texas, start getting on some vaccine lists. Here’s the Texas GIS Map of who does and doesn’t have vaccines and who you can get on with a registry if they have one. I was able to help a friend who also fell into the BMI category get one with SETROC as well. My parents managed to get their vaccine yesterday, too, but had to drive to NE Texas to get it because their county has been miserable at facilitating the vaccine for residents. One step down towards getting out of this pandemic!